Reflections of an Aquarist
Updated: May 25, 2020
A typical day in the life of an Aquarist in Singapore begins hours before the aquarium opens to the public. Now, the most important task of the day would be food preparation for the large number of animals under our care. It is crucial that we get the nutritional energetics of the animals right as different animals require different servings and these animals have preferences as well, much like us humans do.
Animals such as benthic sharks are fed lesser as they are generally less active than pelagic sharks.
Consideration of the natural feeding behavior of the animals is also taken into account, for example, filter feeders, grazers, piscivores and insectivores. Therefore, we are tasked with preparing feeds of various sizes and types; as well as supplement them with the necessary micronutrients.
There are different ways that we conduct feeding sessions for the animals. We do surface feeding where we throw food into the water. This usually applies to animals such as pelagic fishes that swim about actively as they are able to pick up food that is being thrown into the aquarium.
Dive feeding is generally done as a means for us to observe the feeding behavior and specifically feed some of the animals. Animals like stingrays that tend to stay near the bottom are unable to get food that is being thrown from the surface and dive feeds addresses this issue. Another type of feeding that is done comes in the form of training/enrichment for the animals.
Enrichment can be defined as activities that stimulate the animals, making them think, keeping them engaged. Hiding food in crevices or sticking food onto rocks for parrotfish to graze on are just some of the enrichment activities that we conduct. The most common form of training, beneficial to the husbandry of the animals in the aquariums would be target training. In short, the animal follows a coloured target and gets rewarded with food. This improves the care given to these animals as we are able to move them to a desired location within the exhibit with minimal stress. This form of training is extremely useful for moving animals in a holding tank for veterinary checkups or treatments.
Working as an aquarist in a public aquarium means that you will spend a lot of time in the water which also means that you have to be scuba certified which also also means you get to dive a lot (in a tank). And what do we do with all that time underwater? Exhibit Maintenance.
We spend hours (and more hours) maintaining the exhibit that our animals live in by siphoning the substrate, scrubbing the rock works or cleaning the acrylic. Apart from maintenance, we occasionally perform modifications to the habitats such as adding/rearranging rockworks, propagating live corals in the tanks or remedying anything broken.
While it may be cliché to quote but...
Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.
I have been working in public aquariums for about 4 to 5 years now and have had the most amazing opportunity to work with smaller tanks to large aquariums. Animals of different species, habitats and nature each pose their own unique challenges. People ask me what it takes to work in public aquariums, and it boils down to having the passion to work with marine/aquatic animals. Of course, having the relevant qualifications like scuba diving or an educational background related to science helps but the passion to work with these animals will allow you to get the most out of your career. I have never regretted my decision to pursue my career. The job may not be as fancy or well paying, but the fact that I enjoy what I do, makes it all worth it. Even after getting bitten countless times by the animals during feeding sessions and the long hours underwater, I still look forward to going to work the next day.
- One (Aquaman)