Niagara Gazette

Tourism

January 14, 2007

AQUARIUM: Jester no joke as former Navy recruit

Aquarium gets former Navy sea lion, diver

In order to become a U.S. Navy SEAL, extensive training and physical sacrifices are required. Few cadets are chosen for the program, and even fewer make it through training. However, not many people know that the training to become a Navy sea lion is equally challenging.

Jester, a 4-year-old California sea lion originally born in Sea World of Florida, has recently been released from the Navy’s Marine Mammal Program. The 275-pound male, along with a variety of other marine animals such as seals, whales and dolphins, have been recruited and trained by the Navy for deep-sea diving missions for over 50 years.

Yet after three years of training, Jester just could not make the grade.

“Just like in the canine world, some dogs are able to work and just aren’t cut out to,” said Jennifer Humphrey, the supervisor of marine mammals at the Aquarium of Niagara.

Humphrey found Jester at a national forum for animal trainers and jumped on the chance to bring another sea lion to Niagara Falls.

“After leaving the Navy, it was a matter of finding a place that fit him,” she said. “We’ve only had females in the past 15 years, so to bring a boy into the mix was a little challenging.”

From there, Humphrey flew down to San Diego twice to meet the members of the training program and most importantly, start forming a trust bond with Jester. “While I was there, I got to go out for one of the training missions, and it was just amazing,” Humphrey said. “The animals were swimming alongside the boat, just so excited to work, and I was able to see them dive and everything else.”

Once it was clear Jester would fit in well at the aquarium, arrangements were made to transport him to his new home. He, along with Humphrey and four NMMP members flew six and a half hours in a C-130 military transport.

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