Fitness Friday — Fur Seal Scooch

From their daily training and exercise sessions, the Northern fur seals at the Aquarium have picked up some unusual skills. Take scooching, for example. Ursula is getting pretty good at this skill. She keeps her face and shoulders close to the ground while her hind flippers and hips are high in the air, pushing her right along. It's pretty funny to watch as Belinda walks her through the exercise!

With the New Year quickly approaching, many folks add exercise among their resolutions. Let the fur seals be your inspiration! What are some creative ways that people can zip about to stay active? Have you ever tried to crab walk? What about skipping? Let us know!


Vote for your favorite holiday card!

Everyone in the Marine Mammal Department is excited about the holiday season, and as tradition goes, we put together a holiday card (here's one from 2008) to send out to all of our friends and colleagues.

All of the animals in the New Balance Foundation Marine Mammal Center were involved, but as you can imagine, with so many photogenic animals, it can be hard to decide which picture to choose. This year we ended up with two possible candidates and since the staff were torn, we're turning to you for help. Which card do you like best?

One card features our two newest additions, Zoe and Sierra, with their favorite holiday toys

The other card highlights our three female Northern fur seals, Roxie, Ursula, and Cordova, enjoying some exhibit decorations.

So ... which card is your favorite? Vote now!

You can vote as often as you like, and the polls are open until Midnight on the December 25. Happy Holidays!

- Erin

Fitness Friday – Exercise is fun!

Wheeeee! The sea lions have found a great way to get moving. Take a look!

Zoe and Sierra race up the ramp and then use it as a water slide on the way back down. You can call it play or you can call it exercise. Whatever you call it, the sea lions and trainers are having a blast!

These young sea lions aren't the only ones who like sliding down the ramp. Check out this video of Ursula the Northern fur seal having a go.


Fitness Friday – Stretching with friends

The Northern fur seals are quite limber. We've seen Baranov do a great big head roll with Lindsay, and Isaac do a couple toe taps with Paul. Now Ursula is branching out and stretching with some members of the audience! You see, visitors to the New Balance Foundation Marine Mammal Center often help out during training sessions.

In this Fitness Friday post, watch how audience members walk Ursula through some calf stretches, ankle rolls and neck stretches.

Come on down to the Marine Mammal Center and you, too, could be out there stretching with the seals! Better yet, sign up for a seal Meet and Greet program for some guaranteed face time.

A very flexible Ursula

Check out our other New Balance Foundation Fitness Friday posts! Watch how Isaac managed to learn an impressive flipper stand, and see the sea lions romping with a hose for a bit of exercise.


Fitness Friday – Sierra's new dance moves

It's been well established that our California sea lion pups are an energetic pair. Zoe and Sierra love romping with toys like a running hose, splashing around in the deep end and zipping through the New Balance Foundation Marine Mammal Center side by side.

In today's Fitness Friday post, you can see that Sierra has been learning some new dance moves to stay active. Here she is dancing with Justin.

So now you know. There are plenty of ways to stay active, whether you're a sea lion or a human! Do you take the stairs, dance, swim, play outside with friends or hit the gym? Let us know some of the ways you stay active.


Fitness Friday - Isaac stretches with Paul

Many folks work with physical trainers to help them reach their fitness goals. Well, Isaac has a trainer and a partner in fitness in Paul, one of our marine mammal trainers.
 Paul working with the fur seals


In this week's Fitness Friday post, Paul walks the hulking Northern fur seal through a couple toe taps to stretch out.

Check out our other New Balance Foundation Fitness Friday posts! Watch how Isaac managed to learn an impressive flipper stand, and see the sea lions romping with a hose for a bit of exercise.


Fitness Friday — Splashing around

Many folks are up early with long shopping lists today. But the sea lions here at the Aquarium are just looking to have some fun and burn off a little energy. As we've covered in previous posts (like this one about play time with a hose or this one introducing this friendly pair), Zoe and Sierra are a frenetic pair—always moving, always exercising!

