Keeping animals engaged

Enrichment day busy at Oregon Coast Aquarium

NEWPORT— At the Oregon Coast Aquarium, kids and adults were able to see just how smart animals really are.

Enrichment Day took place on Wednesday, March 28 from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m., when aquarium visitors got to witness how an animal’s mental well-being is just as important to their health as housing, veterinary care and food.

“We encourage all of our animals to interact with and explore their exhibits through different types of enrichment,” said Mammalogist II Stephany Simmons in a news release. “Enrichment can take many forms, including sensory activities, variables in the animals’ environment, special food or training, social groupings, and cognitive stimulation.”

To accommodate the day and crowd, the aquarium extended its hours to close at 6 p.m. from March 24 to April 1 instead of usually closing at 5 p.m.

“It can kind of be a nebulous topic,” said Leia Althauser, senior aviculturist at the aquarium, “but the way I like to explain enrichment to anyone, it’s a way that we help stimulate our animals’ natural behaviors to get them thinking about what they may be doing in their environments in their different homes.”

Just like a popsicle can be enriching for a kid on a really hot day, a bucket of ice can be enriching for a sea otter on a hot day, she said.

“I think maybe sometimes people don’t realize how much goes into animal care, so it’s not just cleaning and feeding,” she said. “Training is a very large part of it, but also making sure the animals are mentally and physically stimulated.”

This is also the first year staff from the Lincoln County Animal Shelter attended the event. The shelter set up a spot for kids to create enrichment toys for people who have pets at home.

“This table, we’ve had kids all day making different toys, lots of different things,” said Laura Braxling, director of the animal shelter. “This is our first year, it was a success.”

The Oregon Coast Aquarium is open every day during the winter from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Visit the aquarium’s website at

Contact reporter Chris Ehrmann at 541-265-8571 ext. 217 or [email protected]

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