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.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Welcome to Arizona, the Grand Canyon State!

Greetings from Tucson, Arizona! 

Hello, my name is Amanda Stilwell. I'm a fifth year student and in the Zoo and Conservation Science program. I originally transferred to Otterbein from Syracuse University in 2012. This will be my third and final year in the program and it has been an amazing experience thus far. I was lucky enough to have been chosen by the Biology and Earth Sciences department, for internship at the Reid Park Zoo in Tucson, AZ, with fellow zoo student, Matt Vieth. Together, we will be spending the next ten weeks working at Reid Park Zoo working on the elephant baby watch team and much more. 

Photo taken right before we began our decent into Tucson. 

I've only been here for four days but it seems as though I'm finally getting use to the three hour time difference! Which may not seem like much (as I first thought) but when all your friends back in eastern standard time go to bed at eight o'clock, you start to notice! 

Matt and I arrived on Sunday though I got in around noon and he didn't arrive till that evening. My day started at 2:30 am to catch a flight at 6 am. Phew, was I exhausted when I arrived. Upon arrival I was instantly struck by the beauty of the land scape. Various types of cacti and palm trees and beautiful mountain ranges all around me. It's definitely not Ohio, and a far cry from my hometown in upstate New York. My lovely host for the summer showed me around town and took me by the zoo. The next two days, Matt and I spent time lounging, enjoying our central air, but occasionally venturing out into the 100+ degrees. 

Today, Matt and I had our first day of orientation with a couple of other fellow elephant baby watchers. It was the usual safety regulations and all about Reid Park Zoo. We were able to tour the grounds and meet other people from education, the zoo director and other keepers on elephant staff. The newly constructed elephant facility is the largest I've seen and more is being added on for the arrival of the new baby! Mabu (the bull of the heard) and Semba are expecting their third baby together. Punga and Sundzu are their first two calves together and also live with them at the Reid Park Zoo. However this new baby if the first to be born at the Reid Park Zoo. There is another female in the herd, Lungile that acts as an aunt. Often she is seen playing with the young males, as we were able to see today! 

*Photo taken from the Reid Park Zoo's webpage. 
*this information about the elephants was taken from the zoo webpage, news articles, education signs and brochures 
here is the link to learn more:

This summer will definitely be a great experience that I will never forget. I've already seen a real armadillo so check that off the bucket list! More to come on experiences we are allowed to share and cross your fingers the BIG bundle of joy comes soon!

FUN FACT: The Reid Park Zoo's logo is an anteater because they have a very successful anteater breeding program! Yay breeding!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Meaghan Graver - San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research - Conservation Education

Meaghan Graver - San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research
Class: 2016
Hometown: Enon, Oh
Internship: Conservation Education Intern
Location: Escondido, CA

Blog #1!


So it has been an incredibly crazy couple of weeks, but here I am, writing from sunny Escondido, California, after my first official day as an intern with the San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research – Conservation Education Department!
I first off just want to say a big thanks to Dr. Mathias Tobler, Samia and Diego for letting me, and fellow intern Macie, stay in their cute little house. Although their cute little cat Michi likes to make sure I do not even think about sleeping in, the house the house and everything about Escondido is pretty perfect.
Macie and I arrived here a week early and like typical girls have made sure to hit up the beach, twice, sample many different froyo options, and find all of the closest shopping centres. We have also had the chance to just explore the hidden wonder that is Escondido; from the weekly farmer’s market to Daley Ranch, the local hiking hot spot (It was a new form of hiking for me all sand and sun, no trees) to the fruit stand on the side of the road, we've left no corner untouched. And now sun-burnt and tired, we official start our internship.
On Friday May 30 2014, Macie and I went in to the Beckman Center for Conservation Research to meet the Conservation Education team, and get a tour of the facility including a brief trip into the Safari Park. We passed the Frozen Zoo – It is so cool looking! After that, we headed over to HR to get our official IDs.
And finally it arrived, June 2, 2014 the first day of our internship. Macie and I spent the day in our office, which is pretty snazzy if I do say so myself, diving into the core of what the Conservation Education department does – learning about how to change people’s behavior. This week will be spent really researching and getting to know what conservation really is before we move onto our individual projects. I’m pretty excited.
Well that’s enough for now, I’ll let you know how the rest of this week played out especially since we have a jam-packed next couple of days.  Bye!