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A Few of Their Favorite Things

March 26, 2021

A Few of Their Favorite Things

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Sarah Rashed Sarah Rashed

A question that we are often asked as trainers at WCS’s New York Aquarium is “How do we train our seals, sea lions, otters, and other animals?”

We train our animals to keep them physically active and psychologically engaged. We work with a system called positive reinforcement which uses a variety of encouraging actions to let our animals know they have successfully completed a behavior. One primary reinforcer we use is fish. However, we can also use other creative forms of reinforcement such as ice, Jello, toys, whisker rubs, body rubs, and water hoses.

Different animals find some types of reinforcement more desirable than others. As trainers, we know our animals like the backs of our hands and can provide each animal with the reward that they appreciate the most. For example, Osborn, our California sea lion, Zalophus californianus, finds water hoses very enjoyable. We offer Osborn the water hose (above) during and even after our sessions to let him know he did a fantastic job. He has even been known to choose interacting with the water hose over fish.

EDITOR’S NOTE: To celebrate Women’s History Month, Wild View is featuring posts by and about women and their contributions to science and conservation throughout March.

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