Michael Noonan, PhD

Professor of Animal Behavior


Sea Lions

Swim Pattern As an Index of Adjustment Following a New Animal Introduction in the California Sea Lion

Groszkowski, A., Napoli, K., Aquilina, G. & Noonan, M. Swim pattern as an index of adjustment following a new animal introduction in the California Sea Lion (Zalophus californianus), International Marine Animal Trainers Association, Indianapolis, November 2007.

When new animals are introduced in a captive environment, increased stress levels can be anticipated. It is highly beneficial for caretakers to have a sense of the time course over which new animals settle into their new surroundings. When sea lions are held in captivity, it is common for individuals to establish habitual swim patterns within their enclosures.

In this study, we used the time course over which a newly introduced sea lion developed a consistent swim pattern as an index of the time course over which it adjusted to its new environment.

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Consistent Motor Laterality in California Sea Lions

Janas, A., McGrory, P., Oscvirk-Parliament, D. & Noonan, M. Consistent Motor Laterality in California Sea Lions. Society of Marine Mammalogy, Vancouver, British Columbia, November 2001.

In humans, such traits as left- and right-handedness are enduring characteristics of individuals, and it is precisely their stability that accounts for their central place in theories pertaining to lateral cerebral dominance. Similar stability of left-right behaviors in marine mammals would likewise carry implications about cerebral asymmetry in these species. For this reason, we tested for consistent left/right motor biases in captive California Sea Lions. We assessed lateral bias in two settings—in foot-fall patterns when running and in direction of circling when swimming.

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On the Reactions of Captive Sea Lions to Live Fish

Karlis, K., Russo, R. & Noonan, M. On the reactions of captive sea lions to live fish. Animal Behavior Society, College Park, Maryland, June 1997.

It has been noted elsewhere that captive individuals of a number of carnivore species (such as domestic cats) show considerable variability in their reaction to live prey items. While nearly all individuals will pursue animate prey items, many will not go on to kill and eat them. It has been suggested that this variability may derive in part from the age at which the individual predators are initially introduced to live prey. It has been proposed that while the pursuit of prey items may be more firmly "pre-programmed", each individual must acquire the experience of killing and eating live animals during a critical developmental period in order for it to demonstrate the consumption of live prey as an adult.

Within this context, we tested the reaction of five captive California sea lions to live fish. The subjects had been raised in captivity and had never before encountered live prey. We wanted to know whether sea lions reared under such conditions would pursue and consume live fish items if given the opportunity.

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Food Preferences Communicated via Symbol Discrimination by a California Sea Lion

Cox, M., Gaglione, E., Prowten, P. & Noonan, M. Food Preferences Communicated via Symbol Discrimination by a California Sea Lion . Aquatic Mammals (1996).

This study investigates the food preferences of a single California sea lion (Zalophus californianus). Through operant conditioning the sea lion was taught to associate arbitrary, abstract symbols with different food types. The symbols were then used in paired comparisons to permit the sea lion to indicate and obtain its preferred food. Results indicated a preference for foods that are high in nutritional value and low in moisture. Knowledge of food preferences gained in this manner may be useful in improving the reinforcement process, providing environmental enrichment, and enhancing animal-human communication.

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