I’m a huge nerd, and my favorite thing about working at the aquarium is how well organized our days are. That’s a lie, because we have cool animals there like sharks, and those are probably my favorite, but scheduling comes in at a close second. Also, maybe the term “nerd” is overused. Anywho, when I come into work I know I have a day packed with tasks, things to learn and people to educate! It’s awesome. Here’s a peek into a Sunday at the aquarium from an intern’s perspective:
9:00 AM: Update
At the start of each day, the Education Department gets together to update all volunteers and interns about anything going on in the world of marine biology, environmental policy and anything specific to our animals or visitors.
9:30 AM: Check-in
As an intern, the management team likes to keep up with me regarding my progress at the aquarium. We talk about what tasks I’m comfortable taking on by myself, what kind of projects I’d like to work on and any concerns that have come up along the way. This is the perfect balance of exchanging ideas and feedback, without any hand-holding. I know I depend on the staff at the aquarium to help me succeed, but I also want to be relatively independent.
10:00 AM – RI+B
This stands for “Roving interpretation with a Biofact.” What’s that? You have no clue what that means? Interpretation is how we describe our duty as educators. A visitor could come to the aquarium, see the whole place and have a great time without talking to one of us. However, we function as a resource to further their experience, answer their questions and hopefully inspire them to be stewards for the ocean. Basically, RI+B means I get to wander around the exhibits with an artifact (biofact means it relates to biology) like a turtle shell or an octopus beak to show our visitors and prompt them to ask questions!
10:30 AM – SRTT
This stands for “Shark and Ray Touch Tank.” I watch over the tank and help our visitors touch the animals in a way that’s safe for them as well as the fish. Every once in a while I make an announcement with my fancy head-set mic and remind everyone, “You’re welcome to touch any of these animals with a calm, flat hand on the middle of their backs. If you have any questions feel free to come ask me!”
11:00 AM – BINDER
Binder time! Over the years, staff and interns have done an incredible job of creating a knowledge base for newbies like myself. There are binders to help me learn fish identification, climate change, how to interpret certain galleries, sharks, coral…the list goes on and on. Science!
11:30 AM – Temperate Gallery
There are a number of different galleries with various themes for visitors to explore. This gallery is also known as the “thinking” gallery. While the fish in the exhibits don’t live very close to each other, each of them raises questions like, “What is a fish? How do fish adapt to their environments? Is that a fish?”
12:15 PM – CCA
Climate change activity! Here I get to play games about how carbon dioxide affects our environment and the ocean with kiddos and their parents. We also have one about temperature-dependent sex determination in sea turtles. Climate change is a pretty politically charged topic right now, and it can be difficult to talk about with some visitors. Fortunately, the New England Aquarium is a scientific institution, so if there’s ever a conversation I’m not sure how to proceed with, that’s how I usually end it.
1:00 PM – LUNCH
Pretty self-explanatory, but it’s worth noting that the cafe has surprisingly delicious burrito bowls.
2:00 PM – GOT Talk
One of the more formal talks given by the Education staff is done at the top of the Giant Ocean Tank. Modeled after a Caribbean reef, there are over 100 different types of fish in the exhibit and 200,000 gallons of water! I listen to these talks which are usually about climate change and sustainable fishing because one day I will get to give my own.
Myrtle the green sea turtle making her daily rounds at the Giant Ocean Tank. Copyright New England Aquarium 2017
2:30 PM – LOBSTER Cart
Usually found in the Northern Waters Gallery, the lobster cart displays a variety of lobster molts and fisherman’s tools. This industry is a great example of how we can benefit from sustainable fishing, so we encourage our visitors to support it.
3:00 PM – Cane Toad LAP Assist
Invasive to Queensland, Australia, the cane toad is the largest toad in the world! We have a number of animals available for live animal presentations. In this case, we get to take the animals out for visitors to get a look up-close as we give our talk. Massachusetts has its own fair share of invasive species, so we like to talk about ways communities can take action.
3:30 PM – EDGE
This edge-of-the-sea touch tank, located on the second floor, is home to some local species that could be commonly found in tidal pools around the coast of New England. Visitors are welcome to touch any of the animals in the tank which includes sea stars, urchins, sea anemones, sea cucumbers, hermit crabs, scallops, clams, and a horseshoe crab! I watch over to make sure the marine life is treated respectfully and to answer questions.
4:00 PM – Outline Time
Remember the cane toad LAP I assisted with? During outline time I write my own LAP so I can eventually give a talk for our visitors.
4:30 PM – FISH ID
The aquarium has tons of fish, and I don’t need to know every single one, but it helps to be able to identify at least those in the Giant Ocean Tank. At this point, I can point out over 30 of the species we have in that exhibit.
That just about wraps up the day for me. By the end of it, I’m wiped, but I’ve also learned so much and gotten valuable experience having meaningful conversations with patrons of the aquarium. Feel free to follow me on any of the social media below to learn more!