#117: Video of a White Lobster Molting

As you know, we have been doing a lot of work with lobsters the last few months. Justin even posted a video of one of his lobsters molting. Just this week, Anita taped another lobster molting, but you'll notice this lobster is a surprising color.

The lobster in this video is one of hundreds being raised at the Aquarium's Lobster Research and Rearing Facility. Anita, manager of the lab, happened to stumble upon this lobster halfway through molting. The first thing you might notice is that the lobster is white. This lobster was not born this way, but rather it has been eating a diet that lacks the pigment astaxanthin. Astaxanthin provides a lobster with its shell color, so if a lobster doesn't eat astaxanthin, they will turn white! For more information on lobster shell color and research, visit the Lobster Lab's web page.

The old shell is a light blue color, and the lobster itself is white. At the start of the video, the lobster is trying to get its claws, abdomen and tail out of the old shell. The lobster definitely looks like it is having a difficult time. Although the molting process only takes a few minutes, a lobster spends much of its life preparing to molt or recovering from molting. After molting, the lobster will bring water into its tissues and increase in size – sometimes it will gain up to 50% of its previous weight. The new shell hardens over the next couple days and the lobster will eat its old shell for nutrition.

Thanks Anita for the great video!



#116: Pucker Up!

Amelia's ready for her Birthday Kiss. Happy 24th Birthday Amelia!!!



#115: I Want to be Like Smoke

In an earlier post, I tried napping like Smoke. Lately, I've noticed Smoke seems very comfortable laying out at the surface of the water for Belinda, so I thought I would give it a shot. Pretty comfortable!




#114: Wanna Hold Hands? or Flippers?

Onto the next training challenge with Myrtle the Green Sea Turtle. For the past few months Myrtle hasn't been very interested in training. Every year, sea turtles fast; this means they stop eating or eat very little for up to several months. I still attempt to train her twice a day, which mostly leaves me at the top of the Giant Ocean Tank watching her sleep on the bottom.

When she did participate I took advantage of working a new behavior with her; a flipper presentation. We teach this behavior to our seals so I figured it was worth a try with a turtle. Plus it kept me from dragging all of the taining tools to the platform that mostly went unused while Myrtle snoozed. The following video shows some of the beginning steps of getting Myrtle to place her right flipper onto my hand. She needed a bit of prompting with some of her reinforcement to guide her head in the other direction but you can see her flipper raising to go to my arm.



#113: A Seal's Banana

For the last few months, I have been working on training Chuck to do a behavior we call a Banana. Interesting name, yes, but pretty fitting since it describes a natural resting behavior where seals lay on their side and lift their head and hind end up slightly, creating a shape that resembles a banana. With this behavior though, I wanted Chuck's final body position to be a little bit more exaggerated. What do you think?



#112: The Queen's Wave

After Smoke and I mastered her invertedbottle, I had to find a new behavior to train. It turned out that she was the only harbor seal at the Aquarium that didn't know how to wave. Not anymore! To get her waving I first had to get her to lift and lower her flipper. Over time we worked on increasing the number of waves and the speed of them. Here's the video:

Notice that I started off by rolling her over onto her side before she started waving. Soon, the act of rolling over became her cue to wave which was not my desired signal. Right now I'm working on getting her to wave by just saying the word "wave". Watch this video to see some of the steps we took to get Smokey waving like the queen she is.




#111: Happy Birthday Lana!

Today is Lana the harbor seal's 27th birthday.

Happy Birthday Lana!




#110: What's the point of training a fish?

Someone asked this question after watching one of Blondie's videos and I thought that this video may help explain. As with our seals, training can make medical tests easier to do. In this video, Blondie is getting a routine skin scrape. Dr. Keiko Hirokawa, our vet, takes a microscope slide and lightly scrapes Blondie's side to check for parasites. Since I had trained Blondie to sit in my hand, this was a piece of cake!

See how relaxed she is staying the whole time she is in my hand. She got tons of reinforcement for doing such a great job. Results of the scrape: This little fish is happily parasite free.



#109: Turtles Target Too!

Skip targets his object for an audience

One of the first behaviors we train most animals is to target. Targeting is when an animal touches a body part, usually nose or muzzle to our hand or some other object. It wasn't difficult to encourage Skip, the Blandings turtle, to follow and strike at a moving object.

Skip with a nightcrawler

He would use these same behaviors to track and catch his food. By pairing this targeting behavior with one of his favorite food items--nightcrawlers (shown in his mouth above) we now have a consistent behavior. Targeting helps us lead animals where we want them to go or orients them to a specific spot.

To train the spin behavior, I used the target to lead him in a circle. After many repetitions, I substituted my finger for the target and moved it in a circular motion to encourage a spin. Here's a video showing this behavior:

After many more repetitions I was able to fade the circular motion of my finger to just one small circle. Now Skip spins on a signal!

- Cheryl



#108: Training an Anaconda for an X-Ray

Back in February Rochelle and I showed you some of the training we were doing with our two juvenile anacondas, Marion and Wilson. It's been tremendous fun working with them and hopefully as enriching for them as it has been for us.

The finished x-ray of Marion the anaconda

The Animal Behavior Management Alliance (ABMA) was in Providence recently for their annual conference. They visited the Aquarium to see, among other things, some of the work the training department has been doing with fish, turtles, frogs and snakes, oh my! Their visit was the perfect motivation for pushing ahead on the x-ray behavior that we've been working on.

Marion the juvenile anaconda is x-rayed.

We haven't measured Marion lately but a conservative estimate of her length is approximately five and a half feet. Consequently, we had to x-ray her in sections. Eric Payne, an Aquarium biologist who works in the Animal Health Department, did a tremendous job of calibrating the x-ray machine so that we could obtain the images we needed through the section of clear PVC pipe. He was also super patient as I struggled, for much of the session, to untangle myself from a very "lively" Marion. Despite her desire to wrap herself around my arm or slither off in the wrong direction you can see that as soon as I could manage to orient her head towards the opening of the pipe she tended to go right in. Here's the full video.

Standing next to an x-ray machine in use makes it imperative that you wear protective gear, in this case a heavy lead lined apron, collar and glove. The glove made it difficult to manipulate Marion into position but, with Eric's help, we worked our way around it and, as you can see in the video, we were pretty successful. Now, on to a new behavior!