Sea lions in the desert may seem a little strange to some, but it is just another day at the office for the women from the Moss Landing Marine Laboratories in Moss Landing, California.
The group, Sea Lion Encounters, has set up a portable aquatic area at the Yuma County Fair and will host several shows each day during fair week.
According to Stefani Skrovan, head trainer and animal curator, this is the second year in Yuma and they are bringing our sea lions here to promote marine and environmental education and conservation. The laboratory is in the middle of California, and is part of the state university system.
Skrovan, who has been with the laboratory for 20 years after graduating with a bachelors degree from the University of Santa Cruz, said people will have the chance to interact with the sea lions.
"People will have the opportunity to meet the animals up close and personal throughout the day. Those interested will be charged a fee for every encounter. The amount of the fee depends on what game or activity they would like to do with the animals.
Skrovan said that the organization is a non-profit, so all the money goes directly back to the animals.
"We use the money to buy them food, provide health care, and to give them toys. They have strong teeth so they go through a lot of toys," she said.
Skrovan said even though the sea lions have large teeth and weigh several hundred pounds, there is nothing to be afraid of.
"They are trained from pup-hood to be more respectful to human partnerships, as opposed to a wild sea lion, which can be extremely dangerous. We do a lot of work with the animals before they come to the fair to make sure they are going to be comfortable with anything they are going to experience."
Skrovan said all of the performing sea lions they deal with were rescued, and could not be released back into the wild.
The three sea lions coming to Yuma all have unique personalities, she said.
"The first is named Sake, which means salmon in Japanese. She is sort of a diva and is probably the most famous sea lion in the world. Nemo is our only male at the show, and is mellow and laid-back. Ariel is the youngest, who is up-and-coming. She is still learning the ropes, and is energetic, curious and playful."
Skrovan said the show is extremely educational.
"Instead of making the animals look like clowns, we portray their natural beauty and talents. We are not a traveling circus. The show will include acrobatics and we will speak about the research we do and the animals themselves."
Sea lions can live into their thirties in captivity, which is an extra decade compared to their wild counterparts. Skrovan said they eat fish which is raw but has been frozen to kill any parasites.
Skrovan said she loves animals and the ocean, and wants to share that love with others.
"This is a great exhibit. We give great entertainment and information."