The world’s largest population of freshwater salmon was historically found in Lake Ontario. Loss of spawning habitat, prey species and overfishing contributed to the extinction of the Atlantic salmon locally.

The USGS Tunison Aquatic Laboratory scientists are changing that by raising and releasing over 100,000 Atlantic salmon annually since 2011 into Lake Ontario and tributaries. With improved spawning habitat and restoration of lake herring, preferred prey of salmon, the future looks bright.

Four Seneca Park crew and Zoo staff assisted USGS with marking 8,000 three-inch baby salmon by clipping a vestigial fin, called the adipose fin, from each fish. After administering an anesthetic in the water, the tiny fin is removed with a pair of surgical scissors.

This permanent identification allows fish biologists in the future to distinguish adult stocked from naturally spawned salmon. By restoring native fish species back to Lake Ontario we are returning a natural balance to the food web and ecosystem.

- Dr. Jeff Wyatt, Director of Animal Health and Conservation

It never fails; I’m out feeding the penguins or sea lions and somebody asks, “Where does all that fish come from?”

It’s a great question, considering our colony of African penguins alone consumes over 20,000 pounds per year and our three sea lions over 15,000 pounds! The answer is Bionic Zoo and Aquarium, a division of Bionic Bait based in Pompano Beach, Florida.

Several times a year an order is placed consisting of a variety of fish. Seasonal variation in our sea lion’s and penguin’s diets dictate what is ordered; typically herring, capelin, smelt, mackerel, squid and when available, trout. A refrigerated 18-wheeler makes it’s way to the Zoo where the fish is then unloaded by a Bobcat and brought down to the large walk-in freezer in the Rocky Coast kitchen.

At this point, keeper and facilities staff take over unloading over 6,000 pounds of fish, mostly by hand! Each box weighs between 25 and 40 pounds and is eventually pulled to the refrigerator where it will thaw for two days before being served to one of our fish-loving animals.

We are also very fortunate to have a local supplier, Sanford Bait Farm, who provides live fish monthly as enrichment for many of our animals. Although a much smaller quantity of fish, (approximately 10 pounds/month), our otters, tigerspolar bears and sea lions seem to really enjoy the time spent “hunting” for the shiners and chubs that Sanford Bait supplies.

- Kara Masaschi, Assistant Curator

Training our sea lion pup

Photo by Kelli O'Brien

Photo by Kelli O’Brien

Our California sea lion pup P.J. turned 1 on June 1! Training is another word for teaching. P.J. learned many behaviors from his mother, Marina – coming when he is called is the most important and most commonly used. Marina taught him to come inside the sea lion holding room, go on a scale to be weighed and she insists that he observes her training sessions! When he listened to her she would let him nurse. Yes, that is correct – a sea lion is a positive reinforcement trainer!

Now that Marina is not lactating, us zoo keepers reinforce the behavior we want P.J. to repeat with fish. In the last month he has learned many behaviors and continues daily. He knows his name so he comes to us whenever we ask. He is weighed weekly and we reinforce this with fish since Marina is not involved with P.J. being weighed anymore (but she is the one who trained him!)

Watch a video of our sea lion training sessions here.

We give him injections if he needs to be vaccinated, examine his eyes and every other body part. He targets to a target pole so we can shape behaviors, sits on a big boy sea lion seat, dunks his head in a salt water bath for general eye health and now he presents a flipper. It is adorable someone this small and young understands what I am asking him to do. The communication two different species can have because of positive reinforcement training is amazing and life changing!

- Mary Ellen Ostrander, zoologist

Photo by John Adamski

Photo by John Adamski

Every Monday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. from Memorial Day until Labor Day we have an Alligator Experience that is very popular with visitors!

Our gators get offered a variety of food items, but favorites include a variety of fish. Another food, offered in biscuit form, seems a bit odd to be fed to crocodilians – but they love it! Believe it or not – they actually make a commercially available crocodilian diet.

The chow is made with flours, meat meal, fish meal and dried blood cells, as well as other vitamins and minerals to form a complete and healthy diet for most crocodilians. When we feed all of these items out, we always have a “feeder” and a “watcher” to make sure that all of the animals are fed and no one is sneaking up behind a keeper.

Check out an up-close-and-personal video of our Alligator Experience here.


A team of nine herpetologists (specialists in amphibian, turtle and snake biology) from Toronto, Milwaukee and Buffalo zoos and SUNY Environmental School of Forestry (ESF) recently surveyed with Seneca Park Zoo staff a unique wetland in Greater Rochester.

The biologists hiked and waded through the boggy habitat in search of New York State’s endangered, protected reptiles and amphibians. The location of this special place is kept confidential to protect the animals from illegal harvest by poachers selling to high bidders in the black market pet trade.

Yes – endangered and protected animals are at risk of poaching in upstate New York just like the biodiversity hot spots in Africa, Asia and South America. The team of herpetologists identified many reptiles and amphibians, several of which may be seen in photographs taken by the Zoo’s Assistant Curator John Adamski and myself. This unique habitat and wildlife are saved and protected only due to the efforts of the private landowner and neighbors.

We all thank these habitat guardians for their vision saving New York’s wildlife in wild places for future generations.

- Dr. Jeff Wyatt, Director of Animal Health and Conservation

Sometimes it’s as easy as placing some of them on a scale and getting a reading. Others, like our Amur tigers, may need a little convincing.

The staff works hard and can be very patient and inventive. Using barrels or other large objects to create a walkway, a large board is placed in the exhibit and covered with cardboard or leaves. Sensors connected to a scale are placed under the board, and using our tigers’ favorite treats (chicken, herring or capelin are preferred) the animals are walked onto the board and stationed there long enough to get an accurate weight.

Of course this seldom happens overnight, so establishing trust and keeping it positive is the key to it all. Knowing our animals’ weights is a very important aspect of our husbandry program and making it a positive experience for them is paramount.

- Ryan Statt, zoo keeper

Photos by Dawn Dittman

Photos by Dawn Dittman

SturgeonJuly’s Genesee River netting survey of 3,000 lake sturgeon (reintroduced as nursery reared, four-inch fry in 2003. 2004 and 2013 by U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) Tunison Lab biologist Dr. Dawn Dittman assisted by Zoo staff) continues to tell a tremendous success story!

The sturgeon, a fish with a long history in the Genesee River, all but disappeared due to overfishing, pollution and habitat loss 100 years ago. Seneca Park Zoo 2014 Aab Pre-Vet fellow Ashlee Melhado and a USGS team spent a beautiful day on the Genesee studying the one to eleven year old fish .

After taking measurements (plus photos of course!) and placing a yellow fin tag with a USGS phone number and unique code, the fish were returned back to the Genesee where it flows adjacent to the Zoo. All sturgeon bioindicators show that the Genesee River is a healthy nursery for sturgeon to thrive. As teenagers, these contemporaries of the dinosaurs leave the Genesee for the next 85 to 150 years to live in Lake Ontario, only returning to the lower Genesee to spawn every 3 to 5 years.

Our science programs saving this species will certainly span several careers of budding zoo and aquatic biologists!

- Dr. Jeff Wyatt. Director of Animal Health & Conservation


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