Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Middle Flipper Is (Part 14).......

....a seal who royally messes with your mind.

A sealfie.  Teehee.

The subject of this particular Middle Flipper entry goes by the name of Milo.  He is a young harbor seal and he has quite the list of personality quirks.  In fact, I think Milo collects bizarre personality traits for a living, which further adds to my belief that he is a genius who is borderline eccentric.  

If Milo were a person,  he'd probably have a PhD in human psychology, specifically looking into how the brain responds to PERCEIVED reality.  Why do I think this? 

Because as you can see, he has a THIRD EYE.  Bahahaha. (Yes, that's a fish eye on his head)

Because Milo messes with our heads all the time.

If he were a human, I imagine he would dress in ornate smoking jackets with paisley prints.  These jackets would be real expensive and he'd only wear them once, because he wouldn't be caught dead in the same thing twice.  Sometimes, he'd wear glasses with quirky frames, like bright colored ones or ones with crazy patterns.  Sure, he's colorblind like all the rest of the seals on the planet, but he'd argue that should NEVER get in the way of fashionable accessories. 

Milo, personified.

His trainers, especially the ones who have known him since he was a pup, are very tuned in to Milo's deeply complex self and desire for self expression.  Milo has the largest collection of wearable accessories of anyone I know who makes less than $700,000 a year*.  He boasts a wide range of seasonal hats that compliment his handsome, dark look and big, expressive eyes.  

The Jake Owen look is a favorite of Milo's

"Sure," some of you may be saying.  "Your seal can wear a hat for a few seconds.  Big deal. I know a lot of animals who can do that."

So okay, in and of itself, Milo's fashion collection is not an impressive feat of training nor does it adequately show his uniqueness.  In order for you to fully appreciate this boy, let's look at some of his other components.

He is a Red Sox fan.

First of all, Milo is sensitive.  Deeply, deeply sensitive.  I mean, what eccentric genius isn't?  Harbor seals are not necessarily known collectively for their austere bravery.  I mean, they are pretty much giant snacks in their native habitats for sharks, orcas, and occasionally other species of seals.  Harbor seals have all the right in the world to be skittish little nuggets.  But what tends to set Milo apart are the other, less obvious stimuli that send him into a tizzy.  Here is a little list:

1) Kids playing in a sandbox.  We have a sandbox next to his exhibit.  This sandbox is next to the sand, because we are literally right on the beach.  There is sand everywhere.  Milo can see sand and the Gulf of Mexico for as far as the eye can see in either direction.  Sand sand sand.  Kids and adults play in the beach sand all day, and that is perfectly acceptable.  But oh, a kid in a sand BOX?  NO.  UNNATURAL.  He can't take it. 

Sorry, I don't DO sandboxes

2) "Random" birds that fly over or near the habitat.  Like I said, we're on the beach.  There are laughing gulls, pelicans, sparrows, pigeons, grackles, crows, egrets and herons that frequent the rooftops of all of our habitats throughout the facility because of Favorite Bird Snacks such as capelin and popcorn.  It's not every bird that freaks Milo out.  It's apparently certain ones.  Maybe Milo has a superstitious number, like 87.  Maybe it's a test, to see if humans can pick up on seemingly-random patterns.  Or perhaps, certain birds simply appear suspicious to him, which I can understand because let's face it, some birds are just malevolent.

Ooookay, I'm not sleeping for a few nights.

3) Especially that one particular blue heron, who Milo can tell apart from all the other blue herons in North America, who just sits and stares at him all day.


4) Beards are the worst thing ever, according to Milo.   In fact, he may argue that some humans have far too many oddly-formed whiskers.  There is nothing pleasant about a bearded man, according to our seal friend. 

Okay, this is a pretty strong case for a pro-beardage

5) Middle-aged men doing tai chi on the beach cannot be tolerated and are simply a cause for massive distraction and panicked speed-swimming.  "Go balance your chi somewhere else," Milo seems to say. 

Unsure of Milo's opinion on pandas doing tai chi, but I'll keep you all posted.

Here's the thing: I don't think Milo is genuinely afraid of these things.**  I think he picks these particular items in order to gauge the human response, especially that of his trainers.  At the end of each session, depending on what's happened, he probably analyzes his findings with the two other seals he lives with, Priscilla and Augustina.

