NORWALK, Conn. — Who will win the Super Bowl this year? Orange, a harbor seal at the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk, has made her pick.
Fans of New England might be happy to know that she choose the Patriots — at least until learning that the seals at the aquarium are zero-for-five in picking Super Bowl winners.
But will the sixth time be the charm that turns their losing streak around?
About 50 people watched Wednesday as Orange “choose” her winning team in a special aquarium event.
Eyeing the lineup of pictures of helmets for both the Atlanta Falcons and the New England Patriots posted on the windows of the exhibit, Orange swam over and held her nose against one for the Patriots.
Her choice was by some shouts and cheers from both adults and children who were watching.
Orange was trained for the event by holding her nose against objects – such as her trainer’s hand — and earning a fish as her reward.
Dave Sigworth, spokesman for the Maritime Aquarium, said he got the idea for the Super Bowl seal event from other zoos and aquariums that hold similar events with bears and other animals.
“Because the seals are much more advanced with behaviors with our animal husbandry department, they were the natural choice to use for this event,” he said.
Over the years, Sigworth said the Super Bowl event has been staged in different and fun ways. “We’ve had the seal jump up to touch the helmet. We’ve also had the seal retrieve a team pennant that was thrown into the water," he said.
Sigworth said Orange, who is 34 years old, got to make the pick this year because of her reliability.
“Orange was trained to put her nose to something three times a day whenever she has a feeding, and she has done a good job of this," he said.
“Orange putting her nose against something is her way of ensuring that she won’t try and take a fish that the trainers are trying to feed to another seal — it’s a way to control the seals," he said, explaining the behavior. The trainers work with seals every day to get them used to being touched, Sigworth said.
“With the Super Bowl pick, we are taking one of the behaviors that Orange does every day and having fun with it.”
Trainer Ellen Riker said not to hold out too much hope for Orange's prediction.
"Considering the seals’ zero winning streak, I would advise you to bet against whoever Orange picks,” Riker said. “Although, there is a first time for everything.”
According to Sigworth, seals live into their 30s, so Orange is considered a senior citizen.
She was found stranded as a pup in 1982 in New England and rehabilitated at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. In 1991, she moved to the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago and was there until 2005, when she came to The Maritime Aquarium.