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See Research in Action during Final Week of Sea Lion Exhibit
Mote Research is a New Step Forward in Study of Patagonian Sea Lions
 
Published Friday, April 19, 2013
by Hayley Rutger

The sea lions are getting their science on! To wrap up the successful exhibit Sea Lions: On The Waters Edge, three Patagonian sea lions will participate in new research that will expand the scientific knowledge of their species during narrated sessions open to visitors in The Aquarium at Mote Marine Laboratory.

The public research sessions will take place at noon and 2 p.m. next Wednesday, April 24, through Monday, April 29, before this limited-time exhibit concludes on May 1. These sessions will be added to the current schedule of educational presentations, which take place at 11:30 a.m., 1:30 and 3:30 p.m. daily.

“The sea lions have done an amazing job helping educate our Aquarium visitors about marine mammals, and now they’ll be helping us broaden our understanding of their species,” said Dan Bebak, Vice President for The Aquarium at Mote. “This is a rare opportunity and it highlights what is special about Mote — our world-class research is the driving force behind our public outreach in The Aquarium. I can think of no better way to wrap up our time with Sea Lions: On The Water’s Edge.”

During the public research sessions, Mote scientists will work with the sea lions to collect novel data about Patagonian sea lions — a species that is not typically found in U.S. zoos and aquariums. A Mote researcher will fit a sea lion with a special harness to monitor its heart rate and then guide the sea lion to swim beneath a dome to collect data on its respiration, or breathing.

This information can improve knowledge of sea lion health in human care and support rehabilitation of stranded sea lions. The measurements from healthy animals, known as baseline data, can later be compared with measurements from animals in rehabilitation to help reveal health problems and signs of improvement.

One sea lion in the exhibit, Stella, was rescued after stranding and may have a heart issue that could relate to her stranding. By regularly measuring Stella’s heart rate, caregivers can monitor her health and proactively administer treatments.

By using the dome to measure sea lions’ respiration, researchers can learn how much energy the animals are expending, helping caregivers regulate their diet and also shedding light on the energy use of sea lions in the wild. Sea lions get their energy from eating fish, but many fish stocks in the wild are being depleted by overfishing and other human activities. Learning about the needs of each species helps us better understand their interrelationships and the overall health of our oceans.

Data from the visiting sea lions, and research training techniques fine-tuned with them, will contribute to research on sea lions in human care and in the wild led by Mote scientists and collaborators at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

“These new research sessions are possible because the sea lions have received extensive training, thanks to their talented caregivers who have worked closely with our research team,” said Joe Gaspard, the Mote scientist conducting the sea lion research.

“We hope the training and research protocols pioneered with the Patagonian sea lions here can also be adapted for the permanent resident animals at Mote, such as our manatees Hugh and Buffett,” added Gaspard, who is Mote’s manatee care and training and research coordinator. “For years, we have been training our resident marine mammals and sea turtles for veterinary care and research, continually finding new ways to learn about their biology, physiology, behavior and health care needs. These opportunities have only gotten more exciting thanks to our sea lion visitors.”

Founded in 1955, Mote Marine Laboratory is an independent, nonprofit 501(c)3 research organization based in Sarasota, Fla., with field stations in eastern Sarasota County, Charlotte Harbor and the Florida Keys. Donations to Mote are tax deductible to the fullest extent allowed by law.
Mote is dedicated to today’s research for tomorrow’s oceans with an emphasis on world-class research relevant to conservation and sustainable use of marine biodiversity, healthy habitats and natural resources. Research programs include studies of human cancer using marine models, the effects of man-made and natural toxins on humans and on the environment, the health of wild fisheries, developing sustainable and successful fish restocking techniques and food production technologies and the development of ocean technology to help us better understand the health of the environment. Mote research programs also focus on understanding the population dynamics of manatees, dolphins, sea turtles, sharks and coral reefs and on conservation and restoration efforts related to these species and ecosystems. Mote’s vision includes positively impacting public policy through science-based outreach and education. Showcasing this research is The Aquarium at Mote, open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 365 days a year. Learn more at www.mote.org.

Contact: Mote Marine Laboratory, 1600 Ken Thompson Parkway, Sarasota, FL 34236. (941) 388-4441 or info@mote.org.

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Media Contact: Hayley Rutger, 941-388-4441, ext. 365, hrutger@mote.org

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