Ocean Park is hosting Animal Discovery Fest, where you can interact with the park’s animal ambassadors – including sea lions, arctic foxes, dolphins, and many more. Young Post sent its junior reporters to meet these animals and get to know them a little better. Here’s what they discovered.
A meet-and-greet that’s for the birds
At Waterfront Plaza, we met a turkey vulture named Combo who clearly enjoys being in the spotlight. Whenever reporters gathered around him and his trainer Jason, he would spread his wings and show off his feathers.
A vulture normally only eats “leftovers” – basically the rotting remains of other animals – so what do they eat at Ocean Park? “Their diet consists of mice as well as other small animals,” says Jason. “We always try to replicate what they usually eat in the wild.”
Feeding the animals the things they are familiar with helps the park staff gain their trust. Karen, another animal keeper, explained that working with these creatures will also help them stay calm when a vet comes around to give them a check-up.
Getting a feel for sea lions
Pacific Pier is famous for its marine species. It has artificial waves and the water is clean and clear, thanks to good circulation. There are two sides to the pier, connected by a tunnel. One side has rocks and small islands for sea lions to rest or play on, while the other has shallow water for seals.
The Meet the Sea Lion programme is the newest attraction at the pier. Healthy, one of the trainers, taught us three tricks so we could tell sea lions and seals apart. Sea lions have ears that stick out a bit – these are called pinnae or auricles – whereas seals have ear holes only. Sea lions also have larger front fins, which makes them more agile – they can even stand on their fins. They swim by flapping their front fins to and fro, but seals swim by moving their fins from side to side.
Both sea lions and seals have whiskers, which help them find prey at night when visibility is low. But Healthy pointed out that seals’ whiskers are more spiral-shaped, making them more sensitive to vibrations in the water when prey is around.
Later, we got to touch the sea lions, having sterilised our hands first. We were told to use our palms instead of our fingers, to be sure that we didn’t scratch the animals. Their skin is really smooth and since they are mammals like us, they have hair which falls out and grows back each season.
Sea lions have good eyesight, but Juju, a 14-year-old female, showed us another way they find their friends: shouting. Every sea lion sounds a bit different, so they can identify which one is their buddy.
This programme showed us how important it is for us to take care of all animals. We can do this by recycling more, which will prevent rubbish from getting into the water where animals will mistakenly eat it. It is an eye-opening experience and a great way to learn more about animals and environmental issues.
From the Arctic to the rainforest
Frank, a caretaker responsible for the well-being of the Arctic foxes in Polar Adventure, smiled as he described watching the female give birth in 2014. He said that after making all the preparations, including building an artificial cave out of cardboard boxes to make the parents feel at home, it was a thrill to watch the birth of healthy arctic pups. “Even better, watching them grow up was an absolute pleasure,” Frank said.
Not all the animals are so enthusiastic and friendly, though. Karen, who looks after the southern two-toed sloth at the Rainforest section, says whenever she wakes up her charge in the middle of a nap, it just looks at her with glazed eyes, and then falls back into its coma. There are days, too, when it feels brave enough to climb the vines to the roof of the enclosure so it can have a mid-air nap, high above the shocked tourists.
But through training and bonding with this reclusive creature, she has forged a strong bond with it, and on some days, Karen’s call is answered by a loud rustling, and the sloth comes rushing over. During our visit, Karen commented on how wildly the sloth was looking at our group, something she says is remarkably rare.
Sloths aren’t the only animals with complex personalities. Frank, the caretaker for the dolphins at Ocean Theatre, says each dolphin has its own unique character. For example, the shy mother Pinky often refuses to show her underside during a health inspection. On the other hand, playful Maya loves to splash her trainer after shows. It was clear from Frank’s descriptions that the dolphins really make him happy, and he loves taking care of them.