Currently, the project includes eight amazing animals that are trained to participate in our laboratory research and associated animal husbandry activities. Four of our resident animals represent species found right off the central coast of California. These include two California sea lions, Rio and Ronan, a harbor seal, Sprouts, and a southern sea otter called Charlie. The three pinnipeds are long-term members of our research team, while our sea otter program is a shorter term effort, extending over a few years. We are also working with four other unique pinnipeds in the laboratory: two spotted seals and two ringed seals that are with us to support a project concerning the sensory biology of arctic seals. Sea otters are mustelids, but like pinnipeds, they are amphibious mammals that make their living in the sea.

We are fortunate to work closely with five different species of marine carnivores, from three phylogenetic families (Otariidae, Phocidae, and Mustelidae) in our program at Long Marine Laboratory. This opportunity allows us to explore the behavioral, sensory, and cognitive adaptations of these animals as they relate to differences in evolution and ecology. Each one of our animals is involved in an intensive training program that prepares them to cooperate in different behavioral experiments, allows their health to be carefully monitored, and keeps them in good physical and mental condition.

rio   sprouts   ronan   odin
California sea lion
Zalophus californianus

Rio is a female, born in captivity in 1985 and reared by a human surrogate mother. She's lived at LML all her life and has participated in a wide range of studies relating to imprinting, visual and acoustic perception, associative learning, concept formation, and memory. Rio is well known for being the first nonhuman animal to demonstrate equivalence classification, a complex cognitive skill once thought to be limited to humans.
Harbor seal
Phoca vitulina

Sprouts is a male, born into captivity in 1988. He came to LML from Sea World, San Diego, in 1989 to participate in cognitive studies. Sprouts is a keystone of the project, and he works simultaneously on a variety of projects. These currently include studies of hearing, vibrotactile reception, and tracking of underwater wakes.. In addition to his participation in various research projects, Sprouts also helps educate children about marine life through his participation in LML's "Ocean Explorers" program.
California sea lion
Zalophus californianus

Ronan is a female, born off the coast of California in the summer of 2008. She was rescued by the Marine Mammal Center while walking down Highway 1 in October 2009, her third stranding incident, and was deemed unreleasable. She originally joined our lab in January 2010 as a control subject for our domoic acid poisoning study, and joined the permanent research program in February of the same year. She currently participates in both acoustic and cognition experiments.

Southern sea otter
Enhydra lutris nereis

Selka is an adult female southern sea otter born off the coast of California in 2012. After stranding as a pup, she was rescued, rehabilitated, and released into the wild by the Sea Otter Research Conservation Program at Monterey Bay Aquarium, and she lived as a wild otter for about 2 years. After multiple strandings during this time period, Selka was finally deemed unreleasable by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and she joined our research program in 2014 to participate in sensory studies. Although she is a relatively young female, Selka continues to learn very quickly, and she is currently helping us to collect some of the first data linking perceptual capabilities to foraging ecology in sea otters.

amak   tunu   natchek   nayak
Spotted seal
Phoca largha

Amak is a male, abandoned by his mother as a newborn in spring 2010 on the mud flats by King Salmon, Alaska. His name is the Inuit word for "playful." He was rehabilitated at the Alaska Sea Life Center with Tunu, and after being deemed unreleasable, joined our program in September 2010 to participate in our ice seal bioacoustics project. He is currently helping us collect the first documented data on the hearing abilities of spotted seals.

Spotted seal
Phoca largha

Tunu is a male, born April 4th, 2010 in the Yup'ik village Tununak (after which he is named). He was rehabilitated at the Alaska Sea Life Center in Seward, Alaska with Amak and joined our program in September 2010 after being deemed unfit to be released. He is participating in our ice seal bioacoustics project, helping us collect the first documented data on the hearing abilities of spotted seals.

Bearded seal
Erignathus barbatus

Siku is a male bearded seal who was born in Kotzebue Sound, Alaska in Spring 2014. His name is the Alaskan Inuit word for "ice." Siku came to our program from the Alaska SeaLife Center in early February 2015 to participate in our ice seal bioacoustics project. He is now the youngest member of our research team at Long Marine Lab. Siku is the first bearded seal to participate in studies of sensory biology, and is helping us to learn about hearing in his species.
Ringed seal
Pusa hispida

Nayak is a young female ringed seal that came to the program from rehabilitation in May of 2012. She was born in the wild in Alaska and stranded as a young pup. Nayak stayed at the Alaska Sea Life Center before joining our program. Nayak rounds out our sample of ice seals for the study of hearing in arctic pinnipeds.
Animal Training for Research and Husbandry
Conducting noninvasive, interactive, behavioral research with marine mammals requires that trainers have a clear way of communicating information to their animals. Much of animal training consists of linking up a trainer's signals, an animal's movements or responses, and carefully timed outcomes or rewards. Our training program accomplishes this through the use of classical and operant conditioning techniques that reinforce desired behaviors with fish rewards. The animals learn quickly to respond to the trainer's tools, which include targets that the animals touch and track and cues such as whistles that tell them they've earned a reward. In this way, teaching various behaviors for research and husbandry can be broken down into simple steps and establishing new behaviors becomes a fun and rewarding process for the animal as well as the trainer.

The animals are active participants in the training process, meaning they must make choices about how to respond in different situations. Their decision making relies on their current motivational state, their memory of past experiences, and their expectancies about the future. Because of this, the behaviors that an animal is trained to perform can illuminate internal processes like sensory events, associative learning, the formation of concepts, and short- and long-term memory. We design experiments that engage the animals in active problem solving and they develop and use strategies that allow us to measure their discriminative and cognitive abilities. An additional benefit of this research is the stimulating and challenging environment created for our animals during the testing process. In some ways, the testing protocols simulate the wild environment because the animals encounter new situations and successfully solve novel problems on a daily basis.
Veterinary Care at Long Marine Lab
Caring for the health needs of our animals is a joint effort between our project staff and our veterinarian, Dr. Dave Casper. Together, we work to plan and maintain a training program that meets the individual needs of each animal. This involves establishing and practicing behaviors that allow us to monitor health and treat ailments, such as training the animals for physical examinations, blood draws, diagnostic ultrasounds and X-rays, collection of tissues and fluids, and even tooth brushing. We invest a great deal of deal of time in caring for our animals and keep detailed records on their health and behavior in order to provide them with the best possible long-term care.
dr casper
External Oversight of Animal Care
We are required by law to work with several regulatory agencies. The Office of Protected Resources, which is part of the National Marine Fisheries Service, provides our permit for housing and conducting research with pinnipeds (NMFS 1072-1771-00). Our work with sea otters is conducted under a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS MA186914). The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service regularly visits our lab to review animal care protocols, health and water quality records, and animal and food preparation facilities. Our government funding agencies have their own animal care and research protocol approval process which includes mandatory review of all research protocols and site inspections. Finally, each of the University of California's campuses and all of our off-campus research partners have Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees (IACUCs), which conduct site visits and review and approve detailed protocols for each research project we initiate. UC Santa Cruz recently achieved AAALAC accreditation, a voluntary certification from the Association for Assessment and Accreditation of Laboratory Animal Care which demonstrates our continued commitment to ethical and humane treatment of animals. We work closely with all of these agencies to maintain the highest possible standards of animal care.
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