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In the Florida Keys and a Winter and Hope Update


Here's a kiss to the Keys saying "This is the life".

Here’s a kiss to the Keys saying “This is the life”.

Hey there everyone,

This is Jenna writing finally, after a while. I have been very busy lately due to online college work and my current internship at a Theater of the Sea in Islamorada, FL which has slowed me down a lot recently to the point where I no longer had anytime to blog about my experiences. So, now that my finals for the semester are out of the way, I can finally get to blog about how things have been going down here in the Florida Keys.

Theater of the Sea

I personally love my internship at Theater of the Sea. So, far, I have had the best five weeks of my life getting my foot in the animal training field through some hands-on experience with the dolphins, sea lions, and rays at the park. So far, I have done some water-work training sessions with the dolphins and a sea lion named Bella as well as a couple of feeding sessions here and there with the sting rays at stingray beach. In addition, I have been assisting a lot with getting music ready for the shows and picking out volunteers to meet the animals up-close in person. Some of these people have even asked me to picked them to meet the animals too like this one grandmother from France who came to the Keys with her young grandson because he wanted to see a dolphin. When she came up to me, I was so touched by her story how it was her grandson’s dream to meet a real dolphin that I had to pick him to meet one and so, after I fulfilled his wish, I picked him for a second time to toss rings to Wilbur the sea lion and believe me, he wowed the crowed by throwing the ring from a far distance. It felt so good granting some kid his life-long wish because this is the kind of stuff that most people may never get the chance to do and also, it was Christmas and I was taught for a long time that Christmas is not really about the presents you get under the Christmas tree, it’s more about caring for those who really want to be cared for.

Winter had been paired with Hope (Photo by Bay News 9)

Winter had been paired with Hope (Photo by Bay News 9)

Winter has Finally been Paired with Hope

With a lot of delight, I am very happy to day that Tampa Bay’s Bay News 9 has confirmed that Winter the dolphin has finally been paired with Hope almost one year after Clearwater Marine Aquarium’s youngest bottlenose dolphin was first moved to the Winter Zone from the Dolphin Zone where she had been residing since the winter of 2011. The CMA staff is reporting that Winter and Hope have been getting along very well and the introduction has been a huge success. Congrats to Winter and Hope and a very successful introduction.

Theater of the Sea Family Portrait

Theater of the Sea Family Portrait

Back to Life in the Keys….

Since my internship is a paid one, I have decided that I will be using all my current paychecks to pay to have my SCUBA lessons be done down here in Key Largo since I found out that it’s very expensive to get certified up north while it’s cheaper down here. Plus, I have always wanted to go scuba diving in Florida’s coral reefs  and see the ship wrecks that are down there. This would mean I would have stay in the Keys long after my internship ends and that would also mean finding a job down here too so that I would be able to help pay for the condo my mother and I are renting at the Moon Bay condominiums in Key Largo.  I am so glad that I’m spending the holidays in paradise because I don’t have to worry too much about the cold weather. Any way, I hope you all are having a great Christmas and a Happy New Year.

Merry Christmas everyone,

~Jenna~

Merry Christmas from the Florida Keys.

Merry Christmas from the Florida Keys.

 

Whale Watching in Cape Cod


A juvenile humpback whale flipper slaps off Stellwagen Bank, MA. This marine sanctuary serves as a primary feeding ground for humpback whales and other marine life that call it home.

A few weeks ago, I went whale watching with my Dad off Glouchester, MA and it was such a great day for the both of us. We saw at least twelve humpback whales including two mother and calf pairs, four minke whales, and two grey seals off Stellwagen Bank, a marine sanctuary that is two miles off the coast of Cape Cod, MA. The marine sanctuary, which was established in 1992, serves as a safe haven for many marine animals such as whales, dolphins, propoises, seals, and sharks. Yet, when you visit this area, you are more likely to see humpback whales and grey seals more than you are with other animal species though but still, the sight of seeing these large mammals in their natural habitat will make you feel like that you part of a scene from a wildlife documentary even though there are movie cameras around to film the moment.

Humpback whale “Etch-a-Sketch feeds with a flock of sea gulls off the coast of Proviencetown, MA.

During my whale watch, I got to see a varity of surface behaviors such as flipper slapping, tail striking, and even breaching. However, of all these behaviors, I saw the humpbacks whales feeding like crazy. For example, this one whale called “Etch-a-Sketch” did a tail flick right in front of the boat before he took a dive to create a bubble net and lunge feed at the surface with a flock of sea gulls joining him in the action and some of them “rode” on him as he continued to feed. It was such a sight to see and the krill and herring that the whales feed on is what drives these animals to Stellwagen during the spring and summer months while they migrate to waters off the Carribbean.

