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Training is Now in Session

February 26, 2024

Training is Now in Session

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Olivia Morgan Williams Olivia Morgan Williams

At the  Wildlife Conservation Society’s New York Aquarium, many guests are drawn to observe our sea lion, harbor seal, and sea otter sessions. We practice six types of sessions with our animals including relationship, play, learning, exercise, husbandry, and show. Each type of session serves its individual purpose and is a way of ensuring optimal animal welfare through mental stimulation and maintenance of overall physical health. Often, park guests comment on how well-behaved our collection of animals is at the Aquarium. They praise our animals and their ability to follow directions. We strive to educate everyone on the importance of training and positive reinforcement.

First, we have relationship sessions. All trainers, no matter their experience, hold these sessions regularly allowing for a mutual trust to build between trainer and animal. We ask very little of our animals during what is referred to as reinforcement history, the foundation of animal and trainer relationships.

Next, we provide play sessions. Guests may look at our exhibits and notice toys. During play sessions, we provide these “toys” that are referred to as environmental enrichment devices (above, with a sea otter). These sessions aid in building the relationship between trainer and animal in conjunction with relationship sessions. Play sessions channel cognitive abilities, enhance animal senses, provide social variability with population mixing, create a new and exciting environment, and elicit foraging behaviors.

Learning sessions are perhaps the most obvious to observers. These sessions provide necessary mental stimulation through the training of new behaviors. Animals are highly intelligent. As animal trainers, we are their teachers. It is our job to ensure they are always learning something new.

High-energy behaviors fall under exercise sessions. Animals at the aquarium can be seen leaping, flipping, and swimming fast. All these behaviors are done to ensure physical fitness for the animals in our care.

Husbandry sessions are of great importance to facilitate our animals’ daily health care. These sessions are centered around the overall health of each animal. We can achieve voluntary X-ray imaging, ultrasounds, and even bloodwork for our marine mammals. They can be as simple as asking to see flippers and stomachs to look for molting or as complicated as our animals remaining still for important medical practices.

Lastly, we provide show sessions. Our shows aim to educate our guests on all aspects of training. Every show session is different. Our behavioral husbandry team keeps our shows varied and new for the animals involved.

At the Aquarium, we follow six types of sessions and are constantly incorporating multiple sessions into one singular session. Our animals can be observed partaking in exercise behaviors while also doing husbandry behaviors such as getting their teeth brushed.

Next time you are visiting the New York Aquarium, catch a session and see how many of these you can identify.

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