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“OTTER-LY” CUTE

Fin Whale News

Cup-stacking Otter

First Blue Whale!

To Hold a Shark Close

Unexpected Visitors and More!

An Inspirational Vision-Impaired Seal

Why So Many Grays?

A Feast Fit for a King or Otter

Killer Whales Unite!

10 Thing You Should Know About the Urban Sea Turtle of Los Angeles

One Thousand Three Hundred and Twenty-Five!

Grays Galore!

Who Knew You Could Cuddle a Shark?

The Hunters Return!

Listening to Whales: Hydrophones, Headphones, and Singers in the Sea

My Aquarium Year In Pictures

Update: Killer Whales and Grays!

A Whale in the Crosshairs

Do You Want to Build A Snowman… for the Sea Otters?

A Killer Holiday Season

Sea Lions Versus Seals

Fintastic Fall and Killer Whales!

Lorikeet Feeding Frenzy Time Lapse

Welcome to Peregian Beach – Gearing Up for BRAHSS 2014

A Very Humpbacky October

Otter Party Time-lapse

An Aquarium Explorer Abroad

Just Under the Surface

Hooray for “Olliewood”

Lunge-a-Palooza

From Chips to Brays

So Long For Now!

Whales AND Sharks!

Avery the Penguin’s Chick

It’s Your Turn to Build Enrichments for the Animals!

The Blues Continue to Amaze!

What People Think I Do

One Tough Customer

What a Summer We are Having!

Sea Otters Using Ice to Keep Warm

Aquarium Animals Support Recycling

Hug-A-Shark

Soccer Sharks

Finally, Confirmation of a Mystery Whale from 2011!

Curious Penguins

Pinniped Encounters at the Aquarium of the Pacific

Urban Sea Turtle ID

Therapeutic Enrichment

Et tu, Brude?

Walking with Penguins at the Aquarium of the Pacific

Feeding Frenzy

Extinct in the Wild

May of Grays

Enrichment Challenge! Part 3

The Force is Strong with this Otter

April Recap & the Return of the Killer Whales!

Enrichment Challenge! Part 2

Penguins are Habit-Forming

Enrichment Challenge!

Skim Hunting Osprey

Penguin Party!

Parenting and Predation

Aquarium Snapshots: Spring 2014

Musical Magpie

You Know You’ve Been an Animal Care Volunteer a Long Time When…

False Killer Whales!

One Smoothie, with a Cricket Boost!

Happy 17th Birthday, Charlie!

Simply Enriching

Humpbacks Here and Humpbacks There!

Positive Reinforcement: It’s Not Just Fish

Reflections of a Seal Pup

What Would You Like The Otter To Do Instead?

Breachers!

Early Birds Get the Worms

The Many Faces of Brook the Sea Otter

How Do Birds Do That?

A Killer Start to 2014…Again!

Which Otter is That?

Sniffing Around

Spending Christmas Day with the Critters

The Return of the Sperm Whale and the Killer Whales!

Different Strokes for Different Birds

Hugh’s Look Back at 2013

The Most Epic Week of Sightings…Ever!

Delivering Holiday Treats to the Animals

Guide to Urban Sea Turtle Watching

The Story of Heidi and Anderson

Whales AND Dolphins AND Sea Life!

Preparing for Holiday Treats!

Vanity, Thy Name is Otter

Meet an Aviculturist

A Pair of Masked Booby Birds and More!

Food Treats for Lorikeets!

