October 27, 2022
Enrichment, Essential for Our Animals
- as seen by -Sarah Rashed
One of the most important parts of our job as trainers at the Wildlife Conservation Society’s New York Aquarium is to provide our animals with enrichment. These enhancements keep our animals physically active and mentally engaged, and promote natural behaviors, social interactions, curiosity, and even play. Enrichment promotes mental and physical stimulation and replicates scenarios like those of their wild counterparts. It is as essential to animal welfare as nutrition and veterinary care.
We provide our animals with many different types of enrichment throughout the day including novel objects, sensory devices, food, and more. We offer things like buoys, square toys, and jolly balls that encourage social interactions, investigation, and play. Adding these things to their daily lives encourages them to explore and connect with their surroundings. In the Aquatheater, our California sea lions (Zalophus californianus) and Atlantic harbor seal (Phoca vitulina) interact with all sorts of enriching items throughout the day. Two of our stars, sea lions Townsend and Bruiser, use their noses to throw jolly balls into the air while our younger sea lions, Marco and Erie, pull toys to the bottom of the pool or hide them to find for play later.
Sensory devices include felt, ice, scents, sounds, bubbles, and gelatin that encourage our animals to use their natural senses and explore their habitats. Our harbor seal, Pickles, interacts with soft felt shaped like kelp that is similar to his natural environment. Osborn, our oldest sea lion, favors ice cubes and gelatin, which are forms of extra hydration and new sensations for him to experience. Bruiser (above) relishes slurping up gelatin in all different shapes, colors, and sizes. We also rub different scents around the Aquatheater including perfumes and spices.
Food enrichment creates opportunities to increase the complexity of the animal’s environment. Food can be placed in puzzle feeders, hidden in toys, frozen into ice treats, or scattered throughout their area encouraging them to use their natural foraging behavior and problem-solving skills. Our sea lion, Clark, pushes his toys into the pool to figure out how to extract fish from them.
Enrichment gives our animals creative outlets for physical activity and mental exercise and gives them more control and variety in how they spend their time.
As trainers, we enjoy it just as much as our animals do.