While scientists don’t know why humpback whales display surface behaviors such as breaching or tail slapping, it’s believed that it could be a sign of either playing, being agressive, or just another form of communication.

Just to make things intersting, we even saw one juvenile  do nothing but flipper slapping the whole we have been in the area. When we first got to Stellwagen for the day, we were “greeted” by the sight of this animal doing nothing but flipper slapping as if he was welcoming us to the sanctuary even though he may have been either being playful or just trying to communicate with other whales that were nearby. Still, he was just so busy flipper slapping that the nautralists on boasrd had trouble figuring out who he was even though they were able to indentify him as being a juvenile whale. He would continue this behavior for several minutes before he decided that he was going take a nice long dive just so we could find other whales in the area.

Going whale watching on Memorial Day was so much fun that I hope to go again next time when I have the chance to do so but I may have to wait until this coming fall for another round because that is when the whales start heading south for the winter.

Have a whale of a day,

~Jenna~

 

Seal Tale


Fur seals Cordova and Issac are two of the New England Aquarium's seven northern fur seals that resude at it's New Balance Foundation Marine Mammal Center exhibit along with two female California sea lions.

It was a cold Sunday Morning in Boston on February 28, 2010 and my mother took me to the New England Aquarium so that I could do a “Trainer for a Morning” program. In this program, I could work along with the trainers during training sessions with fur seals and harbor seals. I was very excitedabout spending time with the animals and looking forward to every moment with them. When my mother and I arrived at the main entrance, it was crowded with both couples and families who came to the aquarium to see all of the animals that lived there. As I was waiting for the trainer to take me in for the daily session, I could not stop thinking about some of the activities I was going to do that involved animals. As I waited for my session to begin, It was just beginning to dawn on me on why marine mammal training is very important.

New England Aquarium's New Balance Foundation Marine Mammal Center.

It was about 9:02 AM and a male trainer has arrived at the main entrance to take me in for the daily session. The trainer’s name was Justin and I had met him before almost two years early.At the time, I was doing a job shadow for my high school sophomore economics class. Seeing Justin again was great and was looking forward to spending the morning with him and the seals. So, after meeting Justin in the main entrance, we went into the aquarium. There, we met up with another seal trainer named Patty and off we went into the New Balance Foundation Marine Mammal Center, anopen-air exhibit that housed fur seals (as of 2011, this exhibit now includes two juvenile female California sea lions who were rescued off the coast of California).
When I got to the Marine Mammal Center, I was just very impressed with how well-complex it was. The pool was partially shallow, and yet, it was large and wide enough for up to 10 seals to call it home. As I walked on to wooden platform, two fur seals named Issac and Cordova swam near the platform like they were being very curious about us. Cordova would constantly yell like a man as if she was saying hello to everyone. Erin told me a story about the time when Cordova was yelling so loud,that someone thought there was a crime going on the Aquarium so, they called the police. When the police did arrive, however, it turned out that there was no crime going on and it was just Cordova’s vocals that triggered the false alarm. Her Seattle Aquarium-born friend Issac, on the other hand, was a quiet and yet,a mischievous seal who is known for his fine-tune behaviors such as a head shake, his purr-like vocalizations, and sticking his tongue-out to the crowd. Cordova and Issac were two of five northern fur seals to call the New England Aquarium home.

Cordova is a very estudious fur seal when it comes to doing interactions and training sessions.

The same time I was introduced to the seals was when the training session began. The session consisted of trainers interacting with the fur seals by doing various activities with them that were all based on their different needs. Just watching the seals interact with their trainers was such a sight to see. Erin had me use a target pole for Cordova. From the moment she got on the platform after Erin gave her the signal, Cordova mastered aiming at the target not just one, but twice. It was like she knew her stuff. For example, if you had the target on your hands, Cordova will come to you right away. She was pretty studious for a seal who loves to vocal. Issac, however was not quite sure about the target. But, after only a few seconds, he simply placed his nose on the target and got it right. I guess it took a little bit of encouragement to find his inner studious-side. Soon after that, Cordova gave me a kiss on the nose that lasted for an estimated ten seconds. That was such a fun session with the fur seals.The session lasted for about an hour.

This chart is a record of how much food should the seals eat depending on their health, age, gender, and weight. Each diet plan is set up to meet each animal's need.

