A Day in the Life of Cali the Sea Lion

This post is written by Alicia Kemery, Sea Lion Keeper, through the eyes of Cali, one of the Houston Zoo’s resident sea lions.

Kamia, my sea lion sister, and I are early risers. We are up and swimming around before the sun rises and our keepers arrive. Our male sea lion, Rockie, on the other hand, prefers to lounge around behind the scenes. Sometimes we sleep outside on exhibit, and sometimes behind the scenes in our bedroom…I just go with the flow because that’s just how I am.

Yep, it’s me – Cali!

When our keepers arrive, they always check in on us and say good morning.  Our keepers change things on us all the time: we never know if they are going to clean our exhibit first, play music, give us enrichment, or do class time first. I really get into class time & enrichment! Enrichment is like recess; it’s anything that changes our environment…and that we typically play with. My favorite enrichment is ice, but Ozarka bottles with fish & fish pops are a close second. There’s lots of other enrichment too, like bubbles, water play, toys, scents, music…the list is endless!

When I’m in class, I get to play with the keepers and learn things too. Sometimes I go into the keeper area and give kisses, hop up on the cart, learn a new behavior, work on research, play & goof off, and do husbandry behaviors too.

For those of you who don’t know what a husbandry behavior is, I will school you. It’s a medical behavior or any behavior that helps them take better care of us. They brush our teeth, look into our eyes with flashlights and they will listen to us breathe with a stethoscope. They’ve been getting us more comfortable with more complicated behaviors too, like x-rays, taking blood, and ultrasounds. These behaviors are highly positive and I will tell you why…for anyone who knows me, I’m a “wiggle worm!” So, the keepers’ give me a bunch of food and play with me for being still. They get really excited which makes it fun for me.

The vets are also very nice and feed me too. I like all the subjects in class because I get lots of fish, but most of all, play time with the keepers. I really enjoy interacting with them and seeing what crazy things I can get them to do…they think they’re training me, but really, I am training them…it’s great! They all love us very much. I’ve heard them say they spend more time with us than their own kids.

Check me out! I know how to recycle and help teach others too.

After the shows and class time, the keepers start wrapping things up for the day because they go home to their human companions. We will typically swim and play for a couple more hours before snuggling up for bedtime. Some people don’t know this, but we sleep on land and can be out of water for 8 plus hours at a time.

Oh! That reminds me…sometimes we take naps underwater. Guests always get worried… it’s okay! We can hold our breath for up to 20 minutes! So, sometimes we will lie on top of the drain or under a pipe to make it easier to stay at the bottom of the pool then snooze for a little bit. Cool, huh?

Speaking of all of you, our guests, we enjoy people watching and warming your hearts. So, please come by and visit us; we would love to see you! Well, that’s all I can think of for the moment. So, on that note, I’m going to go see what my keepers are up to. See you later!

Rockie on the Road

Recently, the Houston Zoo had a fantastic opportunity to add a male sea lion to our current sea lion family of two females, Cali and Kamia. The male, a 9 year old named Rockie, was located at Sea World in San Antonio and seemed to be a perfect match for our group.

After ironing out the arrangements and waiting for approval, it was finally moving day for Rockie! In the cool morning darkness that 5 a.m. provides, members of the Houston Zoo left in a large refrigerated truck filled with ice chests, veterinary supplies, and an assembly of additional equipment. The staff was prepared, and we were even accompanied by one of our highly experienced veterinarians. We wanted to be sure that Rockie would be as comfortable as possible during his trip to Houston!

A windy 4 hours later, we were at the gates of Sea World, anxious to meet Rockie. The Sea World staff was immensely professional, and had prepared Rockie so that he was relaxing and safely waiting for us in the transport crate. Soon, people were scurrying and forklifts were lifting, all to get Rockie buckled in and ready. When the crate had been lifted into the back of the truck, an impressive effort was made to safely secure the transport crate and monitor Rockie. Working in tandem, the Sea World staff and the Houston Zoo staff completed this task very efficiently. Some last minute inspections were completed for Rockie, and everything looked great! After some goodbyes and handshakes, we parted ways and the Houston Zoo team was on their way back to Houston with an additional member to their ranks.