Milo: Human subject 14, trial 759: Subject appeared startled at my sudden, fixated stare into the distance.
Priscilla: What do you think it means?
Milo: I don't care to speculate on causation, but I will acknowledge personal satisfaction in the alarmed facial expression my behavior elicited.

My data set on humans is THIISSSSS BIIIIIG

But if Milo IS in fact terrified of the aforementioned stimuli, it makes no sense to me that he is (and has always been) 100% fine wearing hats.  No matter what the hat is, or how many doohickies and wangdoodles it has bouncing around or dangling near his face, he will wear it calmly, as if reveling in his fashionable glory.   Man slowly moving his arms 600 feet away on the beach? Unacceptable and cause for cardiac infarction.  Wearing a hat with sequins, blinking lights and fireworks shooting out of it?***  FABULOUS.

The other element to this seal's deep complexity is that I see evidence all the time of his intelligence.  Right now, you probably think he's a scaredy-cat who loves high fashion.  Maybe he has a slightly crafty side.   

The drool on the chin really completes this look

However, he does one particular thing that truly shows his smarts.

Milo has giant eyes that see everything.  He can spot that Evil Heron from a quarter of a mile away and detect beards from twice that distance.  He is always on Red Alert.  

When doing a training session with him in the water, sometimes we toss fish to him in there, which he gobbles up.  We feed variably in the water and sometimes to help train and/or maintain perimeter behaviors, his "stay" while in water, or during aerials.  All we do is toss fish to him and gulp, down they go.  Or so we'd like.

The thing is, about 60% of the time, Milo "doesn't see" the fish we throw to him.  He will detect the slightest changes in a target pole.  He'll see a Terrifying Seagull flying at 5,000 feet in the air for a split second.  But he won't see the giant herring you throw directly towards his face.  

What? No, you didn't throw any fish.

When I first encountered this problem, I thought he'd simply missed it.  I threw him another fish, this time more carefully aimed at his head towards his vibrissae.  I figured his sensitive whiskers would detect his food.  I even went as far as to dip target poles into the water to guide him to the falling fish, thinking this was a failsafe solution.  But I was wrong.  Milo simply acted like the fish did not exist.  

Over the last two years I've watched this animal receive fish in the water both in and out of session, sometimes actually hitting him (gently of course) around the head and face.  Still, most of the time he pretends like nothing ever happened, looking at you quizzically with those large seal eyes as if to say, "What? What's next?"

After these failed feedings, I'd descend into the back area of Milo's world (an enclosed area that does not provide any view into the seal habitat) to get something to get the fallen fish out of the pool. But by the time I got what I needed, the fish was gone.  All gone.  And all three seals just swim around like nothing every happened.

I simply have no memory of this fish you claim you've placed in the water.

Up until recently, I chalked this up to one of two possibilities: 

1) The seal habitat has a large amount of turnover, so I figured the fish quickly slide down the sloped sides of the pool and are funneled to the powerful drain.  

2) I was in some kind of Inception scenario where the fish weren't really real, or I wasn't really real, or I was actually dreaming and I'd wake up and learn I was in a coma for 30 years or something.

But I've finally figured out what's actually happening.

The second humans disappear from view, Milo quickly swims around and eats all the fish he allegedly missed.

Have the humans vacated the premises?

That's right.  While Milo plays dumb as us well-intended humans try to reinforce him in the water, he is actually keeping very, very close track of where the fish is going.  He pretends to not see them, and continues to eat his fill and play with his trainer until they leave to collect the dropped fish.  Then, he goes on a jolly seal-version of an Easter egg hunt and finds his bonus snacks here and there. 

That takes a lot of smarts.  To deceive another is a pretty clear sign of intelligence, if you ask me.  It's a subtle middle flipper from Milo, reminding us of two things: 1) Dolphins don't get all the first place prizes when it comes to smarts, and 2) humans share this planet with some pretty savvy critters.  Another lesson I'm happy to learn, and look forward to learning again and again :)

Who needs a smoking jacket when you have this handsome summer coat?

* Hint: I know roughly 0 people who make anything close to that

** Like cats, who just freak the heck out for no apparent reason because they want you to remember that they control everything about you, including your sympathetic nervous responses.