Following my training session with Cordova and Issac, Justin brought me into the fish room where I learned about how the diets are set up for the animals. For example, the harbor seals will feed on mainly herring and caplin while the fur seals will feed on a combination of both fish and squid. Each diet was set up to meet each animal’s needs depending on their health, age, and gender. After talking a little bit about the food preparations, Justin asked me if I would like to add some vitamins into the gills of the fish and I did not hesitate to say“yes”. This is because in all of my years I have gotten to work with animals, I have had a chance at preparing diets for them. So, I got myself some gloves and started to add the vitamins into the gills of the fish. The vitamins are used to held the animals get their nutrients while keeping them healthy at the same time. It took an hour to fill all the fish with vitamins; but, it was all worth it because part of a trainer’s job is to prepare the diets for all of their animals.

After doing some food prep for the seals, Patty called me over to make some enrichment toys for the seals. Enrichment is the act of providing stimulating and challenging environments, toys, and activities for animals in zoological facilities. This is very critical to the animal’s well-being as having their own right to both food and medical care. It also promotes animals to perform their natural behaviors that they would normally do out in the wild like diving and exploring while it keeps them both mentally and physically fit. The seal enrichment was made of soft, long ribbons, fish, ice, water, and pet toys. I would decorate the pet toys by stringing up the large ribbons into each hole. For some of the toys, I would just simply tie a single knot at the sides. While I was making toys for the seals, I was beginning to picture how the seals would react to the toys the next time the seals have another enrichment session with the trainers. I would think that maybe the seals might be curious about them before starting to play around with them. After I got the last toy all decorated with ribbons, Patty called me over to the freezer where the toys that were already made were stored for the next session. That was when, we made our way to the harbor seal, which was outside of the building.

Smoke just loved the toys I had to ffer to her. She just had a ball with them.

As we made our way to the harbor seal exhibit for the play session, I could not stop thinking about the reactions the harbor seals would have the moment they first see the toys. The session was consisted of two attempts. The first attempted was to do the play session through the exhibit’s glass windows. This is in which the window to the seal exhibit and would allow us to drop the frozen enrichment into the water without having to sit on the platform. However, after about five minutes and with the large of visitors watching on, the seals showed no interest in coming towards the window to play with the enrichment. So, we pulled it out and decided to perform our second attempt, which was to do it within the exhibit. As I laid down on a soft black mat, I tossed the enrichment into the water in hopes the harbor seals would show signs of being interested. Then, all of the sudden, Amelia, one of Aquarium’s seven harbor seals came close to the enrichment and began to play with it. For several minutes, Amelia would attempt to get the fish out of the icy block by sticking her teeth to ice as if she was trying to grab on. Then, an elderly seal named Smoke began to play with the ice block. As the ice began to melt, she and Amelia would attempt to grab on to the enrichment and by the time it melted away, both females had a few bites of the fish and no longer showed any interest in the enrichment. After the play session was over, Erin brought over a male harbor seal named Ragaee for a quick hands-on session. I got the chance to feel his wet fur by rubbing his stomach. His fur felt so wet and slimy. Then, I leaned down once more to get a nice big kiss from Ragaee. It was such a nice kiss on the face that, I jokingly exclaimed that I would never want to wash my face again because the moment to me, was very special. Soon after that, our my session with the seals was over and believe me, it was the best morning ever. I felt like that I had a great experience with all of the animals at the Aquarium on that cold February morning. It was such a great day at the aquarium and I would love to visit again.

In the end, when I think of that day, I begin to think about how and why working with marine mammals in captivity is very important. First and foremost, one of the main goals of marine mammal training is to promote animal husbandry. This concept focuses on medical methods and practices that are used to monitor the health of captive animals. Trainers have structured routines that would allowthem to maintain animal health through observation and medical examination. Secondly, another purpose for marine mammal training is to promote physical and mental stimulation. When animals do physical training sessions for at lest three times a day, they are getting exercise out of these sessions and it keeps them both in fit and healthy throughout their lives. Finally, one of the main reasons why marine mammal training is important is because researchers are just beginning to understand both the needs and capabilities of marine mammals and other marine life we all share this planet with. By observing and communicating with them, both researchers and trainers alike are understanding the secret lives of these amazing animals by understanding how they think and adapt in this ever changing world. Marine mammal training has it’s benefits for the animals and the people who learn and care about them each day that may help those who study them find a way to one day protect their wild counterparts for generations to come.

Right Whale Tale(s)


A female North Atlantic Right Whale swimming in a Provincetown Harbor in 2004.

Since the movie Big Miracle, a film that’s a about a grey whale rescue in Alaska is out in theaters, I thought to commemorate it by sharing with you two whale watch experiences I had with the endangered North Atlantic right whale. These encounters occurred in 2004 and 2010. 

