#133: Testing the Waters!

Yesterday Cordova and Ursula and J.D. arrived at the New Balance Foundation Marine Mammal Center! They'll acclimate to the new environment before the exhibit opens to the public on July 1.

Photo from the Boston Herald.

The arrival was a quite a news event. There was a photographer there from the Boston Herald and a news crew from NECN. Here's the story they put on the air. Just hit play and wait for the ad to finish to see the fur seals' new home!



#132: Safety First

We have been extremely busy preparing the New Balance Marine Mammal Center for the arrival of the fur seals. Our design and construction team has been putting the finishing touches on the exhibit and we have been making sure that everything is ship shape. This includes diving in the new exhibit to scrub algae off the walls and vacuum up debris. Since it is still considered a construction site, we must wear the proper safety gear. Wearing the hard hat and day-glo vest was a bit awkward over my dive gear, but I think it really added something to the outfit.

Don't you think?

- Justin



#131: The Wait Is Almost Over...

Ten months ago, we announced that our female fur seals would be moving to the New York Aquarium while we started building the New Balance Foundation Marine Mammal Center. The wait is almost over, so while Rochelle is in New York learning all about JD, she is also getting a chance to see Ursula and Cordova.

I went down this past weekend and snapped this picture of the two fur girls during a training session (Ursula is on the left and Cordova is on the right with Rochelle). They are both doing great and we are even more excited for the opening of the exhibit on July 1st. And for those of you that had visited these girls, have no fear, Cordova is still as vocal as ever!



#130: Get Ready For JD!

With the opening of the New Balance Foundation Marine Mammal Center fast approaching I wanted to give everyone a quick introduction to one of our soon to be newest residents. JD - short for 'Jimmy's Daughter'- is a 19 year old female Northern Fur Seal. She will be coming to us from New York Aquarium and joining Ursula and Cordova in our exhibit to start. She has a vast knowledge of behaviors and is keeping me on my toes in hopes of learning all of them before the big move. Be on the lookout for the newest female in the group when we open in July.




#129: Harbor Seal Puzzle

Amelia has always shown a lot of interest in a particular orange boomer ball toy that we stuff with fish. Now we have decided to take it one step further by making a puzzle for her. So she can learn how it works we started with an easy one.

We modified two clear, small animal exercise balls by drilling holes in them, then placed some capelin pieces in the big ball and gave it to the seals. Since it looked a little different from the original toy, it took Amelia a little bit to figure out what it was, but once she did she was really into it. And she wasn't the only one; Trumpet, Chuck, Cayenne, and Smoke all took turns. Now the next step is to start placing the fish inside the little ball and put that inside the big ball- then they will really have to move the toy to get the fish out.




#128: Smoke Rorschach Test

The harbor seals are approaching the molting season when they will all get new coats of hair. At this time of year, many of the seals start to get a small accumulation of algae growing on their old coats. Our oldest seal Smoke tends to move a little slower than the other seals that live at the Aquarium, and it seems like algae tends to stick to her a bit more ... especially on her head.

To me the algae on her head looks like a bird. What do you think it looks like?

In July Smoke will molt and look good as new. Click here to see what Smoke looked like last year mid-molt. Here's what she looked like when she finished her molt last August. What a difference!




#127: What's Black and Grey and Read All Over?

Photo: Nicolaus Czarnecki/METRO

Smoke made the paper the other day! Her picture was featured in Boston's Metro newspaper in an article discussing affordable family outings. Click here for the article. What the Metro forgot to mention is that the Aquarium's harbor seal exhibit is FREE to the public. Talk about a bargain! Stop by the next time you're in the downtown area.




#126: I'm Ready For My Close-Up!

With a face like this to greet you, how could you not enjoy going to work! I was playing around with the camera and Cayenne came over to check me out. I wonder what she was thinking then?



#125: Waiting for Baranov ...

Erin checking out Baranov's chompers

The wait is almost over. We're all looking forward to the return of our fur seals and the opening of the New Balance Foundation Marine Mammal Center. The other day Erin and I took a trip down to the Mystic Aquarium & Institute for Exploration to reconnect with our old buddy Baranov, a male fur seal that stayed with us for a few months last year. He will be moving back to Beantown later this summer to live in our new exhibit. Seeing him again made me even more excited ... I can't wait 'til July!




#124: Froggy Wanna Fly?

