This post is sponsored by the Motherhood in partnership with the Pittsburgh Zoo. All opinions remain my own.
Last week Lilly and I were invited to experience the zoo in a way we never thought we could. Thanks to the incredible educational initiatives behind the scenes, we got to step behind the curtain and see first hand what goes into taking care of and training the sea lions.
We were invited to experience this adventure so we could share it with all of you but the best part of everything you’ll see in this post is that you can do this too! Get closer than you ever imagined possible with a wild encounter at the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium.
With families eager to give experiences instead of gifts, it’s more important than ever to have ideas for what those experiences can be. How about inviting your favorite 8+ year old to the zoo for an unforgettable animal encounter?
Lilly’s face through this whole experience was absolutely priceless. She (and I) were totally in awe of these gorgeous marine mammals. You can head to my Instagram highlights to watch some videos – I could watch Lilly’s face during this experience 100 million times over and never tire of it!
Of course being so close to animals you might never see in real life is the best part of making memories like these, but second to that is the access you have to the people who love, train and work with these animals on a daily basis. Lilly and I were curious what each of the trainers went to college for (and they all had a myriad of different degrees) and what their favorite part of their jobs was. Lilly asked why the sea lions have such large eyes, what their whiskers are for and if they can hear well underwater. Their beautiful eyes are perfectly designed for maximum underwater viewing and their whiskers become an extension of their eyes especially when underwater visibility is low (murky water for instance).
The sea lions we met at the Pittsburgh Zoo know over 300 individual commands by voice and hand signal. That’s pretty incredible when you think of the amount of knowledge they have and how well the trainers can communicate with them.
Gracie loved watching the trainers use “animal signs” and some of them mimicked asl signs just by accident. One of the trainers told us that many of the signs they use are shared signs that sea lion trainers learn from other sea lion trainers.
We were amazed to learn that sea lions have toenails and can use them to itch their necks!
Hawk happens to be our zoos largest and only male sea lion. His story really stuck with us and is one Lilly talks about often now. Sea lions are native to the pacific coast. Hawk was found by an animal rescue and rehab organization abandoned by his mother (or left too long by his mother- his mother could’ve died or gotten herself stranded etc etc). He was taken in and evaluated to be severely undernourished. Twice, humans attempted to release him back into the wild and both times they were unsuccessful. After his second release attempt he was thought to be a danger to himself and other humans so he then became part of the Pittsburgh Zoo’s family of sea lions where he has sired five sea lion pups of his own.
Lilly also asked about pollution and if plastic affects sea lions. Of course she heard the very sad truth that plastic pollution has devastating consequences for marine mammals (and all animals) of the sea. The trainers at the zoo who adore these animals specifically feel that experiences just like this and the way the zoo is designed to teach people about these beautiful animals is a really strong and concrete way we can teach our kids and our families to take care of the earth.
Hawk is an impressive marine mammal. There is nothing like standing next to a creature this large and feeling his weight, watching him displace so much water. He was LOUD and adorable.
To find out more about all the special experiences the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium offers, head to their website. Discover how you can get up close and personal to Elephants, Cheetas, Giraffes, the Red Panda and more!
*Please note you need to be 8 and over to participate in these experiences for safety reasons. Children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult at all times. Closed toed shoes are recommended. Book in advance because slots fill up quickly! My girls are already planning one of these encounters as their 8th birthday requests!*
I couldn’t resist making a free sea lion inspired coloring page. Right click and save or click and hold to save, print and color this one!