The National Aquarium: Days 1 and 2

My first two days at the National Aquarium were exciting and full of diving and getting involved with Aquarium operations. My first morning, Holly took me into the Atlantic Coral Reef (ACR) exhibit for a checkout dive. We practiced basic skills including buoyancy, mask removal, weight removal, and BCD removal. After this, I explored the exhibit and helped Holly investigate the behavior of a queen triggerfish, as the staff were considering temporarily removing the animal from the exhibit. Later in the afternoon, I went back into the ACR accompanied by the day’s volunteer group. This time, I cleaned up an area of the tank which contained empty clam and oyster shells. These shells are typically used by animals such as sand tilefish to make burrows, but since they were not being used they were to be removed. I removed roughly 15 pounds of the shells from the exhibit! During that same dive, I checked on the queen triggerfish again, and spent some time taking photos!

On the morning of my second day at National, I snorkeled in the ACR to take measurements for the installation of new skimmer boxes. This was an interesting project to be a part of, and getting in the water is always fun. I continued to get involved with aquarium projects later in the day when I completed my third ACR dive. In addition to taking personal photos on this dive, I was tasked with capturing images and footage of a black durgon for the veterinary staff. It was rewarding to capture footage of the fish that the vets would later use to aid their decision-making process regarding to how to manage this fish. By this dive, I felt very comfortable in ACR and was able to navigate its tight swim-throughs and alleys with greater ease.

The National Aquarium: Days 3, 4, and 5

My third day at the National Aquarium kicked off with an early dive in the Shark Alley exhibit which features sandbar, sand tigers, and nurse sharks as well as sawfish and crevalle jacks. Though the sharks were gated off while we completed our work, it was still lots of fun to be in the water with these animals. We spent our time scrubbing the exhibit’s rock formations, rearranging the exhibit’s substrate, and, most fun, collecting shark teeth! I found lots of teeth on this dive and enjoyed the challenge of spotting them in the rocks.

That afternoon, I spent some time with Katie Webster in the 3N gallery, which displays animals with interesting evolutionary adaptations suited to their environment. For example, mudskippers have adapted the ability to breathe air, allowing them to search for food in a greater variety of terrain. Some of the animals we cared for included a mantis shrimp, seahorses, a snapping turtle, and an octopus. We prepared their food, conducted feedings, and managed their environments by checking water chemistry.

I spent the first half of the my fourth day at ‘the warehouse’ where animal housing, quarantine, and rehab all take place. I conducted water changes, mixed a new batch of saltwater, checked water temperatures, and fed the blacktip sharks. In addition to taking care of fish, I helped care for reptiles such as snake-neck turtles, bearded dragons, and blue-tongued skinks. The warehouse had lots to offer and was a great way to see even more of the National Aquarium. The second part of my day was spent touring Baltimore.

On the morning of my final day, I worked more closely with the Blacktip Reef exhibit. I tended a dive in the morning, ensuring the safety of one of the staff divers who was cleaning the exhibit. Later, I helped feed the sharks of the same exhibit which was awesome. Before I could believe it, I was packing up my gear to head to the airport and leave Baltimore. My head was still spinning after such an amazing week.

Baltimore: City, Sights, and Exploration

In addition to the action packed days with Holly at the National Aquarium, my visit to Baltimore afforded me the opportunity to explore the city and the Inner Harbor region where the Aquarium is located. The Inner Harbor area is home to many interesting and historical buildings and landmarks. I spent some time walking through the Barnes and Noble across from the Aquarium, which features an Amazonian fish tank (managed by the National Aquarium). This Barnes and Noble was built within an old power plant. The two large smokestacks running through the heart of the store provide a truly industrial feel. I also walked to the Maryland Science Center located near Federal Hill. I spent an afternoon at the Science Center, exploring the many exhibits and even attending a planetarium show about extraterrestrial life and exoplanets. The weather was warm but very nice throughout the week, so I also spent some time walking around Federal Hill and the shops located near the Aquarium, most notably the McCormick’s store (a company which originated in Baltimore) which sold lots of Old Bay seasoning.

Holly, her husband, Billy, and their dog, Wally, also showed me some of the highlights near their home, located roughly 15 miles north of the National Aquarium. The night I arrived, we took a walk with Wally on a trail loaded with fresh raspberries. We picked and talked the whole way. After our walk, the Bourbons treated me to snow cones. There were so many flavors to choose from, so I chose bubble gum, a flavor I had never tried! One another walk, we went swimming in a river: a refreshing activity given the high temperatures down in Maryland!

On my fourth night with the Bourbons, Holly and I went out to dinner in Camden Yards. After touring the Orioles park, we grabbed dinner in a nearby restaurant. It was really amazing to see this area; the stadium is quite magnificent.

A huge thanks goes out to Holly and Billy for hosting me during my time in Baltimore. I had a fantastic time and appreciate all that they did to make this happen. From scheduling my time at the Aquarium to making me feel at home with them, they truly went the extra mile to make my stay the best it could be. Thank you so much!

Undersea Divers with Whitney and Shaun!

It was great to go back to Undersea Divers and volunteer at the shop for a few days. I enjoyed reconnecting with Whitney and Shaun and helping them out with an array of different tasks. By the end of my time at Undersea Divers, I knew the shop much better and gained a greater understanding of what it’s like to manage a dive shop, especially one with such strong local ties. It was nice to see so many return customers who love to stay and socialize.

Some of the tasks I helped out with included: taking store inventories, cleaning and distributing rental gear, maintaining store displays, organizing waivers and forms for customers, organizing incoming certification cards, and my favorite job of all, filling tanks. It’s amazing how much I learned over the course of my time here.

