Cleaning out exhibits, feeding some fish….. How hard can it really be? Well, pretty tough actually. Being an Aquarist at The Deep is not just a job, but a passion. It requires them to be a biologist, chemist, diver, cleaner, dietician and an animal behaviourist whilst being able to apply a variety of skills in plumbing and carpentry – with a dash of creative flare! But what happens when you throw caring for penguins into the mix?
Despite having a cute and playful disposition, penguins create a lot of mess and often like to get involved and lend a helping flipper.
Located in the heart of the aquarium, the day of the penguin keeper kicks off at 8.30am when they check the filtration system is running smoothly and upon entering the exhibit they conduct visual checks of each and every penguin before they begin the mammoth task of cleaning.
Penguins poo.... a lot!
Penguins poo... a lot. So much that the entire enclosure has to be washed and rinsed from top to bottom each and every morning. Being quite acidic, this job requires a fair amount of elbow grease (and a high powered hose) to complete the task. All the windows and rocks are rinsed down and real ice is produced and piled up in various places to ensure a healthy and enriching home for our feathered friends.
Emma, one of The Deep’s Penguin keepers, says “Extra care and time is needed during the breeding season. We don’t want to disturb them too much, they know how they want their nest to be, so we try not to get overly involved. It’s a sensitive time. After this, they then go into moult during the summer. Each year penguins will moult the waterproof layer of feathers and grow new ones in their place. This presents a new challenge. Not only have we the task of cleaning their home, but also sweeping up loads of feathers. They don’t swim during this time either, they get itchy and a bit grumpy, so we have to work around them”.
Time for food!
The penguins are fed twice per day on a mixture of fish; including capelin, sprat and herring. They will also receive a feed of shrimp in their pool to encourage their natural hunting behaviours.
This is just the backbone of their work. In order to ensure species survival in the wild it is essential to learn as much as they can about their animals behaviour, biology and developmental requirements. This knowledge is then further applied to crucial conservation strategies both within aquaria and out in the field.
It’s not an easy career and you are required to be on call 24hrs a day, 365 days of the year – even Christmas, because who else is going to give the animals their dinner? It’s not glamorous. At the end of the day your clothes are damp and you smell of fish! But they wouldn’t have it any other way.