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.
Thursday, July 31, 2014
Tonic immobility Training
Lately there has been a rash of news and social media posts about people encountering sharks. Many suggest that humankind’s relationship with the shark is mainly adversarial in nature.
A common portrayal of a shark is that of a mindless, violent creature, stalking the shores to be feared by people. And then there’s Nicky and Fern.
Nicky is a senior aquarist at the Aquarium of the Pacific who loves sharks. Fern is a zebra shark who challenges the stereotype of her kind by being intelligent and gentle around humans. Together they’ve teamed up to show just how wonderful the human relationship with sharks can be.
Nicky has taken the same training techniques we use with our pinnipeds (seals and sea lions) and sea otters and has applied them to the sharks she oversees at the aquarium. (To check out a blog on Fern’s early training click here) The scientific title of the behavior she is currently working with Fern on is called Tonic Immobility Training. Tonic immobility is when a shark goes into a state of paralysis after being turned onto its back. Nicky is training Fern to allow her to put her arms around her body and physically turn her over. Think of the trust Fern has to have in Nicky to allow herself to be put into a vulnerable state of paralysis by a human!
It reminds me of the same trust I had to build with Shelby the harbor seal while training her “hug-a-seal” behavior which allows people to put their arms around her. This is why I sometimes whimsically call Fern’s Tonic Immobility Training, “Hug-a-Shark”. Just like with our seals, training tactile behaviors like this allows the staff to perform physical examinations of the body with minimal stress to the animal as part of their normal healthcare. It also allows the staff to more easily move the animals if necessary.
As a special treat, check out the video I made of Fern being trained. It will amaze you and blow the stereotype of sharks out of the water.
In reality our relationship with sharks is what we make of it. Sharks are vitally important for keeping the ocean’s food chain in balance. Below is a statement on sharks generously contributed to my blog by the Education Department of the Aquarium of the Pacific.
“Sharks have inhabited the ocean for more than 400 million years, more than 150 million years before dinosaurs appeared on Earth. Sharks have amazing adaptations and are diverse in their body forms and behaviors.
Sharks have an undeserved reputation; they are not the vicious “man-eaters” that they have been made out to be. Sharks are graceful, intelligent animals that have always played a vital role in making the oceans vibrant and productive. As apex predators, sharks maintain healthy fish populations, robust food webs and high biodiversity in the ocean. Wasteful practices like overfishing are leading to the dramatic decline of sharks worldwide. According to a recent study, nearly a third of all shark species are threatened or near-threatened. About 40 percent of all shark species do not have data to determine whether or not they are at risk.
There is still a great deal to learn about sharks- we know relatively little about their behavior and their biology. Learning more about sharks and how humans negatively affect sharks can help protect shark populations and prevent irreversible damage to the ocean.”
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All blogs and comments represent the views of the individual authors and not necessarily those of the Aquarium.