Lorikeets Help Carve a Halloween Pumpkin

A Pinata for the Birds

Newsom the Penguin Explores the Guest Side of the Exhibit

The “Finger”-Painting Octopus

The “Finger”-Painting Octopus

Hugh's avatar

Animal Updates | Mammals | Video | Volunteering

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Hugh

“OTTER-LY” CUTE
Betty using Maggie as a pillow.  | Hugh Ryono
A local fin whale swimming right in front of the boat! You can see the white lower jaw which  | Erik Combs
Maggie and her stacking cups.
Our first blue whale sighting this year!  | Erik Combs
To Hold a Shark Close. Me with Senior Aquarist Nicky and Fern the Zebra Shark.
A really cool shot by Ami of a gray whale spy hopping to check things out near the boat!  | Aquarium of the Pacific
Although vision impaired Ellie still enjoys fetching balls and rings thrown by her trainers.  | Kayle Butcher
One of the many shots taken by Kristin of our southbound gray whales which will help is identify and track their patterns!  | Kristin Sargoy
A feast fit for an queen. In this case Brook the sea otter.
All five Bigg's Transient killer whales in one frame! You can see how close they were to the boat and can almost feel the excitement the guests were experiencing with such a sighting!  | Ciera Figge
A Green Sea Turtle spits out water as it surfaces in the San Gabriel River.  | Hugh Ryono
A very special day when we saw over 10 whales in one pod travelling south together.  | Erik Combs

A sea otter using another otter as a pillow.

Sea Otters have very plush fur. When dry the fur puffs out and looks very luxurious. Small wonder that all that plushness lured the youngster otter Betty (named after Betty White) to use the older otter Maggie’s lush fur as a pillow for her nap under the skylight. Check out the video and stills of Betty taking a nap using Maggie as a pillow. Maggie seems to have a lot of patience around the youngster.

Also in the video is a clip of four otters (Brook, Maggie, Ollie and Betty) lounging under the skylight until they discover the paparazzi photographing them. Then they’re “otter” there. In actuality Brook started going into the water figuring it was meal time and the rest decided to follow.

“OTTER-LY” CUTE
Betty scooting next to Maggie getting ready to take a nap.  | Hugh Ryono
“OTTER-LY” CUTE
Ollie and Betty hanging around Maggie.  | Hugh Ryono
“OTTER-LY” CUTE
Ollie, Maggie, Brook and Betty looking at the photographer.  | Hugh Ryono

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Julien's avatar

Animal Updates | Mammals | Conservation | Whale Watching

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Julien

Fin Whale News
Betty using Maggie as a pillow.  | Hugh Ryono
A local fin whale swimming right in front of the boat! You can see the white lower jaw which  | Erik Combs
Maggie and her stacking cups.
Our first blue whale sighting this year!  | Erik Combs
To Hold a Shark Close. Me with Senior Aquarist Nicky and Fern the Zebra Shark.
A really cool shot by Ami of a gray whale spy hopping to check things out near the boat!  | Aquarium of the Pacific
Although vision impaired Ellie still enjoys fetching balls and rings thrown by her trainers.  | Kayle Butcher
One of the many shots taken by Kristin of our southbound gray whales which will help is identify and track their patterns!  | Kristin Sargoy
A feast fit for an queen. In this case Brook the sea otter.
All five Bigg's Transient killer whales in one frame! You can see how close they were to the boat and can almost feel the excitement the guests were experiencing with such a sighting!  | Ciera Figge
A Green Sea Turtle spits out water as it surfaces in the San Gabriel River.  | Hugh Ryono
A very special day when we saw over 10 whales in one pod travelling south together.  | Erik Combs