The first encounter with a wild right whale took place in October 2004. I was 12 at the time and whale watch boat that my family and I were aboard on was just leaving the harbor to see some whales in the Stellwagen’s Bank National Marine Sanctuary which was 10 miles off of Cape Cod. About just a minute into leaving the harbor, the naturalist unexpectedly stopped the boat about 500 yards out of port; it was then, he announced that there were right whales in the harbor. He then went on to talk about the right whales when suddenly, two right whales, a mother and her calf surfaced about 150 yards from our boat and believe me, it was such a site to see. However, just as we were all enjoying the right whales swimming by the boat, two jet skiers passed by the boat and they were too close to the whales and just to make matters worse, the jet skiers were skiing to fast in the harbor. As a result, the horrified naturalist warned them that he would report them if they slowed down and stayed 300 yards away from the whales, but the skiers kept on ignoring the naturalist before he finally called the coast guard on them. That was such an unexpected day because normally, you will not find right whales swimming in harbors but rather like 10-30 miles offshore if you’re lucky.

Then about almost two years ago in March 2010, my mother and I went down to coastal town of Provincetown, Massachusetts for Easter weekend in hopes that we to try out some land-based whale watching and see some whales. One the first evening we were there, we were at Herring Cove Beach when three North Atlantic right whales were sighted just five and a half miles offshore. Although they were far away, but you were able to see them up-close via, binoculars. Just to make things more interesting, I witnessed a young right whale calf learning how to breach from her mother and “auntie”. One of the two adult animals would breach first before the calf would repeat the behavior over and over again. It was such a precious moment to watch a whale calf learn from her mother.

These two right whale encounters were just amazing and far beyond my wildest imaginations. I hope that the next time I go whale watch, I get to see some right whales again.

Have a whale of a Valentine’s Day everyone,

~Jenna~

Swimming with Manatees: An Amazing Experience With Crystal River’s Manatees


Citrus County, FL is the only place in the entire world where you can legally swim with wild manatees under certain restrictions.

Sorry I was not able to blog for the past couple of weeks. I have been vacationing in Florida with my family and the condo where we were staying at had very poor internet service; but overall, I hope everyone had both a great Christmas and New Year. 

Last night I had return from a great vacation in Florida and it was such a great trip even though the Gulf was pretty cold around the late fifties to mid sixties. However, it was all worth it, just like my manatee swim in the Crystal River. Like I got in the water and before long, two adult manatees began to swim around me and my group as if they wanted to just play with us. All the two manatees wanted us to do was to just let us rub them while they remained curious about us. While I managed to rub the manatees, I did however, at some points had to back away from them just to give them space so they could still manage to swim along the river (though I did get eye-to-eye with one). Still, it felt so relaxing to just spend almost an hour being the mysterious underwater world of the Florida manatee. Soon after, the captain called my group and I (I was the only unrelated person in my group of five people by the way) to the return the boat, we made it to the Three Sisters Springs where the majority of the world’s colony of both adult female and juvenile manatees are often sighted during the winter months.

A newborn manatee calf nurses from his mother in the Three Sisters Springs in Crystal River, FL.

The minute the boat arrived at the Three Sisters Springs, I was a little horrified by all the boat traffic that was surrounding the manatees; but despite my anger about the heavy boat traffic in that single area, I had to remind myself that I did not come there to get angry over the large number of boats and people in a manatee habitat and enjoy the manatees and nothing more. After plunging into the spring, I approached a juvenile that was feeding near a mangrove. I just stood there and just watched him eat at the bottom of the spring for like a few minutes before I found myself getting shoved around by other swimmers which spooked the manatee off.  Meanwhile, I was shoved so far away into the spring, that I ended up finding myself among a mother and a calf pair. Although the pair were not swimming, they resting at the bottom of the shallow spring while the swimmers circled them in their surroundings. Up until that point, I had never seen a manatee nurse from it’s mother before so, seeing a newborn calf nurse his mom out in the wild for the first time was such a sight to see. After watching the baby manatee nurse, I continued my exploration of the shallow spring by swimming around  before coming across an entire colony of manatees resting at a deeper side of the spring.  So, I decided  to just spend the rest of the morning just observing the resting manatees in the deep end. As I observed the resting animals, one animal began to role on his back while another animal left the deep end to join up with other nearby colonies.

An adult manatee rolling on the sand at the bottom of the Three Sisters Springs in Citrus County, FL.

