#78: A Trainer's Holiday Story

Once upon a time there was a group of talented trainers who worked at the New England Aquarium. These trainers decided to send holiday cards to all their friends to let them know they were thinking of them. "What sort of card should we send?" they wondered. They thought and they thought and they thought. Then one said, "Let's have our photogenic harbor seals kiss under mistletoe!" "Brilliant!" shouted the trainers with glee.

So one of the trainers gathered some fake mistletoe (because real mistletoe is dangerous) and held it above Cayenne and Chuck. For three days the trainers tried to get the perfect picture, but this wasn't as easy as they had thought. The mistletoe had to hang lower to be seen in the picture, Cayenne didn't like the mistletoe so close to her head and Chuck kept smelling the fake mistletoe and leaving in disgust--yuck! At the end of the third day when all the trainers were starting to get discouraged they reviewed their pictures and what did they find...


They quickly uploaded it, because these trainers are computer-savvy, and created a card to send to all of their friends. So to you, our friend, the Marine Mammal Department wishes you a happy holiday season!

The End.




#77: Lumpfish goes to school

As Justin has mentioned in previous blogs, we are all getting the awesome opportunity to work with a wide variety of animals around the aquarium. I am training a juvenile lumpfish that I have named Blondie.

I know, I know "training a fish?!" you say. But you would be surprised how much a fish can learn and in a pretty short period of time. Right now, I am training her how to go to her target (a specific object that I have deemed "hers") which is a red spoon. I am also training her how to push a lightweight ball around the tank and even do spins!

Here are two clips of a "spin" training session. In the first one, you can see it takes a few trials to get her to spin. I tap the water to give her direction.

In the second clip, it only takes two trials with two distinct taps, one at almost halfway around and the other almost at the endpoint. She spins super without any taps on the water at the end!

Now that's pretty cool; what should I train next?

Stay tuned for more fish training...


#76: All I Want for the Holidays is a Nice Plump Seal

Reggae, a nice plump seal for the holidays. Truthfully, he's plump most days ... Valentine's Day ... Groundhog Day ...

When we have guests on the seal exhibit, visitors often ask, "How can I get close to the seals too?" The answer is ... Check out our Play with the Seals or Trainer for a Morning programs!

Play with the Seals brings guests behind the scenes and on exhibit to give the seals some of their favorite toys.

Trainer for a Morning is a chance to experience what it's like to be a Marine Mammal Trainer here at the aquarium. If you're interested in a career in training or just want to learn more about the animals, this is a terrific program.

If you're looking for that one of a kind gift, our seal programs are perfect. Aquarium gift certificates can be applied toward Play with the Seals or Trainer for a Morning. If you prefer not to get your feet wet, check out our Proud Parent Animal Sponsorship Program.

Happy Holidays,

~ Jenny



#75: Winterize Me

As Justin mentioned in his recent blog, the Marine Mammal Training Staff is taking advantage of a little extra time by learning about new animals and helping out where we can. We're also spending more time getting dressed and undressed. Before you say "Whoa! I didn't think it was that kind of blog", let me explain.

In this picture Justin is wearing what all fashionable trainers wear in the summer; Shorts, a short sleeve shirt, water sandals and a seal on his cheek.

Our winter outfit takes up a little more room...

As Lindsay models her winter wear, it's clear that the seal accessory is out of the question.

While Justin has chosen to brave the toe-numbing waters of the penguin tray, some of us have opted for a different climate. Personally, I sought warm weather dwellers. Poison dart frogs are typically found in a tropical climate. I'm working with a Blue poison frog (Dendrobates azureus) in the video. The pink object is a plastic clip I put in to see how she might react to new objects. Ultimately we'll introduce a name target as we have with the harbor seals. You might hear the clicker in the background. This is the initial training of a bridge. To teach the frog to equate the bridge with food, I'm clicking, or trying to, just as she eats a piece of food.

I have no previous experience with poison frogs. In a future blog, I'll describe what information one needs before embarking on a training program with a new species. For now, it's time to get ready for a harbor seal session. It starts in an hour and it might take me that long to get into all of those clothes.



#74: Lana Says RELAX


Each seal seems to have a place or position in the exhibit where they feel most comfortable. After a long day at the office, Lana likes to find her favorite spot in a shallow area, put up her flippers, rest her head on a rock and relax. To me it looks like a guy in a La-Z-Boy. The only thing missing from this scenario is a bag of Doritos.

Check out this adorable video of Lana reclining on a rainy day:



#73: Getting Cold Feet

Me hosing guano (penguin poop) off an island

With our fur seals temporarily at the New York Aquarium, many of the marine mammal trainers are helping out in other areas of the Aquarium in addition to our normal duties taking care of the harbor seals. Patty and I are being trained to work in the penguin exhibit. Two days a week we squeeze ourselves into attractive wetsuits (mine makes me look like a giant bumblebee ... neon yellow and black. Yowzahs.) and spend a few hours in the 55 degree water with the birds.

It's a completely different perspective being eye to eye with them. In addition to feeding them (the fun part), we spend the rest of the time cleaning, cleaning and cleaning some more. They're messy birds (projectile poop!) and the entire exhibit gets scrubbed and disinfected every day. We use a veterinary disinfectant that is safe around the birds. It's mixed with water and then scrubbed on the islands. So you might say we like our disinfectant stirred and on the rocks. So far our challenges include learning the 80+ birds' names, and preventing our feet from going numb in the cold water. I think we'll have better luck with the first one.



#72: People Think We're Crazy

Recently we've taken on the challenge of trying to train many other animals at the Aquarium other than the seals. Many people believe you can train any animal to do anything that they are physically capable of doing. So we've been challenged to train lobsters, fish, frogs, turtles and even anacondas. I'm pretty sure co-workers from other departments think we're nuts. A bunch of us have been working with juvenile lobsters that were raised in the Aquarium's Lobster Lab.

If we are capable of training the lobsters to do certain behaviors and they are able to remember them, it may shed more light on crustacean brain power. One behavior some of us are attempting to train is to turn over on their back on a signal. These small lobsters sometimes do this on their own when being fed so our challenge is to get them to do it on cue. Watch this video to see what it looks like. Once the lobster flips I am reinforcing it with some brine shrimp from a dropper.




#71: Want to get more involved?

If you have an interest in marine animals, there are a variety of ways for you to get more involved. Many zoos and aquariums offer volunteer and internship opportunities that give you an up close look at the world of marine animal care and training. There is also a great organization called the International Marine Animal Trainers' Association (IMATA) that provides information on marine animals and the many aquariums, zoos and parks where you can visit them. I joined IMATA two years ago. Just recently some of my coworkers and I attended the annual conference. Luckily for us New Englanders, it was held in sunny Cancun, Mexico!

But marine animals weren't the only things we saw while we were down there ...

Check out Erin's blog for more info on all the cool things we learned and participated in during the conference!

The IMATA organization is open to everyone so if you are looking for a way to find out more about our field, this is a great place to start. Membership includes a quarterly magazine with articles about training and access to a member's section of their website for training ideas, a trainer forum for Q & A, and even an area for job postings. Currently we have over 1300 members but we are always looking for new faces to join the group. You don't have to be a trainer to be a member, just a fan of marine animals!

And with a face like that, how can you not be? :)