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.
For a fun food enrichment for our behind-the-scenes bamboo sharks I used a dog toy in the shape of a hollowed out soccer ball. I stuffed the soccer ball shell with restaurant quality shrimp, squid, clam and sardines (the sharks’ favorites) and dropped it in their exhibit. And they were off! Bumping the ball with their noses, batting it with their tails! As the sharks hit the ball, bits of food popped out offering up a reward. The sharks swam about batting the “soccer ball” around, jostling tasty morsels loose, to make it to the goal of eating all the food!
For our Summer of Wonder, several of our young penguins have been (exploring the Aquarium) meeting lots of other curious residents. It’s been great enrichment (and great fun) for the penguins as well as for the animals they get to meet. The penguins and otters have gawked at each other. The sea lions and penguins have bumped noses and mimicked each other through their acrylic barrier. But there is one particularly inquisitive animal the penguins have met that may be even more curious than the penguins: us! Although the penguins see their caretakers every day, sometimes new people can be quite intriguing. During their walks in June the penguins got up close and personal with many people, providing a great deal of enrichment as well as stimulating curiosity and wonder, both for themselves and for us.
Although Parker, the Aquarium’s 700 pound sea lion, is the star of the popular pinniped encounters he is not the only animal ambassador from the seal and sea lion exhibit. His understudies, Harpo the sea lion and Shelby the harbor seal are also ready to meet and greet aquarium guests.
The big guy Parker is quite impressive to be near. Having your picture taken next to this large, regal critter makes quite a keepsake for your social media page or living room picture frame.
On the other hand many guests enjoy meeting Parker’s smaller sea lion exhibit mate Harpo. With Harpo it’s all about the personality. Harpo loves to solicit kisses and stick his tongue out to give people random “raspberries”. He is also the most touchable of the sea lions. Harpo really seems to channel the spirit of his namesake. You can’t help but smile after an encounter with him.
A rare and unique animal encounter is with one of the Aquarium’s original pinnipeds. Shelby the harbor seal has been at the Aquarium of the Pacific since the day it opened in 1998. I had the pleasure of training her original animal encounter behaviors several years ago. My favorite is the hug-a-seal behavior which not only allows guests to put their arms around her but also allows our staff to do a thorough tactile inspection of her body. This came in handy during her pregnancies. The bad part of hugging a seal though is that you do have to kneel down. She is also wet so you’ll get wet during a hug. And she does drool like a hound dog.
No matter which animal you meet, the pinniped encounters are a fun way to learn more about seals and sea lions.
There are some restrictions such as age and foot wear requirement for the pinniped encounters. Check with the aquarium for more information.
Photo-Identifying the Green Sea Turtles in the San Gabriel River
Since 2008 I’ve been photographing the urban green sea turtles in the San Gabriel River supplanting the field notes taken by my wife Pam. The portion of the river which runs between Orange County and Long Beach has the northern most colony of green sea turtles in the world. This colony was little known until recently. It is one of Nature’s best kept secrets in Southern California. Our field observation is part of a larger sea turtle field research effort that is being coordinated by the National Marine Fisheries Service and the Aquarium of the Pacific. With six years of images of surfacing sea turtles on file we’ve added a new phase of our part the project, going through the photos and trying to identify individual turtles.
This photo ID effort has just recently started and it could be months before we start seeing consistent results. At present we are doing it the old fashion way by eye-balling individual images and trying to match them. We are looking into software programs that can help in this effort but for now it’s the old Mark One eyeball that’s currently being used. The only high tech device that we’re using is an iPad and an app that allows images to be brought up side by side.
What we are initially using as identifying marks on the turtles are the scute patterns on their head. These marks have been used as identifying marks by researchers in other parts of the world. I went through years of images and picked out categories of potential turtles ID angles. Because of how I anticipated the swimming behaviors of the turtles and the currents in the river, the most numerous and best angled views were of the sea turtle’s right side. Other angles included the front, left side, back and overall shell view of the turtles.
When I started this photo ID effort a few weeks ago I wasn’t expecting any immediate results. However when I serendipitously picked a random image of a turtle I had recently photographed I discovered that I had photographed this same turtle a year prior. Talk about beginner’s luck!
Stay tuned as we attempt to unlock more secrets of the urban sea turtles of the San Gabriel River.