#62: Getting My Feet Wet

SCUBA certification is a requirement for our job so that we can dive in our exhibits to clean and do other housekeeping. As the newest trainer, I just received my SCUBA certification. But before I can jump in with the seals, I had to do a checkout dive with the Aquarium's Diving Safety Officer in the Giant Ocean Tank (GOT). I was nervous, and the fact that my boss, co-workers and a small crowd at the top of the tank were watching didn't help. As soon as I jumped in my nerves eased a little bit and we started the dive. Watch this video of how I did:

I was tested on basic SCUBA skills such as taking off my mask and SCUBA gear (in the video I'm taking off my weight belt and putting it back on oh so gracefully) , sharing air with my buddy, and finding neutral buoyancy. After doing the skills I got a tour of the GOT. I got really close to a nurse shark, scratched Myrtle's back and saw where all the eels were hiding. What started off as a nerve-wracking experience ended up being really fun. Next step: learning how to vacuum up seal poop.

You can read more about scientific dive testing by checking out John's post over at the Giant Ocean Tank Blog.



#61: Lobster Spa Treatment

Chewie, the 17-pound lobster living in the harbor seal exhibit, needs regular check-ups just like everyone else. You might find that his check ups seem more like a day at the spa than a doctor's visit.

Full Body Scrub: People pay big dollars for an algae wrap at a spa. Chewie's treatment is just the opposite. I gently remove any algae with a soft sponge. We use his shell appearance to help determine his overall health.

Manicure/Pedicure: With the help of our head veterinarian, Dr. Smolowitz, we are taking a closer look at the condition of Chewie's shell, especially on his claws. Having a strong, healthy shell will ensure that Chewie stays strong and healthy himself.

If you're thinking that Chewie's next stop is the "steam room," get that idea out of your head right now!

All that's left to do is book a follow-up appointment!




#60: Nap Time!

While I was in the harbor seal exhibit the other day, I decided to try out the bottling behavior that Smoke seems to enjoy so much. It was so relaxing I could've taken a nap myself!



#59: Oh My Gourd

We're getting into the spirit of the season at the harbor seal exhibit. Check out this picture of Lana adding her artistic touches to a pumpkin. You can also check out these shots of Lana painting on canvas, and this example of seal artwork!



#58: Turtle Training Part 2

A few months ago I posted the first Turtle Training video featuring Myrtle, the giant ocean tank's resident green sea turtle. At the time, she was learning to swim away from the deck to find white target pole in another location. At the deck, she has long been able to distinguish her target from a plain black and a black /white striped pole. We wanted to know if she would continue to go to her target if there were other choices located around the tank. To find out, we placed long versions of the plain black and black white/striped around the tank too. In this video you can see how far along she has come with this behavior. You will be able to tell if she got the correct pole by seeing food being dropped in the water and the poles being taken out. Notice that she passes the other poles to get to her plain white target pole!



#57: Free Swimming with the Seals Update

We have had the opportunity to do a number of free swims with the harbor seals now, so I wanted to show you some of the interactions we have had.

Smoke showed interest even before I got in the water, then came by for a quick touch. Rochelle and Amelia played with the orange boomer ball, Lana checked out her favorite toy then Smoke came over for a good scratch from Justin. Cayenne, who has been a little shy about the free swim idea, swam close to take a closer look at Lindsay. We all agree that these free swims are not only enriching for the seals, but for the trainers as well!



#56: Playing with Cayenne

One goal of our enrichment sessions is to find things that each of our seals are interested in. Cayenne always seemed to be interested in things going outside the exhibit, so one afternoon, with Rochelle's help, I went out with the camera to see, and this is what I got.


#55: Whiskers

What are they for? Seal whiskers, or vibrissae, are used to feel the change in vibration in the water. This is helpful when hunting fish. Seals use their vibrissae to navigate in dark or murky water. Our sight impaired seals at the aquarium, using only their whiskers, get around just as well as the sighted seals. Seal whiskers are similar to cat and dog whiskers too. Here is a good look at Cayenne & Trumpet's vibrissae.


#54: Groundbreaking!

Chacoda with his construction gear. Photo courtesy of the Boston Globe.

We had an official ground breaking ceremony last Thursday for the New Balance Foundation Marine Mammal Center. It was a great celebration of all the hard work put in to make a new exhibit a reality. See more pictures, watch video and get the scoop on the new exhibit here. We'll keep you updated on the exhibit's progress.



#53: Synchronized Porpoising

I recently decided that I would like to train a synchronized porpoise with Chuck and Cayenne. When you choose a behavior to train, you must first decide what you would like the finished behavior to look like. Otherwise, how will you - know when you are done? In this case, I wanted to give the signal and have Chuck and Cayenne porpoise (jump up out of the water) at the exact same time until I gave them the signal to stop (bridge). Once I figured that out, I was able to plan out the steps I would take to get there. Since porpoising is a behavior both Chuck and Cayenne already know, I chose to start here. I give Chuck and Cayenne their porpoise signal (rotate my extended right arm in a circle backwards up over my shoulder) and blow my whistle (bridge) only when they jump up out of the water at the same time. The idea is that they will start to realize they are only being bridged when they porpoise together and will start to offer it more.

In this video, you will see that they both respond to the signal immediately, but that in the beginning, they are jumping out of the water at different times. Once they jump out of the water together, listen for the whistle sound, that is the bridge. The whistle bridge is very long and loud because it didn't seem like they were listening to it. I wanted to make sure that they heard it. Once they have stopped and returned to me, I reinforce the behavior with a lot of fish.

Stay tuned to see our progress.

- Erin