In Otter News: Training a River Otter

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The Great Lakes Aquarium is home to two River Otters named Agate and Ore. These sisters are 9 years old and both came into the human care after being reported as nuisance animals on Louisiana crayfish farm. They were wild animals for the first six months of their lives which changes the way training is done- which is part of the reason that free contact training program is so special. Free contact means that there is no barrier.

“What you’ll see is me communicating with Agate, sending her out to a target. And having her come back and get reward for that behavior,” Natalie tells us. Food is a very strong incentive for Agate and Ore.

Sometimes guests will be asked to participate in the training by holding the target up to the glass and having the otter meet the guest, “We want to make that connection. And the best way to do that is to have those hands on intimate experiences, to educate.”

She tells us, “One of my favorite things about the training is seeing when the animal finally gets what you’re trying to tell them. So there will be breakthroughs and all of a sudden it’s like a light bulb goes off and they do exactly what you asked them. The behavior is perfect. Everybody celebrates. They get a jackpot of food and just seeing that light bulb go off is just amazing to witness.”

This training program is presented daily at 3pm. It’s one of the best times to see the otters on exhibit. The other time to see them is at 11am after they’ve been feed.