Thursday, March 27, 2014
You know you’ve been an animal care volunteer at the Aquarium of the Pacific for a long time when:
You can alley-oop a herring to a sea lion better than Chris Paul can alley-oop a basketball to Blake Griffin.
You can pitch a clam to the paw of a sea otter more accurately than Clayton Kershaw can pitch a baseball to the glove of a catcher.
The “useless” skills you acquired from working your way through college in a restaurant as a busboy or waiter actually come in handy when you have to carry several containers of food through a crowd for an animal feed.
You realized that working with a particular seal for over a decade makes you an expert on that seal, not all seals.
You know the differences between a sea lion that likes people and a sea lion that thinks it is people.
You’ve learned to never turn your back on a sea otter because you may get pickpocketed.
You’ve held a newborn blacktip shark in your hands and thought it was a normal thing to do on a weekend.
In your real world job you tend to use positive reinforcement and least reinforcing scenarios (LRS) with people because it just seems to work better than yelling and screaming. No, you don’t throw them a fish at them after they do something right—but you want to.
You’ve borrowed a piece of aquarium air tubing from an aquarist to put on the end of your whistle to make it easier to hold between your lips.
You know the difference between a male and a female capelin.
You know that when preparing restaurant-quality fish for the critters it should smell like fresh cucumbers and not fishy.
You don’t look confused when an aquarist tells you that the male seahorse just gave birth.
You proudly show off your octopus hickeys.
The 250-pound guy walking his 100-pound macho dog doesn’t impress you as much as the 120-pound mammalogist getting her 700-pound sea lion to lay perfectly still for a blood sample.
You’ve described the slime of a hagfish to a group of kids starting with the line, “Think of the worst runny nose you’ve ever had, and you didn’t have a tissue.”
You’ve learned how to “wrangle” sea turtles.
You’ve helped rehabilitate and release a sea turtle back into its natural habitat, which just happened to be an urban river.
You’ve collected field notes and photos on the sea turtles in the river for research before it was called Citizen Science.
You actually think sharks are kind of cute.
You know what a binturong and a pademelon are and have actually worked with them in the past.
You know how to pet a porcupine.
You’ve had a Prevost’s squirrel run up your pant leg.
Snakes, frogs, toads, and lizards are just some of the critters you’ve had to hold in your hands at the Aquarium for various reasons.
You’ve trained an elderly, vision-impaired seal to retrieve floating objects. Why? Because the seal used to enjoy doing that behavior back when she could see well, and you knew that she could still “see” using her whiskers. You just wanted to put some fun back into her day.
You know that the first animal at the Aquarium was a cat.
You tell your friends that you played Frisbee with a critter last weekend, and they assume it was with a sea lion, not a dog.
Just for fun you’ve played Frisbee with a sea lion both above and below the water.
You’ve passed along a Frisbee to a sea lion using your teeth.
You have a year-round “boot tan,” that odd-looking band of tan that runs from the top of your boots to the bottom of your shorts.
You’ve become really good at building snowmen because you build one every winter for the sea otters to enjoy.
You’ve been the object of an amorous penguin’s lust.
You’ve been “bromanced” by a puffin.
You’ve gotten soaked while babysitting a sea otter pup in the water overnight and still had a great time. And so did the otter.
You’ll feed zebra sharks by hand with no worries, but get nervous when a pufferfish shows up because you know that puffers are the alpha fish of the exhibit.
Lorikeets use you as a tour bus when you enter their exhibit.
Having someone tell you that you have a fish scale on your eyelid is a normal thing.
Preserving threatened and endangered species is a normal part of your weekend activities.
You can tell people the names and personalities of every aquarium critter you’ve ever worked with, but you can’t remember the name of the person you met at a party the night before.
You’ve started a diet because a Sulfur-Crested Cockatoo called you a “whale.”
You’ve carpooled with a penguin.
You’ll brush the teeth of seals and sea otters more thoroughly than your own teeth.
You’ll spend only a few seconds haphazardly combing and drying your own wet hair, but will meticulously spend all the time necessary to comb and dry every square inch of a baby sea otter’s fur coat.
You have three different ringtones of three different sea otter pups vocalizing on your cell phone, and you call tell which otter is which just by the sounds of their voices.
You’ve used a target pole to scratch an itch on your back.
You’ve imitated a thermo-regulating sea lion while snorkeling next to one doing just that in the exhibit on a lazy summer day.
You’ve given a GoPro camera to a sea lion just to see what a sea lion sees when it porpoises through the water.
You’ve rubbed noses with a sea lion because that’s what sea lion buddies do.
You’ve sat cross-legged on the deck in the back of the exhibit with two harbor seals next to you just because it’s your “Happy Place.”
You know that the Western Gulls hanging around the pinnipeds are descendants of a pair of wild gulls named Radio Flyer and Trixie who used to nest in the exhibit.
You’ve been pulled out of a conference on marine mammals to go help rescue a beached whale.
You’ve gotten tracks on your arms that looked like a drug addict’s needle marks from all the peck wounds made by angry oiled wild grebes that you were cleaning after they were rescued from an oil spill.
You know you can swim with your boots on because you’ve done it after slipping and falling into the exhibit’s pool.
You can remember having to write your animal records using pen and paper, not on a computer. You also remember how good you use to be at spelling before spell check.
You realized that all those animal shows you watched on television over the years didn’t make you nearly as knowledgeable about those critters as you’ve gotten just by working up close and personal with them on a weekly basis.
You’ve never received a dime for the thousands of hours you’ve worked taking care of all the critters at the Aquarium, and you still feel that it’s the most rewarding thing you’ve ever done. In fact you’re actually amazed that you don’t have to pay the Aquarium for the pleasure of working with these animals.
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