*** This hat does not actually exist.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Truth About Sea Lions: What The Recent Dodo Article Failed To Mention

I read something that made me really sad.

Oh noes!!! Don't be sad little sea lion!

Has anyone seen the Dodo article, SeaWorld's New Ad Is A Lie, So We Rewrote It To Be Accurate?

You may notice I didn't put a hyperlink to the site.  It's not to be petty, but it's because I don't want to send you to something that makes you sad.

Someone on my Facebook news feed shared this yesterday with a well-intended but misguided comment about it, talking about Sea World anthropomorphizing sea lions and how this new article is going to really Tell The Truth.

The problem is, that Dodo article is packed with a lot of misleading statements.  This makes me so upset, because that kind of "journalism" completely detours good-hearted people away from actual issues and focuses them on topics that are not actual problems.  It's propaganda and it hurts animals.


Opinions are one thing, but changing facts is another, and I'll hold myself accountable on that point too.  Just because I have an opinion on something doesn't mean I'm an expert.  It does mean the burden of responsibility is on ME to make sure what I say is factually correct and not misleading when I present information to a bunch of people.

But the more I thought about the article, the more I thought about all of the people right now (as I write this, as YOU read this) are caring for hundreds of starving sea lion pups in California.   And there are people who love animals so much and want to do right by them, and they come across this article and think, "Oh my GOD, those poor sea lions who have to live in a zoo!!!!"

The article tells us that Sea World doesn't tell us where their sea lions come from, but then lets us know that they took sea lions from their wild colonies.  Now those sea lions have bred in human care, so their offspring don't know anything about the wild, or how to catch fish.  It also tells us that sea lions have to sleep and move around in their own excrement.

I...don't even know where to start.  This is offensively incorrect on so many levels.

First, let's get this out of the way, sea lions are poop factories.  They don't really care that poop gets on them.  The fact is, any Alliance-accredited facility is about 73895825 times cleaner than any wild sea lion haul out.  Seriously, has this author ever seen a rookery in her life?! I've never seen so many poo-slathered animals as when I've seen sea lions in the wild.  They sleep by the HUNDREDS on top of each other, and poop and pee wherever and on whomever they please.   The smell is overpowering.  But the sea lions sure don't mind!

See those brown puddles all around?  Those are poop and pee puddles, not tide pools.  Some of the sea lions are actually sleeping in these puddles (I know because I took this picture).

Still, in zoos and aquariums with California sea lions, we clean their exhibits at least once a day.  So do they sometimes sleep in their own poop? Yep, some of them do.  Then we clean it up with diluted Dawn soap and spray it down, and the sea lions get nice and clean and do it all over again the next day.  So let's not propagandize the "horrible" living conditions sea lions face in marine parks and zoos.

Here's a closer shot, with our friend the poo puddle in the front left corner.

Second, let's address how "terrible" Sea World and other aquariums are for "taking wild sea lions" from colonies.

Here's what I've noticed about the wild sea lions.  While I will never park myself on the extreme end of any opinion spectrum, I will tell you that the wild is a pretty tough place for our flippered friends.  Please understand I'm not saying that therefore, all sea lions should be removed from the wild.  No.  On the contrary, there are a lot of things humans can do to improve conditions for wild sea lions so they only have to deal with the more natural crappy things they face every day.

Here is a little list of what a sea lion would probably have to deal with if humans all lived in a planet in a distant galaxy instead of being on planet Earth:

If you need me, I'll be on Planet Donut.

1) Predation from great white sharks

2) Predation from orcas

3) Normal selection pressure for young pups (developmental problems, weak
     immune systems, poor genetics, etc.)

4) Accidental injury or death

5) Illness naturally found in the environment and/or heavily populated areas

6) Occasional natural disaster-related problems, directly or indirectly (e.g. food 
    source fluctuation, disease, water temperature, etc)

7) Death by conspecific (rut is a rough time for anyone, and pups can get
    crushed under the weight of a bunch of sea lions piling on top of each other
    like they do)

I know this is sad :(  But the little guy on the left had massive bite marks from other sea lions on his face, which had shredded his jaw muscles.  He is very thin.  All he wanted to do was snuggle up with this big guy, who kept barking at him to get away.  Also, note the poop puddle in the background.  This little dude is doomed, whether from starvation or succumbing to his injuries (not a very clean environment to have a shredded face).  It's a heart-breaking but familiar scene for anyone who sees wild sea lions.  That's nature, guys.

