Monday, May 6, 2013

This Ain't No Summer Job, Yo!

I love my job.  I'd say that most people in the zoological industry love their jobs.  We are a passionate group of people who adore animals, and most of us want to share that with the rest of the world so that they too begin to appreciate the natural world, even if it's just a small piece of it.

We trainers know how to party

I created this blog for the following reasons:

  1. To share experiences with others who are interested in the animal care field and/or love animals
  2. To exchange experiences with other animal care professionals
  3. To be obnoxious (see above photo)

So while many posts outlined the less-than-glamorous side of my career, recent events inspired me to discuss a common dissonance that all animal trainers encounter: The Naysayer of Zookeeping Careers.

The Naysayer can be anyone: relatives, friends, strangers, significant others, Darth lords, etc.  These misguided people are under the strict impression that the type of work I do is Not A Real Job and/or A Summer Job.

7/8 of me swimming with dolphins

Why is this?  Well, the most obvious answer is because my job is glamorous (however, I feel as though this should dispel that myth immediately).  I suppose the average Naysayer contends that  I get to flip my blond hair, bat my eyes, and prance about in a wetsuit with Dolphins.  I high-five sea lions, and kiss harbor seals.  I snuggle with otters and run around with penguins.  And I get paid to do it.

But in actuality, my hair is blond from being in the sun all day (plus, it always looks like I've been electrocuted).  You'll never see me batting my eyes because I'm wearing sunglasses to protect them from 9 hours of sun exposure.  I never prance in a wetsuit (one time it gave me an allergic reaction) because I fall down way too much.  I do play with dolphins, and high-five sea lions, and kiss harbor seals, snuggle with otters, and run around with penguins.  For about 10% of my day.  Otherwise I'm cleaning, organizing, managing, sorting fish, or scrubbing a habitat.  And yes, I'm paid to do it, but let's put it this way; my car is 10 years old and has 150,000 miles on it.  

Building a temporary habitat wall. Look at THAT dream job task!

Now before anyone gets uptight about the people at whom this post is directed, I contend that most Naysayers fall into two categories:

1) Concerned Relatives:  their devil's advocate-type comments come from a place of concern and care to ensure the best quality of life for their family member.  Typically, these Naysayers are content once a career in animal training is firmly established and the relative in question is happy and healthy.  My beef is not with this type.

2) People Who Really Hate Their Jobs, So We Should Too.  

But to you, dear Naysayer #2, I submit the following Marine Animal Training Pop Quiz:

1) What do marine animals eat?
     a. Philly cheesesteaks
     b. Nothing, they are animatronic
     c. Fish, mollusks, and/or crustaceans
     d. Cool-Whip

2) How does one prepare the animals' food? (Select all that apply)
    a. Order thousands of pounds every few months; store in walk-in freezer
    b. Following restaurant protocols and U.S. federal law, thaw and individually sort through   
        several hundred pounds of fish, shrimp, and squid
    c. Thoroughly wash and disinfect an entire kitchen without leaving a single fish scale 
    d. Call to order a pizza
    e. Like just like, go out on a boat or whatever, have a few beers, catch some fish, and like
        throw it in the water so the dolphins can like eat it

3) What are the top priorities in any marine animal trainers' day? (Select all that apply)
    a. Playing with dolphins and penguins
    b. Ensuring animal, staff, and guest safety
    c. Getting rid of bad tan lines
    d. Maintaining and training behaviors critical to animal health and guest safety
    e. Selecting the correct waterproof mascara

4) Which of the following statements is false?
    a. Marine animal training is a fun job that requires a lot of physical and mental work
    b. One can develop their career in animal training, animal management, and people 
    c. Many years and good coworkers/bosses are required to become proficient in this job
        to provide the safest, top-quality care to all animals, guests, and subordinate staff
    d. Marine animal trainers live paycheck to paycheck
    e. John Lennon sucks

<3 <3 <3

Now that that's over with, how do you Naysayers feel?

"But Cat," they say.  "The Rule is you can't have fun at your job and it actually be a CAREER."  

"But Cat," they say. "You're not actually DOING anything beneficial.  You're not saving lives like a doctor, or performing a service that is required for comfortable living.  You're not exchanging stock, or developing a product to improve the quality of life for human beings."

Perhaps it's a question of value, and that's a personal opinion.  What I value is life; the lives of animals are not less important.  We all have a right to be where we are.  I think it's important to find something in your own life that inspires passion.  My passion is caring for animals and helping others to care about the natural world and how they impact it.   My career is not just something I do to earn a living, or make enough money to go on really cool vacations.  Every day I wake up, I get to be with a family of people and animals who share some of the most awe-inspiring moments.  I meet amazing guests on a daily basis, who share with me something I didn't know before in the same way I share something special with them.  And I work with a team of people who come into work on every holiday, weekend, bad weather day, for barely any money just because we have a group of animals who rely on us for everything. 

Scrubbing a habitat while my boss, Pebbles, maintains quality control

Me and Nellie.  Nellie isn't 60 years old because us dolphin trainers play fetch with her all day.

Cleaning a North American river otter habitat.  The otter toilet (and evidence of their use of it) is on the left.

Before I power-scrubbed the habitat, we all found a brief moment in time to present a new trainer with her whistle, which she earned after many months of cleaning, fish sorting, taking tests, and observing sessions

Most importantly, those of us who feel like we've found our life's work and are intrinsically rewarded for our jobs (and hey, some people even get paid a lot of money to do their dream job!) don't sit around and judge other people's careers as jokes.*

I'm sure I haven't convinced all Naysayers Type 2 to change their opinion.  Nonetheless, I felt it had to be said (written?) on behalf of all of us who dedicate our lives to something we feel is Greater Than Ourselves.  To something that Makes A Difference.  To something that Makes Us Smell Really Bad All Day But We Love Our Lives Nonetheless!

Working hard and having fun (also, breaking cameras).

* This does not include the late work of M. Night Shyamalan


  1. Hi Cat!! I am an aspiring dolphin trainer. I have wanted to be since I was 6. I just turned 16 yesterday, and have never been more ready for an internship opportunity. (hopefully)Only 2 more years!! Your blogs are funny and really make me think of what being a trainer is truly like and makes me want to push through even harder. Even though I am terrified of swim tests and IF I can even get a job later, the husbandry (medical has proven before, depending on how much, not to be a good mix with me)I desperately want to keep trying and be where I need to be. Before, by others, I have been told basically to give up, and I don't want to. Do you have any advice for me or how I can keep pushing? Thanks :)
    ~(hopeful) Future Dolphin Trainer

  2. P.s. I think I've gotten better at handling such things (as far as marine mammals, which I suppose is the most important thing here)^^^^ but I guess I'm worried that IF I'm lucky enough to get a job, I'll crumble when the time comes for such things and get fired, hahaha.