No snow? No problem!

Some of the trainers were dreaming of a white Christmas. Unfortunately, 70 degree weather and snow don't mix, so we had to get creative. That's where the snow cone machine comes in! We had snowmen, bowls of snow with treats and snow showers.

The sea lions wanted in on the snow-making action. Watch!


Picture perfect

Trying to get that perfect shot of a young, curious fur seal can be a bit challenging at times. Chiidax, one of our 2 year old fur seals, is especially hard to catch on camera.  I have a TON of clear shots up his nose, but just a couple straight on.  Here are my 3 favorites...


I was proud it took only about 20 tries before I finally got one of him straight on!



Thanksgiving 2015 Cornucopia Fun Wrap Up

Some people still have to work on major holidays, but it can still be a really fun day if you're a seal trainer!  Even though the aquarium is closed to the public, the animals still need to be taken care of.
Starting bright and early, we clean and prep all the seals' diets for the day. 

Some have a tough time adjusting to the earlier than usual schedule... wakie wakie, Commander!

On Thanksgiving and Christmas Day, we operate on a shorter than usual staff and are so thankful for the dedicated volunteers who offer to come in and help us out. A HUGE thank you to those guys for helping our day run smooth. In fact, the day was so seamless, we were able to do some major holiday enrichment...

Introducing: The 2015 Cornucopia of Fun!

As you can see, we really went all out. For the health of the animals, we are always very careful about what we provide for the seals and sea lions during these enrichment activities. So we picked out a sampling of the seals' favorites (ice chips, jello, fish, squid and toys, to name a few!) and made a cornucopia for the fur seals, harbor seals and sea lions!

Thanksgiving staff: Marie, Vanessa, Lindsay

Superstar volunteers: Kyle B, Kyle D, Marissa

Zoe gets her nose in the toys in the marine mammal center

The fun wasn't only happening in the seal exhibits. In fact, doting aquarists and keepers spend holidays caring for the animals throughout the building. Here's a quick look at some of Thanksgivings past:

Hopefully everyone else had a great day as well! Happy Holidays!

— Lindsay and the all trainers


Who's Who: True Seal Edition

Since our Who's Who series about the fur seals and sea lions was so popular, here's another Who's Who blog, as requested! This time we are going to help you learn how to distinguish the true seals—the harbor seals—apart from one another.

Atlantic harbor seal (guess who!)

There are six Atlantic harbor seals in the exhibit in front of the Aquarium. They are part of a group of marine mammals called true seals, sometimes referred to as earless seals. Since the male harbor seals are the same size as the females, it makes it a bit harder to tell the two boys apart from the four girls.

First, let's start by identifying the two different families. There is Trumpet, her son Chacoda and daughter Cayenne. All three have very distinctive black spots on their bellies, necks and faces. Be sure not to lump Lana, the only seal not related to anyone in this exhibit, in with these guys; she has more of a dark grey freckled belly. Then, there are brother-and-sister pair, Reggae and Amelia—both have more of a creamier, non-spotted look to their bellies and chests.

Let's break this down a little more:

Amelia is the only seal with a belly that is totally spot free and cream colored. She has almond-shaped eyes and can be frequently seen taking a nap on the bottom of the exhibit in the shallow end in front of the rocks.

Her brother, Reggae, has grey patches on his belly and neck. He is the largest seal in this exhibit and has a square head with large round eyes. You can usually see him bottling (bobbing head-up in the water) in the shallow end of the exhibit and hanging on the pole in the corner.


Trumpet has a lighter coat with dispersed black, dash-like spots. She has these marks on her belly, chest, neck and both cheeks. She has narrow, almond-shaped eyes and swims more than rests.

Cayenne, compared to the others, is the smallest seal on exhibit. As well as being the most petite, she also has the boldest spots. These black spots are on her belly, chest and neck. She has large black freckles on her cheeks as well. She is most comfortable in the shallow end of the exhibit and will sometimes interact with visitors after hours through the glass.