Those are all pretty serious issues to contend with as a wild animal, but that's what it's like living in the wild and plenty make do.  But now we've got to look at the human element, which adds an entirely new set of horrors to the list that are not easy for these animals to adapt to.

Domoic acid toxicity is one of the major causes of Unusual Mortality Events (UMEs) of California sea lions.  Domoic acid is found in certain algae species (think Red Tide) and it is really a nightmare if you're what scientists call a "higher vertebrate"*.  Why?  Well basically, this toxin gets worse and worse the longer it chills in the food web.  That means by the time a "higher" predator like a sea lion eats a fish who's eaten a fish who's eaten some of this toxic algae, it is really, really bad.  Like, destroys your brain bad.  

Sea lion with domoic acid poisoning

Unfortunately, human-related activities are a leading cause of increases in these toxic algae blooms responsible for domoic acid deaths in marine animals.  Warmer water and agricultural/sewage run-off are major contributors in helping Red Tides do their thang (hey, Gill from Finding Nemo was right when he said, "All drains lead to the ocean, kid").

Also, don't let this chick near any sea lions.

Another problem?  And this is what the Dodo article was referring to: the Bonneville Dam sea lions.  For those of you unfamiliar with this situation, the Bonneville Dam is located in the Colombia River near Washington State and Oregon.  Its primary function is generating electricity.  Its primary ecological problem is that it poses a massive traffic jam for sturgeon and salmon who just want to settle down and have 6 trillion kids.  While the dam has what it calls "fish ladders" to allow the fish to pass, it does a pretty awful job at it.

The Bonneville Dam

So what happened?  The fish heap together waiting for their turn through the fish ladders and in the meantime, some really smart "higher vertebrates" realized their good fortune.  Human anglers and sea lions thought their lives were made when they realized what a bountiful, easy feast the dam provided.  And like all animals, they over-exploited their resource.

So what happened?  Oh, the salmon and sturgeon populations fell drastically.  This upset a lot of people for a lot of understandable reasons.  Some less-than-understanding anglers decided to take matters into their own hands and started trying to illegally kill the sea lions, and they were successful in some cases.  In other cases, they maimed these poor animals.  State governments decided to cull the sea lion population.

A big dude having hisself a snack at Cafe Bonneville

Yes, you read that right.  I'm not an ecology expert and realize that there are a lot of factors that come into play, but my emotional side keeps winning when I think about this situation.  Nonetheless, there are a lot of steps taken to prevent killing sea lions:


1) Individually identifying problem animals, which involves a hot brand.  Yes, it hurts the animal.  No, I don't know what other methods are effective and I have nothing to do with this process.  I'm just sharing a fact.  The animals are captured and branded so that government officials can identify "problem" animals.

That gun is loaded with firecrackers to deter sea lions from the dam area

2) Humans attempt to deter the sea lions from the dam by using a variety of methods, which can include underwater explosives.  Again, this is to prevent the sea lions from coming near the fish, so it's not necessarily a cut and dry thing is it?  I mean, we could all have our ideal answer (take down the dam! Find sustainable and low-impact energy sources!).  But how can we spare the lives of California sea lions TODAY or tomorrow?  The answers from California and Oregon are scaring the crap out of the sea lions with underwater explosives.  Facts, people.

That is one big pile of sea lion.

3) Relocate really problematic sea lions....which doesn't seem to work very well.  Because they keep coming back.....

Tanner, a male sea lion at the Shedd aquarium, was rescued from Bonneville Dam (see his branding?)

4) Put out an all-call to zoos and aquariums to take as many Bonneville Dam sea lions into their care, because the next step is killing them.  There is no other option.

This is the crate the sea lions are captured in for branding, removal, rescue, or euthanasia.

5) Euthanize.  Engage in stressful capture, place sea lion in a metal pen, and euthanize them chemically or with a high-powered rifle.

