Tuesday, April 9, 2013

How I Prove Gravity

My job requires me to become proficient in a lot of tasks.  Here is a short list of these tasks:  maintaining established behaviors, training new behaviors, developing staff members, eating as many pretzel M&Ms as I can in a work day, etc.  It also requires me to Be On Stage, so I can hopefully inspire our guests to give a hoot about the living world in some way.   Since 2005, I've honed these skills (and let me tell you, I am like a master at eating M&Ms) and continue to strive to constantly improve myself for the sake of the animals and the people who depend on me.  And as I reflect on my skill set, I've realized this:

If there's one thing I do well, it's proving time and time again that yes, gravity is an existing force on this planet.  My favorite method in testing (and providing further evidence for) this Scientific Law is the one where I walk and then suddenly fall down.

Oh, gravity! You do exist!

Almost all of my falls since I graduated college have been in my job.  While at the Miami Seaquarium, I tried to relay some Important Information I've Already Since Forgotten to a fellow coworker.  I attempted to do this while I, please brace yourselves, walked at the same time.  Not only did I risk my safety by attempting to multitask, but I did so on a narrow catwalk several feet above one of the medical pools.  As I rounded the corner to continue my critical conversation, I confidently placed my left foot into thin air.   I fell into the pool at a lazy pace, because thankfully my leg was able to catch the side of the wooden catwalk for most of my fall down.

You can see the catwalk from which I splatted in the background of this photo.

Several months later, I attempted the difficult feat of walking near a shallow haul-out area without looking at my feet.  This idiotic mistake resulted in a twisted and severely sprained ankle.

Despite having a sprained ankle, I could still air juggle.

While I was at Marineland, I thought I was doing a pretty good job with my balance.  Other than random injuries, I can't recall a time when I fell*.   Wait, that's a lie.  I do recall falling up a flight of stairs and spilling about 17lbs of fish on the ground.  

Okay so, maybe I didn't do so well with walking at Marineland.  A few years ago, in response to my klutzy nature, I began practicing yoga seriously and have ever since.  I've reaped all of the benefits of a strong, consistent yoga practice, except the one where I can function while I am on one or both of my feet.   And most of my near-tumbles at Marineland were the result of, yes I'm being serious, non-skid surfacing throughout the entire facility preventing me from actually falling.  I didn't fall as much, but I sure did rip off the tops of both of my big toes when I tripped.

When I went back to Clearwater Marine Aquarium, I found myself in rare form.  I had a mission to add to the heaping pile of evidence that Earth's gravitational force is 9.8 meters per second.  In fact, I felt so strongly about this demonstration of basic physics that many of my performances occurred during public presentations with dolphins.  In fact, in one show (the first one I did there since getting hired), I fell in twice.  On a dolphin.  Who was deaf. 

This position I chose to be in may or may not be 105% responsible for my falls at CMA.

Recently (27 hours ago as I write this), I took a spill down some stairs in one of the back areas of our seal habitat.  This is the latest in a long string of falls I've had since moving here.  In fact, I've had so many incidents that they already have names, such as:

1) The Sound of Music Fall, which was my exceptional re-enactment of Julie Andrews as Maria in the opening scene "The Hills Are Alive With the Sound of Music, Ahhh ah ah ah!".  While Maria swung herself merrily around the trees in a lush, peaceful meadow, I had only a metal ladder attached to an underwater platform.  Despite an attempt at a graceful entry into the water, my foot lost purchase on the slippery dock and I Maria'ed my way face first into the water onto a dolphin.

Who doesn't love this play?

2) The Fall in Which My Feet Fly Out From Underneath Me and My Entire Posterior Region Encounters The Dock With A Sound At Noticeable Volume, which is exactly as it sounds.  All I can say is that it involved a dolphin show, a poorly-placed foam mat, and my feet.

3) The Seal Stair Fall, the most recent of all.  All you need to know about this situation is that I used a target pole to save myself akin to the way Gandalf uses his staff in the Cave of Moria.

Here I am, on the steps near the seal habitat.  (This is an old picture; I've since shaved the beard).

But why do I bring this tendency of mine now?  Is it to brag about my enviable antigrace?  Alas, no.  As more of my former coworkers join me at this new wonderful place, I'd like to think I provide them with a sense of familiarity while they acclimatize to their new surroundings.  All the while I'm really proving myself a capable team member for my new coworkers, who must either feel bad for me, or just wonder how I've made it through life without intensive therapy**.

* This is likely due to the brain damage I've sustained over the years

** The answer is pretzel M&Ms


  1. The only seal session I missed that day...what a shame! :)

    1. Oh man, I wish you'd been there. Luckily for you, I'm sure there will be plenty more opportunities to watch me take a spill :)

  2. In my opinion...you're not a marine mammal trainer unless you've fallen off a dock or on stage in front of your co-workers at least once in your career! For instance, I was standing on a wooden dock about 3 feet wide (Dolphin Encounters) preparing to gate a dolphin (Dot) from the main pool to a holding pool. I untied the rope from the dock and let the gate down (the gates were aluminum frames with fence line attached that was on a hinge system that you lowered or pulled up/tied off to the dock). Dot stationed perfectly in front of the gate and waited (I had to lower it far since it was low tide) and I give her the Sd...well, I was very enthusiastic with my Sd and I stepped by during the delivery and my foot missed the dock...I fell backwards, hitting my ankle/shin/knee on the dock and the pulley underneath the dock, causing me to drop the gate rope as I continued to fall 10 feet into to the holding pool in slow motion as Dot was speeding into the holding pen at the surface of the water (when the dolphins gate, it looks like s short-distance speed swim)...and I barely missed landing on top of Dot when I hit the water and the gate fell back to its stopping point (knotted in the rope). Needless to say my embarrassment was overwhelming (not to mention the swelling pain ankle and leg) as six of my co-workers witnessed the event and were clapping. What made the whole thing bearable was Dot, that sweet dolphin I love so much, swam over to me and offered me her dorsal fin and proceeded to tow me to the small floating platform in the holding pool. When I got to the platform I gave her the most loving rubdown and she followed me as I walked down the dock, pulled up the gate while she remained in the holding pen (she never left to the main pool!), and I pretty much dumped the rest of her bucket into her pool before going back down to the platform for an informal rubdown/play session. She made that event from a bad memory into a special one! :-)

    1. Hahahaha, that's a great story!! That's nice that Dot was so attentive and empathetic. I think most of the animals who witness my falls just sit back and laugh.

  3. Hahahaha

    I feel your pain (literally and metaphorically). My worst fall was--wait, nope. as I write this, immediately two others come to mind--okay, my top three are:
    1. Tripping on the rock habitat at Sea Life Park because my flip flop got stuck in a crevice, which caused me to land knee-cap first on lava rock. Result= Infected knee and a scar.
    2. Trying to push a sink against the wall in the freezer after fish prep. My overly-large rubber boots slipped on the wet floor and I did an interesting standing back-bend as I fell forward into the sink on my way down to the floor.
    3. My favorite: trying to station one of three "aggressive" dolphins (that were not used in interaction programs for that reason), and I slipped while trying to give a foot target, landing on top of the dolphin I was stationing and frightening the other two. Thankfully I was immediately pulled out of the water and congratulated for scaring the living daylights out of everyone.