NORWALK, Conn. — It wasn’t Times Square, but a crowd of children and families turned out for a special New Year’s celebration at the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk on Thursday afternoon.
During the aquarium’s regularly scheduled 11:45 a.m. seal feeding, the aquarium held a ball drop of their own during a simple family-friendly celebration that was dubbed “Noon Year's Eve.”
A minute before noon, an aquarium staffer projected a countdown clock high above Newman’s Own Hall in the center of the popular attraction. Seconds before noon, a trainer lowered the ball over the seal’s exhibit.
Staffers planned to for Polly, a seal who the staff had trained for days, to jump up and touch the ball with her nose. But even with the promise of fish, she didn’t bite.
“I think [Polly] got her fill and decided to enjoy the nice weather,” aquarist Vicki Sawyer said after the ceremony in front of the exhibit, which extends outside. The staff had been feeding the seals fish after fish, which they use to reward the seals for exhibiting behaviors such as jumping, before the show.
But the seals did not disappoint the crowd that had gathered in front of the tank or on the balcony above. A minute or two after the countdown, Tillie, another seal, made contact with the ball.
The seals range in age from 25 to 42. Tillie is one of the younger ones at 26. Her mom, Susie, was also on hand to watch she feat.
Susie is 42, which is very old in seal years. “She is the second oldest in the country,” aquarist Azzara Oston said.
The trainers have a close relationship with the seals and begin their training with a target command. When a trainer says “target,” the seal follows a trainer’s hand. The seals also recognize and respond to their names.
Aside from the promise of fish, the seals seemed to enjoy the enjoy the attention of those who had gathered to observe them.
“It’s exciting for them,” Sawyer said, adding the cheers and applause of the crowd is a “a nice way to say good job.”
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