July 21, 2021
- as seen by -Jennifer Rant
Young California sea lion (Zalophus californianus) Erie was born in 2019 at the Wildlife Conservation Society’s New York Aquarium. In September 2020, Erie made the move from our Sea Cliffs exhibit to the Aquatheater where we have our sea lion show.
We introduced Erie to the other Aquatheater sea lions slowly, allowing him to meet each one at a time. We saved his introduction to Clark, our seven-year-old, until last. Clark and Erie took us by surprise. They were instantly best friends. Erie got along with all of the sea lions, but there was something special about his bond with Clark.
Clark immediately took on the role as Erie’s guardian and also his bestie. When we started to give Erie access to the big show pool overnight, we watched Clark keep Erie in line when Erie started to wander a little too far. They remain inseparable (above left Clark, above right Erie).
In the wild, young sea lions are observed playing with one another. However, wild sea lions also have to search for their own food while simultaneously trying to avoid becoming food themselves. Sea lions in human care do not have to worry about these two challenges so they can spend all of their time being social. This is exactly what Clark and Erie have chosen to do. When we leave the aquarium at night, they are playing. When we arrive the next morning, the two sea lions are playing. We never tire of enjoying their play sessions.
I have witnessed a lot of sea lion bonds in my 16 years in this field, but nothing as special as Clark and Erie. It is a career highlight to be a part of this friendship.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This week is National Zookeeper Week, July 18-24, 2021, a time to recognize our keepers’ hard work, conservation efforts, and passion in caring for animals.