Zoe continues her active capers in this video. Watch as she glides around the exhibit and has a little fun in the process.

Come by the Aquarium this holiday weekend and take a gander at these two. Whether the sea lions are rough-housing or splashing around, there's always lots to see at the New Balance Foundation Marine Mammal Center!


Meet and Greet the Northern Fur Seals

If you think meet and greets are dull, work-related affairs where people try to network while eating mediocre hors d’ouevres, you’ve never done a meet and greet with our Northern fur seals!

After our marine mammal trainers give you some background on the rare and endangered Northern fur seals and some instructions about how to interact with them, you’re off to the New Balance Foundation Marine Mammal Center ….

to shake some hands ...

get acquainted .....

share some laughs ........

and maybe even get a kiss!

It's the best meet and greet you'll ever go to!


Fitness Friday: Always active sea lions

The sea lion pups are almost always moving. Case and point, you can see the pups staying active during play as they chase and catch a hose in this video. They are attracted to any activity that involves running water from a hose.

Being so active means that they need to consume a lot of calories every day. Zoe and Sierra are not quite a year and a half old and they eat about 16 pounds of fish every day. This adds up to approximately 5,000 calories daily!

What activities keep you moving? Comment below using Facebook or Blogger!


Fitness Friday: Bend it like Ursula

Sports are an excellent way to get movin', not to mention they're fun! Ursula has learned how to play soccer, while Belinda has perfected a mean spike.

Fur seals and sea lions frequently manipulate toys and other items with their front flippers. In this video Ursula is learning to play soccer with one of the trainers.



Fitness Friday: STREEETCH

Stretching is a very important part of an exercise regimen—even Baranov knows that! Watch the steps I took to teach him how to prep that big neck of his for an intense seal workout:

1. I introduced the signal — a tap on the right side of his neck — and lead his head in a wide roll with my hand as a target.
2. I gave the signal and instead of using a hand target to lead his head around, I brushed his whiskers. I needed to fade out my target hand all together. He's getting the hang of it! So I think he's ready for the next step.
3. I give the signal, and instead of leading is head around by my hand, I tap his other side as his head his coming around. This lets him know where his head needs to go—around the bend towards the tap.
(Since Baranov is a sight-impaired animal, he is really responsive to tactile direction.)
4. Lastly, I take that leap and give him the signal with out extra information.

It's so cool to see that he put it all together!!

— Lindsay

Check out our other New Balance Foundation Fitness Friday posts! Watch how Isaac managed to learn an impressive flipper stand, and see Ursula zip across the pool with a little speed swimming.


Fitness Friday: Watch out Michael Phelps!

Isaac has already showed us his impressive strength with a flipper stand. Another way these seals can show off their incredibly strong flippers is by doing the ever impressive speed swim. Fur seals can swim at impressive speeds, said to be over 10 mph!

Watch how easily Ursula glides through the water at a high speed.

Her trainers worked up her distance by starting close to the end point and gradually increased the distance. She can now swim the entire length of the pool! On average, people can swim at around 3 mph. Can you beat that?



Gene Simmons, eat your heart out

Rochelle posted a blog about seals sticking out their tongues when we first started the blog. I thought it would be neat to show you how we teach that behavior. I just taught Chacoda how to stick his tongue out like the others and here are the steps I took:

First, I needed to let him know what I was looking for. I wanted to use a little "tongue target." Since he is used to my fingers in his mouth (for mouth check-ups and brushing), I chose to use the smooth end of a toothbrush. Every time I touched the tip of his tongue with the end, I would bridge him and reward. I did this a few times, just to make sure he knew what I was looking for.

Then, I put the end close to his tongue, but didn't touch it. I wanted him to find the target he had been reinforced for so many times. Since I had made it clear that touching this = lots of fish, it was no surprise that he caught on quickly and pushed his tongue out toward the target.

