Day Three: Penguins

Today started off with food prep again, but not for the GOT…today I prepared food for the Penguins! There are three types of penguins in the exhibit: Rock Hoppers, Africans, and Little Blues.  All three species eat smelt, a small arctic fish.  Some smelt are injected with water to keep particular penguins hydrated.  After the food was prepared, we pulled on wetsuits and got into the nippy water (it is 20 degrees colder than the GOT!). I followed Paul, the exhibit head, around on the morning feeding and the thing he warned me about most was that penguins are unpredictable animals.

We had to keep at least a 12” distance between any penguin and our heads and walk through the exhibit with fingers in palms to avoid a painful bite. My wetsuit had a small loop on the back that was a toy for one penguin, Benguela or Benny for short, who nipped, twisted and yanked on it consistently during the feeding. Every penguin has a color-coded beaded tag on one of its wings for identification. Females are tagged on the right and males on the left. At feeding time, a record of every fish that each penguin eats is kept, along with notes on behaviors and if the penguin is in a cave or sitting on eggs.

I got to see two eggs in the African exhibit, and a behind the scenes look at a Little Blue nest hidden inside one of the rock islands. Penguins are unique birds in that they keep the same mate for their entire lifetime. After the feeding, each penguin ate around 10 fish, we got out the scrub brushes, hoses and virkon (a cleaning agent neutralized by water) and scrubbed away at the rock islands to clean them of guano- a.k.a. penguin poop. After this first morning session, the staff records the weight of and how many fish were eaten, the temperature and humidity in the exhibit, and any other notes about how the feeding went.

I was lucky today because I was invited to do the 1:15 GOT dive between penguin feedings. After that it was time for the 2:30 feeding where I shadowed Logan, a college student at Wellesley and Paul in the exhibit. She taught me how to feed the Rock Hoppers! You have to present the fish head first to the penguin and then guide it into the beak. The penguin will then swallow it whole from there. With some older penguins, you need to push the fish to the back of its throat so it can swallow it easier. My biggest accomplishment was being able to successfully feed Penguino, a tough girl penguin who totally shreds up the fish with her beak then spits it out, thirteen fish! After the feeding, recording, and clean-up in the penguin locker room (no rock scrubbing on the second feeding), the day was done.

NEAQ Day 2: The Myrtle Project, a Good Dive, and Vol Work

Scoot, one of the smaller turtles in the GOT, is a Kemps Ridley turtle.

The second day at the aquarium was just as fun as the first, if not better. I started off the day with food prep again, and then was invited to help out with the Myrtle Project. Myrtle is the GOT’s oldest inhabitant; she weighs about 650 pounds and is estimated to be between 65 and 70 years old.

The Myrtle Project is an experiment researching the effects of different sound frequencies on turtles, in hopes to create a sounding mechanism that will help deter turtles from large ships. Kathy Streeter conducts the experiment and she let me be in charge of the sound and light. With the help of mammal volunteers Allegra and Melissa, we ran a series of tests on Myrtle using operant conditioning, which involves training Myrtle to do something through positive reinforcement. Two types of trials are conducted: light trial or light and sound trial. When Myrtle hears a beep from one of two speakers underwater, she must touch the sounding speaker. When she is successful, she returns to the platform and gets a treat (fish or squid).

After the Myrtle project at feeding time I got to feed the barracudas who eat whole fish, and finish up some office work like de-rust a scale, laundry, copy intern manuals, and clean-up clean-up clean-up! The 1:15 dive was really fun today, I felt more comfortable using my own BC and less weight, and had a few fish hang out really close to me while I scrubbed the coral. Another neat part of the day was watching an purple mouthed moray eel be removed from the tank and anesthetized so that the medical services team could determine why it had been acting sluggish.

First day with Holly at the New England Aquarium

My cutting board; shrimp on the right and squid and capelin on the left.