No, this little guy hasn't sprouted wings; I'm referring to his diet of fruit flies. Dart frogs are carnivores, eating mainly small insects. In the video, a curved-tip syringe delivers a few flies at a time. Since he was eating well from the syringe, I tried to use it as a target to move him around his habitat. The plan was to lead him into a small container or my hand for a better look at him by visitors, biologists or vets.

Alas, unless food was marching from the syringe, he ignored it and occasionally startled if he didn't realize it was next to him. One day while pondering our lack of progress, I watched him eat some fruit flies that wandered around his habitat. As soon as a fly moved, it caught the frog's attention and he locked in. Aha! Perhaps moving or gently shaking the target would be the key.

This video shows the shift from statuesque to frequent following frog:

~ Jenny



#123: How did we get this job?

This is a question we get asked A LOT! Sure, there are things we can recommend you do that may help you, but there isn't one path that guarantees you will be hired as a marine mammal trainer. Before you get discouraged though, realize that this means you can create your own path. Below are brief stories of what each one of us did before we were hired here at the New England Aquarium.

Kathy, Curator

Over the course of my career, I have had the opportunity to work with a variety of animals in a number of different settings. Some of my memorable experiences before becoming Curator here in 1987 include working with orcas and Pacific white-sided dolphins at the whale stadium as well as the dolphins in the lagoon at the Flipper Set in Miami Seaquarium's popular dolphin and whale shows; seeing a number of dolphin births, training a blind dolphin over 60 behaviors when nobody thought it could be done; answering a number of questions regarding animal cognition by teaching sea lions to participate in behavioral research studies in California; being an animal trainer for a movie filmed in the Amazon and Bahamas, assisting with rescue and rehabilitation efforts for cetaceans and pinnipeds in Florida and California; and working with sea lions and beluga whales who were being trained in open water off San Diego and Seattle.

While I have a number of pictures from these experiences, this is one of my favorites (above). Both Bear and Salty were trained to work in films, and because of this, it was important that they be comfortable working with a variety of people and animals. Bear was brought to the Miami Seaquarium so that he could get some sea lion experience and this picture was taken.

Jenny, Assistant Curator

As a five-year-old in front of the TV, I was awestruck watching a killer whale breach during a Jacques Cousteau special. From that moment, I knew I wanted to be around whales. While in high school, I got my foot in the door as a landscaper at Marine World in California. I ultimately landed a job in the training department, where my morning routine entailed plunging my hands into icy water to thaw 800 pounds of fish for the whales, dolphins, sea lions and seals. One year a sea lion pup had to be hand raised because his mom was no longer producing milk. I was part of a team that took Buckwheat home to feed him a formula of mashed herring, vitamins and heavy cream every few hours throughout the night. A big part of raising Buckwheat involved lots of playtime. We taught him to wear a harness so that we could run around the park. This picture was taken while resting after a long walk and a swim. It was as fun as it looks. Kathy was conducting behavioral research with one of the sea lions at the park and we got to know each other. A year and a half after she became Curator of Marine Mammals here at the Aquarium, I followed and took the position of supervisor in 1988.

Cheryl, Senior Trainer

This picture was taken in the winner's circle at Foxboro Raceway with Birdwatcher, a horse that I broke and trained (that's me just in front of the horse). I trained Standardbred horses for 10 years. I sold a horse for quite a bit of money which enabled me to leave the horse business and spend some time figuring out what I wanted to do. I volunteered for the Mammals Department for a year in 1984 and was hired in April of 1985.

Paul, Senior Trainer

My first three years as a marine mammal trainer were spent at the Miami Seaquarium. “Back in those days” a college degree wasn’t the requirement that it is now. I got the job based on the fact that I was a good swimmer, a certified diver and had a good basic knowledge about marine mammals and was comfortable in front of the public. In addition to Tokitae (stage name: Lolita--shown in this picture) I worked with a Pacific white sided dolphin named Makani, many bottlenose dolphins, sea lions and stranded manatees and cetaceans. During my time there I met Kathy, our curator here at the Aquarium. When they had an opening for a trainer here in 1989 she offered me the job and the rest, as they say, is history.

