I’m ecstatic to be spending this week in Baltimore with Holly Bourbon at the National Aquarium! After finishing up at the races, Vin Malkoski drove me to Baltimore where I met Holly and her husband Bill at their home. They recently moved to Maryland after Holly accepted a position at the National Aquarium as the Curator of Fishes and Dive Safety Officer. I’m staying with the Bourbon’s and their lovable dog Wally for a week at their home outside the city! Each day I will drive with Holly into work and shadow her, as well as numerous other people on her staff, in order to obtain the full experience of working at the Aquarium!
On my first day, I was stunned by the size and complexity of the Aquarium. It’s situated on a pier in Baltimore Harbor and boasts several distinguishing exhibits including the Blacktip Reef, Puffin Colony, Atlantic Coral Reef, Australian Outback and the Tropical Rainforest exhibit. Holly allotted time for me to explore the Aquarium as a visitor in order to see the exhibits from their perspective as well. Jackie Cooper, the senior aquarist from Holly’s staff, gave me a tutorial on how they fill tanks in the dive locker as well as the logistics associated with diving in an aquarium. She also gave me a tour of the Blacktip Reef, which is the Aquarium’s stunning and newly renovated exhibit on the first level. The exhibit is home to an Indo-Pacific Reef community and is named after the several blacktip reef sharks on display. A few of the distinctive species on display include Reticulated Whiptail Rays, Humphead Wrasse, Zebra Sharks, and a charismatic Green Sea Turtle. Calypso is the Aquarium’s beloved rescue Green Sea Turtle who likely lost her front flipper in a boat strike. Jackie explained that she serves as an excellent educational piece for the visitors. I was able to help target feed the Blacktip Reef Sharks by tossing squid, capelin and mackerel at a colored buoy in the water which the sharks have been trained to feed at. We fed the Reticulated Whiptail Rays with a releasable pole that allowed us to place the food on the end, then pull up on the string when it was in front of the animal to release the food. This method of feeding ensures that all the species in the exhibit are well fed and it also prevents the assertive species from overeating.
Later in the afternoon, Holly and I walked along the waterfront and had our lunch on a bench overlooking the harbor. She explained to me how much she truly loves her job and told me that her passion for working with animals began with a life changing internship she had in college at the New England Aquarium. Holly wanted to ensure that I obtained a rich and full understanding for how the aquarium operates by working with many of her aquarists and having a variety of experiences throughout the week. One of those memorable experiences was diving with Holly in the Atlantic Coral Reef (ACR). The ACR is the Aquarium’s original 335,000-gallon tank that has numerous fish species from the Caribbean. Holly and I went into the tank with the volunteer divers to watch them feed and we completed a checkout dive to certify me to dive in their exhibits! After completing the dive skills, Holly and I went around the tank placing and inspecting quarantine bins. Using coral rubble to hold them bins in position, we carefully placed them into position.
We completed the first live animal transfer of new fish for the exhibit today! I was able to help the Fishes team complete an animal transfer comprising of over 700 tropical reef fish whose introductions were spread out to facilitate their acclimation. After being brought in from the offsite quarantine facility, the aquarists and I measured temperature and O2 before giving the fish “freshwater dips”. This is a process by which the saltwater fish are quickly dipped in a freshwater bath to help kill any lingering bacteria or parasites on their bodies. This prevents spreading infection to other fish on exhibit and since it can be stressful on the animals, we had a recovery bin on standby to allow them to recover before being introduced to the tank. Holly and Jackie were diving in the exhibit and releasing the fish into their quarantine bins. Oscar, one of the resident moray eels, came up to investigate the commotion at the surface and he could sense the nervousness of the newly introduced fish. Holly quickly wrestled the eel, and gently put him around her arm like a scarf and towed him back to the other side of the exhibit. Only Holly could get a Moray eel to cooperate! After completing the dive we brought all the fish gear back to the supply closet and the loading dock to be picked up by the quarantine team. I spent them afternoon with Allan Kottyan in his gallery observing his work! He is responsible for a few different exhibits; one includes the “Maryland Mountains to the Sea” exhibit. It starts with a mountainous freshwater river ecosystem, then continues onwards to a salt marsh, coastal beach community and finally to an offshore reef. Allan said that he has completed numerous collection trips in the area and he prides himself on his work and trying to make his exhibits look as good as possible! All the aquarists here are extremely dedicated to their work and it has been inspiring to meet such dedicated people! Holly and I then headed home to take Wally on a walk to local reservoir and later I accompanied her and Bill for dinner at a Mexican restaurant where Bill used his Spanish and humored Holly and I with his endless jokes. They’re both such good souls and I’m loving every minute I spend with them!