You may have read in the local news that we recently had a deceased fin whale wash ashore near the port of LA in San Pedro on Friday, April 10th. With the response from the NOAA West Coast Stranding Network and some initial observations, it looks like the whale died from blunt force trauma and suffered internal injuries. The researchers concluded that this was the result of a ship strike and the whale may have been struck, and then dragged into the harbor. The whale was on the shore near the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium where it was recently being necropsied, a kind of animal ‘autopsy’, and studied.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time this has happened. One of the major reasons is the close proximity between the ports, the shipping lanes, and the animals’ feeding areas; the urban ocean. Because these incidents are not just happening in our own backyard (four blue whales were killed in the Santa Barbara channel back in 2007, and five more whales in 2010), researchers have come together to study these ship strikes. This is where the Aquarium of the Pacific comes into the picture! We have collaboration with Cascadia Research Collective which is where all of our photo processing, GPS coordinates and behavior data the whale photo ID interns collect all year round goes. With these data and other data collected by researchers, it was proposed to move the shipping lanes away from the trajectory of the whales back in June 2013. One of the leading Cascadia Researchers that we work with, John Calambokidis, thinks this is a good first step in saving these endangered whales. Though these ship strikes make our hearts ache, there is good coming from it: we can study large baleen whales more closely and tissue samples may help us correlate their health and our local ocean’ health, more awareness is made for these whales, and more cases are reported for the potential movement of more shipping lanes.

Locally, the whales that are reported to be struck the most are fin whales. Fin whales are found year round off of our coast and will often be feeding on krill and small fish near the shipping lanes, and other deep water area, during our whale watch trips. We have actually been seeing tons of them! I was lucky enough to be out on the boat a few days ago while the fin whales were feeding among other marine animals. When we spot these frenzies from afar, we first see LOTS of splashing from marine birds ‘dive bombing’ for the fish, then we usually see small dorsal fins of dolphins, brown bodies of sea lions, and sometimes even sharks and whales feeding all in the same place!

Along with the fin whales, we have been seeing a lot of northbound gray whales with new calves in tow! We have also been seeing humpback whales, a few more blues, and lots of dolphins! We have some great photos featured this week by the always talented Harbor Breeze staff, Tim Hammond and Erik Combs, along with our Aquarium photo ID interns. We would love to have you on board if it is your first time, or your tenth, so come on out and have an adventure with us out on the ocean blue!

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Hugh's avatar

Animal Updates | Mammals | Video | Volunteering

Thursday, April 09, 2015

Hugh

Cup-stacking Otter
Betty using Maggie as a pillow.  | Hugh Ryono
A local fin whale swimming right in front of the boat! You can see the white lower jaw which  | Erik Combs
Maggie and her stacking cups.
Our first blue whale sighting this year!  | Erik Combs
To Hold a Shark Close. Me with Senior Aquarist Nicky and Fern the Zebra Shark.
A really cool shot by Ami of a gray whale spy hopping to check things out near the boat!  | Aquarium of the Pacific
Although vision impaired Ellie still enjoys fetching balls and rings thrown by her trainers.  | Kayle Butcher
One of the many shots taken by Kristin of our southbound gray whales which will help is identify and track their patterns!  | Kristin Sargoy
A feast fit for an queen. In this case Brook the sea otter.
All five Bigg's Transient killer whales in one frame! You can see how close they were to the boat and can almost feel the excitement the guests were experiencing with such a sighting!  | Ciera Figge
A Green Sea Turtle spits out water as it surfaces in the San Gabriel River.  | Hugh Ryono
A very special day when we saw over 10 whales in one pod travelling south together.  | Erik Combs

Maggie the Sea Otter's Unique Talent

Amongst all the sea otters at the Aquarium of the Pacific Maggie has a unique talent. She has learned how to take cups and stack them together. These cups are of progressively larger diameter which allows them to be stacked into each other. It’s the same type of toy that human kids play with.

For an otter however it takes a little more effort to master than for a human youngster. For one thing otters don’t have opposable thumbs so it’s harder for them to maneuver the cups around. Try stacking your kitchen cups together wearing a thick pair of winter mittens and using your belly as a table while floating on your back in the water. Not that easy.

Maggie however, like all otters, has a trait that helps her stack cups. She is extremely persistent when it comes to trial and error. If the cup doesn’t fit one way she’ll keep trying different approaches until it does fit. Kind of a nice trait to have. The cups act as an enrichment device as it stimulates an otter’s basic instincts for problem solving.

Check out the video below of Maggie stacking cups during a recent training session. Caution. It’s kind of cute and you might want to watch it over and over again.

