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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

Fins and Minkes: The Other Guys!

Introducing Dominique

March of the Penguin Chicks

Familiar Flukes

Target-Training a Shark

Floyd and Roxy Have a Chick

Lunge Feeding Frenzies!

Harpo: the Charismatic Raspberry-blowing Sea Lion

Tons of Blues and Other Marine Life Too!

The Aquarium at the Turn of the Century

Whale Watching from a Cruise Ship

Whales, Sunfish, and Sharks!

15 Years of Aquarium Memories

IT’S A BOY!

Farewell May Grays!

Welcome Back Charlie!

Cows, Calves and Breaching Whales!

Steller Sea Lion Getting “Thiggy” with California Sea Lions

One Whale, Two Whale, Gray Whale, Blue Whale! Killer Whales and Humpbacks too!

Critter Portraits

Orcas, Blues, Humpbacks and Baby Grays!

Otter Wish List

More Blue Whales!

iPad-Playing Penguins

Our First Blue Whale and More!

The Furball Through The Years

Hugh's avatar

Animal Updates | Mammals | Enrichment | Video | Volunteering

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Hugh

Otter Party Time-lapse
Brook, Betty and Ollie get ready to party in the ice pile.
Three humpback whales diving together.  | Aquarium of the Pacific
Ollie and me recently in "Olliewood"
The lower jaw and gaping mouth of a blue whale lunge feeding.  | Aurielle Modster
Patsy and Noodles chick, affectionately nicknamed Paddles, likes to strike up animated conversations with the staff whenever they're in the exhibit.  | Hugh Ryono
The Giant Pacific Octopus painting as an enrichment.  | Dominique Richardson
Aquarium of the Pacific
Kate and Avery's daughter.  | Hugh Ryono
Enrichment Volunteer Staccie at the Enrichment Exploration Station cart, where you can help build enrichments for the animals.  | Dominique Richardson
Offshore Bottlenose dolphin riding the waves.  | Aquarium of the Pacific
What the public thinks I do. Get kisses from sea lions.
Adelaide the Laughing Kookaburra.  | Dominique Richardson
One of the playful humpback whales showing us their baleen!  | Aquarium of the Pacific
The Otter Days of Summer. Ollie, Chloe, Brook and Maggie hanging out on their ice patch.  | Hugh Ryono
Kevein the Aracari with his recycled enrichment toy.  | Sara Nieters

Otter Party Days at the Aquarium of the Pacific are here! For the past several Saturdays, the mammal staff have been turning one of the public otter training sessions into an otter enjoyment session. Enjoyment for the otters and enjoyment for the Aquarium guests watching. Using piles of ice and treat-filled toys the sea otters of the Aquarium of the Pacific are given a frozen enrichment landscape in which to party in. And they do party!

The ingredients for a successful Otter Party Day are:

  • One to three piles of ice. Preferably the highest pile being under the skylight where the beam of sunlight shines on the ice and sea otters like a scene from a Disney or DreamWorks Animation movie.
  • A children’s playground play set for the otters to crawl over and through.
  • Restaurant quality clams and shrimp buried in the ice piles or scattered about.
  • Pre-frozen or freshly made otter ice toys.
  • A good amount of enthusiastic guests watching.

Finally add half a dozen otterly cute and playful southern sea otters and you’re ready to party down Enhydra lutris-style! Many of the otters will take their frozen treat-filled toys to the viewing window. There they will bang the plastic toys against the glass inches from the faces of smiling guests to get to the treats inside. A natural otter behavior that they also use with shellfish. It’s pretty fun to watch. Our mammalogists do this randomly throughout the week so the otters get a special surprise enrichment session.

Check out the time-lapse video of our sea otters enjoying their playtime.

Otter Party Time-lapse
Charlie, Ollie and Brook check out the main toy and treat filled ice pile.
Otter Party Time-lapse
For some reason this otter party shot reminds me of a poker game with Ollie in the background going all in with her shrimp and Charlie in the foreground checking over his cards figuring out whether to call or fold.

