Meet the lumpfish – these quirky residents of the Aquarium are highly food motivated, making it easy for staff to train them!

Over the years, individual lumpfish at the Aquarium have been trained to do many behaviors, including twirling, swimming through hoops, blowing bubbles, and tolerating being handled and picked up.

One method to train an animal is to teach it to associate a specific signal with something positive, like food. If the animal is given the signal and then it proceeds to display the desired behavior, then it is immediately reinforced by giving them a piece of food. It’s important for the trainer to be consistent with reinforcement, so  the animal learns it has responded correctly. Training sessions are designed so an animal’s interaction with a human isn’t stressful, and the animal only participates if it feels comfortable doing so. 

A juvenile lumpfish named "Lumpelstiltskin" is currently undergoing training. Photo by Amanda Claussen

Many of the reasons we train animals is so interactions like feeding, transportation, or veterinary care can be administered without causing stress to the animal. When it comes to the lumpfish, certain behaviors are trained so the animal can tolerate being moved or transported without the fish becoming harmed or distressed. Since lumpfish have really rough skin, it’s actually best for staff to use their hands when they move the fish, as a net could get snagged on the fishes skin. 

Our aquarists say the first step to training a lumpfish to tolerate transport is to teach the animal that when they see an aquarist, they will get some food. Next, the aquarist encourages the animal to eat the food from the aquarist’s hand, and gradually the aquarist will gently touch the fish during the training sessions. Through this process, staff will eventually work up to letting the fish accept a hand underneath its body as it eats. The final step is to slowly pick up the fish all the way out of the water. With enough patience and time, this teaches the lumpfish that it is in safe hands when a staff member wants to move it to a new exhibit. 

Check out the video below to see how a lumpfish named Bumps was trained to get ready for a big move to the 4,000-gallon Boulder Reef exhibit!

How To Train Your Lumpfish

If you want to learn more about lumpfish, be sure to check out our blog and read about some of our past training efforts.