Just a few of the necessities to move a sea lion.

It is important to note that when moving a sea lion, one of the main concerns is over-heating. For this reason, we made use of the refrigerated truck, keeping the truck at an enjoyable (for a sea lion) temperature. Also, we made sure to hydrate Rockie’s skin and fur in order to help him regulate his body heat.  The whole Houston Zoo caravan stopped frequently to re-hydrate,  check the temperature of the box, and assure Rockie that we were almost home.

After even more wind on the 5 hour trip home, we were back at the gates of the Houston Zoo triumphantly arriving with a happy and healthy sea lion. In the spirit of brevity, we reversed the entire loading process and slowly moved the transport crate through the Zoo to the sea lion area. Skillfully and carefully, our expert sea lion team shifted Rockie from the transport crate into his behind the scenes home. Rockie was exceedingly happy to stretch out and reveled in the attention he received from our staff.

Everyone was thrilled, thankful that the trip was completed with no hiccups or unplanned surprises. Rockie seemed the happiest, enjoying herring and splashing about in his new home.

We are excited to have Rockie with us, and look forward to sharing his dashingly handsome smile with you.

What Do You Get a Sea Lion for Valentine’s Day?

What do you get a sea lion for Valentine’s Day?  A fish popsicle, of course! The keepers at the Houston Zoo made chilly pops made of red Jello and fish, and they let guests toss them into the sea lion pool for Cali and Kamia, the Zoo’s two female sea lions. As you can see, they enjoyed their treats quite a bit:

Our Sea Lions Are Back!

We are happy to announce that after a long summer of renovations, our sea lions are back and loving their upgraded digs! We greatly appreciate everyone being patient while the renovations were happening. Even the staff missed the sea lions while they were off-exhibit and we are very happy to have them back! Come to the Zoo to say hello and welcome the sea lions back.


Check out a couple pictures of the new exhibit, and read all about what it took to train the sea lions to ride to their temporary home.

Read about our amazing keeper’s work with sea lions while preparing for the upgrades.


Our Sea Lions Have Moved! (Just for a bit)

At the Houston Zoo, we are constantly working to improve our facilities for both the guests and animals. We put an immense amount of consideration into providing the most comfortable and natural living conditions possible. In the coming weeks, you may notice that our sea lions are missing! Fear not, the sea lions have made a temporary move from their exhibit so that we may make some very important enhancements to their area.

Because of the work being done in the sea lion area, it was necessary to move the sea lions away from the construction. The three sea lions will be residing in a specialized space inside of our veterinary clinic, located across the Zoo. As easy as it is to say that they are now moved over to their temporary home, it was not so easy in practice.

After learning about the renovations, our incredible keepers had a very short time to plan, practice, and execute the plan to safely and comfortably move the sea lions. When moving an animal of this size, every detail must be strategically planned before any training begins. Timing, social behavior, back-up plans, safety, and animal comfort are just a few of the many considerations that went into our move of the sea lions. The primary goal was for the entire event to be as minimally stressful on the animals as possible. This goal was to be the foundation around which all other planning would occur.

Our sea lion keepers spent countless hours deepening their relationships with the sea lions as they introduced a specialized cart that would eventually be the ride to their location during exhibit renovations. It can take years for an animal to learn an activity of this nature. Our keepers had four months to teach and develop this behavior.

At first, familiarity was key. Helping the sea lions understand that the cart was a safe place for them would reduce stress and allow them to relax during the ride. Soon, they were practicing getting on and off without the cart going anywhere. After this, it was time for test runs! One at a time, the sea lions would get on the cart, and our keepers would take a short practice lap with them to solidify confidence. This activity was repeated multiple times over a number of days. As the days passed with more practice, the official moving day had arrived! It was finally time for all that training to be put to the test….

We are extremely happy to announce that all three sea lions have safely and comfortably arrived at their summer home! We look forward to the completion of the exhibit renovations and we will keep you updated as we near the conclusion of the exhibit updates. Stay tuned for more!

Sea Lions Make Their Final Pick for the NCAA Tournament Championship!!!

