Happy National Zookeeper Appreciation Week! Even though we’re not a zoo here at The Maritime Aquarium, we have a phenomenal group of aquarists and animal trainers who have dedicated themselves to caring for all the residents of the Aquarium. We think they deserve some appreciation, too!
Throughout this week, meet many of the members of our team who work mostly behind the scenes. They prep the exhibits before our guests arrive, keep the animals fed and provide their care, keep them engaged with enrichments and so much more!
Learn more about how they got their start working with animals, their favorite animals from the Aquarium and lots more throughout the week! Check back every day this week for a new aquarist or trainer spotlight.
Vicki Sawyer practices targeting with one of our harbor seals.
Today, meet animal trainer Vicki Sawyer!
What lead you to choose a career working with animals?
It was always my dream to work with marine animals ever since I can remember. As soon as I met Susie and Tillie over twenty-five years ago, I knew that if I worked hard enough, that one day I could be their trainer. It is an earned privilege for us to work with these beautiful animals very day – something that I cherish each and every time I go out to do a seal show.
What is your typical day at the Aquarium like?
We have our chores that have to get done every day such as cleaning and scrubbing their exhibits, testing their water, preparing their food and keeping accurate records on their food intake, behavior and medical needs. It’s a very busy day and we are always on the go. The fun part is spending quality time with them during feeding and training sessions. All the aquarists have a very close relationship with their animals and put the care and welfare of the animals first and foremost. It means a lot to us when we are able to create a strong bond between our animals and our guests.
What is our favorite exhibit or animal?
It’s hard to chose – we have had so many exhibits over the years. Working with the African penguins was amazing and taking care of Egyptian fruit bats was a blast! Every time we get a new exhibit we need to research that animal and network with other keepers from other institutions to provide excellent care. Definitely my favorite time here has been working with the seals and otters. They bring joy to so many people and are full of so much fun and energy.
Do you have a favorite memory working with an animal or exhibit?
I have so many special memories of all the animals I have worked with over the years, but my favorite memory is of an unexpected event that happened during a seal feeding on a hot day in August. A young female deer jumped into the seal tank during the 1:45 feeding! (Watch the video here!) She was very calm as she swam in the outside area of the seal pool (our seals were hiding in the inside part of the tank watching her). Staff members from every department came down to help with the rescue. Our animal care staff kept her calm as they raised the water level of the tank and our education staff kept our visitors informed of our efforts. As the deer came over to an open gate, an aquarist reached in and helped her out with swoop of his arm. The deer climbed out the tank, shook herself off and swam quickly back across the river again. The crowd cheered! A great team effort by all! The video of the event went viral and even made it on national TV. Who knew deer could swim so well!
If you could work with one animal what would it be?
I would love have an opportunity to work with elephants. They are magnificent animals which I admire greatly. I would love to work in an elephant sanctuary or orphanage – that is Number One on my Bucket List!
Tune in tomorrow for our next keeper spotlight!
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