Today I interviewed one of my supervisors/bosses, Lana, about what it’s like to work at an aquarium. We were a little rushed for time, so it’s not a very long interview, but I learned a lot and got some good advice from her.
Lana went to the University of South Carolina (USC), and has a degree in marine science with a concentration in biology. She has been working at the Oklahoma Aquarium for about two years, first working in the chemistry lab for nine months, before moving to the freshwater department, where she is now.
Her daily routine starts with checking all of the systems, to make sure all the animals are healthy, and that all the pumps and filters are clean and running properly. After that, she and the other workers will wipe down the windows, and start the daily feeds, which are the cichlids, the crappies, the paddlefish, and the iguanas, and consists of pellets and requires little to no food prep. After the daily feeds, her routine varies depending on the day. On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, they feed all of the animals, change out the floss bags, and do feed shows for the piranhas and the electric eels. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, she backwashes and cleans tanks, and prepares the food for the Monday-Wednesday-Friday feeds. However, her daily routine can vary based on several factors: lack of water to refill tanks, moving animals, broken or damaged pumps/filters, etc.
I also asked Lana what her favorite part of working at the aquarium is, and she had two answers: diving, and interacting with the little kids who visit the aquarium. She loves diving because she never feels better than she does after diving, like she was sick, and after diving she’s better. She also likes seeing the awe and joy on little kids faces when they’re in the aquarium and seeing all the animals. She loves answering their questions, because the kids are so happy and eager to learn about the animals.
Next, I asked Lana if this job is where she wanted or thought she was going to be after college. This job isn’t exactly where she imagined herself, and although she loves it, she is using it as a stepping stone, and wants to go back to school eventually, either to go into research, rehabilitation, or veterinary medicine. I also asked if she had any advice for prospective marine science majors, and she had some great advice. First, don’t let anyone discourage you. Second, make friends with the people outside your department, because you may want to work in their department at some point. Third, pay attention in class. I really like this last one, because I think it’s something that all students struggle with, especially now with all the technology we have access to. I’ve seen so many kids checking Facebook or Twitter on their computers in class, instead of paying attention and taking notes. At the moment, you might not think what you’re learning is relevant, but someday, you might really need that information.
I’m glad that I was able to interview Lana, because she gave me even more insight into how an aquarium works. She also gave me a lot of good advice, and encouraged me to continue pursuing vet school. It’s sad to think that I only have a couple more days left in my internship, but I’m very thankful that I got this opportunity!
One detail about Friday that I forgot to mention in my last post: I got to observe a necropsy! A necropsy is basically an autopsy, and the biologists at the aquarium perform necropsies whenever a normally healthy animal, or an animal in a healthy tank, has died, to make sure that it doesn’t have diseases that could be passed on to the other fish. The necropsy I observed was done on a perch, which was about the size of my pinky finger. In this particular necropsy, they were looking for a monogenetic virus, which is essentially a worm with a very simple reproductive process. These worms will produce larvae, which will attach to the gills of other fish, causing suffocation, irritation, and other health problems. To see if the dead fish had monogenetic virus, the biologists will take a skin sample, a gill sample, and a fin sample. The virus is very visible under a microscope, and looks just like a big worm. Fortunately, the perch didn’t show any indication of having monogenetic virus, indicating that the entire system was safe. The necropsy was done on a really small animal, but I’m glad I got the chance to see the technique, and how to properly use all the scalpels and forceps and other tools.
Now on to Monday. I’ve talked before about the albino turtle, and how the biologists believed that it had unfertilized eggs because it wasn’t eating. It turns out that they were right, because when I went in today, there were four fairly large white eggs sitting in her tank. Interestingly, even though she laid her eggs, turtle eggs are fertilized internally, not externally. This makes the turtle somewhat similar to the human in that unfertilized eggs are dispelled from the body. It’s no wonder that the turtle didn’t want to eat, because the eggs are really big compared to the turtle’s body size. Each one is about the size of her head.
After I disposed of the turtle eggs, I did the usual duties, and got to go lay out the floss bags by myself, and I got to help with feeding again. I got to feed the turtle, who thankfully ate, and I also got to help feed the gar, which was pretty fun. After I helped with the feeding, I had to change all the floss bags, and then came the really fun part: rinsing the floss bags. Spoiler alert: by fun, I mean time-consuming and a little nasty. It wasn’t a horrible job, it just took a while, and it consisted of turning the bags inside out, so that all the food and waste particles are on the outside of the bag. Then, I laid the bag on the ground and rinsed it out with a hose, until most of the dirt and food was washed out. After that, the “clean” bags are loaded into a washing machine with bleach, and then dried. After that, they’re ready to be used again.
The reason I made the title “I’m a Big Kid Now” is because I feel like I’ve been given a lot of responsibilities and freedom over the past few days, and I almost feel like an actual employee there, instead of just an intern. I might have more responsibilities and freedom only because there’s been a staff shortage over the past few days, but like I’ve said before, it’s nice to be trusted with at least some aspect of care for the animals.
The Mudskipper is a completely amphibious fish, and is therefore capable of living on land and water. They are typically found in tropical regions, and are very social and active animals. The mudskipper also has many adaptations that allow it to avoid predators, and survive both in and out of the water.
Mudskippers live on the coast in West Africa, Japan, the Philippines, and the Polynesian Islands. Mudskippers are uniquely adapted to living on the coast, due to their amphibious nature, and ability to breathe and walk outside of the water. Mudskippers use their pectoral fins to “skip” along the ground, giving the mudskipper their name. These fins stick out like a sea lion’s, which allow it to push itself along the ground. Mudskippers can also use their fins to jump into the air. Mudskippers can breathe while out of water, but only while keeping their gills moist. This allows them to continue to be able to extract oxygen from the water. Also, mudskippers have a chamber behind their gills that stores air bubbles, also providing oxygen to the animal. Since mudskippers can only survive out of the water while their gills are moist, they can only live in humid climates, and must stay close to the water. Mudskippers make burrows in the sediments along the coast, where they lay eggs. The mudskippers air chamber can also function under water, specifically in the burrows, where oxygen concentration could be low.
Mudskippers typically eat insects, worms, mussels, small crabs, or other small crustaceans left behind after the tide. In Singapore, the mudskipper is threatened due to habitat loss. In other locations, the mudskipper is not endangered or threatened, but is facing habitat loss. Due to the location of their habitat, these animals are facing problems from pollution and land damage due to humans. During mating season, the male mudskipper’s coloring becomes more intense, and he performs leaps and tricks to impress the female. Male mudskippers will also fight others to show dominance. Once a female and male have chosen to mate, the female will lay her eggs in the male’s burrow, where the male will fertilize and guard the eggs.