Sunday, July 12, 2009

The tools of my Aquarist trade

I made a promise to Rae at Weather Vane that I would accept her challenge to do a post about the tools of my trade after she posted a fantastic blog about her nursing tools. My trade is an unusual one. I'm a Senior Aquarist. A WHAT? An aquarist: "a person who keeps or maintains an aquarium." My aquarium is a pretty big one, we have a 200,000 gallon center tank with three sand tiger sharks bigger than me. Penguins, fur seals, jellies, shorebirds, electric eels, harbor seals, sea turtles, poison arrow name it.

My specific job includes caring for the jellies and shorebirds. My upside down jellies tank is pictured above, the jellies are the things way in the front of the frame on the bottom. I've been working here ("here" since I'm currently on my lunch break - yes, I unfortunately work Sundays) for 12 years. I literally have the job I've wanted, where I wanted, since I could say the word "marine biologist". I grew up staring at the divers in our 200,000 gallon tank and telling my parents that "I wanna do that someday!" And I am.

Diving in that huge tank with those enormous, yet puppy-dog, sharks is not in my daily duty list. But we all have to go in there on occasion to keep our dive skills current. And yes, I swam into a shark once. I swore it looked at me and thought, "stupid human".

Today, my tasks took me through my daily check in to make sure everyone was alive, all the pumps were running and there were no fires or floods. Coming into a flood first thing after a week's vacation would really have ruined my day, yet it has happened. Then I cleaned the giant litter box that is my shorebird exhibit. Then I caught up and checked a bird's swollen foot for pododeramatitis, she seemed fine. Then I took a shower since I rolled out of bed and jumped in the car at 6:30 AM for the drive straight to work from my mother's beach house. And now I'm writing this blog and eating a tasty burrito from our cafe.

In my daily tasks I use the following tools (clicking on the picture will enlarge it):

- From the top you'll see a pair of PCV cutters, a torpedo level and a pipe wrench. Aquarists are also plumbers, and no I did not learn to plumb in college, but I'm quite good at it. How do you think we run all the pipe to and from our tanks, pumps and filters? We do it ourselves.
-In the next row is a scrub brush, a trowel, an air stone and a net. All things I use while cleaning my giant litter box of a bird exhibit. Imagine having nine cats and you'll know what it's like.
-Next to that is a scale which I use to weigh the birds, frogs, and whatever needs a weight check. And the ubiquitous Sharpie and ball point pen that always live in my pocket to label pipes, record temps, weights, feeds etc...
-To the right of the pens are two temperature measuring devices: a digital stick thermometer for water temps and a digital temp/humidity gauge for air temps and exhibit humidity, humidity is very important with birds and frogs.
-In the bottom row from the left are my Keen waterproof and covered-toe sandals. Keen gives them to us for free every year, they are a great company and we all wear them, even at home!
-Next to my Keens are a flour sifter for cleaning my mealworms supply and a cutting board for cutting up carrots for the mealworms.
-To the right of that are my keys and ID.
-Next to my keys are a tank chart and a spray bottle. These are for our African Bullfrog, where we record his temperature, humidity (hence the sprayer, ideally we want it up above 90 %), and when we change his water and offer him yummy crickets.
-Lastly is a pair of dive gloves. This is a small representation of my dive gear which I have safely stashed in my locker. I love my dive gear, I have a purple theme to it so everyone knows it's mine.

Missing from this photo is my cell phone which I always have in my pocket since we stopped using radios years ago. We kept dropping the radios in the tanks so they were taken away. I've dropped my cell phone in the water twice, it's insured. Without it I have no way to call someone when I get locked in my bird exhibit, which happens more than it should.
Now that you have a bit of an idea how I spend my day I'm going to go clean my mealworm supply. Yummy. I just ate too.....


  1. what a great post! you can always find work as a plumber....
    i LOVE aquariums - from the beautiful 29 gallon i had to the huge exhibition ones.
    and the poop deal - what a good thing to point to children on a tour - just like a zoo the pens have to be cleaned, just some of them are underwater. and birds - ugh - icky - wonderful creatures but what awful bathroom habits....
    i would work seven days a week in the aquarium.

  2. FANTASTIC!! I love this post. I have learned so much. What a great job- well all except the sharks and the mealworms. The tank is breathtaking. I am so impressed. I can't maintain a goldfish bowl with just one fish. Thank you so much for sharing.

    BTW Glad you are back. I missed you around here. Hope you had a great getaway.

  3. Welcome back Kate! You are a what? Aquaculturist?
    You didn't tell me earlier so I may have asked you what to do about my fishes in aquarium, which keeps on dying everytime I clean the aquarium. Sigh.

    And hey you cool stuff huh...the pipe, the plumbing and all. What a great job!

    Keep up


  4. Fascinating post, really nice to have an insight into your job.

  5. deborah: you can have my job! it's not as glamorous as it seems. if I'm not wet, dirty and smelling of fish by the end of the day I haven't done enough :)

    Rae: it's nice to be missed! I have lots of reading to do to catch up on everyone's blogs...looking forward to it!

    AL: I'm not actually an aquaculturist since I don't culture anything for sale. I take care of exhibits, but I think I would like to be an aquaculturist some day. My favorite thing is to watch things grow! I'll give you fish advice anyday :)

    Lulu: thanks for visiting!


  6. Wow, wow, wow....I am so very jealous! I would love to have a job like this. I cannot imagine going to work and being surrounded by all of those wonderful beings. Now I know what you meant when you said you leave your fish at work. ;)
    This was a fantastic read, thank you!

  7. Kate, an excellent post, I really enjoyed learning more about your job. It may be dirty and smelly but it's got to beat sitting in an office. The first photo is beautiful, very interesting assortment in there.

  8. SQ: while cleaning my giant litter box of a bird exhibit I at least one person ask me every day in a condescending tone, "what did you do to get THAT job?" "It sure beats sitting in an office" is my reply, you are SO right! I'd go nuts if I had to sit at a desk all day, in fact I've been sitting now for 5 minutes so I must get up now!!

  9. so glad to be working with you Kate! Even if I rarely see you...that photo makes me miss Aquaponics an awful lot.


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