#52: A Smelly Field Trip

Sometimes we do other things than training. There are many other departments in the Aquarium that we get to work with from time to time. We have worked closely with the Rescue and Rehabilitation department over the years. They deal with many stranded and sick animals including sea turtles and marine mammals (which we have a little experience with). Last week we had a really cool opportunity to help out with a deceased humpback whale that washed up onto a beach in Plymouth, MA. Click here for a link to one of the news stories.

The Rescue Rehab Truck

We rode down to the South Shore with the Rescue Rehab team including one of our veterinarians. Once we got there we followed the smell down some steep stairs to the beach. It was obvious that the whale had been dead for quite awhile and had washed up on the beach earlier in the morning. Scientists had already taken samples from it while it had been floating in the ocean the week before.

Justin taking measurement of tissue sample sites

Lindsay measuring the whale's length (it was just under 30')

Our job was to take measurements and note any unusual markings or debris (e.g. netting, propeller marks etc) which we found none, and talk with curious beach goers. The whale was a juvenile male humpback and was just under 30 feet long. It was not obvious how the whale had died, but hopefully the samples previously taken will give scientists some answers.

If you ever encounter a stranded or deceased marine animal on a beach, remember to keep your distance. If you think the animal is in trouble, call your local aquarium and they will help you out. The NEAq's stranding hotline is 617-973-5247.



#51: Free Swimming with the Harbor Seals

We have recently started free swims with the Atlantic harbor seals. What exactly is a free swim you ask? For us, it is any time a person is in the water with the seals outside of a training session or cleaning dive. We consider free swims to be a type of enrichment for the seals (and of course the trainers). Since it is very new and we want the seals to be comfortable with us hanging out in the exhibit, we will start by going in for short periods of time, taking a break, then going back in.

In this video, you can see Rochelle doing one of the first free swims with the seals. In her first short swim, Amelia comes right over to check her out. In the second swim, Rochelle has picked up a toy to see if anyone is interested and Chuck swims by while Cayenne checks her out from a distance (look at the top left corner). In the third swim, Trumpet checks her out from a distance. I wonder if they will come any closer?...Check back to see!



#50: Chainsaw Ultrasound Picture

Here is the end result of months of training Chainsaw to hold in position to have an ultrasound performed. An earlier post showed Dr. Charlie Innis moving the ultrasound probe on Chainsaw's abdomen and and along her back as he adjusted the portable ultrasound machine. This picture is what Dr. Innis sees while he moves the probe. The dark kidney shaped spot at the top of the screen is....... a kidney!!! Training behaviors that focus on medical exams and diagnostic procedures- such as ultrasounds, x-rays, administering injections, and taking blood among others, are considered husbandry behaviors and are all very important to the well being of our animals.




#49: Not so motivated

Sometimes our seals aren't interested in eating. Here is a picture of Reggae with a herring tail hanging out of his mouth. He left it dangling in the wind for about a minute--I even tugged at it! This is a great example of a sign that your seal may not be super motivated. Looks like I'll have to find something more interesting than fish.

- Lindsay


#48: Move over Monet!

Here are some pictures taken the other day of Lana creating an original work of art. She has been trained to hold a square object that holds a paint brush and moves it back and forth on a canvas. Each seal has their own style. Lana tends to do big long brush strokes. Keep your eyes out for video of a painting session in the future!

- Justin



#47: Enrichment = Play Time!

Ever wonder what the seals do when they aren't participating in training sessions? Well for one thing, they entertain each other. With seven Atlantic harbor seals, there is always a lot of activity in the exhibit! In addition, we offer them many different enrichment items throughout the day. Enrichment is another word for play time. It is a chance for us to give the seals something that they enjoy outside of our training sessions. You'll see fur seals in some of the pictures below. If you've been following our blog, you know that they are temporarily off site while we build a new exhibit.

