Sunday, May 18, 2008

Fish Training at the Pittsburgh Aquarium!

This is so cool and amazing, and in my own backyard. I can't believe I wasn't aware of it earlier!

It seems that Bob Snowden, an aquarist with the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium, has been training the sharks in his care for several years now. When Bob arrived at the Pittsburgh aquarium, two of the zebra sharks (named Sushi and Nori - see photo) were totally neurotic. Their behavior was so bad, they had to be quarantined and were not on exhibit. I can attest to this - living in Pittsburgh myself, I can remember how disappointed my kids and I were when the Pittsburgh Aquarium first opened, and the huge shark tank was empty.

Bob decided to try behavioral management techniques including food-based positive reinforcement and shaping methods similar to those we have developed at Fish School to see if he could improve the shark's behavior. He even employs an easily seen yellow target as a cue for the sharks (see photo), very much like the role the feeding wand plays in the R2 Fish School Training Kit. When they see the yellow target, these bottom dwelling sharks swim up through the 27 feet of water to the surface, where Bob can feed them.

Over time Bob has made incredible progress with these sharks. Not only do the sharks come to the surface when they see the target, he's been able to train them to swim over to him so he can inspect them and measure their length. He's been able to train them so they'll roll onto their backs so he can take blood samples. He can now even lift these six foot long beauties all the way out of the water for a short time to weigh them.
All without any of the stress typically associated with such procedures - which Bob says is bad for the animals, and harder for the aquarists. The sharks appear to genuinely enjoy the interaction, and so does Bob! He calls it his "dream job".

You can read all about of Bob Snowden interacting and training his sharks at the Pittsburgh Aquarium. But don't just read about it, be sure to watch the video. What Bob is doing is truly incredible!

I'm going to contact Bob to see if can meet with him to trade fish training stories and ideas. Heck, I might even ask if he'd be interested in collaborating. As I've mentioned before, I've always wanted to see how the fish training techiques we've developed work on BIG marine species, including sharks.



Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium said...

We are so, so glad you enjoyed your visit to the Pittsburgh Zoo and really liked reading about your experience. Would you consider putting a link to the Zoo on your web site that would go to cute Zoo videos? It would help us with our SEO marketing and your readers will get a glimpse at some really cute videos. Thanks in advance for your support of the Zoo and for your consideration of this request.

DP said...

Sure, I'd love to plug the zoo. Just let me know what link you think I should point to!

Dr. Dean