Chacoda (or Chuck, as we call him), has a mottled black/grey/brown belly, chest, neck and face. He also has a square head like Reggae, but isn't as large. He has almond shaped eyes.

Lana used to have a belly that looked more like Reggae's, but just this past molting season, her new coat came in freckled!  Lana has a few age related bumps (lovingly referred to as her "old lady lumps") on her sides and hips. Not to worry- they have been checked out by vet staff and are not anything to be concerned about.  Lana has a narrow muzzle and is usually swimming around the entire exhibit.

Come test your skills identifying these marine mammals. Plan a visit to the Aquarium and get to know our endearing plaza ambassadors, the harbor seals.
— Lindsay


Who's Who: Individual Eared Seals

Last time we went over some ways to distinguish the Northern fur seals from the California sea lions in our marine mammal center. Today, we're going to learn how to identify each animal. 

Step two: Let's talk size

Once you know which species you're looking at, the next way to narrow it down is by size. Some of our animals are still growing, so this will change as they get older.

Let's start with the Northern fur seals. Currently, from largest to smallest, there's Commander, followed by Ursula, Chiidax and finally Kitovi. Adult males can grow up to 600 pounds! This is why Commander is the largest. He is currently our only adult male. In comparison, adult females, like Ursula, reach only 100–120 pounds when full grown. Chiidax turned 2 years old this year. It won't be long before he's bigger than the adult females. Because of this, size is not the only way to tell our animals apart.

Our two California sea lions, Zoe and Sierra, are both smaller than Commander, but larger than all the rest of the fur seals. Female California sea lions average around 250 pounds when full grown. At 5 years old, Sierra and Zoe are young adults just under 200 pounds.

Step three: Individual characteristics

The last way to narrow down who's who, is by a few distinguishing characteristics. It can take some time to pick up on differences. Here are a few that the training staff has picked out:

In addition to being the largest on exhibit, he has longer hair on the back on his neck.

Ursula has a light patch of fur on her chest, and medium length whiskers.

Chiidax vs. Kitovi
These are our two smallest fur seals.  They both have black whiskers and lighter patches of fur on the chest and cheeks.
Chiidax has longer ears that stick way out. He is stocky and little larger than Kitovi.

Kitovi is more petite and sleek looking.

Sierra vs. Zoe
These two may be the most challenging to tell apart, even for their trainers. They are the same age and look very similar physically.

Zoe is currently the heavier of the two. If you get a good look at her face
(good luck, she is rarely still unless sleeping) you may notice
a dip in her snout before the end of her nose.

Sierra has a slightly flatter nose.

Even though our sea lions look a lot alike, they have very distinct personalities, mannerisms and even vocalizations. As trainers, we spend a lot of time getting to know our animals and use these in addition to their physical characteristics to tell them apart.

Watch and listen to this video to hear the difference between the vocalizations of Sierra and Zoe.

Now that you know what to look for, test your skills and see if you can tell who is who during your next visit to the Aquarium!

— Vanessa and Lindsay


Who's Who?: Eared Seal Edition

Here's question we often get at the Marine Mammal Center: how do we tell our animals apart?

This blog is meant to help you do just that. Follow along for some helpful hints you can use next time you visit our flippered friends! The Marine Mammal Center exhibit is home to two California sea lions and seven Northern fur seals.

Step one: Which species?

Are you looking at a fur seal or a sea lion? This can be tricky because Northern fur seals and California sea lions share characteristics that land them both in a category called eared seals! There are many ways that sea lions are similar to the fur seals, but where they differ will help you decipher who is who.

So what's the major difference? FUR! The Northern fur seals at the Aquarium generally have a darker color to their fur than the sea lions. When they are wet, fur seals look black, while the sea lions look brown.

Fur seals
Sea lions

When dry, the fur seals lounging on the deck at the marine mammal center look more brown, and their sea lion neighbors will look a golden brown or blonde color.

