Sunday, June 5, 2016

Oil & Water: Zookeeping & Math

It is currently 5:45am as I write this, which is either:

a. A very deliberate, artistic intention
b. A direct consequence of procrastination
c. All of the above

Wait a second, it's never too early for noms.

Our profession as animal caretakers often means we are up super early the majority of our waking life.  Morning prep is a necessarily, arduous and often ritualistic experience in which we usually prepare diets, clean habitats, and ready any necessary animal or guest-related items/tasks before our zoo or aquarium opens.  

Throughout the day, we basically repeat a lot of the same duties, although not necessarily as concentrated as our morning routine.  Nonetheless, many of these required items mean one, terrible thing:

We have to do….oh god, I can’t even write it.




  1. HATE. MATH. So much.  

This ire is even more intense at 5:45am, when I am basically 1/7th awake and wondering why I ever voluntarily got out of bed.  If my math teachers (from any level) could see me standing slump-shouldered, mouth wide open, squinting at a digital scale trying to figure out what 2.39 + 0.75 is, they would be filled with an eternal and hopeless emptiness as they realized none of their educational attempts have taken root in this 32 year old brain.

Early morning addition, especially with a scale that is hard to zero PLUS it takes forever (and let me tell you, I’m all about food prep getting done throughly but quickly because it usually means second breakfast is sooner rather than later), is a #%^@ing MENSA exercise for me.  Especially fractions/decimals in quarter increments.  

Here’s an example of how bad this is, because you might think I’m exaggerating (which I NEVER do).  


The other day during fish prep, I saw I had to weigh out 1.25 pounds of finger mullet.  The scale, which wasn’t zeroed, said something like 1.38.  I stared at that scale, wondering if it would take me longer to zero it or to add it.  I decided on the latter, and then tried to just add it up old school in my tired, 20% charged brain.  There was a lot of blinking and head-shaking as I realized I was too dumb and tired to use this method.  So then I thought, if I had quarters (as in, the currency), how much money would I have?  And there began a long, winding and convoluted journey through the land of absolutely bizarre mathematics that resulted in me just zeroing the scale because I was frustrated and pretty sure my hair was about to catch on fire from the mental friction produced.

Call me Mrs. Gumby

However, mornings are not totally to blame for this deficiency in arithmetic.  I have failed immensely at simple adding and subtraction during all waking hours.  I have to quadruple check my work.  It’s stressful. 

The animals are totally work this stress, but I’ll be honest: modern technology has been a total godsend to people like me.  Calculators, computers, and excel formulas that automatically calculate whatever you want….these are a few of my favorite things.  

Let’s take Excel for example.  Say I’m using a document that requires I add up daily food amounts for each dolphin, breaking a set amount of fish into different training/feeding sessions.  If Cat’s brain were solely responsible for this task, it would take me about 7 months with all the double-checking and corrections (3 hours would be dedicated to staring). 

But only when it's working

But with Excel!! Oh! I can just type in whatever amount I want of herring, capelin, mullet, mackerel or squid, and it adds up what I’ve just added at the bottom where I can clearly see it.  No math is involved, except for the occasional check (which I do just because I’ve seen 2001 and know that computers can be real cranky sometimes).  

The problem with this is, as you may have already predicted, when Excel has a phase where it is staring vacantly, slobbering on itself while it tries to calculate a simple addition problem, my entire universe implodes.

The other day, I wrote up our daily dolphin feeding schedule which is basically a super organized excel file that breaks down not just their daily base, but how much of each fish (in pounds) they get at each feeding session.  All of the food totals neatly add up at the bottom.  No math.  No hassle.  Just efficient daily management decisions.


Fast forward to the end of the day, when we are totaling food amounts on the animals’ daily records. 

“Hey,” World Traveler* says. “I think Jade got 2lbs extra of capelin.”

Maybe it was Jade that messed up the spreadsheet!

We looked at the diet sheet, confused.  Jade’s total amount was correct on the spreadsheet.  But sure enough, technology had misled us.  The deceiving number at the bottom of the capelin column for Jade did not, for some reason, count one of her buckets.  

As World Traveler moved through all 8 dolphins’ records, she discovered piecemeal that almost everyone had gotten 1-3 pounds extra food.  And in each case, it was due to the mysterious Row That Did Not Compute.  Any food amounts in this row were automatically eliminated.


Technology really let me down.  I’m just a poor girl from the Chicago ‘burbs with a math comprehension level on par with a cashew.  Gone are the days of blissful data input of dolphin diets without actually adding numbers up in my head.  I relied on an application, one I thought was infallible, for addition.  And it failed.  

World Traveler and Jazzercise (you might remember her from this blog) and I took a few minutes to discuss our shared concern over our growing dependence on technology to do everything from parallel parking, locking your house from hundreds of miles away with your cell phone, and addition.  What is the world coming to?  Can’t we go back to a simpler time when we relied on our glorious humanness to get done what was needed done?  

No.  No we can’t, at least not as long as I’m around.  Because math.  Math and morning, math and evening, math and Cat: none of these combinations add up to anything that makes sense.  So, let’s keep up the advancement of mathematic technology.  But one that never makes mistakes, please. 

* World Traveler is a trainer who worked in England with pinnipeds and took full advantage of living in the EU.

1 comment:

  1. Hint for excel files that you need the formulas to be right and stay right. Save them as "read-only." You can input your numbers and save the output to a separate file, but the original with just the formulas remains unchanged, and if you try to save the changes, it even tells you that you have to make a new file to do that.