Cup-stacking Otter
Currently Maggie is the only sea otter at the Aquarium of the Pacific that can stack cup.

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Julien's avatar

Animal Updates | Mammals | Whale Watching

Thursday, April 02, 2015

Julien

First Blue Whale!
Betty using Maggie as a pillow.  | Hugh Ryono
A local fin whale swimming right in front of the boat! You can see the white lower jaw which  | Erik Combs
Maggie and her stacking cups.
Our first blue whale sighting this year!  | Erik Combs
To Hold a Shark Close. Me with Senior Aquarist Nicky and Fern the Zebra Shark.
A really cool shot by Ami of a gray whale spy hopping to check things out near the boat!  | Aquarium of the Pacific
Although vision impaired Ellie still enjoys fetching balls and rings thrown by her trainers.  | Kayle Butcher
One of the many shots taken by Kristin of our southbound gray whales which will help is identify and track their patterns!  | Kristin Sargoy
A feast fit for an queen. In this case Brook the sea otter.
All five Bigg's Transient killer whales in one frame! You can see how close they were to the boat and can almost feel the excitement the guests were experiencing with such a sighting!  | Ciera Figge
A Green Sea Turtle spits out water as it surfaces in the San Gabriel River.  | Hugh Ryono
A very special day when we saw over 10 whales in one pod travelling south together.  | Erik Combs

According to local whale watchers our first confirmed blue whale was sighted last week a few miles off of the Mission Bay area in San Diego! Since then the Gray Whale Census and Behavior Project at Point Vicente spotted one as well on March 26th! The next day, we were lucky enough to encounter our first blue whale sighting during our gray whale watches! When we all heard the news we got super excited and we hope that this means we are going to have a good blue whale-filled summer. Usually, we will see blues as early as February coming in to ‘scout’ for krill and see what the goods are like off of our coast. I hope they report back to the others that we have plenty! UPDATE: Our most recent sightings of a blue whale was just on April 2nd!

This season is still pretty up in the air since we are officially in a NOAA certified El Niño. During an El Niño season, our water temperatures warm and the bottom of the food chain species move to colder waters and their predators follow. This is also true for whale species since they do feed on smaller prey items. Blue whales exclusively eat krill off of our coast, which are usually in abundance here during the summer upwelling and prefer colder water. Basically, we don’t know what the blue season is going to be like and this will be very interesting for me since it is one of the first El Niño seasons I will be experiencing since I have been working on the boats. I am very interested to see how it is going to pan out.

We are still seeing lots of grays! Just a few south-bounders are still trickling in and our total southbound count according to the American Cetacean Society Gray Whale Census is now 1895; still at an all-time high. North bounders have been going super strong with 1,413 already and 16 calves! Note that this census breaks the northbound and southbound into two different groups though some of those individuals could be the same since the whales are making a roundtrip migration. We have some photos of our gray whale encounters from the last few weeks along with the other wildlife we have been seeing from our photo ID interns, Tim Hammond, and Eric Combs!

The gray whales are still going strong and with the excitement of the first blue whales, humpbacks, fin whales, minke whales, and of course tons of dolphins, now is a great time to come out! So, if you are looking for a perfect way to spend your spring break with friends and family, look no further. We have the most amazing wildlife right off of our coast and they are very accessible! Join us on a whale watch or a harbor cruise to enjoy the sunshine and the time off from school or work!

