Interns enjoy thrills with animals at Living Planet Aquarium

Published: Tuesday, June 25 2013 10:50 a.m. MDT

A boy watches the penguins at the Living Planet Aquarium in Sandy on Thursday, June 13, 2013.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SANDY — It may not be as glamorous as dolphin training, but an internship at the Living Planet Aquarium is just as rewarding, educational and exciting to those seeking aquatic-based careers.

Certainly more meets the eye than what the public sees in the aquarium’s tanks and exhibits. Volunteering their time for work experience and education, animal husbandry interns have backstage access with duties vital to the aquarium.

It’s up to them to ensure the animals not only stay healthy, but also happy. That means doing everything from scrubbing tanks, to hand feeding octopuses, to entertaining electric eels.

Four college-aged interns — Megan Taylor, Tiera McAdams, Alison Williams and Cami McKellar — shared their experiences working in animal husbandry at the Living Planet Aquarium, 725 E. 10600 South. They all have their own stories, their own favorite animals, and their own reasons for devoting their summer to the care of the aquarium’s aquatic creatures.

Hands-on learning

However, they all have one thing in common: They say the education and experiences their internships provide are invaluable and perfectly fit to help them achieve their dream careers.

Whether an aspiring student has an interest in marine biology, oceanography, zoology or biology in general, an animal husbandry internship grants hands-on experience vital for a career in such fields, McKellar said.

“In school you’re sitting in a classroom and listening to a professor talk, and you’ll have some fun labs and stuff, but this is like nothing I’ve ever done before,” she said. “This is like a lab all the time — and a fun one at that.”

Taylor said it would be impossible to learn what she’s learning now at the aquarium from books or lectures.

“I’ve taken all the classes, so I know about the biology and stuff. But actually taking care of the animals is a whole other ball game,” she said.

Interning at the aquarium takes a lot of hard work that can sometimes be messy, including jobs like cutting up frozen squid for the animals to eat, or even cleaning up after cockroaches. But it all pays off.

“It’s definitely a rewarding experience,” Williams said. “All the hard work you put in, like cleaning and prepping food and everything, is definitely worth the time you get to spend with the animals. Plus, it’s cool to see behind the scenes to see how everything works and operates, and you’re always around animals. That’s hard to turn down, really.”

McAdams said the fellow interns and aquarium employees also make the Living Planet Aquarium an enjoyable place to work.

“You can tell all the people that are here really care about the animals, and that’s my mindset, too, so it’s nice to be surrounded by people like that,” she said. “Everyone’s doing the thing they love so it’s not as hectic or crazy. Even if you’re in a bad mood, you’re doing something you love, so that makes it better.”

Teaching others

In addition to her animal husbandry duties, McAdams also works as an educational aquarium presenter by sharing fun animal facts with the public.

"I love being out there because I get to share it with the kids, and sometimes their faces just light up when you tell them something crazy,” she said, such as octopuses having a reputation of escaping their tanks, and that they can fit through holes as small as a quarter.

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