I immediately bridged the forward motion and fed A LOT. I wanted to be sure he knew that pushing outward with his tongue was the motion I was looking for. This is where I introduced my signal, a tap on the nose. Each time I asked him to find the target and stick out that tongue, I tapped his nose so he would pair the two. Nose tap = stick out my tongue.

After approximating his tongue out to his lip, I was able to selectively bridge and reinforce the trials where his tongue was out the farthest, without using the toothbrush end.

With the correct reinforcement, I successfully taught him that tapping the end of his nose, meant stick out your tongue!


Fitness Friday: Man, those flippers are strong!

To show off his long, super strong front flippers, Isaac has learned how to do a flipperstand. This is just what it sounds like—the seal equivalent of a handstand! Watch the steps Isaac and Justin went through to show you the incredible strength of fur seals (and that's just the front flippers!).

 Can you do a handstand? Try learning how to do one the way Isaac did!



Nature's enrichment

Here is a clip of Sierra, one of our California sea lion pups, behind the scenes having some fun catching raindrops falling from the skylight.

Just one of the many ways we, or in this case mother nature, enrich our seals and sea lions.


Zoe and Sierra: You can't have one without the other

Even though Zoe and Sierra, the two California sea lion pups, are getting acclimated to being on exhibit with the five Northern fur seals in the New Balance Foundation Marine Mammal Center, they still tend to stick pretty close together.

 Zoe and Sierra on deck at the New Balance Foundation Marine Mammal Center

California sea lions Zoe and Sierra zipping through the water side by side.

We've noticed that Zoe likes to always have some part of her body in contact with Sierra. We often see the sea lions on deck with their front flippers touching, sometimes one flipper on top of the other.

And when they rest or sleep, they lean on each other, or one rests her head on the other. (Fur seals like their space; they always have at least a flipper's length between them when they sleep. So if you see two dark, furry bodies curled together, you can be sure you're looking at Zoe and Sierra.)


These rocks really hit the spot

Just one of the ways a fur seal can get a good scratch!

Baranov gets a little help from the exhibit with his grooming

Speaking of grooming, check out this classic post of Ursula grooming. My how far we've come, new exhibit, great new videos...

- Lindsay


Shout out to Alyson

I recently did our Take a Dip program with a very excited and enthusiastic woman named Alyson. Turned out she follows our blog and has been a faithful follower since the very beginning! [Read the first post from April of 2008 here.]

Hearing this has definitely made me excited about blogging all over again. Thank you, Alyson, for supporting us and I hope we can continue to spark your interest in our marine mammals!

Stay tuned...


No first-day jitters for this sea lion

A little while ago we introduced you to the Aquarium's two new sea lion pups. Sierra and Zoe, the California sea lion pups that have moved into the New Balance Foundation Marine Mammal Center, are both playful and energetic (very energetic!), but Sierra is the more adventurous and inquisitive.

Sierra, the California sea lion pup, interacts with a visitor.

When the two sea lion pups were in quarantine, it was always Sierra who would run over to check out whatever new object or toy the trainers brought into the room. On her first full day on exhibit, Sierra remained true to form.

Sierra stayed at the window with these two boys for quite a while.

She played, she checked out everyone who was checking her out, and then, in true young-pup fashion, she slept.

Nap time.


Reggae Needs a TicTac!

Marine mammal trainer Lindsay Jones introduced Reggae the harbor seal to Fox 25 meteorologist Cindy Fitzgibbon during a live television interview at the Aquarium this morning. As you'll see, Reggae humorously departed from the script a couple of times.

While Cindy mentions that Reggae needs a Tic Tac, he actually does have great dental hygiene. Check out this blog post to learn how trainers take care of Reggae's teeth.

And if you want to get whiff of the harbor seals' breath, just like Cindy, check out our new Take a Dip with the Seals program!


Getting To Know You

The New Balance Foundation Marine Mammal Center is the new home for two one-year-old California sea lion pups, recently named Zoe and Sierra. They aren't on exhibit yet, but they will be later this summer. The pups were rescued near Santa Barbara, California. Their mothers were very sick and rejected them at birth. As a result the pups were hand raised at the Santa Barbara Marine Mammal Center.

