Thursday, November 19, 2015
Ollie being Ollie
Ollie The Sea Otter Shows The Colors
What happens when Ollie the sea otter encounters an American flag made of ice? Well Ollie being Ollie she parades the colors past aquarium guests.
Ollie is the most unique and free spirited otter I’ve ever met. You never know what she’s going to do next. A case in point happened when the Aquarium of the Pacific’s husbandry staff decided to set up a patriotic display in the middle of the sea otter exhibit for the Fourth of July. While the rest of the otters feasted on the otter treats spread around the display, Ollie’s attention fixated on the Old Glory made of ice. She decided to pick up the icy American flag and take it into the water. She then swam with the flag past the viewing glass looking for all the world like she was leading a patriotic parade to show off the colors to the crowd on the other side. This was not a trained behavior. It was just Ollie being Ollie. Check out the video of this unique moment in otter-dom with Ollie the most patriotic sea otter in America in my humble opinion. It starts off with stills of Ollie and the flag which then leads to the video of Ollie swimming with Old Glory.
Friday, November 13, 2015
You saw WHAT on the whale watch?!” is the phrase that has been circulating around the office, and around other whale watch organizations around Southern California. El Niño is definitely doing what it has set out to do; raise the water temperatures off of our coast. Our local waters have been in the 70’s, and with it, comes a whole new slough of animal life who are following their prey, and that prey following their prey, and so on down the food web. To counter this, many species who eat prey who prefer cooler temperatures are leaving the area. Since this is El Niño, these changes in marine life are not something that is unexpected, but the species that we see is always surprising and super exciting! Luckily, our staff, and of course Harbor Breeze’s Erik Combs and Tim Hammond, are armed and ready with their camera equipment! Some of the amazing and exotic marine life we have been seeing include flying fish, which are usually found closer to Catalina, but recently, have been spotted ‘flying’ beside the boat while we are in search of whales and dolphins. More sharks are being spotted during the trips and Erik was able to get an awesome shot of a mako right at the surface. We have also been spotting a multitude of brown boobys, which have been spotted throughout the summer, but this time, we are seeing two to three at a time! These are tropical birds are usually found down in Mexico and Central America.
The most unusual animal we have been seeing has to be the mobula ray! At first glance, it looks JUST like a manta ray (wait, we don’t see manta rays around here!?) and you can check out the shot of one below. This was just not one instance, but several of these mobula , or devil fish, have been sighted off of our coast, and most of our reports are that they are travelling in groups! I think this is super cool since I have always been fascinated by large cartilaginous fishes. Generally, mobula rays are found in tropical waters and on average, can have 17 foot long wing spans and weigh up to a ton. They also exhibit very interesting mating and communication behavior that involves leaping out of the water up to 6 feet in large aggregations. After some digging, it looks like the species of mobula ray we have been seeing could be the spine-tail devil ray, which is usually found in most tropical equatorial waters, which makes these sightings very unique.
These are not the unusual things happening on our whale watches. On a few separate occasions, our whale watch tour has come upon humpback whales who have been entangled in lobster pods or thick gill net line. There are many questions as to why we have been seeing so many entangled whales (blues, fins, and many humpbacks), but it could be related to the increase of exotic big game fish sightings due to the warmer waters. These large game fish are being fished, and many times, large gill nets are used. Whales are large and can easily get tangled up. The good thing is that the California Stranding Network who are trained to disentangle these animals have always made it to the scene to do their best. The stranding networks in Southern California were able to eventually disentangle this whale, along with another humpback sighted with similar entanglements shortly thereafter. More detailed recalls of these events will be described in blogs to come.
Well, it wouldn’t be a complete blog if I didn’t introduce another one of our new fall photo ID interns! This week, we will get to meet Jack. Here is a little bit about him:
“Hi I’m Jack! I’m from London, England and I graduated last year with a degree in Marine Biology from Plymouth University. I moved out to Southern California about a month ago to take part in the internship and I’ve absolutely loved every minute of it so far! Having gone from never seeing a whale in the wild before to getting the opportunity to see them up close every day out in the Pacific Ocean is an amazing experience. The number of different species that I’ve had the chance to see already is extremely exciting and this whole experience is definitely reinforcing my passion for whales! Every day out on the boat is a new adventure as you never know what you’re going to see!”
