Friday, September 14, 2007
Have you ever seen a sea lion speeding through the water like a torpedo and then doing a dynamic leap into the air? A harbor seal gracefully twirling in her pool? How about a sea otter coming up on deck and standing up on its rear flippers? Chances are you have if you’ve observed any of our marine mammal training sessions here at the Aquarium. Animals have always amazed me with their abilities and adaptations, and its always exciting to see them in action. However, it’s not all about fun and entertainment. You may see our animals doing what may appear to be “tricks” but there’s a lot more to it that that! There’s a specific purpose behind each behavior asked. Though entertainment and teaching the public about environmental conservation are extremely important, there are some other very important reasons we train our animals. Reasons that directly benefit the animals themselves, and that’s what it’s all about.
Mental Stimulation We want our animals thinking and using their brains every single day! Our animals don’t face the challenges that their relatives in the ocean face, such as hunting for food or avoiding predators, so it’s up to us to keep them mentally stimulated. Each training session is different, with several different behaviors being asked. Also, additional enrichment is offered in the form of toys (which may or may not be filled with food for the animal to figure out how to get), ice treats with fish inside, tubs of fresh water, and a variety of other things to keep them thinking.
Physical Exercise Another reason for training is physical exercise. It’s just as important for our animals as it is for us! In addition to a healthy brain, we want them to have strong, healthy bodies. You’ll see our animals doing a variety of behaviors, such as Parker’s pillar behavior, to keep them moving and physically fit.
Husbandry Husbandry, or health care, may be the single most important reason we train our animals. It is our responsibility to provide the best care possible for our animals, and we want them to be able to participate and cooperate in their own health care. Cooperative behavior is essential, and it makes things much easier on the animals and our mammalogists! It allows us to examine the animals daily to make sure they’re in good health, as well as taking blood samples or even ultrasounds when necessary. Basically, anything you do with your doctor or dentist we have trained our animals to do with us. Did you know they even get their teeth brushed? Yep. Watch for that the next time you visit the Aquarium. We even use seafood flavored toothpaste! The animals aren’t so fond of mint. :-P
Daily healthcare. Personal chefs. Private doctor/dentist. The animals here have it pretty good! The animals out in the ocean have quite a few more challenges to face, one of the greatest being pollution. The amount of trash that we’re allowing to reach our oceans is staggering. Many seals, sea lions, sea turtles, birds, fish, whales, dolphins, and otters die each year because of marine debris, perhaps mistaking it for food or getting tangled in it. The good news is we can all do something to help! Make sure your trash goes into a trash can. Pick up some trash you may see on the street. Use re-usable cloth shopping bags instead of plastic bags when you shop. Recycle. Encourage smokers to use ashtrays. I could go on forever, but you get the idea. It just so happens that the 23rd Annual Coastal Cleanup is this Saturday, so why not start there? I was amazed at all the different types of trash we discovered last year! This is a statewide event, so check out a location close to you. Hopefully, I’ll see you there!
That’s all for now! Please ask away if you have any questions, and I’ll talk to you soon.
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