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Karen B.'s avatar

Education

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Karen

An Aquarium Explorer Abroad
Brook, Betty and Ollie get ready to party in the ice pile.
Three humpback whales diving together.  | Aquarium of the Pacific
Ollie and me recently in "Olliewood"
The lower jaw and gaping mouth of a blue whale lunge feeding.  | Aurielle Modster
Patsy and Noodles chick, affectionately nicknamed Paddles, likes to strike up animated conversations with the staff whenever they're in the exhibit.  | Hugh Ryono
The Giant Pacific Octopus painting as an enrichment.  | Dominique Richardson
Aquarium of the Pacific
Kate and Avery's daughter.  | Hugh Ryono
Enrichment Volunteer Staccie at the Enrichment Exploration Station cart, where you can help build enrichments for the animals.  | Dominique Richardson
Offshore Bottlenose dolphin riding the waves.  | Aquarium of the Pacific
What the public thinks I do. Get kisses from sea lions.
Adelaide the Laughing Kookaburra.  | Dominique Richardson
One of the playful humpback whales showing us their baleen!  | Aquarium of the Pacific
The Otter Days of Summer. Ollie, Chloe, Brook and Maggie hanging out on their ice patch.  | Hugh Ryono
Kevein the Aracari with his recycled enrichment toy.  | Sara Nieters

Kangaroo crossing signs dot the roadways, but it’s a myth that water drains the other way around. I’m in Queensland, Australia, on the northeastern coast of the continent. My name is Karen Backe, and I’m an educator with the Aquarium of the Pacific. I flew from Los Angeles to Sydney and traveled 15 hours north by land along the coast. Along the way, by bus and train, I met up with more and more whale researchers. We were easy to spot if you knew what to look for – hiking backpacks, whale tail necklaces, t-shirts that read things like “What genius decided to call them ‘killer whales’ instead of ‘sea pandas’?” and an air of excitement – we were all headed for Peregian Beach, and a project called BRAHSS.

BRAHSS [pronounced like ‘brass’] is an acronym for the Behavioural Response of Australian Humpback whales to Seismic Surveys (more on the exciting work being done here coming soon). All told, 93 people have converged on a small surf town, including chief and project scientists, project coordinators, boat skippers, marine mammal observers, computer and communication specialists, acoustic scientists, whale taggers and biopsy collectors, data and equipment specialists, party chiefs, a health and safety officer, and an army of volunteers from all over the world. Together, we are embarking on one of, if not the, largest and most complex whale behavioral study ever undertaken. There are five small boats, a large ship which will be the source of the sounds produced during parts of the experiment, two land-based observation stations each supporting three separate observation teams, an acoustics lab supported by five recording buoys listening to the trials and the whales, analyzing the world beneath the waves, and a headquarters from which the trial director will conduct the massive symphony of research underway.

With this many people to house and feed, the BRAHSS project has filled a big piece of Peregian Beach. The locals know and recognize the bright blue sun hats, huge research buoys being assembled in the yard, and the parade of boats parked in the streets. Living at the volunteer (or “vollie” as the Australians say) base station is a hoot and a half – we are housed in groups in a series of units along adjoining streets, and all food and cooking are communal; this means everyone is constantly in and out of everyone’s kitchens and living rooms, talking over the data collection, relaxing and swapping stories of field work and other adventures.

As the ice is broken and project systems begin coming online, an air of excitement hangs about the place. Even on our time off down at the beach mother and calf humpback whales can be spotted just beyond the surf, and everything is being readied for the huge research project about to begin - BRAHSS 2014.

Stay tuned for more updates!!!

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Julien's avatar

Animal Updates | Mammals | Whale Watching

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Julien

Just Under the Surface
Brook, Betty and Ollie get ready to party in the ice pile.
Three humpback whales diving together.  | Aquarium of the Pacific
Ollie and me recently in "Olliewood"
The lower jaw and gaping mouth of a blue whale lunge feeding.  | Aurielle Modster
Patsy and Noodles chick, affectionately nicknamed Paddles, likes to strike up animated conversations with the staff whenever they're in the exhibit.  | Hugh Ryono
The Giant Pacific Octopus painting as an enrichment.  | Dominique Richardson
Aquarium of the Pacific
Kate and Avery's daughter.  | Hugh Ryono
Enrichment Volunteer Staccie at the Enrichment Exploration Station cart, where you can help build enrichments for the animals.  | Dominique Richardson
Offshore Bottlenose dolphin riding the waves.  | Aquarium of the Pacific
What the public thinks I do. Get kisses from sea lions.
Adelaide the Laughing Kookaburra.  | Dominique Richardson
One of the playful humpback whales showing us their baleen!  | Aquarium of the Pacific
The Otter Days of Summer. Ollie, Chloe, Brook and Maggie hanging out on their ice patch.  | Hugh Ryono
Kevein the Aracari with his recycled enrichment toy.  | Sara Nieters

Happy October everybody! This month has been flying by and even though we have ended our blue whale tours we are still seeing them! That’s right, the blues are still here and they are not the only stars of the show lately. Humpback whales, several at a time, have been sighted, feeding and being very curious with our boats and our guests onboard. We have had some amazing trips earlier this month with humpback whales coming right next to the boat, rolling, fluking, and even breaching super close.

