NORWALK, Conn. – In a feat involving aquatic leaps and team pennants, the Maritime Aquarium’s harbor seal Polly has picked the Seattle Seahawks to best the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.
Polly made her pick Thursday at the aquarium in Norwalk during a public feeding and demonstration of the seals’ skills. She made her choice by jumping straight out of the water and touching suspended pennants representing the two teams playing in Sunday’s big game. In a best of three choice, she chose the Seahawks pennant twice and the Patriots pennant once.
For the past few years, the seals have attempted to predict the winners, though they haven’t seen much success.
“They’re 0-3 so far. Rasal picked the first year, and Orange picked the last two years, and they’ve all picked incorrectly,” said Dave Sigworth, publicist for the Maritime Aquarium. “This year we’ve called Polly off the bench, so we’ll see how she does.”
Polly is 27 years old and was born at the Mystic Aquarium. She came to the Maritime Aquarium in 1994, and is one of seven seals at the aquarium today. One of the seals, Susie, is 41 and thought to be the third oldest seal in a zoo or aquarium in the country. The seals are trained by aquarists such as Vicki Sawyer, Ellen Riker and Azzara Osten, who all helped Polly make her Super Bowl prediction Thursday.
“We train the animals for different reasons. We train behaviors that help us care for them, so we’re able to open their mouths and check out their teeth. And we also train them for some fun behaviors,” said Riker. In addition to jumping out the air to make Super Bowl picks, the seals are trained to wave, salute, and follow and touch targets such as a trainer’s hand or cheek.
Seals receive the most training at the aquarium, Sigworth said, but the river otters also respond to some training. The meerkats don’t do much, but can be trained to respond to whistles to clear out their habitat if aquarists need to get in there. Octopi are also intelligent creatures, and are often given tasks to keep them busy and engaged, such as finding food inside a Mr. Potato Head.
If Polly’s prediction doesn’t turn out to be accurate, the aquarium may give her another shot at it next year, or they might give one of the other seals a turn.
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