Thursday, February 14, 2008
For those of you who wonder what I actually do during my Saturday shift at the Aquarium of the Pacific, here is a rundown of my day.
With my work boots in my hands, trainer’s whistle around my neck and my multi-tool on my belt. I typically arrive pretty early to start my volunteer shift as there are usually a lot of things to get done on a Saturday morning at the Aquarium of the Pacific.
First, I take a quick look at the pinniped tunnel to check on the seals and sea lions. At that early in the morning Parker the sea lion and Troy the harbor seal usually are right next to the acrylic following me through the tunnel, giving me a sort of pinniped “Hello”. I then head off to the food room to begin the food preparation for the day. The sea otter food is first on my list. By getting the otter’s clams, squid, shrimp and hoki filets prepared before the mammalogists arrives gives them extra time to tend to other aquarium animals like the programs critters (hawks, lizards and snakes). After the otter food is prepped and the pinniped food is being worked on by the other staffers, I go off to the shorebird holding area to feed any birds there such as the Aquarium’s new Goldeneyed Ducks and tend to the cleaning. This allows the aviculturalists to attend to the exhibit birds.
The first pinniped feed of the day is always a joy for me as it’s a non-presentation session where new behaviors can be worked on and quality time can be given to each seal and sea lion. Currently I am training a new tactile procedure with Ellie the harbor seal so the extra attention I can give to her at this session makes it easier for me to teach her this new behavior. With Ellie being blind, it is easier to work with her during this session as there is less noise than later feeds when there are presentations going on. This session also allows us to really check over our animals using husbandry behaviors.
Occasionally when the staff is a bit short-handed I may help during an otter presentation by doing a protected contact feed with the sea otters. This entails having me feed an otter in the back holding area of the exhibit through a hole in the Plexiglas wall, keeping me safe from sharp otter teeth. This frees up the mammalogist to work with the remaining otters in the front presentation area of the exhibit. Guests can also experience a protected contact feed with our sea otters during one of the Aquarium’s Sea Otter Encounters with a mammalogist overseeing and explaining the activity.
A few of the odder jobs that I’ve had to do during my shift at the Aquarium include being a sea turtle wrangler where I had to wade into their exhibit to bring a turtle to the beach so it could be treated. Sea turtles are a lot more powerful than they appear to be so you really can’t push them to shore, instead you are actually just steering them toward the beach. I’ve also been a shark/fish/frog/bird/reptile/pademelon holder for our vet staff when medication has to be given to a critter. Of course this also means that you actually have to first catch the critter you want to treat with your hands. With sharks, this usually means that I end up really rediscovering why we call husbandry work the “wet side” of the Aquarium. Having to lean over a tank to catch a shark usually ends up with me getting soaked. Now before you get any strange ideas about this being a macho, extreme sport style wrestling match with menacing sharks, I’m actually talking about the smaller species like the bamboo sharks or shark babies—generally only a foot or two long. One of the more glamorous jobs (yes, I’m being sarcastic!) that I’ve been tasked to do is to clean the pool and the protein skimmers in the marine mammal pad (a pinniped holding pen in the Aquarium’s behind the scenes area). Cleaning the protein skimmers ranks right up there in the “Dirty Jobs” category. You’re basically cleaning out the goop and other leftovers that are filtered from the pool, much of which originally came out of a seal or sea lion after a meal.
During a pinniped presentation, it varies on what my duties may be during the session. I may be working with Parker the sea lion, sending him to the Plexiglas wall to target on a guest holding a shape to the glass as part of the presentation. I also may be in the back area of the exhibit working with the harbor seals Ellie, Shelby and Troy, going through their husbandry and other behaviors or be partnered up with the “Big Guy”, Miller the sea lion, going through his long lists of behaviors. And in some cases I may even be handling a “Sea Lion Encounter” with guests, presenting an up close and personal look at our animals. For me, animal sessions are the most fulfilling moments of the day.
In between the seal and sea lion sessions, there are always a lot of other things going on to keep me busy. There are buckets to be cleaned and refilled and food to be pulled from the freezer for the next day. Exhibits like the pademelon enclosure and holding areas like the marine mammal pad need to be checked on and cleaned. I may be the helper with a program animal that is being walked through the Aquarium as it is shown to guests. Or I may be recruited to shoot an image of an animal for our marketing department. After the last feed of the day there is a massive cleaning of the food room. This is an every nook and cranny cleaning where fish scales are hunted for and removed from the sink area, the floor and counters are cleaned with Comet, leftover fish are sent down the garbage disposal, and even the trash can is cleaned and bleached.
My shift usually ends after about nine to ten hours late in the afternoon with me catching up on my animal records, recording comments about my sessions with the critters that I’ve worked with that day, noting my observations of their behavior and how much they were fed along with any husbandry notes. I know it sounds like a lot of work for my “day-off” but I love it! Though I may be tired from a week’s worth of running through airports across the country while traveling for my weekday job, I always look forward to my Saturdays volunteering with the critters and staff at the Aquarium of the Pacific.
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