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Journals 2004/2005

Barbara Simon-Waters
East Carteret High School, Beaufort, NC

"Foraging ecology of Northern elephant seals"
University of California, Santa Cruz
July 11-21, 2004
Journal Index:
July 11 - 12 - 13 - 14 - 15 - 16 - 17 - 18

      19 - 20 - 21

July 15, 2004

I arrived at the lab at 7:42 am and found Laura near the tower. She had set up all the computer equipment to run a foraging trial with Morgan, the noisier of the two sea otters. She replaced some of the Drierite because it had met with some moisture content as evidenced by it turning from blue to pink. She had trouble getting out of the Windows program as her data collection program did not mesh with Windows. I went with Laura, Tracy (a trainer), and Courtney (another trainer) to get Morgan into the kennel. While Tracy was trying to get Morgan in the kennel, I was taking pictures. Even though I did not distract Morgan, he was not cooperative and received a "time out" which meant no food for him. Realizing what this meant, Morgan started to scream. After about 15 minutes, Tracy tried to get him into the kennel, but to no avail. He did all behaviors except the one she wanted him to do which was to enter his kennel. I returned with Laura to the tower and Courtney was going to attempt one last time with Morgan in about 15 minutes. We patiently waited for her call and sure enough, she had been able to get Morgan into the kennel. Tracy and Courtney arrived with Morgan who was attached to some ropes with a pulley and he and his kennel were hoisted to the top of the tower, some 350 feet above. Tracy let him out of the kennel and he went into the water with Tracy sealing the dome over him. Then the fun began. Morgan made a dive for only about 2 minutes and immediately found one of the six crabs on the bottom that had been released to hide among the cinder blocks below. Bringing it to the surface, we could see the flailing legs of the crab. Very quickly, Morgan started ripping off the claws, then the legs of the crab, devouring the meat. He then cracked through the carapace and ate the inner meat. He carefully licked the inside of the carapace before dropping it and proceeding on another dive. Once again, very quickly, he returned to the surface of the tower with another crab, feeding in the same manner. Laura had cameras set up to record the descent and ascent in the tower, the movements and feeding under the dome, and the search for crabs among the blocks on the bottom. We watched Morgan for a total of 1 3/4 hours. He ate all 6 crabs and either dove for pieces of shell (which are good for his digestive system. The shells act similar to fiber in our system. The shells also help scrape the tartar build-up on his teeth.) or for some mussels left on the bottom from a previous endeavor. Laura was so HAPPY. This was the best trial yet with great pictures and data. I have to say that this was very COOL! A student visitor group stopped by just as Morgan had grabbed a crab and delighted in his method of eating his meal. I got to climb up the tower (not as scary as yesterday and with more practice I could be a pro). I took pictures as Morgan was signaled back into his kennel and assisted in pulling the rope to hoist the kennel over the side. We then carefully lowered the kennel to the ground below. Morgan then was taken back to his pool. From the moment he was freed from the dome, Morgan was fed succulent clams, squid, fish, and shrimp. He was definitely rewarded for his fine performance. I helped Laura dismantle the computer set-up and put it away. She was busy with house "stuff" for the afternoon. I saw Matt who said that Carey would not be coming in today. I volunteered to feed the elephant seals but he said that he had it covered.

Laura suggested that I help out with the afternoon Ocean Explorers summer camp. This was a camp for 9-11 year olds. The cost is $600 for one week (9-4) of day camp. Jen (another trainer) gave a brief explanation of the hand signals to use with the dolphins. The kids got to try out their signals with the dolphins and their behavior was rewarded with fish. They observed the seals doing their tricks, and then I walked with them to the fish and wildlife building to observe the sea otters. After that I left the group and returned to the Ocean Health Building. I will return tomorrow at 8am to work with Carey.

Tonight, I decided to be brave and explore. I used the back streets to get to the Capitola Mall. I am getting more comfortable with the horrendous traffic in Santa Cruz.

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