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Animal Enrichment

What is animal enrichment?

In short….ANYTHING! Enrichment is anything we can provide for our animals to change the way they experience their environment. This can be anything from toys, ice, different foods, changes in their habitat, or anything else you can think of! An environmental enrichment device (EED) is any physical object that the animal care staff uses to enrich an animal’s environment.

Stryker, a rescued harbor seal interacts with enrichment at Rescue Harbor.

From the seals & sea lions to the penguins and sea horses, all animals benefit from enrichment.

Why is enrichment important?

In their natural environment, animals experience all kinds of different stimuli and sensations. Some may be positive, such as coming upon a large school of fish or a new habitat. Others may be negative, such as having to escape a predator or failing to catch food. 

Even humans experience enrichment in our own lives, for better or for worse. As a kid, think about how excited you were to go on a field trip or watch a video in class. But then you might fail a test or get scolded for a mistake. Adults may have a great night out with friends or may have a bad day at work. The teetering between bad and good is what makes life interesting!

Here at the Aquarium, we don’t want to give our animals negative experiences. That means we have to work that much harder to not go from “bad to good” but from “neutral to good, to better, and to best.” Although we can never know what animals are thinking, we can do everything in our power to provide them with the opportunity to interact with their environment differently. We also record which items animals interact with the most, and adjust our program to keep things interesting!

Which animals receive enrichment?

All of them! Every animal here at the aquarium, all the way down to the invertebrates, receive some form of enrichment. Now, enrichment for a fish does look a lot different from that for a sea lion but the concept is the same. While a sea lion may interact heavily with a feeder toy, an anemone may have a biological response to a change in water flow. Even changing the décor in an exhibit creates a new environment to explore!

Is enrichment just putting toys in the exhibits?

Not at all! Even though toys, structures, and other EEDs may be the most obvious, we also use techniques such as scent, water sprays, play sessions, and even playing in the windows!

An aquarist works with balloon fish. Using a target, the aquarist can actually teach the fish to swim through hoops. It keeps them mentally stimulated and teaches them to become active participants in their own care.

This sounds so cool! How do I get involved?

If you want to make a more direct impact, check out our Amazon wishlist. It’s full of toys and items our animals are sure to interact with.

Alternately, you can check out our Suggested Donations list full of items you could pick up at your next trip to the grocery, toy, or hardware store.

Make sure to come visit and support the Aquarium of Niagara; a portion of your admission goes to make sure our animals get the best care we have to offer.