Enriching the lives of our marine mammals is an integral part of animal care at Marineland and is as important as the nutrition and medical care that they receive. The act of providing stimulating and challenging environments, toys and activities for the animals is called enrichment. The benefits to the animals are many and include, but are not limited to, mental stimulation, physical activity and promotion of the animal’s natural behaviours like exploring, foraging and diving.
Generally, we divide enrichment into two main types: Environmental Enrichment Devices (EED) like toys, balls and brushes and Environmental Enrichment Activities (EEA) like giving a whale a full body water massage with a sprayer hose or playing peek-a-boo at the underwater glass. Who knew aluminum foil could be used like this!
Sometimes, enrichment can actually be both a device and an activity – such as using a long-handled brush (a device) to rub the pectoral fins of a whale (an activity). Even feeding, training or husbandry procedures are viewed as enrichment activities and are treated in that manner so that we can make such activities exciting and stimulating for the animal.
Within each species there are wide ranges of individual preferences on what an animal enjoys, just like humans. Our caregivers devote a great deal of time and effort to get to know individual animals’ preferences in order to create activities and design devices that will engage and enthrall an animal.
When deciding if an EEA or EED is acceptable to use, the safety of the animal is paramount. In the case of EEDs several criteria need to be considered. Does the object have any rough edges? Is it sturdy enough to withstand salt, cold temperatures or the pounding from a 4,500 kg animal? Is it made of safe material? All of these questions and more are taken into account by our marine mammal care team. Marineland has an enrichment craftsman in our carpenter shop who can work with our marine mammal care team to design and build various EEDs as in some cases a suitable device just can’t be found at a store.
Enhancing the lives of the animals in our care is our top priority and enrichment plays a key role in helping us achieve that goal.