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Stand-Out Moments Make Job Fun and Helping Children Is Rewarding

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Birds | Invertebrates | Reptiles

Monday, September 17, 2007


In the last two weeks, I had two stand-out moments with guests as well as two incidents in which children were separated from their groups for a bit, but, thankfully, were reunited with their respective adults rather quickly.

Children often get separated from their groups, and this situation is a way of life in most public places like the Aquarium of the Pacific, especially during busy days like the two in question. This happens most often with children who visit as members of school or camp groups, wherein a few adults usher numerous youngsters around to visit our exhibits, and they don’t notice right away that they don’t have all the children they’re supposed to have with them.

It is very interesting to see how different misplaced children can be, with younger ones sometimes surprising you with their calm demeanors and older ones fretting and worrying that they will never be reunited with their groups.

Erin, a child of about 6 years of age, was totally fine with the knowledge that he suddenly found himself alone. I encountered him as he wandered around in a circle, upstairs, near our Gulf of California exhibit. Stephanie, 9, on the other hand, appeared quite stressed that she could not find “Pookie,” a group leader with whom her father wanted her to stay throughout the day.

I located Erin right about the time that the blinds in the Great Hall were coming down for a showing of our Whales, A Journey With Giants” movie (it is broadcast on the walls of the Great Hall), so I was unable to contact security right away to have them take Erin around in search of his group; I couldn’t see the colors on my radio well enough to change to security’s channel to call them. (Those of us with radios keep them on the channels of each of our departments, changing them only when we need to reach someone from another department.)

Hence I told Erin that we would watch the movie and then I would help locate the group with which he had come, and he was happy as a clam (what does that saying really mean? How happy are clams, anyway?) watching a big blue whale swim around in the ocean along with all sorts of other beautiful ocean creatures.

Thankfully, before the movie even ended, a woman walked up from the general direction of our Northern Pacific gallery and called out Erin’s name, and he ran up to her with a big smile on his face and his arms outstretched. Obviously, he had found “his” adult, and all was well in his world.

Stephanie, 9, whom I encountered outside at the ray pool upstairs, however, was not nearly as confident as Erin; she wore a worried look on her face and her voice quavered as she told me her name and that she didn’t know the name of her group or the city in which she lived. All she knew for sure was that she needed to find Pookie as soon as possible. I called our security forces right away and Jim came to the rescue.

During the few moments in which we waited for Jim’s arrival, though, Stephanie saw another adult from her group nearby, but he was with a different group of children, as apparently they had split up their larger group into smaller ones in order to tour the Aquarium. Interestingly, she refused to join his contingent of campers because of her father’s admonition that she stay with Pookie; I wonder whether she always obeys that well? Jim soon was there and immediately took charge of the situation, quickly and efficiently connecting her with her leader, and I could breathe a sigh of relief.

Next came my fun, stand-out moments with guests, all of them adults who really made my shift a great one!

The first experience involved an elderly Florida woman whose son had taken her to visit the Aquarium. I was standing near our shorebird habitat, which is located outside, near the ray pool, where I was talking to guests who were enjoying a look at two of our terrestrial animals, a Greater sulfur-crested Cockatoo (Cacatua galerita) named Lola and an inland bearded dragon (Pogona vitticeps) we call Trevor. (Why do we have terrestrial animals, you may ask? Lately, zoos, aquariums, and museums are expanding their collections to cover as much of the earth as possible and show interconnectedness between land and sea. This means zoos have fish, aquariums have terrestrial animals, and museums have live animals. The oceans are dependent on the land, the land on the oceans and people on both. Though we live on land, we rely on the ocean and affect it greatly and vice versa.)

Those who were daring enough were allowed to pet Trevor, who was lounging in Natalie’s hand, obviously taking in the warmth of the sun. Several people were petting this gorgeous bearded dragon and laughing with glee, while others, most of them small children, wouldn’t dare.

When her son prodded her to pet Trevor, the woman replied in a matter-of-fact tone that she did not like to touch animals. I turned around for a moment, to take a look at our new American avocet, which had just taken up residence in the shorebird exhibit, and when I glanced back in her direction, I had to smile: there she was, petting Trevor, a look of satisfaction on her face!

The next thing I knew and she was petting a bat ray, too!

“For someone who doesn’t like to touch animals, you’re doing a fine job of it,” I told her, laughing, then added, “it’s not so bad, is it?” At that, she laughed aloud, acknowledging that she was having quite a fun time; it was so nice to see her enjoy herself so much with these marvelous creatures, doing something she thought she’d never do.

Seeing people enjoy new experiences is part of the fun for me at the Aquarium!

Another memorable few moments occurred near our Northern Pacific gallery, where I encountered a San Diego couple, a man and a woman, who wanted to know if jellies could still sting after they washed up dead on shore. (Some people call jellies jellyfish, by the way, but actually they are called jellies, as they are not fish at all, but rather are invertebrates).

Learning the answer to that question “is the main reason we came to the Aquarium today,” he told me.

I explained that the jellies do continue to sting even when they’re dead. (The way they sting, by the way, is that when you touch their tentacles, you trigger tiny, needle-like things called nematocysts to snap out like little harpoons that pack quite a wallop of pain when they hit.)

Then he asked how long this stinging ability could continue with a dead jelly, and at that I had to call our Ed-1, the person on duty to help us when guests have questions that we cannot answer. This particular day, the person on the job was Liz, who said that jellies can continue to sting for at least a day after they wash up on the beach, and likely until they dry out completely.

At that answer, which the couple could hear over the radio along with me, the man laughed and told his friend, “See! I told you. I win!” That’s when I found out that they had a bet going since they saw a jelly that had washed up on shore near their home, which the woman had wanted to touch. When he admonished her not to do so, she decided not to take a chance, even though she didn’t believe that could be true, she told me.

“We’ll have to buy Liz lunch,” the man declared, smiling broadly. I wonder what, if anything, he won since he was right?

Liz later told me, as an aside, that in San Diego, where she had spent the previous 10 weeks or so, a lot of jellies have been washing up on shore lately. She added that a recent storm out in the ocean had raged so fiercely that it had torn apart a number of jellies that happened to be in the area.

She said that when a number of surfers returned to the beach on one of the days that she was there, they were covered with jelly stings from those broken tentacles! While most expert surfers know to keep an eye out for jellies, these folks never realized that they’d have to look out for jelly parts, too, until it was too late!

Boy, I can say one thing for sure: I’m certainly glad I wasn’t swimming out there with those jelly parts all over the place! As with most people, I’m not too big on pain!

Stand-Out Moments Make Job Fun and Helping Children Is Rewarding
Sea nettles.  | © Andrew Reitsma

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