Fur seals

Sea lions

Another noticeable difference is the size of the hind flippers. Fur seals have a lot of extra cartilage on their flippers past the bone. This allows them to reach anywhere they need to with their giant flippers in order to groom their fur coat. After all, fur seals have the second thickest coat of fur on the planet. Sea lions have hair as well, but it doesn't need as much maintenance because they rely mostly on blubber to keep warm instead of fur. This means that sea lions don't need such long hind flippers.

 This photo shows the hind flippers of a Northern fur seal.
This photo shows the hind flippers of a California sea lion.

Looking at the photos of sea lions vs. fur seals, can you find any other ways to tell them apart?

If you can tell the sea lions apart, you’ve reached expert level in seal identification. Tune in tomorrow for more tips that'll help you determine who's who.

— Vanessa and Lindsay


Molty time of year

Ahh, molt.  The time of year where the fur balls are flying, the seals just want to sleep, and that glorious new coat is slowly, but surely, coming in. Molt season is different for each species and happens once a year.  

Smoke mid-molt
At the New England Aquarium, Atlantic harbor seals molt July/August, California sea lions molt Sept/Oct, and the Northern fur seals molt Oct/Nov. It is most obvious on the harbor seals, as you can see patches of old and new hair.  

Chiidax the Northern fur seal
The sea lions and fur seals mainly drop hairballs everywhere, and your hand is basically a mitten after touching their bodies.

Commander after a little rub during molting season

During molt, the seals are very tired and sleep quite a bit—it's hard work growing in your new coat!  

Zoe and Sierra the California sea lions, still snuggling

Once done, the harbor seals have a shiny, silver coat. The fur seals are more golden and the sea lions blonde. During the year, their fur protects the seals and sea lions' skin and keeps the fur seals warm.  Over time, the older fur needs to be replaced so it can do its job well.  

Come by the Aquarium to see all the molty (in)action!

Zoe and Sierra, fur balls and new coats

Seals and sea lions aren't the only animals that molt. Check out these posts:


A nose by any other name...

The Northern fur seals' scientific name is Callorhinus ursinus. Ursinus means "bear-like" and Callorhinus means "beautiful nose".  So you could call them a beautiful-nosed bear and be somewhat correct! Well, I think their noses are pretty cute—what do you think? Do you have a favorite?






The sea lions are serious cuddlers

See the sea lions—sleeping and splashing. Plan a visit and buy ticket online—no service charge.

Don't you just love going through old pictures? We stumbled on this one of Zoe and Sierra having a powerfully cuddly nap and we got a laugh. These two had a whole dry deck in this behind-the-scenes area but they opted for the perch and pig-pile approach on the side ledge.

Zoe and Sierra know how to cuddle

These two sea lions are definitely a tactile pair, almost always touching during nap time, rarely a flipper's distance apart when playing. The fur seals, on the other hand, are much more independent. They may be near each other but they definitely maintain their personal space—even while napping underwater.

If you think this is cute, check out these pics:


Zoe Gets a Mouthful

More playtime with Zoe! More gushing water from a hose. But this time it's in slow motion. Enjoy!

By now you know that Zoe loves playing with hose so it's a regular activity during sea lion enrichment time. It appears that she enjoys the gush of the water in her mouth.

The hoses in the exhibit can run fresh and salt water, but the sea lions seem to prefer the feel of fresh water in their mouths. But don't forget, they don't need the freshwater for drinking. They get all the hydration they need from their fishy meals.

Check out this list of fun times with the sea lions:


Hosing Around With the Sea Lions

We've seen it before. The sea lions just love to play around with the hose.

Well, it happened again. During an enrichment session, the trainers offered a gushing hose to the boisterous sea lions and they took it and swam with it. Just watch...

While the pair was splashing around behind-the-scenes, Zoe created her own fountain. It's fun to watch her figure out how to hold the hose just right so the water falls directly into her mouth. Sierra  sidled up to get in on the action too.