Hose enrichment is a big hit with many of our animals. If they are interested in the hose, they tend to glide through and present the area of their body where they want to be sprayed. Some prefer a high pressure massage around their neck and back while others like a mist over their whiskers.

We also give the seals a wide variety of toys. Many of these are dog toys because they are made to be durable and withstand sharp canine teeth. The green toy in the picture was actually made for horses. For our animals use, we fill it with squid ice cubes. The hole that you see on the top of the toy will dispense the delicious squid treats as the seal pushes it around.

Ice toys, or "fishsicles" as some people call them, are definitely a seal favorite. Fishsicles are made by putting a dog toy and some fish in a bucket and adding water. We freeze it overnight and by the next day it is ready for the seals to enjoy! Sometimes we also attach a car wash strip like the blue one in the picture above. That way the toy stays in one place so we can watch the seals play! It also gives aquarium visitors an opportunity to participate. For more information on how you can help us enrich the seals, check out the link for the Play with the Seals program!



#46: Fur Seal Update 3- Meeting the NYAq Trainers

So, it hasn't been all fun and games down here. (Well that's a lie - with a job like this it's always fun). But seriously, while we have been getting the girls acclimated, we have also been introducing them to the trainers at the New York Aquarium (NYAq).

Since the fur seals will be in New York for about 1 year while their exhibit is under construction, the trainers at the NYAq will need to know everything about them. So during every training session, the trainers at NYAq accompany us, get to know the girls and learn their behaviors. Here you can see Belinda introducing Jaclyn to Ursula.

We are happy to say that this last week has been great and we are really happy with how the girls have settled in. Now that we spent some time in NY, it's time to see what has been going on back in Boston. See you there.

- Erin



#45: Fur Seal Update 2 - Enrichment

Just because the girls are somewhere new, doesn't mean they don't get to enjoy the luxuries of home. While we are sure they will enjoy all of the great enrichment items NYAq has to offer, we brought a few of their favorite toys with them to help in the transition. Those items include a boomer ball, some car wash strips, a few rubber chew toys, and a few molds to make some fish-icles with.

Here, Chainsaw is checking out some fish-icles that Belinda has made. Yum!

That wasn't the only thing she checked out!

- Erin


#44: Fur Seal Update 1 - We Have Arrived!

We are really happy to say that our three female Northern fur seals arrived safely at the New York Aquarium. All three went right into the water, have been eating well and been participating nicely in training sessions since then. Belinda, Rochelle and I stayed with they for a bit to help the seals acclimate to their new environment and trainers. So while I am happy to make this announcement to everyone in Boston, Cordova has been announcing their arrival to everyone in Brooklyn. Just listen to her:

Stay tuned for more updates.




#43: Chainsaw's Ultrasound

In this video you will see Chainsaw setting up nicely for our veterinary staff to take an ultrasound of her body. When she is on her back, or ventral up, we are looking at her liver. When she is sitting up we are looking at her kidney.

Setting up for an ultrasound is an example of a husbandry behavior that we train to make sure our animals are as healthy as possible.


#42: Baranov's Trip Home

Baranov on one of his favorite resting spots @ NEAq; a bridge that is about half as wide as he is

Baranov stayed with us in Boston for the past two months. We loved having him here, but like all good vacations, this one came to an end. Baranov's main training goal while he was here was kenneling, or going into his transport carrier on a signal. The day of the big move he kenneled without a hitch.

He was then transferred to a large air conditioned truck and surrounded by lots and lots of ice. We prefer our fur seals on the rocks, not shaken or stirred.

He remained comfortable during the two hour commute, but Cheryl and Patty who rode with him arrived in Connecticut with hands as cold as icicles. Once at the Mystic Aquarium and Institute for Exploration he gladly followed Erin, one of his trainers, down into the exhibit and was greeted by Zhivago, another male northern fur seal.

It was a really smooth move and we're happy that Baranov has settled in so nicely.

We'll miss him!