I just got back from an awesome first day of interning at the New England Aquarium. The day started off with a quick tour of the aquarium and the places I would be working “behind the scenes” with Holly, followed by a briefing of volunteer rules and regs. The first thing I got to do today was help Trish, a Dive Volunteer, clean buckets and prep food for the feedings. The animals in the Giant Ocean Tank (GOT) get fed four times a day. The tank divers dive five times a day, one at each feeding and then an additional cleaning dive. I really like food prep, different animals get different types of fish…for example needlefish get cut up sardines while the big rays like chunks of smelt and capelin, and the sharks eat squid stuffed with fish and vitamins if they are hungry. Today I got to stand on the feeding platform and feed Myrtle, the giant green turtle, and the needlefish.

I also dove in the GOT! Holly gave me a nice tour of the tank and its inhabitants and let me pat a nurse shark, it was really cool. I was apparently intruding on one black fish’s space as I was cleaning the reef because it kept nipping at my wetsuit. I learned a lot about many different animals today, from the ones in the GOT, to a couple of fish in smaller aquariums in a laboratory that Holly showed to me. I can’t wait for tomorrow!

Three Days at Undersea Divers

Owning and running a dive shop sure is a lot of work! For the past three days I’ve been at Bobby Boyle’s dive shop, Undersea Divers, in Beverly, MA. I can’t believe how much Bobby does and still manages to keep sane. The day starts with checking the oil level in the compressor, then off to unpacking boxes! I spent a bunch of time unpacking new shipments (a lot of which came in wrong and had to be corrected), pricing items, restocking the floor then storing the rest. I put together a bunch of tanks and boots, and organized rental wetsuits and gear for his classes. I really liked watching Bobby do the VIPs (Visual tank inspection required once a year) and learning about hydros (tanks have to be hydrostatically tested every 5 years), different wetsuits, and fitting masks and BCs. Its amazing how many people come in to get their tank filled, say they dive regularly, but haven’t had a VIP in years.

On my last day, I was pleasantly surprised by a phone call from Patrick Scalli! He wanted to check in to see how my summer was going so far (its awesome J ) and was about to stop by but unfortunately couldn’t make it. Bobby is a popular guy; he had a constant stream of customers and friends stopping by. On Saturday, New England underwater photographer Andy Martinez dropped by the store, it was really neat to meet him and he gave me a few good pointers about college too! Working at Undersea Divers I’ve definitely gained a new respect for businessmen, dive shop owners in particular!

Spearfishing and Freediving with David Sipperly

Today I learned how to freedive and spearfish with David Sipperly in Rhode Island. The only equipment we needed to freedive was a mask, snorkel, wetsuit, fins, and a weight belt. Freediving is diving while holding your breath, instead of breathing air from tanks. It was wicked fun!! Dave, his friend Eli, and I took Dave’s boat over to Block Island and anchored off the shore to look for some fish. Dave is a great instructor and fun to watch. He was a past All-American freediver, so he stays underwater forever and makes freediving and spear fishing look like nothing.

We went to three different sites to look for fish, all in about 15 feet of water, and also looked for a small wreck to dive but couldn’t find it. I thought the second site was the best-there were stripers everywhere!! Nine or ten huge fish would swim by or circle us at a time. I speared my first striped bass here. I spotted four or five Stripers while snorkeling on the surface, dove down and lay between the rocks on the bottom, one swam perfectly in front of me and I speared it through its side! By the end of the trip we had a cooler full of stripers and tautog. After a successful day of fishing and diving, we went back, I learned how to fillet the fish, then Dave grilled them up for a delicious dinner!


Dives always seem to end too soon, so what better way to extend your bottom time than to breathe Nitrox? Today I took David Sipperly’s Nitrox class with Lisa O’Malley, and Chris and Mary Sharrigan. A Nitrox mixture has a higher concentration of oxygen in it than normal air does. Normal air is roughly 79% nitrogen 21% oxygen. The two most common nitrox mixes are NOAA Nitrox I (68% nitrogen, 32% oxygen) and NOAA Nitrox II (64% nitrogen, 36% oxygen). Divers like to breathe nitrox because the lower concentration of nitrogen allows divers to extend their bottom time, decrease the surface time interval between dives, ascend faster after an easy dive, and is said to lessen post-dive fatigue and nitrogen narcosis. Dave Sipperly gave us a great thorough class (especially practicing with those tables!), and Dave Morton showed up later to demonstrate analyzing and filling nitrox tanks. I can’t wait to use it!

Bon Bini na Bonaire: Welcome to Bonaire!