I look forward to staying in touch with Whitney and Shaun and hopefully swinging by the shop often. The amount of time and effort these two put into the running of the shop is admirable and it was rewarding to work with individuals who are so dedicated to their work, customers, and to the sport of scuba diving. Thanks so much for having me, Whitney and Shaun!

Diving with Mike Lodise of Backscatter Photography

I was excited to get in the water with Mike Lodise from Backscatter and try out my new GoPro rig. The setup that Backscatter has donated for my internship consists of a Hero 3+ camera in a dual-grip tray with two Sola 2000 video lights. Mike took me diving at Nubble Lighthouse in York, ME to try out this new system. The visibility was great and we saw many lobsters, flounders, and pollock. Using the camera was lots of fun. I spent most of my time videoing and interacting with the bottom dwelling flounder. The video lights were great for illuminating cracks, crevices, and overhangs which would otherwise be too dark to see into. I found lots of hiding lobsters this way. I found that the dual handled tray helped my stability greatly while filming, which is a huge benefit for film quality. Finally, the GoPro was fitted with a magenta filter which helps restore natural color to the captured images. This made all my videos come through much more colorfully, which looks great! Thanks so much for taking me out, Mike, and helping get set up with all this great gear.

Day 2 with Rick Simon: Diving Skills

My second day with Rick we dove at familiar dive site, Fort Wetherill. This day was dedicated to practicing new skills such as fin maneuvers, properly using my new reel, and deploying surface marker buoys. I learned how to use my fins to frog kick and even move in reverse. These techniques can be useful when a diver wants to minimize fin movement and silt stir-up. I also learned the best way to tie off a reel, keep it from dragging on the bottom, and use it to navigate underwater. We also practiced using surface marker buoys. It took me a few tries to get a feel for how much air the bladders should hold before releasing, but shooting the buoys to the surface was lots of fun. Finally, we calculated my underwater breathing rate known more formally as a Surface Air Consumption (SAC) rate. We calculated this rate both in a standard swimming situation and in a case of full exertion. These rates are important to know when planning a dive, for you can determine how quickly you will consume your air depending on the expected conditions. I learned a lot from diving with Rick and I thank him for both his time and investment in me as a diver.

Day 1 with Rick Simon: Educator, Craftsman, and Diver

I was lucky to spend two days with accomplished diver and former Frank Scalli Intern, Rick Simon. Rick has an incredible amount of dive experience especially in the fields of technical and commercial diving. He passed a number of tips along to me and certainly made me a better diver. I look forward to hopefully working with Rick again later this summer.

During my first day with Rick, I learned a number of things about diving, without even getting in the water! When I arrived at Rick’s workplace in Connecticut, he showed me the ins and outs of rebreathers, as he was disassembling his from a previous dive. It was fascinating to learn about the mechanics of rebreather function, use, and maintenance.

Later, Rick helped me buff up on my dive planning skills, something I rarely employ, as I have done primarily recreational, relaxed dives in tropical waters. Dive plans are paramount to the success of a dive, but especially useful when conditions make it more difficult to communicate underwater, like low visibility or a mission which requires divers to split apart. I plan to implement dive plans more frequently when I am in the water, especially as I gain more certifications and get more thoroughly involved in the dive community.

Lastly, Rick showed me how to assemble products to fill orders for his company, Manta Industries. We built a number of underwater reels together. Rick was very generous and donated a reel for my own use during my internship. I even built it myself! Thank you so much for donating this great tool, Rick!

DAN Diving First Aid for Professional Divers with Chris Millbern

Today, I completed my DFA Pro course with instructor and friend Chris Millbern. Chris is an EMT, so there was no one better to teach me this hands on class; he had lots of personal insight to offer. This course provides divers with the knowledge and skills necessary to conduct primary care at the professional level. I learned about oxygen administration, neurological assessments, hazardous marine life injuries, other dive-related injuries, and basic CPR and AED operation. We practiced everything from the proper application of latex gloves to performing chest compressions at the correct frequency and with the force necessary to circulate blood. Practicing these techniques (and many others) was both incredibly helpful and educational. This course is incredibly beneficial to any diver’s skillset and has prepared me to assist in the event of an emergency, dive related or other. Thanks, Chris, for lending me your time to teach; I appreciate it!

Artificial Reef Surveys: Diving with Vin Malkoski (Massachusetts Department of Marine Fisheries)

I was excited to dive with Vin again. This time I was able to observe and take part in his work with the Department of Marine Fisheries to monitor the health of artificial reefs at Sculpin Ledge in Boston Harbor. Our day started bright and early at the State Pier in Gloucester, MA. We then journeyed by boat roughly an hour and a half down the coast to our dive location in Boston. We conducted two dives, monitoring two separate locations. It was interesting to get involved with this work; I never even knew these artificial reefs existed! We saw lots of life underwater including fish like tautog and cunner as well as crabs, lobsters, and anemones. We documented every species we saw (plants and animals) so that we maintain a strong understanding of the community at these sites and how it changes over time. Thanks for inviting me to this cool opportunity, Vin!

Urchins Galore: Diving with Ted Maney of Salem State University

Last Wednesday, I had the opportunity to dive with Ted Maney, a biology instructor and underwater researcher at Salem State University. I participated with two of his graduate students in an ongoing sea urchin survey project at Halfway Rock, a landmark roughly halfway between Gloucester and Boston. The urchin count began over 40 years ago and is still taking place today. The abundance of urchins at Halfway surprised me. I used a 0.5 meter x 0.5 meter quadrat to measure urchin densities. I found as many as 40 urchins in 1/16th of a square meter. I covered a total of 8 square meters of rocky surface during the course of my measurements. This data will help Salem State University’s researchers monitor the change in urchin populations from year to year. Thanks so much, Ted, for taking me out on this expedition with your crew!