As a research associate with the Institute of Marine Sciences at Santa Cruz's Long Marine Lab, where she received her Ph.D. in 2007, Biolsi conducted research with other marine biologists to discover the intelligence level of sea lions, walruses, and seals through matching tests known as discrimination learning. Her research with a sea lion named Rio was featured on an episode of Nova Science Now, which aired on PBS nationwide July 23.
The research has shown that sea lions possess higher intelligence than most people realize, as they are able to match a certain sound with a letter or number, and can even use logic to group numbers and letters together when confronted with a more difficult test. Rio was born in captivity and has over 20 years of test-taking experience, so he is an important component of the biologists’ research.
The New York native has always been interested in sea life. “It is something I have been interested in as long as I can remember,” said Biolsi. “When I was little, all I wanted to do was go to aquariums.”
Biolsi has moved her expertise back to New York at the Atlantis Aquarium in Riverhead, Long Island, where she will be conducting research on a new set of sea lions and harbor seals. The biologist will incorporate her research into her teaching this fall. “I’ll be able to take students out there with me and set up an independent study to help me run the experiments,” she said.
To view the video and read questions answered by Biolsi and colleagues, visit the Nova website.