I was on a whale watch earlier this month where we ended up encountering 5 humpback whales in one area, and three were traveling and feeding together! These moments with the humpbacks are very special since we do not see them often. Usually during blue whale season, in the summer months, we will get a few humpback sightings since we have a large stock that travel up and down our coast. But now that it is October, we are super excited to have so many sightings! I can’t even remember the last time we had so many humpback sightings during this time of year!

Not only are we getting amazing humpback whale sightings, but blue whales as well! The blues are sticking around, for now, and seem to keep feeding on that krill and cruising around the boats. Dolphins have also been a highlight since we are also seeing our seasonal Pacific white sided dolphins, which are not seen usually until winter and spring. These high energy dolphins ride the wake of the boat and are so beautifully different than our local common and bottlenose dolphins with their interesting grey and white color patterns. Smooth hammerhead sharks have also been making an appearance along with hundreds of flying fish gliding next to the boat!

Our photo ID interns have been doing an amazing job capturing the images of these animals before they take the photos for processing after the trip. I would like to highlight another one of our newest interns, Maggie Snelgrove, who took most of the photos featured in this week’s blog. She has a talent for capturing the animals just below the surface of the water, giving us a unique perspective.

The ocean is full of life and we would like to show you our local marine life! Come on out and join us on a whale watch this month and maybe I will see you out there!

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Hugh's avatar

Animal Updates | Mammals | Volunteering

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Hugh

Hooray for “Olliewood”
Brook, Betty and Ollie get ready to party in the ice pile.
Three humpback whales diving together.  | Aquarium of the Pacific
Ollie and me recently in "Olliewood"
The lower jaw and gaping mouth of a blue whale lunge feeding.  | Aurielle Modster
Patsy and Noodles chick, affectionately nicknamed Paddles, likes to strike up animated conversations with the staff whenever they're in the exhibit.  | Hugh Ryono
The Giant Pacific Octopus painting as an enrichment.  | Dominique Richardson
Aquarium of the Pacific
Kate and Avery's daughter.  | Hugh Ryono
Enrichment Volunteer Staccie at the Enrichment Exploration Station cart, where you can help build enrichments for the animals.  | Dominique Richardson
Offshore Bottlenose dolphin riding the waves.  | Aquarium of the Pacific
What the public thinks I do. Get kisses from sea lions.
Adelaide the Laughing Kookaburra.  | Dominique Richardson
One of the playful humpback whales showing us their baleen!  | Aquarium of the Pacific
The Otter Days of Summer. Ollie, Chloe, Brook and Maggie hanging out on their ice patch.  | Hugh Ryono
Kevein the Aracari with his recycled enrichment toy.  | Sara Nieters

A sea otter's personal playground

It may be called the BP Sea Otter Exhibit at the Aquarium of the Pacific but to one particular free spirited sea otter it’s her own personal playground that I like to call “Olliewood”. This month marks Ollie the sea otter’s fourth year at the Aquarium.

Ollie the southern sea otter came to the Aquarium of the Pacific as an orphaned pup back in October of 2010. She arrived with much fanfare and videos of her growing up filled the web-o-sphere.

I was one of her first overnight caretakers at the Aquarium and I could tell right away she had a unique personality. Very free spirited and curious, nothing within paw’s reach is safe from her investigation. She is also extremely smart and methodical. When she wanted to know what was under a drain cover she proceeded to unscrew the nuts bolting the cover over the drain. These are the same nuts that a human has to use a wrench to loosen. Ollie did it with just her paws. Near as I can figure she just kept trying to turn the nuts little by little. Each day the nut was just a bit looser. It may have taken her a few days or a week but she finally managed to loosen two of the four nuts before we discovered her activities. Persistence, thy name is otter.

She continued being free spirited after she was introduced to the exhibit. By then the staff knew to make regular “Ollie checks” on everything in the exhibit looking for signs of Ollie-tampering.