Hand-raised pups cannot be released back into the ocean because they have not had the opportunity to learn how to forage, navigate and respond to predators.

Sea lion pups usually stay with their mothers for a year or so. Toward the end of the year they are weaned. By the time the pups arrived at the Aquarium, one was eating fish on her own. The other pup was still transitioning from formula to fish. She began eating fish on her own about two weeks ago.

Before the sea lions can be introduced to the fur seals, they spend some time behind the scenes in quarantine. This allows us to insure that they are perfectly healthy before introducing them to the fur seals. It also gives us time to develop a rapport with the pups as we begin introducing them to the training program and establish some basic behaviors.

These youngsters are full of  energy. They are in constant motion or fast asleep preparing for the next burst of energy! At this point in their training they are learning to follow us around  behind the scenes and starting to become comfortable being touched along their sides. In this video I've just started to lightly touch one of the sea lions while feeding.

She's made a lot of progress already and is now allowing us to softly pet her during training sessions. Stay tuned to see their progress and their eventual introduction to the fur seals later this summer!


Note: These animals are not on display yet. They will be on exhibit later this summer after their quarantine period is over.


Meeting up with Chris Isaak in the Marine Mammal Center

On Thursday, I had the opportunity of introducing our fur seal Isaac to the singer Chris Isaak. There are many things I like about Isaac and I always thought the story of how Isaac received his name was a cute one. Apparently, the night he was born, Chris Isaak was playing a concert nearby. Using this as their inspiration, the staff decided on a name for their new little fur seal. So it was fun to be the one to finally introduce the two.

This is my favorite photo of the event! What do you think? Do you see a resemblance?



Chris Isaak meets fur seal Isaac

Way back in 2000, musician Chris Isaak was playing a show in Seattle. That same night a male Northern fur seal pup was born at the nearby Seattle Aquarium. Since it was the night of Isaak's concert, the pup was named Isaac. Today, Isaac lives at the New England Aquarium, in the New Balance Foundation Marine Mammal Center.

Isaak did not know that a seal was named after him. Today, 11 years later, he was invited to meet Isaac the seal at the New England Aquarium.

Here's a video showing Isaac the seal meeting his famous namesake. After the training session Isaak was kind enough to sign autographs for some fans.

Chris Isaak is in Massachusetts playing shows at the Lowell Summer Music Series and the Cape Cod Melody Tent, but he had some time today to see the sights. We were happy he could make it to one of the Aquarium's daily fur seal training sessions.


Happy 40th Smoke!

Today we are celebrating Smoke's 40th birthday! Smoke is one of the Atlantic harbor seals that lives here at the New England Aquarium and she is the second oldest seal in North America. [An event that has been covered by NECN, AP News and NPR]

She is one of the sweetest animals to have ever graced Central Wharf. If you come by the Aquarium you will most likely see Smoke training, playing with ice toys or under the shower spray, or napping next to her son (Reggae) and daughter (Amelia).

Forty years young! Happy Birthday Smoke!

[Note: Smoke's birthday is an annual event! Check out the squid cake from her 37th birthday, the card Lana painted for her 38th birthday and her birthday from last year's 39th celebration. You can join people in wishing Smoke a happy birthday this year on the Aquarium's facebook page.]

Here's a video of this year's fish cake. Some visiting kids were kind enough to sing Smoke a birthday song!


Video: Take a Dip with the Harbor Seals!

Good news seal fans! The Aquarium's new Take a Dip with the Harbor Seals program is up and running. We posted about this fun opportunity earlier, but now we have a web page devoted to the program and we've made this video preview of what will happen when you come hang out with the seals.

Get program details and find out how to book here. We'll see you with the seals!


Come take a dip with the harbor seals!

This summer, the New England Aquarium is letting visitors get closer than ever to the animals. Not only can you touch shark and rays at the Aquarium's new touch tank, but now you can put on a pair of waders and hop into the harbor seals exhibit! We're happy to announce a brand new program for visitors to add to their Aquarium visit. We're calling it "Take a Dip with the Harbor Seals."

