New England Aquarium: Final Day

I started my last day at the New England Aquarium back at the Giant Ocean Tank; Myrtle was (as always) the most fun to feed, but I also had a great time working with the large porcupinefish in the exhibit, who hadn’t been hungry the last times I had surface feed duties. What’s so cool about feeding them (besides the fact that they are two-foot long puffballs that look like they could turn into a giant balloon at any moment) is how they eat; porcupinefish only have a flat plate of fused teeth on their upper and lower jaw, so to consume their prey they first ingest it and then spit it out partially and suck it back in multiple times, grating the food down against their plates each time and giving the impression that they’re trying to repeatedly blow bubbles with their food. The process by which they inhale their food (quite literally) is the same way that they rapidly intake water or air to inflate when threatened, and while I never saw any of the porcupinefish in that beachball-like state, I did manage to surprise a lot of the visitors when I coaxed one of the fish to break the surface and inhale (loudly) for its food, creating a sound very much akin to a whale’s blowhole (or a very violent sneeze.)
After lunch, I once again donned my Scuba gear in preparation for the 1:15 maintenance dive. It struck me how, in just the two months or so that I’ve been diving with this gear, I’ve grown quite used to it; at the start I never thought I’d want to give up my old BC, regulator, and dive computer (all of which I love so dearly,) but after over 30 dives in this gear I’m beginning to doubt I’ll go back. All the dive equipment that Bob Boyle (of Undersea Divers) donated has worked excellently for me, and for that I am very thankful.
But I digress–back to the Aquarium, where I prepared to jump back into the GOT for one last dive with Myrtle, the Sand Tiger Sharks, and everything else that makes that exhibit so unique and entertaining to experience. My dive buddy for the day was the assistant aquarist Dan Dolan, continuing the streak of dive buddies at the NEAq with the exact (or very similar) first name as mine. Dan was more than willing to get some footage of me in action, filming video while my family–who had arrived minutes earlier–shot still photos and waved excitedly through the glass. Apparently a number of the visitors remarked to my mother about that “brave young man diving in there with all those ferocious sharks,” comments that I’m sure made her very proud (and amused me to no end. Though I felt pretty good about them too.) I certainly didn’t want to leave the tank, and Dan was nice enough to let me linger a number of minutes past the planned run-time to wave to the visitors, film extreme closeups of the sharks passing at barely arms-length away, and scratch Myrtle’s back a few more times for good measure, but too soon it was time to surface again. I may never get a chance to dive in the GOT again, but the memories I have (to go along with the amazing footage I took) will always remain with me.
Speaking of amazing footage, after de-robing from my gear and wetsuit I had to race back downstairs, camera in hand, in time to jump into yet another wetsuit (of the much thicker 7mm variety) and help out with the afternoon feeding session in the Penguin exhibit. I had the opportunity to feed the Little Blues again, and this time I managed to avoid getting quite as many scratches on my fingers. However, the little penguins were still quite a handful to deal with. A number of them were entering into their yearly molt and, as such, were gorging themselves on fish; one little guy in particular kept bullying the other penguins out of the way (a behavior we don’t encourage nor reinforce,) and it took quite a bit of dexterity and patience to get each fish to the proper penguins without him snatching it out of my hand (or their beaks.) However, I still managed to get everyone fed, and after that I took the camera, still in its Gates housing, to get some underwater footage of the African penguins. I managed to get some great shots of the birds gracefully diving into the water and swimming by, while some of the more curious ones swam up to (and pecked at) their reflection in the dome of the housing, netting me some excellent close up footage. Feelings were again bittersweet as I left the exhibit, uncertain if I’d ever get to be in such close proximity with such interesting creatures ever again; but then again, the Aquarium is always looking for capable volunteers, and who knows–maybe next year will find me back on exhibit at the NEAq as a summer volunteer, intern or even co-op (a college credit program offered in many of the departments at the Aquarium.) I certainly had an amazing time in my week spent at the New England Aquarium; I owe a lot of thanks to the phenomenal staff and volunteers I worked with, who can somehow take the mundane acts of thawing fish, chopping up squid, scrubbing guano, and more and turn them into fun, unforgettable experiences.