On this #NationalDolphinDay I feel now’s a good time to tell the story of my last day working in Marine Mammal Husbandry.

Back in 2005 I used to work in the Marine Mammal Husbandry department of the Shedd Aquarium as a volunteer. It was one of the best experiences ever.
The day consisted of 6am meeting with the trainers & the lead trainer (I always thought one of the trainers was so cool, a black guy named John Rex cause who gives their kid a badass last name like “Rex” except kickass parents?), then meal prep, cleanings, and monitorings.
Some days I worked with the penguins (I got to hold a baby chick once and they are not light), other days I worked with the sea otters, beluga whales, or the dolphins that were in what we called Medicinal Bay
I was always sad by the number of dolphins we had on Prozac until it was told to me that they weren’t always on it for depression
Also one time I was monitoring the penguins during mating season when I heard a crash in Medicinal Bay, one of the sea lions was trying to get to the toy shelf. They don’t teach you in the hood what to do when you encounter sea lions so I stood in shock
Then Awesome Ass Black Trainer John Rex was coming in from the dolphin encounter that was currently going on and saw what happened, this lion busted through the metal barricades you see during parades for all the toys y’all. Rex laughed.
He told me “you can head to the office, I’ll take care of this!” I wanted to stick around and watch....but sea lion. So I went to the office and told the other trainers what just happened.
Anyway fast forward to my last day (I also forgot to mention that the meal prep consisted of portioning fresh shrimp & clams, and I developed an addiction to clams after that, and yes I know you don’t care about that but so what?)
On my last day I was given the chance to have a beluga encounter, outside of cleaning I never really got to be up close with them like I did with the penguins (one bit me cause I stood too close to a nest) and the sea otters
Working in Marine Mammal Husbandry you’re required to wear high waders since you’re around water all day and it cuts down on spreading bacteria from street shoes to the area foors/surfaces
So I’m walking with one of the trainers to the beluga pool when I lose my footing & I fell into the pool with the belugas.
When I tell you how cold that water is.....
Thankfully I know how to swim so I didn’t panic but I hurried back to the surface, and I’m almost certain some of the whales were laughing at me
But I also didn’t have a second change of clothes so I not only missed out on my encounter but I had to leave a bit earlier than scheduled, because drenched.
I still miss working there, I have a bit of reservation about going back for my personal views on marine mammals in captivity, after my experience I see both sides of the coin but if I had the chance I’d do it all over again. But I’d walk more carefully this time.
BTW belugas are like huge babies, but adult whales, they really just enjoy playing. They are chatty af during the sunrise hours.
Yes I know dolphins weren’t really mentioned at all in my story, but that’s because the majority of the dolphins stayed out in the main pool. We only had like two that spent most of their time in Medicinal Bay under observation.
At the time, the aquarium didn’t offer beluga encounters to the general public. You had to be a volunteer to earn that chance. Now they’ll let you get up close to the belugas for $250.
Anyway that’s my story, I gained a ton of experience on marine mammals and the regions of the country these particular ones originated from. I would encourage anyone with an interest in animals to look into volunteering at a zoo, aquarium, or conservation institution
just to get better perspective and even gain experience on marine mammals you’ve always been curious about. Your kids/grandkids/nieces/nephews will be impressed by it, trust me
Enjoy your Saturday!

And no, there are no photos or videos of my beluga half-encounter.
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