Thursday, August 28, 2014
Working the 80% to enjoy the 20%
There is a popular meme out on social media called “What People Think I Do” that shows what different people think your job involves depending on their perspective.
As a husbandry (animal care) volunteer mine could be described tongue in cheek as the following:
Marine Mammal Volunteer at the Aquarium of the Pacific
- WHAT MY FAMILY THINKS I DO: Throw clams at sea otters while still wearing my business clothes.
- WHAT THE PUBLIC THINKS I DO: Get kisses from a sea lion.
- WHAT MY FRIENDS AND COWORKERS THINK I DO: Play Frisbee with sea lions.
- WHAT THE MEDIA THINKS I DO: Hang out at the aquarium surrounded by friendly seals, sea lions and sea otters.
- WHAT I THINK I DO: Visions of being a savior of endangered species.
- WHAT I REALLY DO: Get wet and filthy while scrubbing the animal habitats clean.
OK so all of the above are at least partially true but in reality 80 percent of the time during a husbandry volunteer’s shift does consist of cleaning exhibits and holding areas, preparing food, keeping detailed animal records and doing the dozens of little things that helps the husbandry department take great care of the animals.
It’s the 20 percent of the day that involves direct interaction with the animals however that makes volunteering so fulfilling. Speaking of the 20 percent; check out the video below for a GoPro view of how I spend the two tenths of my volunteer shift with the critters. It’s up close and personal with sea lions, seals, sea otters and penguins from a husbandry volunteer point of view.
Tuesday, August 26, 2014
Adelaide the Laughing Kookaburra (you may hear her loud call while exploring Lorikeet Forest) happens to be one of our hardest residents to please when it comes to enrichment. She doesn’t seem very interested in toys or puzzles, even when they involve food. In hopes of enticing her with an enrichment that resembled something she would naturally hunt for, her trainer asked me to make her a paper mache snake.
Going into this, I knew that our kookaburra isn’t very excited by enrichment, but I still didn’t expect the response I got. We introduced the snake to Adelaide and she stared at it. I waited patiently for a response… you know, give her some time to get used to it. She continued to just stare at it, so her trainer moved the fake snake around a little bit. Adelaide just stared. Her trainer had other animals to tend to, so I offered to supervise Adelaide, who was still just staring at the snake, with her enrichment. Not long after her trainer left, Adelaide—who had been staring at the snake this whole time—gave a huge yawn. And then, she closed her eyes and went to sleep! Wow… what an exciting enrichment… I guess we can add model snakes to the list of enrichment Adelaide is not fond of.
We did eventually find something that engages Adelaide: her own feathers. She was caught by her trainer playing with her own down as it floated through the air. So, we made her a tuft of long feathers bound into what resembled a very oversized cat toy. She loved it! Finally, enrichment for Adelaide.
Thursday, August 21, 2014
Hello whale fans! I am back and am so excited to report all the cetacean activity we have been having this summer! If you have had a chance to go out on the water then you may have an idea of how thrilling our trips have been. If you have not, you should take a few hours to see some amazing marine life with us! Blues, fins, minkes, humpbacks, dolphins, mola molas and even a thresher shark! Since the first of August, we have had a whopping 118 blue whale sightings. This averages out to about six blue whale sightings every day. Blues have been out there perusing for krill, surfacing close to the boat, and showing a lot of fluke! We have not seen much surface lunge feeding this summer as we have in the past which mean the krill is a little deeper.
The surface lunge feeding we have been seeing has been coming from our numerous humpback whale sightings! We have had a few adults and a cow/calf pairs off of our coast taking advantage of the food availability and giving quite a show. Breaching, spy hopping and lots of curious close encounters with the mom and baby have delighted our guests and the crew as well! When I was out on the water earlier this week I even screamed a little with joy as the cow allowed her calf to get so close to the Christopher to check us out. Minke whales and fin whales have also been gracing us with their presence every so often, especially around the feeding blues and humpbacks; you can only guess what they are doing under the water as well.
Some exciting sightings other than our whale-o-palooza have been many toothed whale friends like feeding and traveling common and bottlenose dolphins. We have seen dolphins and even sea lions in very close proximity (literally feet away) from the huge baleen whales. Maybe they are feeding on the fish that are attracted by the abundance of krill, or maybe they are just curious of our visiting giants? Mola mola (Pacific Sunfish) have also been sighted on numerous occasions with their strange, alien-like flat bodies floating at the surface. Super cool!
One of the most interesting sightings we had was not from a blue or humpback whale, but from a gray whale earlier this month! What is this gray whale still doing in Long Beach while the rest of his species have already made it back to Alaska? Well, apparently, this is a very tardy gray whale who may be a little confused as we saw it inside the harbor near the Queen Mary. We hope this whale eventually finds its way back to Alaska so it can feed. But do not fear, gray whales can feed off our waters and we have seen them feeding in our harbor before making a little pit stop along their way.
Want a chance to see them while they are here? Come out and have an adventure with us out on the beautiful open Pacific Ocean full of life!
Thursday, August 14, 2014
The Otter Days Of Summer
While the rest of us endure the “Dog Days of Summer” our otters spend their days chilling out on their ice patch. However the reason why the otters enjoy the piles of ice that the staff regularly places in their exhibit may surprise you. The sea otters at the Aquarium of the Pacific like rolling around in the ice because it helps dry their fur. It may seem counter intuitive but grooming themselves while on the ice helps keep them warm. The ice actually absorbs the excess salt water off their pelts helping them to maintain its insulating qualities.
Since sea otters have no blubber layer they rely on their thick coat of fur to form a barrier to the cold sea water that they live in. This barrier forms an insulating air layer between their skin and fur in the same way that a down jacket helps keep us warm. If they don’t maintain the waterproof integrity of their coats, water can seep through and cause hypothermia. So sea otters have to constantly groom their fur to guard against this. Ice or snow is not something Southern Sea Otters would see in their natural environment. Our otters however have learned to use the ice patch in the exhibit as a towel to help dry themselves so that they can more thoroughly comb through their fur with their paws and teeth. You’ll even see them undulating their whole bodies on the ice to help get the water out. Of course sometimes they also just like to roll around in the ice because it’s fun.
Check out the images of the otters hanging out on their little ice oasis.
Tuesday, August 12, 2014
Kevin the Aracari loves enrichment, but usually only when it involves something for him to snack on. So, we made him a food enrichment toy—made to look mildly like a flower—using a green, recycled and sterilized soda bottle with holes cut in it and re-purposed red beads. In the bottom of the bottle we placed meal worms, a tasty treat and great motivator for Kevin.
Since the bottle was clear, Kevin could see the worms straight away and tried to nibble at them through the bottom of the bottle. He quickly realized he there was something between him and his snack, but tried again a several more times just to be sure.
Next, he tried putting his head through a hole, but it wasn’t at the right angle for his long beak to reach down to the worms. He hopped from perch to perch around the bottle eyeing it from every angle. He tried another hole, but that was the wrong angle too. He stared at the bottle and turned his head, thinking hard. He turned his head so far in deep though I thought he might fall off his perch. Frustrated, he flew away.
We took pity on Kevin, since enrichment is supposed to be fun, and moved the bottle so that the right hole was the easiest one for him to reach, right next to his perch. However, we might have made it too easy because he came back over and immediately put his beak in the hole and quickly gobbled down all the worms as though he’d knew what to do the whole time…. almost as though he’d outsmarted us into doing all the work for him.
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