Describe your job: I work with the Vancouver Aquarium’s classroom on wheels, the AquaVan. For four to seven weeks at a time, we travel throughout various provinces in Canada, bringing marine education programs into schools and communities. We bring with us animals that can be found along the West Coast of Canada such as dungeness crabs, anemones, snails, fish, sea stars and wolf eels. My position involves coordinating our team of four, and ensuring all goes smoothly while we are on the road. I am also in charge of the wellbeing of all the animals that we have in the AquaVan.
How long have you been in the position? I have volunteered at the Vancouver Aquarium since 2009 and have worked in this position since August 2010.
What in your background helped you get the job? I received my BSc in Marine Biology and Oceanography at the University of Southampton in England before spending four months working on a coral reef conservation project off the coast of Tanzania. I was living on a beach on an island and went scuba diving every day, tracking the effects of dynamite fishing. When I moved to Vancouver, I started volunteering for the Aquarium’s education programs before being accepted into their marine mammal trainer internship program. It was a fantastic opportunity as I got to work with beluga whales and sea otters, and learn a great deal about animal husbandry. Both positions definitely helped when it came to preparing me for the job that I am doing now.
What’s your favorite thing about your job? We often work in communities where the children we are teaching have never seen the ocean, let alone any of the animals that we have with us. Allowing them to have the opportunity to see and touch different creatures and watching their excitement never gets old. Getting to see that definitely reminds the team that we are lucky to work with these youth all the time. Even after a 12-hour day, it’s all worth it when a kid takes their parents in to show them the difference between a boy and girl crab, or how an anemone sticks to their fingers.
Describe a favorite memory/experience in your current position: When we are on the road we often depend on the generous aid of people to make our lives just a little easier. One of the most time-consuming jobs with the AquaVan is refilling all the reservoirs with water. On the road we have to make our own salt water, and so we carry three 100-gallon onboard reservoirs to hold it in. Filling these from a regular garden hose can take anywhere up to two hours, and as we are unable to leave the truck while we are refilling, it can be a very tedious job. Recently we discovered that with the aid of a fire hydrant, we can decrease this time down to about three minutes. I don’t think I will ever forget the time we pulled up to the fire station in a small community in a northern area of British Columbia, and have the entire fire department all come out to help fill the truck before they insisted on being able to look at, touch and learn about all the animals that we had with us. It’s one thing seeing children in schools getting really excited about being able to touch a sea star or hold a crab, but it was awesome realizing that people still get very excited by marine life, no matter how old they are or what they do.
Do you have a favorite animal? Why is it your favorite? I wouldn’t really say I have a favourite animal overall, but in the AquaVan I definitely do. We currently have a small green penpoint gunnel called Tim which constantly gets confused for a snake or an electric eel. I never thought a fish could have a personality, but this one does. It has huge expressive eyes, and whenever it’s feeding time Tim will swim to the surface and curl around your fingers. He is the one animal in the truck that people always ask about.