Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A Note to Northerners

I have a bone to pick with my non-zoological friends who still live up North.   When winter rolls around here in the Southeast, my Northern friends are first to say, “CAT! You’re complaining it’s 46 degrees?  Well, it’s SUBZERO here!” 


So, for the purposes of Education, this blog shall address the topic of Marine Mammal Trainers complaining about the Cold to their Northern friends who work inside.  Feel free to read the entire blog, or skip to the end for a fun exercise to level the playing field.

Ladies and gentlemen, I submit to you that if the air temperature is lower than 55 degrees Fahrenheit, and you are wet for most of the day, you are Colder Than Anyone Up North.   Northerners, I understand that to get to your car or bus stop, you have to brave the frigid, sub-zero temperatures across a distance that could amount to tens of feet.  Maybe, if you live in a city and use a subway system, you have to walk a few blocks.  

Maybe the chill of the air nips at your nose, or whatever part of your face is exposed from underneath your really warm-looking hat or hood.  Maybe your dry pants get a small amount of snow on them.  But, truth be told, it’s a little hard for me to see just how cold you are while you’re wrapped up in that large Northface jacket.  Luckily, this chilly torment will be over as soon as you walk in to your office.  There, once you’ve thawed out from your extreme exposure to the elements for an ungodly amount of time, you can further complain about the weather that you’ll actually BE in for roughly 9 minutes cumulatively.

And then, there are the animal caretakers who are inside for 9 total minutes.

Northern winter.  The kind of winter you enjoy from an 80 degree, heated room.

Marine mammal trainers get up every morning feeling a Sense of Purpose and Joy in their job.  They get ready to face the day and Build Relationships with Animals, Inspire Guests, and Do Right By the World.    And then they walk outside.  Let me share a recent experience I had with working in the elements:

The other day, I walked outside into 30 degrees.  Thirty degrees are way too few degrees, in my opinion.  Especially in Florida.  Not only did I suddenly realize what sort of day (cold, wet) I’d have at my current place of employment, but I noticed my car was solidly encased in ice.  

Luckily, I had retained my ice scraper from my years living in the North.  I triumphantly shaved the frozen sheath of water off of my windshield.  Then, I got in my car, turned the thermostat to 99,999,999 degrees, and waited for the engine to heat my short ride to work.  I made sure to stop at a grocery store and buy a hot lunch.  I thought in advance about whether I’d like to wear my wind pants or my 3mm wetsuit with my steel toed boots.   To assume either are effective in weather below 50 degrees is a lie we trainers tell ourselves routinely.  

I have three wetsuits on in this photo.  No, I'm not making this up.

When I dressed for work, I chose a wetsuit/boots ensemble. I even tossed on a fleece jacket, for a carefree look. I accented this classic fashion with an industry favorite: Latex Gloves Over Normal Cheap Gloves We Get By The Dozen at Target.                

A trainer's best friend

That day, I fed a number of different types of animals.  Here are some of the things that these animals have in common:
  1. They spend most of their lives in the water
  2. Their restaurant-quality food needs to be kept at a cold temperature
  3. Their restaurant-quality food is covered in ice (aka frozen water)
  4. These animals need to eat routinely
  5. These animals live outside

Every time I fed one of the aforementioned animals, my hand had to go into an icy bucket or cooler.  It had to touch fish until the target animal decided to ingest it.  I repeated these steps one zillion (give or take) times throughout the day for each training session.  Even with the Glove-on-Glove ensemble, it does not fully protect your hands and fingers from the biting cold.  And let’s face it, it’s simply not practical or professional to wear gloves in that manner, unless you’re going for the Stay-Puft marshmallow man look.

It's a nice look.  But not for the Marine Mammal Training Industry.

So at around 10am, the gloves came off for show and interaction program purposes.  And as time marched on, and I (and my fellow coworkers) got wetter and colder, and the temperature remained below 50.   And by about 3pm, we had all been wearing our soaking wetsuits for seven hours.  Our bright red fingers were so numb, banana slugs could’ve written more legible behavioral records than what we produced that day.

Nonetheless, we charged through the day.  We told jokes through chattering teeth, we laughed despite our involuntary shivering.  We said some Choice Words to the Weather.  We enjoyed our job because we got to look at these faces all day:

And then, around 5pm, when all of the cleaning is finished, and the last little tasks are completed for the day, we can only think of one thing.  The only thing on this Planet (and possibly others) that can truly combat the Weather’s powerful Cold Fronts Used Cruelly Against Marine Mammal Trainers:

A hot shower.

A really, really hot shower.

A recent study indicated that Marine Mammal Trainers take showers at temperatures used in such activities as: boiling lobster.  And the only thing I can do once I’m in this hot shower is slip into a Shower Coma.  Symptoms of this include: standing in the water stream frozen in one position, an inability to form words to think or say in this moment other than “I’m going to spend the rest of my life in this shower at this temperature”, and drooling.  And then, when your frozen toes and fingers stop feeling like trolls are stabbing them with bits of glass, you know your body temperature has approached 98.6 degrees. Then you can enjoy being inside for the night until you do it all over again the next day.

Now, for those of you who are not in this field and/or the skeptics, I’ve thoughtfully prepared an exercise for you to do at home when it is between 30 and 50 degrees.  This simulates what I’ve just described in this entry.

  1. Put on a tight-fitting sweatsuit
  2. Fill up a bathtub with water (can be any temperature)
  3. Lie in bathtub with your sweatsuit on
  4. Get out of bathtub
    1. *BONUS: Place feet (with or without socks) in rubber boots
  5. Walk outside.
  6. Count to 28,800 and do at least 4 of the following activities:
    1. Place your hands in ice cubes off and on for fifteen minutes
    2. Talk to strangers without showing how cold you are
    3. Try to write something legibly.
    4. Look at cute pictures of animals (This is easier if you have a pet you can play with outside)
    5. Just when your clothes are beginning to dry, jump back into the bathtub, and run back outside
  7. Go inside and take a hot shower.

Of course, we all have to remember that despite being uncomfortable (or at times, miserable) outside in the elements, marine mammal trainers adore the animals with whom they have the privilege of knowing.  The times I notice the pain in my hands, or the chill in my core, or my hair freezing at the ends is only when I’m walking from one animal habitat to the other.  I don’t notice being cold or uncomfortable when I’m playing with or training one of the amazing animals I get to hang out with on a daily basis.   They are really worth it.

** Standby for entry in 6 months on Unbearable Heat and Marine Mammal Training **  


  1. brings back such memories! still look forwarde to living in florida cold again compared to english cold!

  2. THANK YOU. No one understands why I'm complaining about being cold when I live in Hawaii. Soaking wet, Kona winds, and no boots (Hawaiians don't believe in shoes almost as much as they don't believe in shirts)

  3. I really wish there was a way of posting a picture in this comment box! I'm a marine mammal trainer up in Canada!!! And I have some really good pictures of me, soaking wet, in a 3mm wetsuit, walking/running/posing outside surrounded by snow, while a blizzard is going on.... Lol