When the time did come to leave the spring and return to the boat in order to return to the dive shop, my group and I witnessed a group of manatees getting startled in an off-limits area by thrashing their bodies around the entire netted area like crazy. I wondered what the animals where thinking when they were thrashing around like that. Was it because they got spooked by the large number of people swimming around their habitat? Was it a sign of play? Or Where they just fighting? I don’t know what the thrashing manatees where thinking when they just started splashing like that and I guess we may never know because we can’t directly read their minds; however, I can safely assume it was likely a sign of aggression between two or more animals fighting over the right to mate with breeding females because after all, this was the time of year when the manatees breed. Overall, it was just a great experience swimming with wild manatees and I hope I get that chance again one day.

Rules regarding how to legally swim with wild manatees

  1. While you can float near the manatees, do not make too much noise like splashing or trending water because that can scare the manatees away. Remain quite as possible
  2. do not enter any manatee sanctuaries that are marked and roped off from the public.
  3. Let the manatee come to you. There is no need to chase them around like cattle in any shape or form and that’s considered harassment under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. However, if the manatee wants to be petted, feel free to rub the animal as long as you manage to give them space for them to swim on. Do not pet mothers with nursing calves.
  4. Never ever try to separate a mother from her calf because a manatee calf needs it’s mother to teach it all the necessary survival skills it would need in order to survive into adulthood.
  5. Never feed or give manatees water.
  6. Do not ride the manatees.
  7. If you choose to observe the manatees underwater, only use snorkeling gear from the surface.
  8. If you come across sleeping manatees, just let them be.
  9. Do not videotape manatees without written permission from the Fish and Wildlife Service. This should only be used for scientific and educational purposes.
  10. Use non-flash-able cameras when taking pictures of the manatees because flash can harm a wild manatee
  11. If you see a sick, orphaned, or injured manatee during your swim session, please have your instructor call wildlife officials immediately.

I hope these rules will help you  have a great manatee swim experience. Have a great evening everyone.

~Jenna~

 

A Seagull Rescue to Remember


Seagulls can become entangled as a result of coming into contact with fishing gear and other objects that don't belong in the ocean (photo by depositphotos.com) .

One summer in 2009, I saved the life of an injured seagull whose right wing was entangled by small fishing nets. My mother and I were walking down a beach near Quincy, MA when we stopped by to the disturbing site of an injured seagull. Although the bird showed no sign of being in distress, it did however, looked like it was in some sort of pain. So I went up to the lifeguard and I told her about the injured bird and asked if there was anything we could do help it. Sadly, she replied by saying that the bird was better off being dead than saved. I was so upset that I had my mother call the New England Aquarium in Boston, MA to report an injured seagull. Before long, the aquarium sent animal control to pick up the bird in hope to rehabilitate animal. I helped this bird because I just could not watch it suffer a slow but, painful death.

If you see an entangled sea bird:

1.  Never attempt to feed the injured bird because it can bite.

2. Do not try to handle or bother the bird in any way. Also, be sure you keep pets and children away from it too.

3. Call wildlife officials right away and be sure you give them the exact location of the injured bird so they can get to it right away.

4. Let wildlife officials do their job by taking the bird in for rehabilitation.

Happy 6th Birthday Trua


Trua is one of the most curious killer whales at SeaWorld Orlando. He is also one of three males residing at the facility too.

Today,  November 23rd, 2011 marks Trua the killer whale’s sixth birthday. For some of you who may not know his story, Trua was born at SeaWorld in Orlando, FL on Thanksgiving in 2005 to Takara (a San Diego-born killer whale who now resides at SeaWorld Texas) and Taku*(an Orlando-born killer whale who died in 2007).   He will interact with human guests and trainers behind the glass walls and on stage as well. He can sometimes be seen playing with his half-sister Nalani, but will spend more time with his aunt Malia. Trua has been recently grouped with his grandfather Tillikum.  In the past few years, Trua has been doing various behaviors on his own and often performs in the SeaWorld killer whale show One Ocean along with the other whales.

When I went to visit SeaWorld Orlando this past summer, I was fortunate enough to catch Trua in action…..interacting with the guests at Shamu Stadium.  As the guests began to settle down at the stadium, Trua spent most of his time interacting behind the glass as if he was curious about all the crowds who were sitting down. I think he was just amusing himself over the excitement that was going on behind the glass walls and it was funny to watch too. During that time, Malia would hang out with him for a little while before swimming away from him. It’s almost like every time Trua and Malia hang out together, they remind me of two high school sweethearts.

Happy Birthday Trua, and may you continue to be the light of Shamu Stadium for years to come.

~Jenna~