Meet the Aquarist: Lyssa Torres

Although it’s National Zoo Keeper Week, we can’t forget about our team of aquarists! Without these dedicated professionals, the Carolina SciQuarium wouldn’t be the fascinating place our visitors know and love.

Lyssa Torres gave us the inside scoop about what it’s like to be an aquarist. She’s been in the profession for about three years and has been at the Greensboro Science Center for a little over one year. She has always loved the ocean and sea life, but what pushed her over the edge and made her decide to become an aquarist was a documentary on jellyfish.

Although there are no jellyfish in the SciQuarium (yet; who knows what the future holds?), Lyssa has plenty of other critters and chores to keep her busy. On a typical day in the SciQuarium, aquarists start the morning by checking all of the tanks. They take water samples, clean windows, test the water quality, prepare diets, feed the animals, clean filters, perform water changes, make salt water… it’s a pretty intense list!

And aquarists must know much more than just information about the animals they care for. They have to be proficient in things like plumbing, chemistry and animal medications as well.

Lyssa says the reward is worth it. She loves seeing an animal do well on exhibit, especially when it’s one she hasn’t taken care of before. She also enjoys watching the visitors’ reactions as they interact with animals.

Her favorite part of the job, though, as you might imagine, is getting wet. Whether she’s participating in dives or training the eagle ray, she loves being in the water.

Lyssa with Eagle Ray

Lyssa feeding the SciQuarium’s spotted eagle ray.

So, what’s the worst part of the job?

“Sometimes the cleaning can get kind of repetitive,” she said.

However, the rather mundane task of cleaning is all part of the job… A job which led to a pretty cool story to tell at parties…

“I was head-butted by a whale shark,” Lyssa said. She was feeding them from an inflatable boat as in intern at the Georgia Aquarium. Apparently, she wasn’t feeding them fast enough and one let her know in a rather intrusive manner!

As you have hopefully learned from this week’s blog series, our zoo keepers and aquarists are incredible individuals. They work hard – and play hard – and have some amazing stories to tell. Although National Zoo Keeper Week is coming to a close for 2014, please remember these folks any time you visit and thank them for the work they do to ensure the health, happiness and well-being of our animals.

Meet the Aquarist: Sarah

Although this week is dedicated to Zoo Keepers, we couldn’t help but give a shout out to our aquarists as well. These folks have gone above and beyond the call of duty to open the Carolina SciQuarium on time and have continued to succeed by providing outstanding care to our aquatic animals through weeks of record-breaking attendance.

The Role of Our Aquarists

Senior Aquarist, Sarah, outlined a typical day in the SciQuarium. Each day begins with some general maintenance performed before visitors arrive. The aquarists start by checking each tank to make sure all of the animals are healthy. To ensure their continued health and safety, they follow this visual scan by checking each pump and making sure all life support systems are operating normally. Then, the cleaning begins. Each morning, our aquarists are responsible for removing leftover food, feces and algae from the tanks. This not only keeps the animals’ environments healthy, but it also gives visitors the best possible viewing experience.

Sarah (right) and Caitlyn (left) Feeding Eels and Rays

Sarah (right) and Caitlyn (left) Feeding Eels and Rays

Then comes breakfast… for the animals, of course. The aquarists feed each animal and monitor how much they are eating to make sure their appetites are the same. From there, they take water samples from each tank and perform water quality testing. Once they are sure water is at the optimal levels for each exhibit, it’s time to don wetsuits and get ready for the morning dive. Around 11:00am (keep in mind the schedule is always subject to change), visitors can watch divers clean and maintain the Shark Reef exhibit.

In the afternoon, much of the aquarists’ time is typically spent working on projects, such as building, cleaning and fixing systems. Their day ends much as it began. They feed animals and make sure appetites are still strong, check life support systems, make sure pumps are working properly and check each tank to ensure all animals are healthy and thriving.

About Sarah

Sarah has been an aquarist for about 6 years and came to us from Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut. Her favorite thing about working in the Carolina SciQuarium is working with the animals, particularly the spotted eagle ray. She enjoys the fact that aquarists in the SciQuarium have the chance to do everything! At many other aquariums, she says aquarists’ work is specialized to focus on certain animals or exhibits, but in the SciQuarium they have the opportunity to work with all of the animals, exhibits and systems.

Ironically, Sarah’s least favorite part of her job is getting wet. She’s also not a fan of smelling like fish all the time, but we can’t blame her for that! If she could choose one animal to feature in the SciQuarium that isn’t currently there, Sarah would choose a coconut crab. She said would name him pina colada and walk him on a leash.