Interestingly, the hoses in the exhibit can run fresh and salt water. The sea lions seem to prefer the feel of fresh water in their mouths. But they don't need the freshwater for drinking. They get all the hydration they need from their fishy meals.

Check out this list of fun times with the sea lions:


An Underwater Kiss

Reggae and his trainer Marie are working on some exciting—and quite refreshing—new skills this summer. Marie is working with him underwater! Here's a short clip to show you what it's like.

Of course, kissing is just a fun way for the trainer and seal to connect during a training session. But working with a seal underwater and helping him become comfortable with the trainer in this element could open up a whole new way to observe the animals in their exhibit.

Come check out the harbor seal training sessions this summer! You might just see Reggae and his trainer eye-to-eye underwater.


Three jugs and two lugs

Whether you're on a raft or a ring or simply bobbing at the surface, who doesn't love a relaxing float in the pool? When the seals and sea lions need a rest, they often take to the pool, too. And that's when you can see a really cool fur seal posture called jug handling. Holding their flippers together, away from their body resembles the handle of a jug or pitcher.

Exhibit A.

Ursula (foreground) and Chiidax and Kitovi (L to R behind her)

Jug handling lets the fur seals regulate their body temperature when floating in the 60 F water. You see, the seals have many veins running through their flippers and these veins contain a heated blood supply. By tucking their flippers together in a flipper sandwich and keeping them out of the water, the seals keep the heat from rapidly leaving their flippers and body. 

Note the two lumps of sea lion lazing in the deeper part of the pool

In the background you can see the sea lions, Zoe and Sierra, logging at the surface. Sea lions sometimes sleep in the water but they don't jug handle. Sometimes they "sail" with a front and/or rear flipper straight up in the air while their body floats. Another difference between the sea lions and fur seals: blubber versus fur. The sea lions have a nice layer of blubber to stay warm, and the fur seals rely on their super-thick fur coats—even when wet.

When they're not relaxing in the pool, these animals are definitely a rambunctious crew. Check out some of their antics in these blog posts:


Commander In Command

If you think Commander looks big in pictures, you should see him in real life! Plan a visit to the Aquarium to meet our newest fur seal. Save time and buy your tickets online.

As many of our visitors have already seen, our newest Northern fur seal is taking command of the marine mammal center! Commander arrived from the Seattle Aquarium via FedEx back in February. He underwent a routine quarantine behind the scenes, and he's since been slowly introduced to the animals—and visitors—in the exhibit over the past couple weeks.

Big, handsome fella

Commander is a nearly-400-pound male Northern fur seal named for some fur seal breeding islands in the Bering Sea. He comes to the Aquarium as part of a breeding program. With only nine individuals of this species in North American zoos and aquarium, this mature adult will hopefully hit it off with Ursula (who has already had two pups—Flaherty and Kitovi) and grow the genetic diversity of this population with more pups.

Commander with one of his trainers, Lindsay

Commander's trainers say he is very smart and attentive as they work with him to build new relationships and routines in his new home. He's also learning new skills that will help with his husbandry.

Take a bow! We'd like a closer look at that flipper, please.
Hand signals: Open wide! Time to check those teeth.

Commander is the only mature male in the exhibit. He eats around 36 pounds of food every day—that's around 15,000 calories—and his appetite is huge right now. He'll put on more weight by this summer. He is easy to spot since males are markedly bigger than females, out-weighing them by several hundred pounds. The females—Roxie, Ursula and young Kitovi—mostly stay out of his way, as they would in the wild. Young Chiidax also keeps his distance. While little Chi is male, he has a long time to go until he's considered an adult. The sea lions—Zoe and Sierra—are a little more feisty and they engage the big man now and then. 

Commander and fish
These social interactions—or avoidances— are all part of establishing a new dynamic in the exhibit and are considered perfectly normal. In fact, it's fascinating to see these relationships develop. Come see! Plan a visit and get to know our big, handsome new arrival.