Ollie in the exhibit is a blur of fur as she is constantly in motion either checking out her surroundings, interacting with the guests watching her or playing with the other otters. You can’t help but notice Ollie whether you’re watching from inside or outside the enclosure. That’s why I nicknamed the exhibit “Olliewood”.

The otter you see doing a backflip above the water seemingly just for fun? That’s Ollie. She learned that she could change directions faster by doing that backflip.

The otter that just suction-cupped a frisbee to the window a foot above the water? That’s Ollie. She placed it there to keep it out of the reach of the other otters.

The otter that kept pace swimming underwater with the penguins marching outside the glass. Yup. Ollie. Ollie takes in and tries to interact with everything that goes on in her neighborhood.

That spooky moment when the door knob on the exhibit door starts to jiggle but there’s no one in the exhibit. No not ghosts. You guessed it! Ollie again. She watched the mammalogists turn that knob so she figures she has to try it too. Fortunately the door is locked from the outside.

Ollie didn’t play with the knob because she wanted to be on the other side of the door. It’s just because her curiosity made her do it. It’s Ollie being Ollie. It reminds me of the innocent curiosity and resulting amusing mayhem of the main character from the old comic strip Calvin and Hobbes. That Calvin-ish mindset and her free spirit-

ness, intelligence and just plain spunkiness is what has endeared this otter to me and others. I’ve enjoyed my 4 years with her. Hooray for Olliewood!

Check out the image gallery of Ollie as a pup and today.

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Julien's avatar

Animal Updates | Mammals | Education | Whale Watching

Thursday, October 02, 2014

Julien

Lunge-a-Palooza
Brook, Betty and Ollie get ready to party in the ice pile.
Three humpback whales diving together.  | Aquarium of the Pacific
Ollie and me recently in "Olliewood"
The lower jaw and gaping mouth of a blue whale lunge feeding.  | Aurielle Modster
Patsy and Noodles chick, affectionately nicknamed Paddles, likes to strike up animated conversations with the staff whenever they're in the exhibit.  | Hugh Ryono
The Giant Pacific Octopus painting as an enrichment.  | Dominique Richardson
Aquarium of the Pacific
Kate and Avery's daughter.  | Hugh Ryono
Enrichment Volunteer Staccie at the Enrichment Exploration Station cart, where you can help build enrichments for the animals.  | Dominique Richardson
Offshore Bottlenose dolphin riding the waves.  | Aquarium of the Pacific
What the public thinks I do. Get kisses from sea lions.
Adelaide the Laughing Kookaburra.  | Dominique Richardson
One of the playful humpback whales showing us their baleen!  | Aquarium of the Pacific
The Otter Days of Summer. Ollie, Chloe, Brook and Maggie hanging out on their ice patch.  | Hugh Ryono
Kevein the Aracari with his recycled enrichment toy.  | Sara Nieters

Blues, fins and minkes lunge feeding at the surface!

Often times, people ask me what my favorite sighting has ever been and I always reply with the first time (and pretty much every time) I ever saw a blue whale lunge feed at the surface. Usually, when we see a blue milling about, you see a portion of the dorsal, or back side, of the animal; maybe a dorsal fin and a fluke if we are lucky. But when I first saw a blue expose its full head, ventral pleats, huge mouth, baleen and virtually the whole side of its body, I was BLOWN away. I remember when I first learned about the existence of blue whales when I was a little girl; it was always one of my dreams to see one someday. Even when I was in college studying the marine sciences, blue whales were almost the things of legend. We are lucky that we are even getting to have these leviathans grace us with their presence every year AND they are accessible to the public!

This is what we have been waiting for! We have ended September with incredible trips with numerous blues and lots of action. Huge bodies breaking the surface with gaping mouths getting as much food as they can. An adult blue whale eats about four tons of this small shrimp-like plankton, called krill, every single day! Not only have we been seeing multiple blues per day propelling their bodies out of the water, but minke whales and fin whales have been joining in on the plankton party! The average whale sighting per trip has been about 6-7 individuals spanning different baleen species. The photos posted here of these awesome blues are from one of our newest photo ID interns, Aurielle Modster!

Minke whales and fins have also been out there taking advantage of the krill. The krill has been so abundant at the surface that many of the naturalists are reporting actually seeing the krill in the water in the form of red patches at the surface.

Dolphins have also been everywhere probably because the krill bring their favorite fish to the surface so they can feed as well. The sea is full of life and there is no telling how long it is going to stay like this so come out on an adventure! See you on the water!

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