As reported by Laurie Macha, Mystic Aquarium’s Curator of Mammals and Birds
January 24, 2018: Today’s shift was a very COLD one – it got to single digits toward the end of my night. When I arrived at Alaska SeaLife Center (ASLC) the wind was whipping so hard that it took my breath away. I found myself walking at an angle against the wind. With the cold temperatures and the wind, I planned enrichment to coincide with the feedings as there are always two of us (one as a spotter) for safety. The evening was normal for Tyonek. He seems to rest during the first part of my shifts, and then plays for the second half. Tonight I noticed that he was very aware of the wind gusts. During the 8pm feeding he jumped a little as a HUGE gust came through the area. But it never deterred him! Even wearing my Polartecs, Sherpa fleece, and winter coat, I still felt the chill of the night. A nice hot coffee sat comfortably in my hands as I watched Tyonek and learned more about this little one’s behavior.
January 25, 2018: During the crossover shift communication, Jen told me that Tyonek had been investigating the submerged platform a lot during the day. I gave Tyonek his 5pm enrichment and I started making formula that would be used to feed him during the rest of the night. I did my hourly respiration counts in between fileting fish and adding the ingredients for his formula. At about 6:30pm, Tyonek was again investigating the bottom corner of the submerged platform. Watching him, I noticed that the corner of the platform had come up out of the water and was no longer submerged. I immediately called for assistance from the night crew and was able to maneuver the platform to the side of the pool. The little beluga managed to move 250 pound bags of gravel off of the base to successfully rearrange the platform! While it made a little more work for us to get everything secured, this is a great sign that Tyonek is getting strong and being inquisitive about his environment -an overall welcomed sign that this little guy is improving each day.
The rest of my shift was pretty routine as Tyonek continues to suckle very well and down his formula very quickly. I’m continually amazed at the opportunity that has been given to me to be part of such a huge effort to care for this beluga calf. I’m so lucky and am not taking this experience lightly. It’s really easy to get up and go to work each and every day! I encourage all of the readers of our blogs to please take an active role in your community’s conservation. Get involved! There are so many things that each of us can do – each person does make a difference!
January 26, 2018: Today, I went in before my shift to help handle Tyonek for a weekly weight. Everything went very smoothly. The work the team did desensitizing him to the stretcher seemed to really help. It’s so great when you can see the positive effects of your work. He was very calm and let us guide him very gently into the stretcher – it was all done almost as quickly as it began. Right after we released him from the stretcher, Lisa, the Husbandry Director, offered him his bottle to positively reinforce him (it was also time for his noon feeding). We always try to make everything run smoothly, calmly, and with great timing/planning. I went to lunch at the Cookery. It’s such a great little restaurant! They only have two things on the menu each day but it is always delicious! Lunch hit the spot and I headed home to take a little nap before my evening shift.
When I got home Rerun was waiting for me! He greeted me like I was his long lost friend as we both went into the warm house and crashed for about an hour.
When I got in at 4pm, Tyonek’s pool was full and he was waiting for enrichment and, of course, his bottle. It was so warm today that it felt like summer (only in the 20’s but much better than single digits).
After Tyonek’s bottle we had a little play time and I rubbed him down. He really seemed engaged watching my fingers wiggle in the water. I eventually had to go and make formula for the rest of his evening feedings. I gave him an enrichment item that he really seemed to enjoy and off I went to start my routine. Compared to the previous evening, tonight was pretty uneventful! Tyonek was investigating the submerged dock again…clearly trying to cause more mischief. At about 10:30pm the wind really picked up. I noticed that Tyonek responded to the increased wind and started to swim deeper in the water. It also started to snow again. Before I knew it my shift was over.
I only have 2 1/2 days more days left to work with Tyonek. It is bittersweet to have this incredible experience come to an end. Tomorrow my Mystic Aquarium colleague Carey Richard will be taking my place; starting her second ‘tour of duty’. I’m so excited for her to see how much progress he has made since she was here last. Carey was part of the original team that helped to care for Tyonek after his stranding when he was in a critical care situation. He’s come such a long way! I’m sure this will come full circle for her! I’m thrilled for her for what will be new experiences with this little treasure!
