Each day at dolphin marine magic, 365 days a year, we devote hours of time to ensure that the animals we care for stay happy and healthy. read on to find out more about the work that goes into caring our animals...
One of the ways in which we provide important enrichment and stimulation to the animals at Dolphin Marine Magic is through training. Training can be as basic as teaching an animal to wait patiently while we move another animal to or from the same enclosure or be can complex as training an animal to voluntarily assist us in a medical procedure.
We train all the animals at the park using operate conditioning, where the animal receives some sort of reward for completing a behaviour when asked. This reward doesn’t have to be a fish... in some situations a pat, praise or even a toy maybe the reward that the animal prefers!
If an animal misunderstands or gives us an incorrect behaviour, we simply pay no attention to the animal until the animal has stopped the undesired behaviour. Just like children, animals can sometime misbehave looking for attention!
The Marine Mammal Specialists use whistles as markers to let the animals know they have completed a behaviour. The whistles have been conditioned so that even from a distance, the Marine Mammal Specialists can communicate to the animal “Good job! Come back and get a nice reward!”.
The health and well being of all the animals at the park is monitored on a daily basis by the Marine Mammal Specialists who work with them and by our veterinarian. This includes recording the total diet eaten by each animal each day as well as taking health and behaviour observations.
The animals are also trained to assist us in their care and husbandry, such as climbing onto scales each fortnight to monitor their weight, laying down and presenting their body for an ultrasound, or even a voluntary donation of blood, just like we do when we visit the doctor!
In the rare event that our animals are unwell, Dolphin Marine Magic has network of marine mammal experts from all over the world who consult with our veterinarian on the animal health and well being. If required, Dolphin Marine Magic brings specialists to Australia... recently we had the world’s leading seal ophthalmic surgeon out from the United States to remove cataracts from the eyes of several of our oldest seals at the park.
Aside from their daily training, the animals at Dolphin Marine Magic also receive enrichment in the form a variety of toys which are given to them to play with each day. We have a huge selection of toys available for the Marine Mammal Specialists to chose from, including basic toys such as balls and chew ropes. We have moving toys, where their parts twist around and are chased when the animal plays with it and puzzle toys, where the animal has to play with it to get to something hidden inside, such as another toy or food.
In addition to the man made toys, many of the animals also like to play with more “natural” enrichment such as ice blocks or even fresh strands of kelp and seaweed.
The animals are just like us, in that they each have their own personalities with likes and dislikes. Not surprisingly, we quickly see which toys are the favourites of the different animals. Once the Marine Mammal Specialists know which toys the animals like, they will spend time devising new challenges for the animals, such as freezing a chew rope inside a block of ice giving the animals who like these toys a greater challenge.
One of the animal’s favourite forms of enrichment at Dolphin Marine Magic takes place outside of operational hours and therefore isn't seen by guests visiting the park. Known affectionately by the Marine Mammal Specialists as “Freetime”, this enrichment session entails allowing groups of seals out of their usual areas to roam around the dolphin pool area and interact and play with the dolphins.
There is a noticeable increase in the excitement of the seals when they see the Marine Mammal Specialists preparing for freetime. Many of the younger seals will immediately run out of the pens and jump into the dolphin pool to start playing as soon as the gates are opened. For their part, the dolphins love chasing the seals around whilst the seals are in the water and follow them inquisitively from pool to pool as they swim around.
Even the older seals, who are a little too dignified to participate in the rough and tumble play with the dolphins, like to jump into the dolphin pool and swim around, even if it’s at a more leisurely pace! Some of the older seals like to explore the park and one, Cindy, often likes to wander down to the underwater viewing tunnel in our Solitary Reefs exhibit and watch the large fish swimming by the windows with wistful eyes!