Tag Archive | animal care

Update: Fall Internship


Hanging with a rescued tortoise named Rudolph at the Alligator Attraction at John’s Pass in Redington Beach, FL on July 11th, 2012.

Hey there everyone, this is Jenna posting. Sorry I have not been able to blog in nearly a month for I have been on a two-week vacation in Florida for Fourth of July celebrations and this has prevented me from blogging about what had been going on down there. However, I wanted to blog today because I just wanted to give everyone a quick update on internship news I got the other day and nothing else.

So, I am happy to report that this fall I will be doing an animal care internship at Theater of the Sea in Islamorada, FL. This internship involves working along side the animal training and care staff at the small park to feed and care for dolphins, sea lions, sting rays, sea turtles and other marine animals. The internship will also require interns to assist in food preperations, exhibit upclean and animal feeds through observation, discussion, and participation. For me, this internship will last from November 20th through Janurary 18th and this will mean my fanily and I will all be spending the Holiday season in the Florida Keys but it will be a great Christmas too.

Orginally, I had plans to do an internship at Sea Life Park in Hawaii after getting offered a six-month internship that would last from August through January there but, not being able to find affordable housing on the big island had made it impossible for me to accept it. So, I had to turn it down but the internship coordinator there still wished me the best of luck though.

So anyway, this just a quick update and I want to thank you all for continuing to support me and this blog and I will keep you posted.

~Jenna~

Marine Mammal Husbandry


The purpose of animal husbandry on marine mammals including cetaceans, like Panama is to monitor their health and ensure that they are healthy.

Animal husbandry incorporates all methods and practices used to monitor the health of all marine mammals in human care. Trainers, animal care staff, and veterinarians employ structured routines to monitor and maintain the health of all animals in their care through daily medical examinations and constant observation. All work with the animals is then recorded on computers and charts for both easy reference and long-term tracking. Husbandry procedures include exhaling, obtaining fecal and urine samples, blood testing, and ultrasound and the goal of these procedures is to ensure the animal remains healthy in a zoological setting.

1. Exhaling

Naku shows us how exhaling can help monitor a whale or dolphin's respiratory health.

An exhale is when a trainer asks a whale or dolphin to give them a strong blow from their blowhole in order to obtain blow samples that will later be tested by veterinarians to determine their respiratory health.

2. Hydration (cetaceans)

Hydration helps prevents cetaceans from developing kidney problems. (photo by the Kohala Center of Hawaii)

Hydration is a procedure done to keep a whale or dolphin hydrated by carefully inserting a clean tube down the animal’s throat. This is because unlike humans, dolphins do not have a gag reflex which can make the procedure pretty easy for the trainers. A funnel that contains fresh water is connected to the tube.

3. Blood Testing

Many captive marine mammals are trained to voluntary present their tail flukes (cetaceans and manatees) and flippers (seals, walruses, and sea lions) for blood sampling. (Photo by SeaWorld)

One of the best ways to determine animal health is by taking a blood sample from animals in human care. When blood is taken, a marine mammal is asked to voluntary present either it’s tail fluke, or flipper. In cetaceans, the animal lays in a vertical position with pressure being applied to the tail flukes. When the blood is being drawn, it’s drawn the from the major vessel running along the underside of the fluke. In most seals, and sea lions, the blood is drawn from their flippers while remaining still. The blood sample is then taken to a lab where it would be tested to determine illness.

4. Urine/Fecal Sample

Urine and fecal samples are used to determine eating pattern and hormone levels.(photo is public domain).

In order to collect urine or fecal samples, the trainer must first clean the animal’s urogenital opening with an antiseptic gauze pad before placing the cup into a position that would be easy to catch either urine or fecal and apply pressure on the bladder or anus carefully with the palm of the trainer’s hand. The animal then fills the cub.  The samples are then used to determine an animals’s eating pattern (feces), or to determine if an animal is either pregnant or ready to breed.

5. Milking

Milk samples from nursing animal mothers can help veterinarians check for hormone changes and study ratios of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. (Photo by Zooborns.com).

Milking is when the mammary glands of a marine mammal is attached to a breast pump by having the animal voluntary lay in a haul-out position. Although the samples are mainly used for research purposes, they are also used to hand-rear baby animals that have been either rejected by their mothers or their mothers had died shortly after birth.

6. Sunscreening

During her rehabilitation, Winter was given sunscreen lotion to prevent her from getting sunburn as a result of the hot Florida sun. (Screenshot from 'Winter: The Dolphin That Could" DVD).