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Hugh's avatar

Animal Updates | Sharks | Volunteering

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Hugh

To Hold a Shark Close
Betty using Maggie as a pillow.  | Hugh Ryono
A local fin whale swimming right in front of the boat! You can see the white lower jaw which  | Erik Combs
Maggie and her stacking cups.
Our first blue whale sighting this year!  | Erik Combs
To Hold a Shark Close. Me with Senior Aquarist Nicky and Fern the Zebra Shark.
A really cool shot by Ami of a gray whale spy hopping to check things out near the boat!  | Aquarium of the Pacific
Although vision impaired Ellie still enjoys fetching balls and rings thrown by her trainers.  | Kayle Butcher
One of the many shots taken by Kristin of our southbound gray whales which will help is identify and track their patterns!  | Kristin Sargoy
A feast fit for an queen. In this case Brook the sea otter.
All five Bigg's Transient killer whales in one frame! You can see how close they were to the boat and can almost feel the excitement the guests were experiencing with such a sighting!  | Ciera Figge
A Green Sea Turtle spits out water as it surfaces in the San Gabriel River.  | Hugh Ryono
A very special day when we saw over 10 whales in one pod travelling south together.  | Erik Combs

A Hugh Haiku:

“Grand Shark in my Arms. You’re more Disney than Shark Week Sharks are Friends not Foes.”

It was an offer I could not refuse. Senior Aquarist Nicky asked if I wanted to participate in a training session in the water with Fern, a large Zebra shark. Oh course I said yes and donned a wet suit.

As I waded around chest deep in Shark Lagoon the first thing I noticed was a large shark fin slicing through the surface of the water towards me. Before I started volunteering at the Aquarium of the Pacific a sight like this would have elicited primal fear responses in my body and a nervous rendition of the “Jaws” theme in my mind. “Duun dun. Duun dun. Dun dun dun dun…..!” Now it just brings a smile to my face. I knew it was Fern coming over to check us out.

Just like with sea otters and sea lions, positive reinforcement training had made this large Zebra shark a willing participant in husbandry behaviors like the one she and I were about to perform together. A tactile session. Or as I like to refer to it, Hug-a-Shark.

At first Fern swam around our legs in figure 8s like an affectionate cat looking for attention. Nicky then brought Fern to the surface and had me hold her. Soon after I had her cradled in my arms Nicky gave Fern her food reinforcement. This positive reinforcement built up the idea in Fern’s mind that good things will happen when people hold you.

The first thing I noticed while holding her was the characteristics of her skin. When I ran my fingers from front to back the skin felt smooth but when I ran my fingers from back to front it felt like an emery board. Shark skin is covered by layers of dermal denticles which are more like tiny teeth than fish scales. They all face the same way thus one direction feels smooth while the other feels like sand paper. To me shark skin felt a lot different than the slick cetacean skin that I had prior experience with during my dolphin and whale rescue days years ago. Compared to dolphin’s skin, shark skin felt almost armored-like.

Fern was surprisingly calm while I held her. Nicky had trained her well. After a bit we turned her over onto her back. These behaviors were trained so that the Aquarium staff could get a good close look at her body during veterinary exams. It actually seemed like Fern was taking a snooze while we had her upside down. At this point I was thinking she reminded more of Sherman from the comic Sherman’s Lagoon than JAWS.

Even though I had known Fern since the early days of the Aquarium of the Pacific and had even hand fed her back in the days when the mammal staff regularly helped out the aquarist staff with their duties, this was the first time I had ever held her in my arms. And she’s a lot larger now than 15 years ago! I love the fact that Fern’s training dispels many of the web and television stereotypes of sharks being just mindless killing machines. Me being in the water holding her so close is proof enough.

You never know what kind of experiences you’ll have as a volunteer at the Aquarium of the Pacific. I can now add shark hugging to the list.

A couple more Hugh Haikus:

A shark has taught me: Enjoy TV and Web Docs. But always fact check.

Memorable day. I hugged a great gentle shark. Love volunteering!
To Hold a Shark Close
Fern is very calm while being held during her training sessions.
To Hold a Shark Close
These tactile behaviors help in Fern's health care. It also gave this volunteer a chance to hug a shark and help dispel some stereotypes about them.
To Hold a Shark Close
Senior Aquarist Nicky did an outstanding job training Fern in husbandry behaviors.

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