We’ve all been there – the ups and downs of picking your NCAA Basketball Tournament bracket. You may be winning the office pool, or you may have lost some cool-points by coming in dead last, but no matter what, you had fun watching every game and every upset.

Our sea lions have joined in on the fun too – picking great (and not so great) teams to win. They’ve won some and they’ve lost some, but they’re still in it now for the final championship game that takes place here in Houston.

See the video below as they sink their final basket for the season. They’ve picked UCONN to win the tournament! Will they be right? We will find out tonight as UCONN and Butler go head to head.

While they are amazing at picking basketball winners, our sea lions have many other talents too! Schedule a behind the scenes tour to get up close and personal with these incredible animals.


Sea Lions Pick the Winners of the Final Four!


The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is taking over the city of Houston this weekend for the Final Four! Our sea lions here at the Houston Zoo have joined in the celebration by making their selections of who the game’s winners will be. They had a pretty great track record during the Sweet Sixteen, selecting some upsets such as Butler and Kentucky (see here for the full details).

Our sea lion Kamia has picked the winners of the two Final Four games taking place in Houston this Saturday. Watch the video below to see her sink a few baskets and announce her picks.

Do you love watching the sea lions in action? If so, don’t forget that there is an entertaining and dynamic sea lion show every day here at 11 am and 2:30 pm that is FREE with your Zoo admission. You can also schedule a special behind the scenes look at sea lions, and if you’re lucky, you may even get a sea lion kiss!

Houston Zoo Sea Lions Pick NCAA Tournament Winners!

You’ve heard of weather-predicting groundhogs and maybe even a psychic octopus, but none can compare to our infallible sea lions!

In honor of the Final Four NCAA basketball tournament that will take place in Houston this year, we’re celebrating March Madness Houston Zoo style with the help of Cali and Kamia, two of our sea lions living here at the Zoo. They have considered all the stats and made their picks for the 2011 Tournament.

Track their success right here as March Madness continues. You can see their Sweet Sixteen picks below.

Check out this video of them making selections for the winners of the Sweet Sixteen!

And don’t forget that you can support our sea lions and any of your other favorite Zoo animals at https://www.houstonzoo.org/adopt/.

The sea lion picks are in bold:

Kentucky vs. Ohio State
Marquette vs. North Carolina
Duke vs. Arizona
UCONN vs. San Diego State
Kansas vs. Richmond
VCU vs. Florida State
Butler vs. Wisconsin
BYU vs. Florida

Visit http://www.ncaa.com/brackets/basketball-men/d1/2011 to keep up with the latest game results. Keep checking back for their Final Four selections!

Members of the Sea.I.A…Well, Almost

Okay, so we’ve all heard of Navy SEALS…but how about Navy…Sea Lions? That’s right, while Deano, Cali, Kamia, and their soon-to-be-named new friend swim and play here at the Houston Zoo, their far-off sea lion cousins are working as highly trained members of the Navy Marine Mammal Program.

Click On My Photo To Vote For My Name
Click On My Photo To Vote For My Name

So what do they do for the U.S. Navy? Sea lions recover pieces of Navy hardware from the ocean floor and reattach them to the machinery from which they originated. Preventing unauthorized trespasses onto and around piers, harbors, and ships comprise the majority of their work. It’s important to note that these animals are never used to attack or confront trespassers.

Much of the work these animals do has replaced the work of human divers. Due to their exceptional underwater eyesight, hearing, and, or course, swimming capabilities, sea lions can endure the murky, tumultuous underwater environment of the ocean much more comfortably and efficiently than people.

Extremely High IQ
Extremely High IQ

Another important reason as to why sea lions are the animal of choice for such extensive endeavors is that they have an extremely high intelligence level. Some studies have found evidence that these animals may have the ability to reason logically, making it relatively effortless to train them when compared to other less adept species.

The Navy Marine Mammal Program Foundation specializes in working to better understand the nutrition, behavior, ecology, and physiology of these animals in order to generate greater public awareness of their lifestyle and of the importance of their species being protected.

*Our Species of The Week Contributor is Stefanie Hanselka

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