The majority of animals who are slated to be moved to a zoo or slaughtered wind up being euthanized by wildlife management.  Zoos simply do not have the resources to save all of these animals.  And unfortunately, the Bonneville Dam is just one of many places where this kind of thing is happening.  Aquaculture up and down the Pacific coast of North America attracts marine mammals of all kinds since hey, the fish is nice and available in convenient little packets.  Humans trying to protect their livelihood have no qualms about shooting at sea lions, seals, dolphins and porpoises.  I actually saw this firsthand when I was in British Columbia in 2006.  Yeah, it's illegal.  But there really isn't the law enforcement coverage you'd think there'd be.    Marine mammal rescuers have patients routinely come in with life-threatening or fatal gun shot wounds.

Here's another sea lion at the Shedd Aquarium.  This little guy was found as a pup with gunshot wounds that rendered him completely blind.  The Marine Mammal Center nursed him back to health and he ended up going to the incredible Shedd Aquarium.

Recently, you've probably seen a lot of press about the starving sea lion pups and how over the past few years, this problem has gotten significantly worse.  I just heard a story on NPR this morning about it.  One of thing things mentioned by the person they interviewed was that half of their job is looking at these poor, suffering baby sea lions and figuring out who is going to make it and who isn't. You know what that means, right?  Having literally hundreds of pups flood the marine mammal rescue centers (and there's like, a handful of those IF that that are handling the entire Pacific coastline of the U.S.) means you have to decide which little ones are too close to death's door and no amount of TLC or top-notch medical care will bring them back.  My heart breaks thinking about this, for the animals themselves and for the people who have to make that decision and see it every single day.

Tube-feeding adorable little faces

So what's going on with these pups?  The strongest hypothesis has to do with diminished food resources thanks guessed it....human-related nonsense.  Global warming.  Not enough cows are farting to make this big of a difference.  But humans (being the animals they are) over-exploit their resources and pollute the planet, and it causes massive and catastrophic damage to ecosystems everywhere.  In this case, mom sea lions are not able to get enough food to feed themselves and nurse their pups properly, and their babies die a slow and miserable death.

A very, very new pup

This is what California sea lions are dealing with today.  Marine mammal rescue centers are doing their best to make a positive difference in that situation.  That might mean comforting a terminal pup so that his or her last moments are surrounded by someone who cares about them, instead of getting picked apart by scavenging birds and mammals on the beach (the likes of which I've actually seen with my own eyes...a starving sea lion getting eaten alive by vultures.  I will never, ever forget what that looked or sounded like).   It might mean nursing a pup back to health who can be released back into the wild.  It might mean nursing a pup back to health and the U.S. government deeming it unfit for he or she becomes a cherished family member at an accredited zoo or aquarium.  

Facilities all over the country are sending trainers for weeks at a time to help these marine mammal rescue centers with all facets of their care.  The hours are grueling.  What these people are seeing is heartbreaking and the stuff of nightmares in some cases.  Sea World stopped their sea lion shows in order to provide more warm bodies to help their rescue operation handle this insane amount of animals showing up at their doorsteps.  How can anyone, even if you don't like zoos or aquariums, deny that this is a case where humans are trying to do the right thing by the animals?

These guys deserve fact-based care, not big egos trying to prove a point on the internet

So this Dodo article, talking about how awful Sea World is for taking sea lions from the wild (like the Bonneville Dam, or pups who are's not like they just go out and grab a couple of sea lions for the hell of it, for crying out loud), completely ignores the hard work people are doing.  It politicizes a topic so that people get up in arms and post stupid stuff on Facebook.  Meanwhile, I see friends and colleagues of mine work 12 to 18 hour days to save these animals who WOULD DIE otherwise.

Is the author of the Dodo article willing to go spend three weeks of their time watching baby sea lions fight for their life?  If she is suggesting that marine parks stop taking in as many sea lions as they can healthily care for, is she willing to show up at these sea lion culls or rescue centers and hold down each sick sea lion as they are euthanized?  Look into their big, gorgeous and intelligent eyes and take their life away just so she can say, "I really stuck it to Sea World!!!"

No way, no one with a heart wants anything bad to happen to sea lions in the wild or in zoos.