January 27, 2018: Today Tyonek started on a variable feed schedule, so the he was fed at 7:30pm (not at the ‘normal’ 8pm routine). I, on the other hand, performed all of the ‘normal’ tasks at hand, like making formula. I absolutely love making formula! Tyonek came right over for the feeding at 7:30pm and ate like a little champ! It was a relatively warm and windless night and I noticed that he was incredibly active with his enrichment like the kelp strips. I also noticed that Tyonek was gliding on the slide out (an egress out of the pool). It appears to be something that is enriching to him. Each of the facilities here to help the ASLC care for Tyonek (Georgia Aquarium, Shedd Aquarium and Mystic Aquarium) will be having a change out of staff in a few days. It will be the ending of an incredible experience, saying goodbye to good friends, and heading home to our families. We will train each of our replacements to ensure the smoothest of transitions for Tyonek. Tonight flew by and I headed home for a good night sleep.
January 28, 2018: Having gotten accustomed to the shift that I was on, I woke feeling very rested. So, I headed to the marina for a nice walk, sightseeing, and a nice lunch before my shift at 4pm. I stopped at a little grill on the waterfront and had a very tasty dish of halibut fish and chips. I thought that some of the shops would be open but everything was closed on Sunday. Instead, I headed to ASLC to walk around the aquarium to look at their exhibits. Mystic Aquarium has a lot in common with the ASLC in that we both have Steller sea lions, harbor seals and spotted seals. I stopped by to see some Stellers –Maura and Eden-that were at Mystic and went to ASLC for breeding. Neither was on exhibit today but I did get to see Pilot, an adult male Steller sea lion. He’s HUGE and such a beautiful animal! It was funny to watch him in the underwater viewing window – much like our beluga whale, Juno, Pilot was interacting with some guests. It was so much fun to watch.
I also got a chance to see their amazing Alcid and seabird exhibit – it’s the best in the country! The puffins are all in their eclipse plumage right now and not as brightly colored.
Once back on shift, I noticed that Tyonek has adapted well to the variable schedule. It’s so important for all of the animals in our care to have variable schedules; including variable feeding times, number of feeds, length of feeds, and amount of feeds. This helps to stimulate and enrich animal’s lives. It is something that we also do at Mystic for all of our animals. Today most of the new staff arrived and I was able to teach Andrea from Shedd Aquarium how to make formula (which everyone now knows I love to make!).
Lisa, the Husbandry Director at the ASLC, made us a thank you and bon voyage dinner – they were the most incredible salmon cakes that I’ve ever had in my life! Her son also caught the fish – I’ve heard that he’s quite the little angler and I hope I get to fish one day with him and learn some of his skills!
Tyonek was incredibly interactive tonight at the last feeding of my shift. He even stuck around for some tongue rubs (or more accurately, one finger touches – he’s got such a teeny little mouth). He also played a little spitting ‘game’.
The water is 42F tonight and when we feed him we use one hand under his chin to help position him to latch onto the bottle to feed. I found that putting one rubber glove helps to keep your hand from going numb! We stayed and played with him for about 20 minutes. Christina and Jill from Georgia relieved me from my shift. Jill was just in awe of this little guy.
I still can’t believe that we’ve gotten to be such an important part of helping Tyonek. I will never take that for granted. Tonight is my last night shift. I await Carey Richard’s arrival for crossover training. Once that is complete, I will head to Anchorage for my two-day travel back to Connecticut.
I’m kind of dreading having to leave. I just love Tyonek, the ASLC staff and my colleagues from other facilities. The work that the ASLC does for rescue and rehabilitation is incredible and I’ve been able to learn so much – I will certainly miss all of them.
It was important for me to write this blog entry before I went to bed tonight because it was such an incredible night and I wanted to share it with everyone while it was still fresh in my mind.