Back in May when we all started our internship (where did the time go?), part of our responsibilities included choosing a summer project to help out with things around the National Marine Life Center. This was a little daunting at first, but the wonderful staff gave out some ideas to start us off: redesign the festival posters, make an information board for the Discovery Center, or create a hospital protocol sheet, to name a few. I realized I wanted to help improve the rehabilitation process for our rescued seals and sea turtles. I narrowed the list down to two projects I was really interested in and thought needed improving. I ended up selecting to make a daily environmental enrichment device (EED) chart to help the always changing volunteers and staff members know which EED the animals got on what days.
First of all, you are probably wondering, “What is an environmental enrichment device?” An EED allows animals in captivity to manipulate their environment just as they would in the wild. Picking up shells, moving kelp, or digging in the sand would be a few examples. Wild seals can both rest on land, called a seal haul out, or swim in the water. Giving the animal options of what it can do helps maintain their physical strength, but also their psychological health. We do not want them feeling like they are trapped and bored, and this lack of activity will negatively impact them when released back into the wild.
Not only do environmental enrichment devices keep them from getting bored, but EEDs can teach them valuable life lessons in the wild. The haul out platforms teach the seals, especially the pups, how to get out of the water and build up the strength to do so. Wild seals would normally haul out on rocks, on the beach, and in modern times, on docks. Another example of an environmental enrichment device is our foam “kelp.” The kelp – actually car wash strips! – acts like seaweed and teaches the seals they can hide in it. Plus the pups think it’s really fun! Watch this video on our Facebook Page to see our seal pups, Basil and Rue, playing in the kelp.
We have so many different environmental enrichment devices, such as plastic balls, foam footballs, floatable life rafts, and more, that it is hard to remember which EEDs go in which tanks plus which seals got what EED each day. It is ideal to make sure we switch up the EEDs every day to keep the seals curious and interested. So my first thought in starting this project was wondering if giving the seals multiple EEDs each day would be beneficial. I did a bit of research and read a few papers about environmental enrichment devices in rehabilitation centers, aquariums, and zoos. Several sites agreed that multiple EEDs for shorter amounts of time are better than one EED for the whole day. I decided the new chart would include two EEDs per day: one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
My main purpose was to organize a chart so the animals would not get the same EEDs everyday. With this chart, staff and volunteers will be able to look back on past days to see which environmental enrichment devices the animals got recently. I hope this chart works and keeps the animals interested in their educational “toys!”
Posted by Kirsten S.
Kirsten is a Summer, 2015 Intern at the National Marine Life Center. She is going into her senior year at Northeastern University, where she is majoring in Biology.