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The Nautilus

Aquarist Training Is Finished!

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The Nautilus

Aquarist Training Is Finished!

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Today was our final day of aquarist training. Thank goodness, we have our Saturdays back for the first time (with one exception) since early September! For this final class, we started with the exam, then had a few more lectures, which were admittedly lighter now that everyone wasn't feeling pressured to cram in everything for the exam.

After the exam, Bobby and I finished early and got to go with a group on the shark catwalk, which is the narrow catwalk built over the shark tank. They are fed from there, and you can look down on them in the tank. It was cool to see them swimming past with dorsal fins sliding through the water like Jaws. We have three kinds of sharks in our shark tank: sand tigers, sandbars, and nurse sharks. Despite listening to an entire lecture on shark myths, one of the few questions asked of the staff member who took us out on the catwalk: Are these sharks more dangerous than those in the wild because they're used to being fed things being stuck into the tank? *facepalm* When will people realize that sharks--especially sand tigers--are not really dangerous, anymore than honeybees are dangerous? Yes, they will bite if provoked, and they make the occasional mistake, but it's only something like four people killed by sharks each year...and how many more by firearms, automobiles, peanuts? Yet people are not obsessed with the "danger" of those things. Nrgh. Our dive instructor dives regularly with sand tigers on a wreck in North Carolina, and he still has all of his fingers, so far as I could tell.

As I expected, we were given a form to fill out, evaluating the entire training experience. This in addition to an evaluation of each lecture we attended. Perhaps they need to realize that 1) fatigue prevents people from answering honestly after a while (I circled all "5" on my evaluations today) and 2) asking people to include their names generally prevents comfortable honesty as well. But I did fill out my general evaluation honestly.

There were aspects of the training that I loved. The first session, where we discussed fish biology, rainforests, and coral reefs was great. It was a wonderful review of subjects I'd had in high school and college, and I picked up a few new factoids as well.

After that, it was a bit downhill. In the days that followed, many of the speakers centered almost exclusively on teaching methods to use with the public. Only...we are behind-the-scenes staff; we do not speak with the public. We are up to our elbows in tanks all day in places that the public cannot go. Half of our class was exhibit guides for whom these are important issues; the rest of us work behind the scenes, caring for the animals, and never meet the public in any sort of official capacity.

On the same hand, there were no lectures devoted entirely to issues pertaining to our area of work: feeding, sanitation, handling, cleaning. We watched a half-hour video on zoonotic diseases on the first day, but that was while the exhibit guides were doing something else. In other words, we had to sit through hours of their crap and never really got to learn any of our own.

Truthfully, it was easy to feel a bit excluded, like our work wasn't as important. When you have a lecturer in the front of the room who chooses to devote her whole hour to teaching methods and half the class is sitting, puzzled--But we don't even teach the public--then it isn't a far stretch to feel like your time is being wasted. I filled out my whole recommendation block. I recommended that front- and back-of-the-house training be kept separately. I said that I felt left out and like I was wasting my time when I could have been learning things more pertinent to my work. Like the exhibit guides are more important than we are.

It's much like restaurant work: production work is another world from those who step out and "perform" for the public. Favoring one over the other is never a good thing; there is enough inherent resentment as it is!

In the coming weeks, we will each do a three-session apprenticeship with our aquarists. I got my assignment the other day: I will be working  on the fourth floor with the Pacific coral reef, kelp forest, and Amazon river forest. I love all of these exhibits, so I'm excited about this. Bobby will be working on the second floor in the Maryland: Mountains to the Sea gallery.

While watching a video on animal enrichment, we saw our dive instructor Bill feeding Calypso, the aquarium's rescued sea turtle! First I recognized his straggly hair waving around in the water, then his bright yellow mask. Bobby and I both nudged each other and giggled at the same time: "That's Bill!" Then, after the class, a guy comes up to me and asks if I work for the State. He'd interviewed at the WAU on Monday, and had been early and so spent a half-hour in my office talking to me. He's training to be a herpetology assistant in the same session as Bobby and I did our aquarist assistant training. Small world!

In all, I think that I'm going to like it here. Two of the speakers today--conservation and animal enrichment--had started as volunteers and advanced from within. Next year, we will be eligible to work with the marine mammal trainers or with the rescue program. I am quite qualified for the former, being as I am degreed in psychology and studying biology, but I really have my eye on the latter. And, of course, the certified diver position, though Bobby and I both decided to take some time to work on buoyancy issues before taking the test for this job. And it turns out that the requirements next year will require us to have fifty logged dives and advanced open water certification, which should narrow the competition significantly and also better prepare us for the test.
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