I really hope not.  I really hope she and anyone who believed that article can take a deep breath and say, "You know what, I still don't agree with animals in zoos.  But I can acknowledge this imperfect system of humans ruining the lives of animals.  I will do my part to support efforts to save lives, because these animals deserve to be here as much as any of us, politics be damned."

Furthermore, California sea lions live longer in human care than they do in the wild.  When I say stuff like that, it isn't me trying to convince people who are anti-zoos to suddenly change their mind.  I'm just saying that because it's true.  The wild isn't inherently bad, zoos aren't "better" in terms of broad strokes.  If we focus on the facts and put our worries towards actually saving animals, we can ACTUALLY SAVE ANIMALS.  

Little skinny kid :(

The real activists, the ones who are on the ground helping out, or the ones who are filling in for the trainers, veterinarians, and other people who gave up their time to travel to help, or even the people who sent a couple of bucks to these rescue operations, are the ones who are making a difference in these animals' lives.  California sea lions are as deserving of our attention as any animal!!

The real activists are not people who write articles like the one this blog is responding to.  They are not the people throwing rocks at Sea World employees who are trying to rescue terrified and suffering sea lion pups.  They are not the people who are just busy claiming zoos are better than the wild, or the wild is better than zoos.  They are people putting their money where their mouth is, regardless of their opinion on zoos and aquariums.  They are people who can set aside their egos in order to join forces and passion to bring comfort and a second chance to an animal in need (especially one who is in trouble because of US).

I see you little dude!

Today's blog is inspired by a lot of amazing people whose opinions on animals in human care are totally irrelevant to the topic at hand.  I see you guys fill my newsfeed up.  I see you ON the news.  I see the photos of plump, happy sea lions and know that you all have played a major role in that.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.

And for those of you who can't travel out there (like me...hey, most of us can't!), here are the websites of the rescue centers who could really use a donation.  If I knew what the heck I was doing with technology, I'd have a fancy donate button or something, but remember who's writing this blog ;)

All of these guys are taking care of pups: I don't care how you pick who to donate to, just pick one (or two, or ALL!):

Make a donation to the Marine Mammal Center (186 sea lion pups)

Make a donation to the Pacific Marine Mammal Center (119 sea lion pups)

Make a donation to the California Wildlife Center

Make a donation to the Northcoast Marine Mammal Center

Make a donation to the Santa Barbara Marine Mammal Center

Make a donation to Channel Islands Marine and Wildlife Institute

Make a donation to Marine Animal Rescue

A really awesome comprehensive fact sheet/FAQ file from NOAA about this year's strandings (seriously, everything you wanted to know)

* Higher vertebrates include you, sea lions, elephants, etc.  Lower vertebrates include axolotls and Justin Bieber.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

A Response to eHarmony's 15 Reasons To Date A Zookeeper

How many of you have seen this blog post?

15 Reasons To Date A Zookeeper.  It's an eHarmony Dating Advice blog, so you really can't go wrong, right?  All of them are truly fine reasons to date one of us.  But this post combined with a series of stories I heard recently over dinner inspired today's Middle Flipper.

Hey, we are pretty datable.

I'm kind of happy about this 15 Reasons To Date A Zookeeper.  I mean, it's well written.  It's true (teehee).  Okay, at least it's flattering.  I think it's a great piece of content to have floating out in cyberspace because lord knows I know a lot of really wonderful, eligible bachelors and bachelorettes who would love to find the love of their life.  

But here's the problem.  The concept of dating a zookeeper is so AWESOME, people are PRETENDING they are zookeepers or animal trainers in order to score a date.  Like, this is actually happening.  In fact, this is happening in my town at several bars in the area.  How do I know this?  Oh, lots of guys pick me up all the time..........

...............Ha ha, just kidding.  Yeah, I'm married, but even if I was single I'd do exactly what I've done the past ten years of my life.  I wile away the hours sitting on the couch eating bowls of cereal while I watch Arrested Development for the 78th time.  

Watching cereal to the acting skills of this man are better than any date I've ever had!

But my more outgoing coworkers with actual lives spend their evenings line dancing, wine-tasting and going out to fun night clubs.  They have encountered a group of men and women who use pickup lines that I think are only going to get worse because of the blog I posted above, thank you very much eHarmony.

eHarmony's blog was a good rough draft.  But I'm going to do them a solid and qualify it, as a real live animal trainer, so that everyone who wants to lie to future dates about their profession can really have a shot at sealing the deal.    

