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Beluga Rescue Collaboration: October 11 – 15, 2017

As reported by Carey Richard, Mystic Aquarium’s Supervisor of Cetaceans and Pinnipeds

October 11, 2017: The last couple of days have been a time of transition as colleagues who have been in Seward since the days right after the calf’s stranding are returning home to their jobs and families.  While we said goodbye to some great people, we are also welcoming new (and equally as great) staff from assisting facilities. With the influx of new team members, scheduled shifts are changing to accommodate experience and setting the calf’s care up for success.  Due to this changeover, Steve and I are no longer partners from 8AM-4 PM.  He is now in charge of holding down the fort from 12AM-10 AM.  Steve and I worked together for seven days, developing a system that worked for us and the calf.  Much like many of the visiting staff who were paired together, having some partner changes required developing a new groove with new cohorts.

Showing new staff the ins and outs of the calf’s routine has been eye-opening.  I have only been here for eight days but then again, I’ve already been here for 8 days!  Eight days of consistency, but conversely also  a lot of change as we continue to monitor the calf’s progress and follow plans dictated by the Alaska SeaLife Center’s veterinary team.

While I have enjoyed my time caring for the calf thus far, my favorite part of this experience has been the collaboration and team effort with staff from Shedd Aquarium, Georgia Aquarium, SeaWorld, Vancouver Aquarium, and the Alaska SeaLife Center.  We all have one common goal – to advance this calf’s rehabilitation to give him the best chance at survival.  It has been so rewarding to be a part of a team of people working happily together in cold, wet, and sometimes challenging conditions.  A team that is also willing to give and receive feedback; as well as include all members in discussions, regardless of their past experience.

I have been here for eight days and have learned and seen so much.  I am excited to see what the next eight days brings!

October 15, 2017: As animal trainers, consistency is important in our day-to-day routines with the animals.  Animals learn in small increments through repetition, much like humans do.  I work on a team of 14 people who feed and train 16 animals of various species, ages, sizes, and training experience.  If we did not provide consistent criteria for behaviors between the large group of people working with the animals, there would be confusion, regression of behavior, and a decrease in learning.  Communication is key; crossover emails, texts on days off, pictures and videos are all integral to our success with our animals.

The same continues to hold true with the calf and his rehabilitation progress.  Especially as new staff are coming in to the already established routine, we are working closely together to ensure that the calf’s day-to-day schedule is steady.  We text each other outside of shared shifts, leave notes on the computer, and continue to meet each morning at 8AM to discuss the last 24 hours.  Much like we’ve fallen into a routine each day, the calf seems to as well.  He is getting much more consistent with bottle feeding; showing more interest in the bottle itself and having stronger feeds where he is consuming more calories.  In between feedings he is alternating between resting, swimming, as well as interacting with staff and environmental enrichment devices.  These are objects that are naturalistic in nature; car wash straps mimicking seaweed, ice blocks, and submerged rocks.  These items encourage natural play and rubbing which aid in the calf’s development and learning.

My last day at the Alaska SeaLIfe Center is now visible on the computer’s schedule.  Time is flying by!  I have witnessed so much progress with our team and the calf in these last 11 days and I can’t wait to see what the next few hold.

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