Jack is the first intern we have had from the UK and you can check out some of his photos in this week’s blog.
If you have a few hours to spare and want to go searching for amazing wildlife like humpbacks and fin whales, you may even be surprised by the unique and the unusual by a tropical passerby.
Thursday, November 05, 2015
Sunflower Stars attempt to steal treats from a Giant Pacific Octopus.
What happens when you give an octopus a Halloween pumpkin filled with tasty treats? Well its lair gets visited by sea star trick-or-treaters.
As an enrichment for the giant Pacific octopus otherwise known affectionately as the GPO, aquarist Angelina gave the big cephalopod a carved Halloween pumpkin with a tasty seafood treat inside. Well the GPO completely enveloped the pumpkin with its arms and carried it back to its little cave at the bottom of the exhibit. In the video that I shot for the Aquarium’s Facebook page it looked like the story ended happily ever after when the octopus retreated into its lair.
But that was just beginning of this Halloween tale. Just like out of a scene from the Walking Dead a horde of Walkers sea stars arrived to invade the GPO’s home. While the octopus was analyzing how to get the crab out of the pumpkin, large sunflower stars started moving towards her lair in an attempt to share in the feast. It reminded me of a scene right out of a TV show with zombie-like creatures slowly approaching the unsuspecting hero. Well when the GPO noticed their approach she decided that she didn’t like the idea of freeloading sea stars getting any of her treats. While the other seven arms were manipulating the pumpkin to get inside, one arm extended out of the cave to push the sunflower stars away. The arm pushing away the stars turned an angry red while the rest of the octopus’s body stayed pale to blend in with the rocks.
Just when it seemed hopeless for our cephalopod hero to save her precious Halloween treats, the sunflower stars suddenly gave up and moved away. The octopus could finally enjoy her treats in peace. Much later when it was done with the treats inside, the GPO pushed the remains of the pumpkin back out of her lair where an aquarist retrieved it later unaware of the drama that had occurred during the Night of the Zombie Sea Stars.
Thursday, October 22, 2015
How to take a Besties shot with Harpo the sea lion.
There is more to the picture than just a volunteer and his pinniped pal mugging for the camera.
The image looks simple enough. An Aquarium staffer and a sea lion perched side by side. Their arms and flipper are around each other in a friendly embrace while posing for a picture. It’s just one of the perks of being a long-time husbandry volunteer. Sounds easy right? Well taking that photo involved more than you might think.
Let’s break it down to its individual components of this Bestie’s shot that I recently took with Harpo the sea lion.
- First off I am physically touching Harpo.
- Harpo had his front flipper on my back.
- Harpo is up on a rock in the photo.
- Harpo is “kissing” me in one of the photos.
- Harpo is facing the camera in several of the shots after I lead his face forward with my hand.
- And Harpo looks totally comfortable around me.
In essence there are at least half a dozen individual elements that went into making this shot possible.
These elements are:
- A tactile behavior.
- A flipper present behavior
- A seat behavior
- A kiss behavior
- A target behavior
- Harpo and I have a strong positive relationship with each other that was built up over the years.
So now that we have an idea of some of the pieces that were used to put together this shot let’s take a look at how all these pieces were placed together.
The origins of this photo actually began years ago when Harpo arrived at the Aquarium of the Pacific as a year-old pup in 2007. One of the fun duties I had back then was to spend time with the then-yearling in his behind the scenes holding area to let the youngster start to build a relationship with staff members. When you think about, it Harpo has known me most of his life so he would feel comfortable being around me for the picture.
The next step in the evolution of this photo was Harpo being trained to target using positive reinforcement. Positive reinforcement basically means that when Harpo does something we like he gets a reward like a fish or a pat on the back. When he doesn’t we ignore or give no reaction to the unwanted action. The wanted actions are keyed to a verbal or visual cue. Harpo was trained to touch or follow a target like a hand or a buoy on a pole when given the verbal cue “target”. Thus I was able to lead or target Harpo’s face forward during the photo.
