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Meet Steve Blair, One of the Aquarium’s Original Aquarists

Claire A.'s avatar

Interview

Monday, January 23, 2012

Claire

In my continuing efforts to give you all an insider’s look at what goes on at the Aquarium of the Pacific, today I’m bringing you an interview with a member of the Aquarium’s staff—someone who’s been involved since before the Aquarium itself was built! Assistant Curator Steve Blair is in charge of the staff and exhibits in Shark Lagoon, the Special Exhibits Gallery (currently housing the Arctic & Antarctic: Our Polar Regions in Peril exhibit), the jelly propagation area, and the quarantine pad (where animals reside when they first arrive at the Aquarium). Steve’s duties include overseeing the care of the animals in these areas, ensuring the aquarists on staff have the training and support they need, and planning future exhibits. I wanted to find out more about Steve’s background and his favorite animals and places within the Aquarium.

Claire: How long have you worked here?
Steve: I am one of the original husbandry team members and have worked at the Aquarium since June 1997 [That’s a full year before we opened our doors to the public! – Claire]. I helped build many of the focus tanks and participated in much of the original local specimen collecting and a collecting trip to Canada.

How did you get your start in the aquarium industry?
I always knew I wanted to be a marine biologist. I have a bachelor’s degree in marine biology. In college I had saltwater fish tanks in my apartments. I even had an octopus named Slick, who would squirt water at people she didn’t know. I started working in animal husbandry right after college by taking care of sharks and fish that were being used in classes I was teaching at a private institution. I landed my first aquarium job in 1989 at Steinhart Aquarium [part of the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco] because of my carpentry skills. I was hired to build a large wooden deck around two holding tanks full of endangered Chinook salmon. It was agreed that when the deck was finished I would stay on to take care of the salmon. One of the best ways to gain animal care experience is to volunteer. I moved to Monterey to volunteer and gain more experience in husbandry before I was hired by the Aquarium of the Pacific.

Steve feeding a blacktip
Steve feeding a shark in Shark Lagoon.
Do you have any favorite spots at the Aquarium that not many people know about?
One of my favorite spots is the curved window looking into the back side of Amber Forest [in the Southern California/Baja Gallery]. When you go all the way into the alcove, you are surrounded by water, and it really feels like you are diving in the tank in a kelp forest. One thing all people should try to see is the Aquarium at night. With the natural ambient light gone, all the tanks have a surreal glow with their own lighting and really look fantastic. Of course, I think everyone should see the main pool feeding at Shark Lagoon! Get to the underwater window early so you can get an unimpeded view of the sawfish and the sand tiger shark grabbing their food fish. [The sharks in the main pool are fed daily at 2:00 p.m.]

What is your favorite animal at the Aquarium?
I think our sawfish in Shark Lagoon and the California hydrocoral in the Pinnacle exhibit in the Southern California Gallery are some of my favorites, although you can’t beat the clownfish for spunk, attitude, and color.

Any interesting stories about working here?
The Aquarium transports and receives animals from all over the world. Our sawfish and zebra sharks were received by air freight shipments from Australia. Our bull shark was transported to Oklahoma by truck, a trip that took two days, help from two other aquariums, and many staff to pull off successfully. Our incredibly dedicated and hard-working aquarist staff will do everything from staying up all night and to diving in 36 degree water to ensure that our animals are well cared for and our exhibits are of the highest quality in the world.

Meet Steve Blair, One of the Aquarium’s Original Aquarists
Steve holds a blacktip reef shark upside-down to induce tonic immobility, allowing aquarists to handle the sharks safely and peacefully.
Meet Steve Blair, One of the Aquarium’s Original Aquarists
Here, Steve holds a Humboldt squid during a film shoot on a research trip to Baja California, Mexico.

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