Aquarist For A Day | JONATHAN BIRD'S BLUE WORLD

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  • Published on:  11/27/2015
  • Jonathan visits the New England Aquarium as a volunteer aquarist for a day to learn what it takes to care for thousands of fish in dozens of exhibits, up to the massive 200,000 gallon Giant Ocean Tank (GOT). What he finds is an eye opener—it's not all fun and games. Maintaining an aquarium is serious work. But it does have its benefits, as Jonathan discovers while diving in the GOT and feeding the sharks. This segment won a New England Emmy Award!

    This segment was originally posted in 2012 but this is an HD version.

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    Founded in 1969, the New England aquarium is one of the most famous public aquaria in the United States, and an icon of Boston. Over a million people visit the New England Aquarium every year to see amazing exhibits and the world-famous Giant Ocean Tank—a 200,000 gallon tropical coral reef exhibit.

    Dozens of aquarists work here and I’m going to find out what it takes to keep the exhibits running.

    Since I’m not exactly skilled labor, they start me out with something easy. Or maybe I’m just the low man on the totem pole.

    But I think they saved the disgusting drain cleaning chore for me. That’s OK—I’m working up to the good stuff.

    At last, I have graduated to something important: food prep. All the fish need something special to eat, and all of that food has to be prepared in advance.

    Squid are one of the main items on the menu, and they have to be prepared by removing the beaks and then cutting them into appropriately-sized pieces.

    Food preparation takes a lot of time and it has to be done 4 times a day!

    Then, I remove the roe from capelin. The eggs are food for smaller animals in the exhibits and the fish themselves are fed to larger animals.

    Finally, it’s out to the GOT—the Giant Ocean Tank—to start feeding some of the fish. I’m surprised to learn that the fish are hand fed!

    Outside, it’s the middle of winter in Boston, with temperatures below freezing, but I’m getting ready to do a tropical dive!

    I’m really excited about my dive, but I can’t help worrying about what tasks lay ahead of me in my aquarist training program.

    I hit the warm water with a splash while hundreds of people watch, and head down below the surface to swim with the fish in this enormous fish tank. Except for all the people looking in through the glass, it would be easy to believe this was a real Caribbean reef. There are so many fish and the water is so clear, I feel just like I’m diving at some beautiful Caribbean island.

    Of all the animals in the tank, of course the Sand Tiger sharks are my favorite. The aquarists keep them well fed, so they are not aggressive at all. But they are beautiful to watch.

    Unfortunately, I have to work. A diver has to scrub these windows every day to keep the algae from growing on them. I tried to tell them I don’t do windows, but an aquarist’s job is never finished.

    Still, I can think of worse jobs than diving in the GOT to scrub the glass and giving people a clear view of the fish.

    Meanwhile, Sherrie is checking the health of the fish. She’s down on the bottom examining a nurse shark that has a small cut.

    When I finally finish the windows, Sherrie demonstrates how she feeds the Sand Tiger sharks.

    They aren’t always hungry since they are fed regularly. But the aquarists use a pole to feed them because when they do decide to eat, you wouldn’t want your fingers anywhere near those teeth!

    I hang back and film the action for a while, but soon Sherrie decides that I’m ready to try feeding the fish. This is exciting! I finally get to do the fun stuff!

    She hands me some squid and I look for a taker. The pressure is on because everyone is watching!

    A cownose ray comes up and tries to take the squid from me, but I haven’t quite gotten the hang of it. The ray gives up and moves on.

    So I try feeding the nurse shark using the pole, just like Sherrie showed me. Talk about getting the cold shoulder!

    At last Sherrie takes pity on my pathetic attempts and gives me some capelin. I’m told I can’t go wrong with this irresistible delicious fish.

    My first taker is a cow nosed ray, and I can’t resist giving her a little belly rub as she swims over.
    Next Myrtle the Turtle comes over. Turtles are supposed to eat plants and jellyfish, but Myrtle isn’t picky. As you can see from her figure, she likes food. And when Myrtle wants food, you give it to her! Forget the sharks, Myrtle runs this tank.
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