Friday, June 6, 2014

A Million Gallons of Fun and Countless Grains of Salt

I love the water. It's almost an obsession I have. It's something that completely fascinates me. The only thing that might be cooler than water, are the things that live in it. The ocean has it all; and probably more. The ocean is so mysterious that we know more about the surfaces of the moon and Mars than we do the ocean floor. Say whaaaat?!
I've wanted to be a marine biologist since I was six years old. Being from and living in Ohio, I can't tell you how many times people told me "good luck with that," or "how's that gonna work out for you?" Because, ya know, Ohio, home of the corn and cows and not sandy beaches or marine things, poses a bit of a challenge. So, when I was offered this internship at the Newport Aquarium-- honestly to my surprise-- I couldn't accept this opportunity fast enough. I didn't know what I would be getting myself into. All I knew was that I had the official title of being an 'aquatic animal care intern.' Whoa. So surreal.

THE INTERN'S FIRST DAY:   The intern. Ooohhhhh the dreaded life of an intern. I could only imagine what kinds of things I would be doing. All the odd jobs that no one else wanted to do? Organizing a freezer? Preparing a shark diet? BEING the shark diet? Anything was possible, if you asked me as I walked in for my first official day of training. I finally put a face to my wonderful mentor, Jen; or as we call her, Haz. Little did I know that she would end up being the greatest mentor that I could ever even hope for. On the very first day, she greeted me with a big smile and said that she looked forward to spending the summer with me. The ultimate goal of my internship, and this summer, is to, by the end, be able to do exactly what she does--no holding back. And that's exactly what I'm already starting to learn. I'm learning about diets, cleaning, filling and emptying tanks for water changes, different filtration systems, etc.
Let me just get something out there for everyone:  this internship is hard. It is. Of course it's fun, and I love being here every second. But it certainly isn't a cakewalk and it’s physically demanding, which I expected anyway. To some of my dismay, I actually have to use my absolute worst subject, chemistry. I have to be super careful with these animals. They aren't pets; they're wild animals, and some are dangerous. It's important to get things done efficiently and to understand when things are "normal" or not. Communication is important, just as you would expect it to be.
My first few days have been so informational, I could probably fill a textbook with everything I’ve learned already. I’ve done things like cleaning out the protein skimmer (super important, by the way. It makes sure that aquarium tanks don’t become sewers), feeding some of the critters, and being introduced to the crazy maze that is the behind-the-scenes of the aquarium. There are doors and stairs and hallways that I’m convinced didn’t exist the day before-- I’m STILL learning those tunnels. But I have to say, I’m the luckiest girl on the planet. On my very first day, I got to stuff some lobsters with vitamins and then watch, front and center on the 'catwalk,' as they were fed to the shark rays! Talk about cool.
I managed to make it all the way to the (almost end) of my second day before I got my first injury on the job. For those of you that don’t already know, I was getting ready to clean some windows, by myself instead of with a partner like earlier that day, and I underestimated the strength, and distance between the 2 pieces, of the magnets on the window scrubber we have. I’m not even joking when I say that I momentarily thought my finger was as flat as a pancake when those magnets slammed together with my fingers between. I don’t remember what words came out of my mouth when it happened, but I can say that I’m glad no one was around to find out, as I’m positive they weren’t the nicest of words. I’m not sure what hurt worse: getting my fingers slammed, or having to pull the darn magnets off my hand. From that, I have since started to become an expert on aquarium glass/windows. No kidding, I think I might know the windows more than the people who actually work there. From repairing scratches, to clearing smudges, I’ve observed every inch of the tanks my mentor is responsible for. SG8, one of the tanks Haz cares for, and I have become the best of friends. I’ve had to crawl in and out of that thing multiple times the last 2 days, filling in scratches that have been accumulating over the last 15 years (Happy Anniversary, Newport Aquarium!!), cleaning off some algae, and even rearranging the fake plants. The first time I crawled in (wearing the most flattering waders around), I had a crab crawl on my foot. He just sat there for a while. Whether he thought I was a new rock, or just checking me out, it took me a second to realize that hearing your boss say “there’s a crab on your foot” is a totally normal thing here.

The taste of salt is inevitable. It’s everywhere; the floor, the side of the tanks, your shoes, your hands, everywhere. I’ve had my fingers smashed, covered in krill, and holding such a large lobster that I don’t even want to know how much it would cost if you ate it at a restaurant. For the first time in my life, I’m glad I’m not any taller than I am, because I’ve hit my head a million and one times already. I had more people wave at me while I was inside a tank that I started to feel like I was a celebrity; I even had a few people take pictures of/with me. Talk about awkward. One lady mouthed the words “what kind of fish are you?” To which I answered back to her “a very rare one.” I’ve been splashed by a sea turtle and a shark or two, I’ve seen an entire lobster swallowed whole, I’ve seen an otter so close they chirped when I said hello. Need I explain more? I have the coolest internship in the entire world. These opportunities are incredible. And I can’t wait to see what lies ahead. I love it.

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