Here are the Ten Essential Tips for Liar Zookeepers Who Want To Date:

1.  Ensure the person you are hitting on is not, in fact, a zookeeper.

Warning: If you live in a town with a zoo or aquarium, you may hit on ACTUAL zookeepers

Can we call this the Golden Rule?  Doesn't it go without saying that you look like a complete Tool Bag in the following scenario:

You: Hey, I'm a dolphin trainer at Sea Zoo
Me: Um, me too.
You: K bye

Here's a generally good dating tip that has the added benefit of making sure your lie lands on the right person: ask your prospective date FIRST what he or she does for a living.  It's a nice way to show (feign?) interest in order to make sure that the dolphin trainer you're hitting on does not suddenly realize what a jerk you are.  Look, I'm only here to help you.

2.  Don't dress in fancy clothes

Go ahead, pop some tags.  Macklemore knows zookeepers.

This goes without saying.  My fellow marine mammal trainers know how to look hot, but none of us own expensive clothing.  Why? Because we can barely afford Kraft macaroni and cheese if it's not BOGO at a garage sale.  Why would we spend a bunch of money on brand name clothes?

True or False: I would actually buy mac and cheese at a garage sale.  TAH-RUE

Okay, the only exception to this rule is when we get something REAL nice for a holiday or birthday.  In that case, you can bet it will look well-loved and worn, because we probably can't properly launder our one (1) fancy outfit.  That cashmere sweater I got for Christmas?  I haven't washed it beyond the Febreze stage because I can't afford fancy dry-cleaning!

So go ahead, pick your evening ware at Goodwill.  

3.  Make Sure You Smell of Fish Oil and Dog Poop

He's smiling because he has a daaaaaate

Landing a date is no easy task when your personal hygiene sucks.  Luckily for the Liar Zookeeper, us real deals are very, very meticulous about our washing habits.  We shower and wash our hands compulsively, so we're always sanitary.

However, due to reasons unknown to Science, we still smell like poop and/or the food we feed our animals (in my case, fish).  These odors transcend the physical realm and often adhere to more ethereal things, such as your soul.  If you want to convince a person you work with animals for a living in hopes they'll uh, give you some attention, it's a good idea to start investing in some smell-layering.  

That's right, smell-layering.  We're not talking about picking up a tuna steak at the local grocery store.  I'm talking about years of daily, direct exposure to god-awful smells and lots of bleach.  This step is going to require serious investment on your part.  

I detect subtle notes of Mallotus villosus

I'm sure you could probably find a plethora of smell-layering schedules on Pintrest or something, but here are some examples of how to achieve that animal trainer aroma:

Days 1-10: Step in dog poop with your normal shoes.  Clean as best as possible after each exposure with bleach

Days 11-20: Continue plan for days 1-10.  Option: Buy a bottle of fish oil pills, stab each one with a knife, and squirt the contents all over your hands and a little bit on your hair.

By the end of this experience, you should be ready for your hot night on the town on day 21.  Yes, your hands will smell like bleach and your shoes will be destroyed.  But just remember, your shoes and your odor are key pieces of the puzzle if you're trying to dupe people into thinking you're One Of Us!

4.  Load your phone up with photos of animals

Photo of mediocre-quality (of which I have about 398539853) of this little guy 

I mean, lots.  Not your dog.  Not your cat.  You're going to have to find your favorite Exotic Animal.  Commit fully to this deception you weave.  If you say you're a dolphin trainer at the local facility, you better have at least 300 photos of one specific dolphin in your phone.  Some of the photos can be artsy, but most of them should be blurry or crappy.   You can't just steal pictures off of the zoo or aquarium's facebook page.  You should consider frequenting the zoo you're lying about working at in order to obtain the quality and quantity of photos required for this part.  And....

5.  Have Six Hundred Stories You Tell For Each Photo

Another awful photo of Tabby looking at me weird, after I spent 10 minutes trying to get a good picture of her doing this (I still haven't succeeded).  

