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Sea Lions by Robyn and Alex

We think sea lions are cool. We come to the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium whenever we can to learn more about them. The zookeepers here want to make the animals feel like they are in the wild as much as possible. In the wild, sea lions spend much of the day hunting and playing. That got us thinking about how could we give the sea lions more chances to play and hunt. Our question: If we change the sea lions' diet, will that affect the amount of time they hunt and play?

What did we do?
We watched how two sea lion sisters spent their time before, during and after being fed. First, they were fed their usual meal of 7 pounds of frozen fish. We put Xs on a chart to show what activities we saw: eating, hunting, playing, moving or resting. More Xs meant that we saw that activity more often. Then we waited three hours before feeding them the next kind of fish. That way, they'd be hungry again. We made a new chart showing their activities while eating 7 lbs of little live trout. Then waited once again before feeding them 7 lbs of the big, live trout.

What did we find out?
The first thing we noticed was that they finished eating the frozen fish in no time - less than 90 seconds. They didn't have to even hunt for it, and they didn't play around. When we fed them the live fish, they had to chase the fish to eat them. That took about four minutes. The other thing we noticed was that we saw more hunting action when we fed them large trout, compared to small trout. It was almost like they hoped there were more fish around, even though they had eaten them all. We found that they did the most hunting and playing when we fed them large live trout. We'll ask the zookeepers to give them live trout a few times each week.

What can you do?
  • Stop by your zoo and watch the behaviors of your favorite animal. Write down all of your observations. What do they spend most of their time doing? playing, eating, grooming, or sleeping? Check out DragonflyTV's Otters story for an example of how to put your observations into a chart.
  • How does what and when you feed your pet affect its schedule? If you feed your dog in the mornings instead of the evenings, do you notice different activities? What other observations can you make if you feed your pet different types of food?
  • Many zoos have farm animals or birds that are also found in the wild. Pick an animal that you can observe both in the wild and in a zoo. Compare how the two spend an afternoon. Does each animal do the same activity for the same amount of time even though they're in different environments? Check out Baby Animals to see how real kids observe animals at the zoo.
  • Use this zoo investigation as a science fair project idea for your elementary or middle school science fair! Then tell us about it!
more resources
More on Animal Behavior

Go to the DFTV Boards, and tell us about your science investigation.
whiz quiz
What is the distance record for swimming in the ocean without using flippers?

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