Bo·naire (bô-nâr’), n. an island of the Netherlands Antilles in the Caribbean Sea off the northern coast of Venezuela populated by friendly inhabitants, exotic marine life, crazy divers and drivers, where you can eat conch and lizard, and practically see forever underwater. Or in other words..the most awesome underwater world I’ve ever been in!

Bonaire is a diver’s paradise, both underwater and on land.  We stayed at Captain Don’s Habitat, whose title of “diving freedom” fits perfectly beucase, unlike other dive resorts on the island, divers are allowed to be in the water 24 hours a day.  My first day in Bonaire I dove on reefs overflowing with all different kinds of tropical fish, gigantic sponges, coral, snails, worms and other invertebrates. At dinner we would see at least a half dozen turquoise dive light spots dancing around in the water at night – like a personal light show.

Picking a favorite activity or dive wouldn’t do justice to the rest because I was exposed to so many new types of activities and environments. On one dive, we dove 97 feet to the wreck of the Hilma Hooker, a drug-packed vessel that was mysteriously sunk and deserted just before the arrival of the Coast Guard. When we went on a night dive, I found out how fast starfish can actually move as I watched the basket stars scurry away from the beam of the dive light. We swam with wild dolphins, saw a frogfish, GIANT green eel, a turtle, and followed around many trunkfish and cowfish (who swim awkwardly but now are my favorite!).

Above water we went cave snorkeling, explored dry caves that had fossilized coral on the ceiling, saw flamingoes, pink salt flats, and slave huts, tried all different kinds of food (including cabrito-donkey, lizzard, and conch), and ended the week at the Queen’s Day celebration.   I got to ride on the back of Jack Chalk’s Harley across the island in an escort parade up to Rincon, Bonaire’s historic town and the site of the huge three-day celebration of Queen’s Day.  It was certainly a busy week. In Bonaire I learned about more things than I could have possibly imagined, but most important of all…it was wicked fun!

Boston Sea Rovers 50th Clinic Weekend

Picture taken by Ethan Gordon, Boston Sea Rovers Photographer.

Coffee in hand, I walked into the Copley Plaza Hotel ready for the exciting weekend to begin, although I had no idea how incredible it would turn out to be…

The festivities start in Boston on Friday morning at a seminar called Career Opportunities in Marine Science (COMS) coordiated by Sea Rover George Buckley.  Held the Friday before every annual Clinic, COMS is a program for local high school students to learn about advancements in oceanography.  The program is filled with movies, speeches, and enthusiastic presentations by speakers that often provide students with the opportunity to get involved.  Here I was introduced to Sea Rovers and non-Rovers that I would be working with over the summer, including Terrence Tysall and Amy Giannotti of the Cambrian Foundation in Florida.

At the Pre-Clinic Reception that night, I met a boatload of smart, fun, and obviously hardworking individuals celebrating their passion for the water.  The night was filled with fun introductions and conversations.  I was astounded when I was asked to ring the bells, a tradition the Sea Rovers uphold to remember deceased members.  Seeing names names like Jacques Yves Cousteau etched on the bells, I was incredibly honored.  As if the night was not already exciting enough, the next thing hear is that in a few weeks I would be diving in beautiful warm waters of Bonaire!! It was hard to get some shut-eye that night, but needless to say I feel asleep dreaming of good visibility.

Saturday and Sunday were chock-a-block full of seminars, behind-the-scenes looks at how the Clinic works, and meeting more and more caring people, including corporate sponsors, more Sea Rovers, and the Scalli Family. Imagine being handed a backpack to carry around, later to find a new ScubaPro regulator inside! My head was certainly spinning throughout the whole weekend. Of course, my friends were jealous when I told them that I had dinner seated between Dr. Bob Ballard and Philippe Cousteau, while facing Dr. Eugenie Clark and her daughter, Stan Waterman, Joe MacInnis, and Pat Morton. Wicked cool. The big moment came when I accepted the internship from Patrick Scalli on the stage of John Hancock Hall, through unexpected tears feeling completely embarrassed when he mentioned more than my name!   But embarrassment was well worth being able to be named the first Scalli intern and meeting a family so dedicated, welcoming, and generous in every way.