In my last post I wrote about what I, personally, learned volunteering at the Marine Mammal Rescue Centre. This post is about what, and more relevantly, HOW the seals learned.
The goal of the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Mammal Rescue Centre is to rescue, rehabilitate and release marine mammals who need their help. There is a system for achieving this goal and the success rate is very good. Here’s how it works:
When a seal pup comes in to the Rescue Centre often it goes into the “comfort tent”. Here it will be in its own tub, it can have a warming lamp, if necessary, and a special mat if it still has an umbilical cord stump. It will be fed a specific formula for its needs and get any medication it might require. It’s fed 5 times a day, with a syringe, by a 2 person team. It will stay here as long as necessary, often a couple of weeks, but sometimes more, sometimes less.
Some seals aren’t quite so small and needy. They might go straight to a regular tent. They won’t need a warming lamp or a special mat, but will get their own tub. They might get formula and will be hand fed fish with a vitamin hidden inside. Pups from the comfort tent get moved here when they’re healthy and big enough. They will get their tubs half filled with water everyday so they can practice swimming.
As soon as they can manage it they will get to practice “catching” fish floating in their water-filled tubs 4 times a day. It might take them a week to get to this point, some have been at this stage for 2 months.
Eventually, when they can manage eating fish from their filled tubs and are no longer on any medications they will be moved in with a buddy to practice their social skills. If all goes well, they reach a certain weight, can fish and are getting along with others they are moved in with a larger group in a bigger pool to learn how to be a seal in nature. A big bucket of fish is dumped into their communal pool and everyone has to figure out what to do. They are still weighed regularly and monitored throughout each day to see that everyone is managing well.
After some time in a group pool, when a set weight is reached and they can catch a live fish they are released into the wild in a group of 2 or more.
One seal might go through this process in a month or two, another might take twice as long. Progress is based on competence. There is a set of criteria that must be met before a new set of challenges is introduced. In this system each individual is able to practice a new skill until they are competent and confident before they move on to the next progressive step. They are given chances to problem solve and apply their newly acquired skills before they are out in the “real world”.
Hmmm…does this sound like something we could be strengthening in our schools?