So what happens in the program? Here are the details. Visitors can sit waist deep in the water with the harbor seals at your fingertips! Being in the water is a unique and exciting way to learn about our harbor seals.

The participant is escorted behind the scenes of the Harbor Seal Exhibit by a trainer or volunteer. They are briefed on what will occur during the session and how to safely interact with the seals. Then the participant puts on water proof waders and enter the exhibit area with the trainer. They step into the water and sit on a flat rock so they are waist deep in the water with their feet hanging over the edge of the rock.

Then the trainer calls the seal over and the interaction begins. You will be eye to eye with the seal, and may have the opportunity to give a belly rub, touch a flipper, feed the seal some fish and perhaps even get a kiss. During this program the trainer will point out some of the harbor seal's unique characteristics and what to do if you come across a seal on the beach, or while fishing or boating. We can't guarantee specific interactions, but these are examples of some that may be offered on any particular day. So are you ready to come hang out with the seals?

Get the program specifics here.


Welcome Back Fur Seals

Water is filling the fur seal exhibit as I write this. After the better part of six months the exhibit repairs are complete and plans are in motion to bring the fur seals back to New England Aquarium this week!

Baranov, Roxie and JD have remained on site in an area off of the main exhibit. Without the other three seals here keeping Baranov on his toes, it looks like he's been on a steady diet of junk food. In other words, he is huge! Actually, his diet has been the same, herring, capelin and squid, he's just wanted a lot more of it.

This is the time of year when male seals and sea lions put on a lot of weight so they don't have to waste precious energy finding fish during mating season. I understand that Isaac is looking more hefty and mature than when he left in October. We can't wait for Isaac, Cordova and Ursula to rejoin the group and get reacquainted with our visitors!



Aquarium Lecture and Live Webcast: Counting Seal Pups in the Pribilofs

Tonight (Wednesday, April 6) at 7 p.m. Senior Marine Mammal Trainer Patty Schilling gave a free lecture:

Counting Seal Pups in the Pribilofs 
Thanks to everyone who attended and watched the live webcast!

The New England Aquarium is home to six northern fur seals, half of the U.S. aquarium population. Aquarium visitors have the chance to see an animal rarely seen anywhere else. A majority of northern fur seals migrate to the Pribilof Islands in the Bering Sea for their annual breeding season. The National Marine Mammal Laboratory does a study every two years to determine the rate of pup production on the Pribilof Islands. This August, through the John G. Cunningham Award, Patty Schilling helped with the 2010 fur seal pup count. It was a chance to observe these rarely seen animals first hand in the wild and utilize the information to better understand the Aquarium’s Northern fur seals.

You can scroll through all the blog posts written about this expedition here.
Browse video posted by the Aquarium's marine mammal trainers here.

About Aquarium Lectures
The Aquarium has been providing free lectures and films by scientists, environmental writers, photographers and others since 1972. The Aquarium Lecture Series is presented free to the public through the generosity of the Lowell Institute, which has been providing funding for free public lectures at universities and museums since 1836.

Click through to see a schedule of upcoming lectures.


Aquarium Lecture Series - The Pup Count

My last post about my trip to St. Paul to aid in northern fur seal research was back in October. However, there is still so much more that I want to show everyone! If you would like to learn more about my trip, stay tuned for the remainder of the St. Paul Logs. But, if you can't wait that long, you are in luck! Next Wednesday at 7 p.m. I will be giving a presentation about my experiences in Alaska as part of the Aquarium Lecture Series. The lecture is free and you are welcome to sign up in advance.

Northern fur seal pup on the rookery.

This talk is a great opportunity to learn more about the northern fur seal and the work being done to assess the status of the population. I will also being showing some really cool video and poking fun at myself ... should be a good time. :) I look forward to seeing you next week!

Northern fur seal pup resting on the rookery.