Erin, Senior Trainer

Since I knew that being a marine mammal trainer was what I wanted to do, I attended an agricultural high school (Norfolk Aggie) where, in addition to my regular studies, I could take a variety of classes that focused directly on animal care. One of the classes I took was a Canine Showmanship course that required participation in the FunMatch at the end of the semester. This Golden Retriever made it very easy for me, but I can honestly say that wasn't the case for my follow-up course: Canine Obedience. The dog I worked with that semester and I were both very inexperienced. Even though we were using the same techniques I currently use when working with the seals, I didn't understand them then. After I graduated from there, I received my B.S. in Biology from UMASS Dartmouth. After that I started as a Marine Mammal Intern in 2003 and I've been here ever since. I'm happy to say that now I have a much clearer understanding of those training techniques!

Belinda, Senior Trainer

I have always enjoyed kayaking and knew that I wanted a career working with marine life, I just wasn't sure what it would be. After I graduated college, I started volunteering with the Marine Mammal Dept at the Aquarium to see if training was the best choice for me. The longer I stayed with the dept, the more I learned about the field, and I ultimately applied for a position and was hired in 2004.

, Senior Trainer

This picture was taken at the top of a 100-ft. wall at Devils Lake in Wisconsin. It was before my sophomore year of college and my first time camping and rock climbing, which was a wonderful experience. After that weekend I knew that I would never be able to work a normal 9 - 5 job in an office setting. I was on track to get my biology degree, started focusing on animal behavior, and even found out that my school offered a class for scuba diving. Having grown up in the Midwest I had never seen an ocean before, not even on vacation. I took a chance after graduation, moved to Boston, and luckily started as an intern at the aquarium. I became a full time trainer in 2004 and have been here ever since.

Patty, Senior Trainer

My fascination with the ocean began in grade school. My family and I would visit my Aunt Mag in Nantucket for a week during the summer (that's me in the pink with my mom). It was in this amazing place that I had the opportunity to spend hours on end investigating the ocean, the bay and all its inhabitants. My love for the world of water grew from there and in college I continued to explore the ocean with the help of my research professor. We did weekly field research on jellyfish off the coast of Rhode Island. After graduating, I moved to Boston in 2004 and as they say... the rest is history!

Lindsay, Trainer

This picture was taken at the Spring River in Arkansas; not only the best place for spring break and lots of canoeing, but also the place where the Water-Rock-Life lab at Arkansas State University collected fish for research. I had the opportunity to work in the lab dissecting fish, pulling otoliths (ear bones) and scales to age fish, and collecting different species of fish along the river. Being part of a research team was a really cool experience and made my fascination with aquatic animals grow even deeper. I've loved the water all my life and knew I would work with animals someday. I moved to Boston on a whim for a change in life and to hopefully find my career path. I fell in love with a few pinnipeds and since 2007, I've had the best of both worlds!

Justin, Trainer

Unlike many people in the marine mammal field, this was not always my dream job. I started out in a career in environmental education and interpretation. My first job was working in South Africa’s Kruger National Park where I coordinated educational programs teaching people (mostly local school children) about the flora and fauna of the South African bush. By working closely with local communities our goal was to increase their support for the Park and nature conservation in general.

In addition to program design and teaching, I also helped out with game capture; catching and translocating animals such as white rhino, buffalo, zebra and wildebeest. Animals were herded and darted using the helicopter in the picture (I’m the 3rd from the right). After my time abroad I moved back to frigid New England and a job in the Education Department at the Aquarium. After a few years as an educator, a trainer position opened up in 2007 and I was lucky enough to step into the marine mammal world.

So there you have it!
Hopefully, these different stories will encourage you to follow your own path. Who knows where it will lead!



#122: Happy Birthday to Trumpet, Cayenne, and Chuck!

Trumpet and her two kids, Cayenne and Chuck, have birthdays within one day of each other so we decided to have a group celebration this weekend. Cayenne turns 16 tomorrow, Trumpet turns 24 on Sunday, and Chuck is 14 years old Monday! We celebrated with a birthday cake, but instead of having one made out of ice cream, their cake was made out of capelin and squid. Yum! Of course, we had to take some birthday pictures.

Happy Birthday!



#121: Jellies in the Harbor Seal Exhibit

We are always trying to come up with new enrichment ideas for the seals, and in fact, this was one of my goals for the year. Yesterday we introduced 10 moonjellies to the harbor seal exhibit, with the hopes that the seals would enjoy something that actively moved throughout the water column.

Most of the seals were resting, so they didn't pay any attention to the jellies at all, but they did attract Chuck's attention.

Check it out!