Harpo had to be taught to go up onto the rock in the photo. The behavior was taught by first placing a target next to the rock and then progressively placing the target higher until he was sitting on top of it. He also learned the verbal cue “seat’ to initiate this behavior. This is how I got Harpo onto the rock for the shot. Just as a trivia note. The rock where Harpo is seated in the picture is known as the hug-a-seal rock. It’s where I first taught Shelby the harbor seal to be hugged many years ago.
Harpo’s flipper is resting on my back. The origin of this action is a basic husbandry behavior known as a “flipper present”. This is where Harpo was taught to raise his flipper up when asked so that a staff member can inspect it for a physical checkup. This behavior was used by former mammalogist Megan and present mammalogist Meagan to train Harpo to do a pat on the back behavior.
My arm is resting on Harpo’s back. As part of basic husbandry or animal health care behaviors all our marine mammals are trained to be touched by staffers. These tactile behaviors allows for a thorough inspection of the animal’s body on a daily basis. It also allows me to hug and pat a seal or sea lion as in the photo, sometimes as a reward.
The final part of this photo session is Harpo appearing to kiss me. That was an easy one for our trainers to train as sea lions as a form of recognition will naturally touch noses.
Some forms of these behaviors can also be used during our sea lion encounter sessions with Aquarium guests.
Put it all together and you have what is necessary to take a fun buddy photo with a sea lion.
Tuesday, October 20, 2015
Hello whale enthusiasts! I am back from a short break from my vacation and ready to catch you, and myself, up with everything going on with the whales! What did we miss? A LOT OF HUMPBACKS! Not only humpback sightings, but crazy fun humpback behaviors like breaching, tail lobbing, chin slapping, and even some whales doing these things in tandem! Erik, from Harbor Breeze, was able to capture some stunning moments from these humpback behaviors and had SO many photos, it was hard to choose which ones to show on the blog. I was so fortunate to go out on the boat before I left to see a humpback breach over and over for about 45 minutes! I managed to take a couple of short video clips that I will post. Out of the 14 stocks, or groups, of humpbacks found worldwide, our stock that is usually found between California and Mexico, is one of the most numerous. We are lucky to have them feeding and ‘playing’ off of our coast for so many months during the summer, and even into the fall. Not only did we have Erik taking photos, but it is time to introduce our fall photo ID intern, their stories, and their photos. Our new interns this time around are Ashley, Augi, Jack, and Josh. This week, we will be getting to know Ashley and seeing some of her work;
Hi, my name is Ashley. I graduated with a degree in marine biology from Hawaii Pacific University. This internship has been amazing thus far!! I love going out on the water every day. It’s so amazing how many different types of whales I’ve seen and I’m only a month in. I never realized how amazing and majestic they were until I started taking pictures of them. I’m so glad to be working with everyone here at the aquarium and I can’t wait to see what else I’m going to be seeing on the boat!
Humpbacks have really given guests some unexpected trip highlights, but they are not the only whale in town. We are still seeing a few blue whales, (they usually peter out by the middle of October) fin whales, bottlenose dolphins, common dolphins, and Pacific white-sided dolphins. Those who are into birds, we have also seen some brown booby birds flying around and resting on local buoys. There have been reports in the area of whale sharks too! We have yet to see one here in Long Beach, but we are on the lookout! Pilot whales have also been reported down south and with our super warm water, I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw more interesting animals this El Niño (maybe more hammerhead sharks like we had earlier this summer). Our waters have been SUPER warm, in the 70’s, and this is causing less upwelling and less krill at the surface. This may be why our blue whales have not done much surface lunge feeding this summer since krill prefers the colder waters. If you would like to see highlights of this amazing behavior from last Summer, check out this blog. These natural ebbs and flows in the weather, like El Nino, did not deter the hundreds of blue whale sightings we had this summer though!
Need to beat the heat? Come on out on the beautiful Pacific Ocean for a whale of a good time!
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All blogs and comments represent the views of the individual authors and not necessarily those of the Aquarium.