C'mon, you can't just be like, "oh, look at Flipper!"   Here's a helpful example of a realistic photo storytelling of an animal trainer to a person of interest:

Me: Oh, here's one of Ada.  It's really blurry, wait, let me see if I got it.  Oh my god like, it's so funny, she's just realizing she can use her flippers to bat things around.  Wait, let me back up.  Sea lions use their flippers to propel themselves through the water, but Ada just loves to slap things around with hers.  See?  You can kind of see it like, how her flipper is blurry here because she's going to hit the basketball with it? 

Person of Interest: Huh.  That's cute.

Me: Oh let me show you a better photo, hang on.  Oh wait, sorry, that's embarrassing, that's Ada's last bowel movement.

But that's just one example.  Don't let me stifle your creativity!

6.  Judge everything everyone does in the bar using operant conditioning terms

It's true

While you're busy stepping in dog crap, you could pick up a couple of animal training books that will familiarize you with the terminology of our industry.  Soon, you'll be ushered into a world where you see EVERYONE'S behavior through the lens of a behaviorist.  This is critical to your believability as a zookeeper, especially if you're pulling the Dolphin Trainer card.

While you're busy wowing the love of your life with stories of swimming with magical cetaceans, interrupt yourself to point out how crappy a dog trainer a complete stranger is, or how you LRS your server for slow service.  

7.  Compulsively check your email for vet or boss updates and make random comments about it

Someone make a meme of just zookeepers doing this

It's not enough to just whip your phone out to check it.  EVERYONE does that, it's the New Fun Rude thing to do when you're interacting with other humans!  So make sure you do exactly what a zookeeper would do: check your email for vet or boss updates, and make some cryptic comment about it.  This can even be passive aggressive, which is the most fun.

Here are some phrases you are welcome to use for such a time:

"Oh great, Samsom's HCT is a little lower than usual.  Sorry, what were you saying about your work with underprivileged kids?"

"Oh my god, this is ridiculous.  What? Oh, nothing.  No, nothing, well, it's hard to explain.  Let's just say I have a long day of scuba diving tomorrow in this crappy weather."

"YES thank GOD he ATE TODAY!"

8.  Get narcoleptic around 8:15pm


Sorry, if you want to look the part, you're gonna have to act the part.  And that means no late, crazy nights for you.  Yes, zookeepers know how to party, but only about 2 days out of the year and that's usually at some professional conference and/or when they are 22 years old.  The rest of us, we are dead to the world after sundown.

Make sure you get to your bar, wine tasting venue, or club extra early.  Five o'clock is a great time.  That gives you three solid hours to find your victim and lie to them real good.  By 7:45pm, you should be yawning a lot.  By 7:55pm, your eyelids should droop involuntarily over your eyes (or at least make them think it's legit).  Make sure you're out of there by 8:15, again for authenticity's sake.

9.  Eat Like You're Going To Die Tomorrow

Don't hold back, now!

I don't care if you're not at a place with food.  You better eat something.  Animal trainers eat all of the time, and in gigantic quantities.  In between telling stories about your blurry animal photos, making comments about your zoo emails, and judging other people in the bar, you should be stuffing your face.  The pace at which you eat should be consistent enough to potentially hospitalize you with small abdominal tears due to a rapidly expanding gut, which is really going to make you attractive.  Just like the rest of us!

10.   Show Up With Wet Hair 


It seems like a minor tip, but it's the piece de la resistance.  No zookeeper, dolphin trainer, animal trainer, animal caretaker, WHATEVER you call yourself would be caught DEAD in public with dry, perfectly coiffed hair.  This is logical if you think about it.  Because of our early bedtime, we like to get to where we're going out for the night good and early.  But before we get there, we want to shower.  Why? Because we smell horrible and we are covered in god knows what.  We have just enough time to get home, change into our civvies (from Goodwill) and get to the clubbbbbb.  Our hair will dry on its own, we just know it.  

If you can master these ten steps, you are well on your way to wooing the man or woman of your dreams to a bed of deception.  In fact, if you follow these steps closely, you could be qualified for a zoo keeping job, lucky you!  Unfortunately, we will never hire you on account of your tendency to lie to others in order to get yourself ahead in a shameful, horrible manner.  But let it never be said that I didn't do my part to help you be as believable as possible.  

I look forward to meeting you!