In the wild, dolphins that spend most of their time resting on the surface of the water would be more likely to develop serious skin problems from years of exposure to the sun. In zoological facilities however, cetaceans receive sunscreen that can be applied to their melon and other external parts of the body to prevent sunburns. At some facilities like SeaWorld, a sprinkler is provided to keep the skins of marine mammals cool damped during the hottest days of the year.

7. Semen Collection

It takes months of training to successfully train cetaceans such as Ulises the killer whale for semen collection. (Photo is public domain).

Semen collecting is the method of obtaining semen from a breeding male for the purposes of research and to one day artificially inseminate breeding females without ever having to transfer the males to other facilities for breeding loans. During this procedure, when the male sees a small plastic bag, he will voluntary roll over and present his penis before admitting semen samples to the trainer.

8. Body Measuring

Every two to four weeks, marine mammals such as manatees, are always measured to determine their body length and height. (Photo by ABC Animal Training.)

The most common husbandry practice at marine zoological facilities, body measuring is a procedure that measures the physical growth of an animal. The animal may lay either vertical or dorsal-up while trainers or keepers use a measuring tape to measure their length and girth. In cetaceans, some of these measurements may include the dorsal fin, tail flukes, and pectoral fins while sea lions and seals may only have to include the flippers.

9. Weighting by Slide Out

Slide outs are very helpful when it comes to recording an animal's weight. (Photo is public domain).

Slide outs are used to weight an animal using a flat, low-laying electronic scale. This procedure requires the animal to slide on top of the scale and lay still for just a few seconds while it’s being weighted. The scale shows how much an animal weights and can determine if that weight is healthy or not.

10. Tooth Care

A harbor seal is getting it's teeth cleaned by it's trainer during a husbandry session. (Photo is public domain).

Dental procedures are very important when it comes to caring for marine mammals in captivity. About several times a day, trainers swap, and brush the teeth of marine mammals to prevent possible tooth infections that would otherwise cause life-threatening illnesses to the animals. The teeth are then flushed with water after the teeth are bushed. However, if a tooth is infected, then a veterinarian will be required to perform an x-ray exam to determine how bad the infection is before deciding on where to go from there (a tooth cannot be surgically amputated unless it’s proven to be seriously infected and it’s at all means to save an animal’s life).

11. Eye Dropping

eye drops are used to treat and prevent eye problems in pinnipeds. (Photo by SeaWorld).

In pinnipeds such as sea lions and seals, eye problems are very common. While their eyes have evolved for seeing well underwater, it’s not known why they develop eye problem such as blindness, and cataract. In human care however, such problems can either be treated or prevented with the use of eye drops. A small drop of this medicine is carefully inserted into the pupil and allow it to sit and the medicine will absorb into the entire eye after several minutes.

12. Ultrasound

Many animals such as killer whales and dolphins are trained to hold still and relax during ultrasound exams. (Photo by SeaWorld).

Another valuable tool in animal husbandry is the use of an ultrasound. This procedure allows veterinarians to scan the animals for internal anatomy images. It’s also very useful to establish norms for individual animals  so that if some sort of change does occur, such as possible illness, treatment can occur instantly. Ultrasound is also used to detect pregnancy and monitor fetal health as well as determine the optimum time for mating females.

No training session nor husbandry procedure is ever forced.

It must be reminded that none of these husbandry procedures are forced and are all voluntary by the animals themselves. Each and everyone of the animals that are in human care are trained with the same tools along with other behaviors.

I hope you all find this list of husbandry procedures to be a helpful resource.

~Jenna~

Bring Back The Waterworks at SeaWorld


Waterworks help stimulate the whales' everyday needs as well as, develop strong relationships with their trainers.

Since Dawn’s death last February, OSHA (U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration) has fined SeaWorld for “willful endangerment” of trainers who work with killer whales in SeaWorld’s animal collection by performing waterworks tasks with them. Despite being the first death in SeaWorld’s 4 decade history (though there had been similar accidents with killer whales at other marine life facilities), OSHA now wants the trainers to no longer perform waterworks with their killer whales at all. OSHA’s citations on SeaWorld is completely unfounded and reports that accompanies these citations contain numerous errors such as details and events that led up to the accident. This also includes the number of witnesses as well.  OSHA itself has failed to cite and regulate other risky professions too. I believe for OSHA, citing SeaWorld over Dawn’s death was simply a way to seek the media-grabbing political ploy by a government agency in an attempt to justify its existence. To make matters worst, OSHA staffers virtually have no experience working with captive animals.  This has been noted back with a 2006 inspection on SeaWorld San Diego following an accident that took place  there when OSHA admitted to it’s lack of expertise to properly assess the working conditions there.

