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Animal Enrichment and Training

A white wave shape.

Just like humans, animals do best when they have opportunities to explore, learn, make choices and experience new things. Animals also need regular checkups and health care in order to thrive—just like we do.

That’s where enrichment and training come in. Both are essential elements that contribute to our overall work to nurture the wellbeing of every animal entrusted to our care.

What is enrichment?

In the world of animal care, enrichment refers to experiences that allow animals to satisfy their behavioral needs, optimize their level of mental stimulation and create a rich, variable environment. Habitat elements, novel items, scents, foods and training sessions—all can be used to help stimulate natural behaviors and keep things interesting for the animals in our care. And, as luck would have it, offering enrichments to animals at the Aquarium also enriches the experiences of our guests.

Every animal at the Seattle Aquarium—from invertebrates and fish to birds and mammals—receives enrichment. What that looks like varies widely from species to species, but all enrichment methods and/or tools are categorized under one or more of the following umbrellas:

An adult black oystercatcher at the Seattle Aquarium stands in front of a small mirror which is used for a type of sensory enrichment.


This can include anything that offers animals stimulation: visual, olfactory (sense of smell), audible and/or tactile (sense of touch). For example, adding mirrors or playing unique sounds in the shorebird habitats, or changing water flow rate or direction for corals to create experiences similar to those in the wild.

A pair of puffins resting on a rock, touching their beaks together.

Social groupings

Replicating various grouping arrangements found in the wild is stimulating and can facilitate schooling behaviors in animals like trout; allogrooming (or the grooming of another animal) in river otters; and opportunities for bonding, like the mated wolf eel pairs at the Aquarium.

A tropical fish swimming up to and eating from a piece of lettuce suspended in its habitat.

Habitat elements

Animal care staff can change elements within a habitat, such as rearranging rocks or making sand mounds, to encourage exploration or development of new territories for fish or mobile invertebrates such as sea urchins and sea stars. Another example: Adding native plants to a habitat can provide new nest-building materials and shade for birds.

An adult sea otter holding a football shaped enrichment toy while floating on top of the water in its habitat at the Seattle Aquarium.

Toys, puzzles and more

Toys, natural items like logs or rocks, puzzles and more can bring forth natural behaviors. Puzzle feeders are popular with animals from sharks and rays to giant Pacific octopuses and northern fur seals. And algae, shells and other natural items are used by invertebrates, such as decorator crabs, for camouflage.

An adult giant Pacific octopus resting against the side of its habitat at the Seattle Aquarium while holding a Dungeness crab in its arms.


Our staff can give animals food in new ways, such as hiding it to promote natural feeding strategies or delivering it in a puzzle—or introduce new foods. For example, the diet of benthic (or bottom-dwelling) sharks and rays in the wild often includes crunchy or chewy prey like clams, crabs and other shellfish. Silicone feeding balls offer the sharks and rays in our care—who will live in our new Ocean Pavilion—opportunities to gnaw on their food in the same way.

A harbor seal at the Seattle Aquarium holding its nose against a cross-shaped target being held by an Aquarium animal staff biologist to begin a training session.


Mental stimulation is as important as physical stimulation. Training is one example of behavioral enrichment that not only benefits the animals mentally, but can aid in their health care as well. Providing the animals with choice is also important for stimulation and a sense of autonomy—such as choosing to spend time where they prefer or deciding whether they want to engage in an activity.

The type and frequency of enrichment is determined by what is appropriate for each type of animal and the goals set by our animal care and veterinary staff. For example, marine mammals at the Aquarium are offered enrichment at least once per day; cephalopods (like octopuses) at least three times per week; and fish at least twice per week. And a goal for a particular enrichment might be to include a specific sensory experience based on the season, natural behavior for the species, or specific benefit for an animal.

All enrichments are carefully planned and evaluated by Aquarium animal care and veterinary staff to make sure they’re safe and effective—and staff are always thinking of new ideas to keep enrichments fresh and interesting for the animals.

Training animals to participate in their own care

At the Aquarium, we don’t train animals to do tricks—but we do provide training to many species so they can be mentally enriched and even participate in their own health care.

Interested in learning more?

Plan a visit to the Seattle Aquarium! Our staff and volunteers—you’ll know them by their blue shirts—can answer many of your questions and potentially show you an otherwise-invisible enrichment taking place in one of the habitats. You can also watch enrichment and training in action during some of our daily activities!

Expert care for every animal

Animal Wellbeing

Caring for animals at the Aquarium is core to our marine conservation mission.

Learn about animal wellbeing

Website maintenance

Please note: Our ticketing and membership systems will be offline for approximately two hours starting at 9pm Pacific on Tuesday, February 20. During the maintenance window, online ticketing and membership will not be available.

Thank you for understanding.

Support the Seattle Aquarium

Two sea otters at the Seattle Aquarium floating on the water in their habitat, holding onto each other demonstrating a rafting behavior.

With your help, the Seattle Aquarium builds connections with our community to inspire conservation and curiosity for marine life. When you make an end-of-year gift by December 31, you'll be joining us in protecting our shared marine environment—now and for generations to come. Thank you!

An adult sea otter at the Seattle Aquarium looking upwards with its front paws resting on its front.

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Sea otter at the Seattle Aquarium laying on its back, raising its head and front paws.

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