- Marie Collins, Displays Curator
When did you first become interested in working in an aquarium?
Ever since I was a kid I was interested in working with animals. I either wanted to be a marine biologist or a veterinarian. Luckily enough, I get to do a little bit of both! For the last 12 years I have been working in the aquatic science field and have loved every second of it.
What kind of background prepared you for your role in an aquarium?
Nothing quite prepares you for every role at any aquarium you may want to work at. There are over 25,000 species of fishes and many more invertebrate animals to learn about (not to mention birds, mammals, reptiles…) My point is, in this field I am always learning new things, and it keeps it very exciting.
My background consists of a Bachelor’s Degree in Biology with a Marine Science concentration. I went to school in Pennsylvania so I spent my summers taking field classes in Wallops Island, Virginia. This was a great time for me to get out and work on boats and do some field work. For about 2 years I worked as an aquatic staff supervisor at the largest fish wholesale store in the country. That was really fun and exciting since so many new animals came in and out of the facility. I also did an aquarist internship at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. Here I got to work with a diverse group of tropical fishes and assisted the quarantine of new fishes. This also started my love for octopus! For a few years after, I did 2 years of research in a cephalopod lab where I studied animal behavior of both octopus and cuttlefish. We even trained them to go through mazes! Back then we were on the forefront of this type of research so we published a few papers from our research findings. I then moved out to San Diego and started working as an aquarist technician for a few years. I maintained custom aquariums for local facilities and even in some professional sports player’s homes! During this time I volunteered at The Birch Aquarium for about a year, helping out with the dives in the kelp tank, taking care of the jellies, and the juvenile fish tanks. This leads me into SEALIFE where just about 7 years ago (this spring 2015) I started working as an aquarist. I helped open our SEA LIFE Center in California and have since been a part of many other SEA LIFE U.S. projects. My passion for the ocean pushed me even further when I decided to get my Master’s Degree from George Mason University Virginia. I finished with a background in Zoo and Aquarium Management and with a specialization in Conservation Education. My current role is the Displays Curator where now I work with the aquarists to successfully run and maintain a beautiful and healthy facility.
What is a typical day like for you at SEA LIFE?
Well, for one, there is no typical day for me. I typically come in and check on the main life support systems (LSS) to make sure all the filtration, pumps, etc are running smoothly. I also check all parameters such as the temperature, pH, salinity, etc on all the main systems. We even have a cool monitoring system that allows me to check all information on my phone! I usually check in with all the aquarists and get a morning update on what is going on. We usually plan out our days making sure all the fish that need medication, vitamins, etc are prioritized. I am available to answer questions and troubleshoot problems as they come up. Some days I dive in the ocean tank. Some days we do veterinary procedures, like collecting stingrays to trim their barbs or tagging a shark for its yearly physical. Besides the day to day fish stuff, I work on a lot of projects such as managing the dive team, writing policies/protocols, preparing for vet and senior curator inspections, designing new exhibits, sourcing new animals, etc. Some days I even bring in my dog, Moose to hang out at the aquarium. On top of all that, I get A LOT of emails each day! I make sure that my management position doesn’t restrict me from being involved and hands on. I have to keep my hands wet! The fish count on us to make sure their habitats are healthy and we strive to ensure the best animal care possible for them.
What do you like about your job?
I love working with passionate aquarists who work really hard. I get really exciting when we make big improvements on exhibits. For example, we are working on what’s called an AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) accreditation. If we pass this big inspection, we will be in the top 10% of all zoos and aquariums in the U.S. I also love that every day I learn at least 5 new things. You can never stop learning.
What do you find difficult about your job?
The most difficult part about my job is juggling all of moving parts. There are always twenty different things going on. Making instant decisions can sometimes mean life or death for an animal. It is also difficult for me to spend as much time as I would like to train each one of my team members. They would all tell you I love to send out lots of emails with new things going on, which unfortunately means more work for all of us!
What advice would you give to aspiring children?
I would say work really hard and never give up on your dreams. Anything is possible with a little bit of luck and A LOT of hard work. There is no way to know what your exact path in life will be, but take time to learn about all of your options. Also, if you want to become a marine biologist, not only do you need the schooling, but you also need to get dive certified. Don’t be afraid to get a little wet now and then.