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Not Glamorous but Necessary-Scrubbing and Cleaning the Exhibits

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Volunteering | Mammals

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


It’s not the most glamorous and exciting side of working with the marine mammals and other critters at the Aquarium of the Pacific but it is a necessary part. The cleaning of the exhibits and holding areas is just as important to the well-being of the animals as is their feeding and health care.

It can sometimes rank up there with an episode of the TV show “Dirty Jobs”. The scrubbing, cleaning, and disinfecting of the many animal areas of the Aquarium can take up a fair portion of my day during my Saturday volunteer shift.

The following are just some of my sponge and brush duties.

Food Preparation Room Cleaning: The food prep room or “kitchen” is always in a constant state of cleaning. Whenever I prepare the food for the marine mammals the last thing I have to do after thawing out the fish and weighing out the buckets is to scrub and disinfect around the sink area that I used. At the end of the day a complete scrubbing and disinfecting of every nook and cranny of the kitchen is done and double-checked by a senior staffer.

Bucket Cleaning: After an animal feed the buckets hat are used have to have their own scrub down. Particular attention has to be paid to removing fish scales on the surface of the containers which can harbor a germ friendly environment underneath them.

Pinniped Exhibit Cleaning: The fish and squid that are eaten by the seals and sea lions of the exhibit eventually will produce waste products that will come out of the pinnipeds. Sometimes it will end up on the deck area of the exhibit which is why one of our first duties in the morning is scrubbing, disinfecting and hosing down the exhibit. Occasionally a curious sea lion will come around to check us out during cleaning but they’ve learned over the years that cleaning time is not playing time and usually don’t hang around long.

Otter Exhibit Cleaning: The same routine applies to the sea otter’s home but with the addition of having to don a wetsuit to clean the exhibit glass while immersed in very cold water. Unlike with the seals and sea lions, the sea otters are placed in the back holding area during a window cleaning.

Protein Skimmer Cleaning: This definitely fits in the “Dirty Job” category. The water in the animal exhibit and holding areas is constantly being filtered. The skimmers filter out many of the “organics’ in the water. What exactly is the protein that is being filtered out by a protein skimmer? Well if you think about the fact that the marine mammals also use their pools as a toilet it will give you a pretty good idea of what needs to be cleaned out of the filters on a regular basis. Definitely not one of my favorite duties but I do acknowledge that it is a necessary one.

Holding Pen Cleaning: Algae and protein sludge can build up on the floor and walls of the pens on the Holding Pad. When this occurs the tanks are drained and a staffer spends a good amount of time and energy scrubbing with a long handled brush. I’ve devoted a lot of calories on this type of cleaning over the years. It is kind of cool when the tank is refilled and you can see the clarity of the water and the cleanliest of the walls and bottom.

Doing a good job of cleaning the exhibits and other animal areas can make you feel like you did something great for the critters that live there.

Not Glamorous but Necessary-Scrubbing and Cleaning the Exhibits
Cleaning the algae and sludge off the sides of a holding tank may not be as glamorous as training the sea lions but it is a necessary and important part of a marine mammal volunteer's duties.
Not Glamorous but Necessary-Scrubbing and Cleaning the Exhibits
Senior Mammalogist Michelle cleaning the otter exhibit glass while in very cold water.  | Hugh Ryono

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