The first day of my internship with the husbandry staff at the Roanoke Island Aquarium I was already feeding sharks. They just handed me a dead fish, a pole and pointed out which shark to feed. That experience sums up my internship pretty well; you just go for it and act like you know what you’re doing. At first, I was a nervous wreck. What if I made an animal sick? What if I forgot their vitamins? What if I messed up the water quality? But eventually learned to relax and enjoy the opportunity thanks to many wonderful mentors. I’ve found a new love for marine life, a desire to get dive certified, and best of all a career I want to pursue.
A typical day starts with the touch tank, holding Cow Nose rays, Atlantic Sting Rays, 3 Bamboo Sharks, a Guitar fish, a Horseshoe Crab, and a few other species of small fish. I maintain the log-book, tracking temperature, flow pressure, salinity, and PH. After cleaning out their excrement I prep food and, my favorite part of the morning, hand feed the cow nose rays before broadcasting the rest of their food. In the wild, cow nose rays are born with a tape-worm, and the cow nose rays in the touch tank are juveniles from the wild. Therefore, they need a bit more food than the others. It still amazes me that they’ll eat right out of my hand. They’ve become so accustomed to me that I’ve implemented a ray training program, to make barbing them and veterinary checks easier and less stressful for the animals. After working with the rays, I move on to more food prep. I weigh out shark food, cut up squid and fish, and bag more food. The majority of my day is spent handling frozen, thawed, or bloody fish. After lunch, I get to feed the sharks along with a few other husbandry staff members. My mentor has taught me to identify Spotlight vs. Big Girl vs. Denty Dennis and the other sharks. After this routine, my day can vary from working on projects – building an otter enrichment tool or a baby gator cover to keep them from climbing out – to working with the resident screech owl or even cleaning out the trenches at the bottom of the tanks (by far the dirtiest and smelliest job).
At 5 pm, I leave the aquarium pretty beat, and definitely stinky, but fulfilled. I absolutely love what I do there, and Mondays and Wednesdays are often the highlight of my week. Between the animals, the staff I work with, and all the experiences I’ve been given, I’ve had an amazing time at my internship. I had always thought I’d want to be a zookeeper or work with animals, but this has broadened my horizons and I’ve found that I really would like to pursue work at an aquarium post-graduation.
Junior Environmental Studies major
NC Roanoke Island Aquarium – husbandry staff intern