Why is Waterworks important for the killer whales?

Trainers virtually know the risks of working with such large animals like killer whales. However, this is what keeps them going with what they love.

To maintain close relationships with their killer whales, SeaWorld trainers spent the majority of their work time( beside hourly observation, food prep, and regular dry-work training and husbandry sessions) being in the water with them. These in-water interactions not only helped build strong trusts between trainer and whale, but it also stimulated them. Another benefit from waterworks is that some medical examinations require both trainers and vets to have very close contact with the animals in order to take good care of them and ensure that they are healthy. Yet, upon the citation, OSHA has chosen to alter both SeaWorld operating and animal care practices in the name of “employment safety”. As a result, without close contact of any kind, the whales will suffer as indicated by the sudden death of a middle-aged killer whale named Kalina in October 2010. Many believe that this death could have been prevented if SeaWorld staff were allowed to monitor animal health based on their own animal care guidelines, which is now, under OSHA’s de-facto control. If a judge were to rule in OSHA’s favor during an up-coming hearing on the matter this month, then SeaWorld would not be the only zoological facility to suffer from this citation, other zoos and aquariums with large animals like elephants, big cats, apes, and and rhinos would suffer with SeaWorld. This would also include veterinarians, who could be prevented from properly examining domesticated animals such as cats and dogs and sick stranded marine animals such as dolphins, and sea turtles as a precedent.

Without the trainers performing in the water with the whales, attendance at SeaWorld will drop. This will not only be detrimental to the local economies, but also place financial restrictions on SeaWorld's research and rescue operations.

What do SeaWorld and other zoo and aquarium patrons, like myself want to see come out of this month’s OSHA hearing on SeaWorld….

1) Have OSHA’s citation of SeaWorld for “willful endangerment” be reversed, overturned, or overruled.

2) Pass federal legislation aimed at reforming OSHA by restricting OSHA’s ability to regulate professions that involve contact with animals.

3) Establish a waver system, in which employees whose jobs are altered by OSHA rulings could voluntarily opt-out of the ruling and continue to perform their jobs under pre-OSHA ruling conditions.

4) Launch a federal inquiry and investigation into OSHA, OSHA director David Michaels, and OSHA investigators involved in the SeaWorld citation for potential abuse of power, by singling out SeaWorld with excessive penalties.

If you want to see trainers back in the water with their killer whales:

Please sign the petition at: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/1/let-sea-world-trainers-back-in-the-water-with-killer-whales/ (Big thanks to Alberto Branado for creating this petiton)

Sample letter to write to lawmakers, ambassadors, and the president:http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=10150259144778039

Learn more about benefits of waterworks with killer whales at SeaWorld through Stephanie Tracey’s interesting essay on this topic (great essay Stephanie!):  http://www.facebook.com/topic.php?uid=63617892564&topic=15980

Let’s Talk About Marine Mammal Enrichment


Receiving Enrichment is part of any captive animal's life and it can benefit them in a positive way.

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 and it keeps them both
mentally and physically fit.

See some examples of animal enrichment:

For seals at the New England Aquarium, their enrichment is of soft, long ribbons, fish, ice, water, and pet toys. Trainers and volunteers would decorate the pet toys by stringing up the large ribbons into each hole. For some of the toys, they would just tie a single knot at the sides.

Killer whales at SeaWorld love to play with balls, barrels and disks. When the large objects are in the pool, the whales will push them around like crazy. However, they love it the most when the trainers are playing with them. This enrichment is also provided to various marine mammal species at other marine life facilities too.

 

At some marine life facilities, marine mammals like Winter, are provided their very own floating bed!! The animals love to lay on them. Some, like Winter prefer to swim around on it while others, will just rest on it.

I hope this guide on enrichment will help you out on the purpose of enrichment for marine mammals in human care and what various toys they are given. However, but you must keep in mind that before any object is given to the animal, veterinarians must evaluate them and determine if they can be given to an animal.

Big thanks to Kelly Leigh Anderson-Ahearn  for giving me this idea on writing a blog entry that focuses on enrichment and different examples of certain marine mammal enrichment. Thanks again Kelly.

~Jenna~