GEORGIA AQUARIUM SEA LIONS PULL KIDS INTO LEARNING
Jordan Fisher (NNPA/DTU Journalism Fellow)
With over 28 million views on YouTube, a viral video showing a 700-pound sea lion pulling a little girl into the water off a pier in Vancouver, British Columbia, has left many around the world stunned about the possible bad behaviors that these pinniped creatures may possess.
Pinniped trainer, Abigail Kucher works very closely with some of your favorite fishy friends at Georgia Aquarium in SunTrust Pier 225’s ‘Under the Boardwalk’ sea lion presentation and with the summer education program, Camp H20; where children learn all about the importance of aquatic animal rescue & rehabilitation, research, and conservation.
Kucher studied Animal Behavior at Franklin & Marshall College, and from there interned at tons of other places before making the aquarium her home. As an expert, she sits down with us to dispel the recent concerns that some people may have regarding her students.
AV: Sea lions have received a bit of a bad rep lately due to the latest viral video. What is the difference between wild sea lions and Georgia Aquarium sea lions?
AK: So wild sea lions, the word itself, it tells you that they are wild, so we need to be very respectful of wild animals and the environment that they are in. The difference with our sea lions is that we work with them day in and day out, so that we can provide them the best care possible; and a part of that is building relationships. We have relationships with our sea lions, and we work very closely with them. So there’s a big difference!
AV: What is a sea lion’s day to day like at Georgia Aquarium?
AK: Our sea lions eat a varied diet. They eat anywhere from 10 lbs. all the way up to 30 plus lbs. of fish. Throughout the course of the day we have a very variable schedule for them. They’re participating in various sessions, various presentations, as well as getting lots of enrichment. Enrichment is anything that stimulates them mentally and physically, and allows them to demonstrate their natural behavior and adaptions. We give them lots of toys and we also make sure that we’re varying what we’re teaching them within our sessions; so we teach them high energy behaviors so that they are using those abilities and staying fit, and we’re also teaching them a different side where we teach them husbandry behaviors, that’s all the healthcare that they can voluntarily participate in.
AV: What’s the most fun part of being a sea lion trainer? That’s what the kids right want to know.
AK: I think every aspect of it is fun. I think that is so incredible to be a part of rescuing sea lions, to be a part of all of their training, and to be able to develop relationships with them. That is such a rewarding experience; and to see them grow and thrive now that they have that second chance. The training is just so exceptional, they’re very smart animals, and we train through a system of positive reinforcement. So you reinforce behaviors that we are looking for and if it’s not what we’re looking for that’s totally fine, we just simply ignore that and try to change the way that we’re teaching them so that they can better understand since we can’t verbally communicate with them like we can a human. One of my favorite parts is when you’re training and that light bulb goes off for them and they just recognize what you’re asking from them, and they know, and they get excited by it. It very awesome to see! It’s great experience to be a part of their learning and growing.
AV: We don’t have an ocean in our backyard here in Atlanta, so what would you like the biggest take away from the sea lions and all sea creatures at Georgia Aquarium to be?
AK: Well ultimately we want them to learn. They have a chance to see so many species while they’re here at Georgia Aquarium. Each one has their unique adaptions and their unique struggles that they are having right now out in the ocean. So we want to teach the youth of today what those struggles are and how they can help. So even though we aren’t right at the coast line, there are so many things we can do to help. For example, we can make sure we are recycling. We can make sure that we are reusing, using reusable containers, versus throwing out plastic ware. We can also conserve by car pooling and making sure we’re conserving as much water that we can throughout the day; and another great one that I always like to say is using reusable water versus disposable ones. There are so many little things that they can do here in Atlanta that ultimately help all of the marine mammals out in the ocean.
For more information on Georgia Aquarium summer programs and how you too can help conserve aquatic animals, go to georgiaaquarium.org
Jordan Fisher is a 2017 NNPA “Discover The Unexpected” Journalism Fellow and a student at Clark Atlanta University. This summer, Jordan is creating content for The Atlanta Voice, a member newspaper of the NNPA. Follow Jordan on Twitter @ThatGuyJLIVE.
Fellow, The Atlanta Voice
Jordan Fisher is a junior at Clark Atlanta University majoring in Mass Media Arts. Fisher brings a wide array of skills and experience to this DTU journey including serving as an intern for Georgia State Representative Ms. Gail Davenport, being a dynamic host for the AUC radio show Officially Live and being recognized by Future Business Leaders of America. As a DTU Fellow, Fisher hopes his strong work ethic and can-do spirit will help him make the most of this opportunity.