LOCAL LIFE: A day in the life of a seal trainer at Sea Life

02 December 2018

Top of the list of any visit to the Sunshine Coast is a trip to Sea Life. We chat to Malcolm Westwood, one of four Senior Seal Trainers, to find out more about life behind the scenes at the much-loved seal show.

How long have you been at Sea Life and how did you end up there? 

I have been very fortunate to be working 
at Sea Life for over 25 years.
How much (and what) has changed at Sea Life in the time you’ve been there?  

When I started we were called ‘Underwater World’. When we became Sea Life we had a really exciting renovation. The shark tunnel was re-themed and we designed an interactive seal display that the kids love. We have also been joined by Moana a young long nosed fur seal! She is super playful and loves chasing her best buddy Nelson the subantarctic fur seal.
What’s your 
favourite thing about working 
at Sea Life?  

I love playing with the seals in our daily seal swims. Seals are really curious so we are always developing new toys for them. Moana loves chasing a karate belt through the water and when she gets really excited will start bowing (jumping) through the water.
How long does it take to train a seal to do the tricks we see in the Seal Show?  

It depends on what behaviours we are teaching the seals. A simple behaviour like a touching their flipper to our hand may only take a week or so. A complex behaviour can take many months. The seals are very smart and love to learn, so we are always teaching them new behaviours.  
How much fish does a seal eat every day?

Groucho the big male Australian fur seal eats up to 12 kg of fish each day!
Can you describe a day in the life for a seal trainer?

Our first job of the day is to prepare buckets of fish for the seals. We then clean the seal exhibit and scrub our seals food prep room (Seal Trainers do LOTS of cleaning). We then do daily health checks and training sessions with the seals. The seals get excited to take part in daily presentations and love meeting guests in Seal Encounters. After lunch we jump into the water for Seal Swims and playtime then it is time for more training sessions and afternoon cleaning. We work really hard but love our job!!
Where do most of the seals come from at Sea Life?

All the Fur Seals at Sea Life are rescued animals. They have been brought into human care as young pups usually with serious injuries. Each of the seals has their own story, for example Bella was shot with a shot gun and took almost three years to recover.

The endangered Australian sea lions were born in human care as part of breeding programs. Australian sea lions are very rare and only found in our waters. Teiko was 
born here as part of the breeding program 
21 years ago!
Can you tell us a fun 
fact we might not know about seals?

Not many people know this but they have 
a little tail. 
Do you have a funny story from behind the scenes 
at Sea Life you can share?

Groucho is notorious for farting during presentations. It is very hard for the 
seal trainers to keep a straight face when 
it happens!
What can people do to further protect seals 
and marine life?

Only buy sustainable caught seafood, look for the MSC label. Join in on beach clean ups and make sure we are keeping our environment clean. And of course, reduce recycle and re use.
Anything else you would like to share with our readers?

The world is an amazing place to live, so we need to look after it because we only have one of them and once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. 

Written by

Kids on the Coast/Kids in the City
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