Tag Archive | New England Aquarium

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.

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How to Save a Cold-Stunned Sea Turtle


Thanks to the rescue and rehabilitation efforts of the New England Aquarium, cold-stunned sea turtles like Rorschach (#10) (photo by the NEAQ sea turtle rescue team)

Each year, around 50 to 200 sea turtles will beach themselves on the shores of the Massachusetts coastline from late October through December as a result of cold stunning. For those who may not be familiar with this term, “cold stunning” is when a sea turtle is exposed to cold water temperatures that are less than 65 degrees followed by a sudden hypothermic reaction. The symptoms include decrease in heart rate, a decrease in circulation, lethargy, shock, dehydration, pneumonia, and even death.  But the question that many people have in mind is why do these turtles come to Massachusetts waters in the first place? Well, this is because every summer when the water temperature gets to be about 70 degrees, the sea turtles (many of which are Kemp’s Ridleys) will feed on crabs in Cape Cod Bay after swimming through the Gulf Stream Current. The waters of Cape Cod Bay serve as a rich and hospitable seasonal habitat for the migrating animals who could often be seen in bays, inlets, and sheltering harbors. However, by late-October, the turtles will begin to migrate south to the warm waters of Florida, and the Caribbean while those who get trapped in the arm of the Cape, especially those feeding in shallow and inlet waters, will eventually become victims of cold stunning and before being pulled by the wind to the beaches of Cape Cod.  Once these turtles strand on the beach thanks to the unforgiving winds, they are now at the mercy of the icy cold waves and tides. There, the clock begins to tick when it comes to matter of life and death.

This is where organizations like the Massachusetts Audubon Sanctuary of Wellfleet Bay and the New England Aquarium come in. During the cold stunning season, volunteers will patrol the beaches after high tide in search of sea turtles in need of rescuing from the icy cold waters. Once a turtle is found, sometimes, volunteers will gently touch it to check for a reaction to see if it’s either a live or dead and sometimes, it’s hard to determine that because some animals could be found, show no reaction, be presumed dead before finally showing a reaction. Turtle experts call this “Lazarus turtles” because of this coma-like reaction that some of the turtles present. Meanwhile, once the turtles are rescued, they are transported to Massachusetts Audubon’s Wellfleet Bay Sanctuary where they are held for a short period of time before being transported to the New England Aquarium’s Marine Animal Rescue Facility in Quincy where they could receive treatment for up to two years depending on their condition on a long-term basis. Sometimes, some of these turtle patients will be transferred to other facilities like SeaWorld, or the National Aquarium in Baltimore  where they will continue their rehabilitation before being released in the spring and early summer months in the waters off Florida’s Atlantic coast.

After nearly six to eight months of rehabilitation, the remaining sea turtles (the ones who were never transported to other facilities) are released into either the Atlantic Coasts of Florida, Virginia, and southern Cape Cod where some of the animals are satellite tagged so that biologists can continue to keep track on the progress of the released animals in all hopes they do get themselves stuck in Cape Cod Bay again and return to their tropical habitats.

Kemp's Ridley sea turtles released off the coast of Florida in April 2011 (photo by NEAQ)

What can you do if you see a cold-stunned sea turtle:

1. Do not put it back in the water. Do not remove it from the beach.
Move it above the high tide line.
2. Cover it with seaweed and mark its location with a stick, buoy or other beach debris.
3. Call the Massachusetts Wellfleet Audubon Society at 508-349-2615 or the New England Aquarium’s rescue hotline at 617-973-5247and leave a message as to its location. Please be as specific as possible in giving directions from the nearest beach access so rescuers and volunteers can recover the turtle quickly.

“Dolphin Tale” Puts The Incredible Works of Marine Life Facilities In the Spotlight


Sully, an orphaned pilot whale from Curacao who was rescued by the Dolphin Academy in 2009 and was deemed "non-releasable" after it was determined he could not survive on his own. He was adopted into the SeaWorld family at it's sister park in San Diego, California in 2010 where he currently resides. He's a testimony to SeaWorld's commitment to helping rescued and orphaned animals get a second chance at life. Photo by SeaWorld.

Since last week’s release of Winter’s movie Dolphin Tale, marine life facilities around the world, including Clearwater marine Aquarium and SeaWorld, have been given the long overdue attention and critical praises they deserve. This is because of their extraordinary work to use their wildlife expertise to rescue, rehabilitate and release animals in need.  Not so many people know this but in fact, SeaWorld’s rescue team was the first to rescue Dolphin Tale star Winter in Mosquito Lagoon Florida nearly six years ago from crab trap entanglement.  However, Winter and Sully are not the only animals who owe their lives to incredible workings of zoological facilities.  In fact, they respond to thousands of animal rescues each year ranging from injured pelicans, to  orphaned marine mammals, to cold-stunned sea turtles. Here is are two examples of some amazing animal rescues performed by zoo professionals:

Saturn, endangered Kemp's Ridley sea turtle rescued off Cape Cod Bay in 2010. Photo By the New England Aquarium rescue team

Rescued in Dennis, Massachusetts in December 2010, Saturn the sea turtle was cold-stunned and was suffering from severe pneumonia. As a result, she was admitted to the New England Aquarium’s sea turtle hospital in Quincy, MA. There, she was treated for recurring pneumonia and her case led to multiple biopsies and CAT-scans over a seven-month period. Her last CAT-scan in June revealed that the pneumonia had cleared up. She was released off Cape Cod on August 13th, 2011.

Mystic Aquarium's latest rescue, a blind harp seal pup.

In August 2009, a juvenile harp seal pup was sent to Mystic Aquarium for rehabilitation after it was determined that he was less alert and responsive. There, he was treated for stomach problems that were related to him eating rocks; he was also treated for both skin and eye-related problems. However, further exams on his eyes concluded that he had suffer from a birth defect that caused him to be blind and his blindness was not treatable. As a result, the pup was deemed “non-releasable” by the US National Marine Fisheries Service. He was moved to the Detroit Zoo in December of that year where he currently resides.

These, like many other animal cases are very unique and it allows the rescue staff to learn about them, and even help save their species from extinction.  No rescue, no case is ever the same. Anytime and anywhere a rescue team will be there anywhere both in good times, and in bad times.