Currently, the project includes ten amazing animals that are trained to participate in our laboratory research and associated animal husbandry activities. Three of our resident animals represent species found right off the central coast of California. These include two California sea lions, Rio and Ronan, and a harbor seal, Sprouts. These three pinnipeds are long-term members of our research team. We are also working with seven other unique pinnipeds in the laboratory: four spotted seals, two ringed seals, and one bearded seal that are with us to support research concerning the physiology and sensory biology of Arctic seals. These seven ice-dependent seals are distributed between our home facility at Long Marine Laboratory in Santa Cruz, CA, and our sister facility at the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, AK.

We are fortunate to work closely with five different species of marine carnivores, from two phylogenetic families (Otariidae and Phocidae) 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   noatak
Rio
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 nearly 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.
  Sprouts
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 program, and he works simultaneously on a variety of projects. These 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.
  Ronan
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 at LML.
 

Noatak
Bearded seal
Erignathus barbatus

Noatak is a male, and the youngest member of our research team at Long Marine Lab. Since joining the program in fall 2015, he has proven to be an avid learner and eager participant in cooperative research tasks. Noatak is currently helping us to collect the first documented data on the hearing capabilities and physiological capacities of ice-dependent bearded seals.

amak   tunu   ronan   kunik
Amak
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 SeaLife Center, and after being deemed non-releasable he joined our program in September 2010 to participate in our ice seal bioacoustics project. After helping us collect the first documented data on the hearing abilities of spotted seals, Amak moved back to the Alaska SeaLife Center where he is participating in our
PHOCAS project.
  Tunu
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 SeaLife Center with Amak and joined our program in September 2010. He participated in our ice seal bioacoustics project at LML, and is now working at the SeaLife Center to help us learn more about the energetic requirements and molting physiology of spotted seals.
  Sura
Spotted seal
Phoca largha


Sura is a female who stranded as a newborn near Clark's Point, Alaska, in spring 2014. Her name is the Inuit word for "green leaf; new life." She joined the program after a successful rehabilitation, when she was deemed unfit to be released. Sura is now living at the Alaska SeaLife Center along with Pimniq, Amak, Tunu, and Kunik and is helping us learn more about the physiology of ice-dependent Arctic seals.
  Kunik
Spotted seal
Phoca largha


Kunik is a male, rescued as a young pup after washing up on a beach near Nome, Alaska in late spring 2015. His name is the Inuit word for "nose kiss." After making a full recovery, he joined our program. Kunik is the youngest member of our research team at the Alaska SeaLife Center, and is currently participating in the PHOCAS project.
    nayak   pim    
    Nayak
Ringed seal
Pusa hispida


Nayak is an adult 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. After being rehabilitated at the Alaska SeaLife Center, Nayak joined the LML team and is now an expert participant in various acoustic and physiological experiments.
  Pimniq
Ringed seal
Pusa hispida


Pimniq is a young male ringed seal who is part of our Alaska SeaLife Center team. He stranded as a yearling in Stebbins, Alaska in summer 2015, and is now working cooperatively to help us learn more about baseline health and physiological parameters for his species.
   
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 18902). 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 has also 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.
Many wonderful animals have participated in cooperative behavioral research with us over the years. Click here to meet our animal alumni.
 
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