Cork the seal explores Mystic Aquarium during closure
Mystic — While most of us feel like our worlds are getting smaller as we practice social distancing to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus, the world has gotten a lot bigger for Cork the seal at Mystic Aquarium.
The 7-year-old seal got the unique opportunity to roam around the main floor at the aquarium this week, following the facility's closure to the public at 5 p.m. Monday. The aquarium posted a video of the adventure, which shows Cork exploring and stopping to look at the fish tanks, on Instagram and Facebook on Friday afternoon.
"He clearly enjoyed his jaunt and especially the fish habitats," the post said. Carey Richard, assistant curator of marine mammals, said the seal was fascinated with Charlotte the sea turtle during his outing.
The aquarium staff are letting some animals, like Cork, explore new areas while the facility is shut down, in order to provide animals with "critically important animal enrichment." Earlier in the week, the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago posted a similar video of penguins exploring.
"This behavior, taught to allow animals to shift between outdoor habitats for healthcare and variability, came in handy as animal care activity teams are working tirelessly to expand enrichment activities to animals during this novel time," staff wrote in the post.
Cork has been learning how to explore new habitats for two years, said Richard, but normally moves from habitat to habitat or has short adventures in the morning or late at night, when there aren't people around. Now that the aquarium is closed, he's getting the chance to move about during the day.
"It's really stimulating for him, you can see him walking around and taking it all in," Richard said. "Without people there he can really explore without him being spooked by crowds or anything."
Richard said that exploring new areas outside their habitat helps animals like Cork by "mixing up social groups and keeping their days as interesting and dynamic as possible."
Since seals move around on their stomachs, Cork is often wheeled around in a cart to explore new places.
"He had to learn how to get into the cart, but it's a little less stressful on their bodies and their floppy bellies," Richard said.
In another video on Thursday, an aquarium staff member held Tegu the lizard up to a glass tank as Clara the sea lion looked out curiously. Richard said aquarium staff, which has been significantly cut during the closure, is trying to offer educational opportunities that people can participate in from the safety of their homes.
"We thought this would be a great opportunity for the types of virtual field trips that kids can go on while being home-schooled," Richard said. "Every day we're going to be doing something, whether it's a live post or a featured animal or a photograph."
The aquarium will be hosting live events on its Facebook page, bit.ly/MyAqFB, every day at 11 a.m. through the end of the month. On Friday, staff members gave viewers a behind-the-scenes tour of the frog habitats in a live video that had nearly 80,000 views.
"We're trying to go the extra mile in addition to all of the work we're doing taking care of the animals and make people feel like they're here, too," Richard said.
On Saturday, the Facebook live event will celebrate Maia the sea lion's anniversary at the aquarium, and next week's events will include a "scales and tales" event with Tegu.
The aquarium will remain closed until further notice.