nycmermaid: (scubagirl)
Today I finally did something I've been thinking about doing for a long time. I went to an information session for the NY Aquarium Dive Team. The main job of the volunteer dive team is get into the animal tanks and clean out all the algae and the poo. And they do this not only for no pay, but they must provide most of their own diving equipment, which is expensive.

The guy in charge of the program, a dive instructor named Dick, is 75 years old. He takes his work very seriously, and I can tell he cares a lot about the aquarium. A couple of years ago he was offered an early retirement package by WCS and he turned it down. Dick is not at the aquarium for the money. He runs the volunteer program like a sergeant. Everything is very organized and very clean. He went through a thorough checklist of the requirements of the program, as well as the perks. Unlike what I do at the Central Park Zoo, the volunteer divers do real work. They have access to more of the aquarium than we do at the zoo and they seem to be more respected; the divide between staff and volunteer seems not so rigid as it is at the CPZ. Every day you come in, you are assigned to clean a specific area. It might be the penguin tank, or a tank of tropical fish, or of permits and jacks.

Volunteers don't clean the shark tank, but we did get a tour where they took us to the top of the tank, which was awesome. Supposedly a new shark exhibit will be build that will be 10X the size of the current tank, but Dick doesn't think it will be built for at least 4 more years, if it ever happens. The Aquarium is always suffering from budget cuts. The high point of the tour for me was seeing Clarise, a sea lion who used to live at the Central Park Zoo, behind the scenes at the Aquarium with her adorable little pup, born this summer.

The NY Aquarium is not a very good aquarium, I must admit. It is small and in dire need of renovation. Compared with other grand aquariums I've been to, like Monterey Bay Aquarium and the Shedd Aquarium, it's in a sorry state. It's in desperate need of funding. So much that they have to rely on free help to keep its exhibits clean. Did you know that every coin you toss in the koi ponds at the NY Aquarium goes right to the dive team's fund? Next time you're there, chuck in a quarter, will ya?

It will involve working hard, waking up very early in the morning for a long commute, purchasing more equipment, and much learning about procedures as well as about the animals. And I will probably not be able to continue at the Central Park Zoo if I take this on. But I think I am going to. I think it will be worth it.

Sick whale

Feb. 23rd, 2010 09:04 pm
nycmermaid: (scubagirl)
Just received this email from one of the scuba meetups:

As you may have heard, our friends at Mystic Aquarium are facing a great challenge and need our help. Inuk, one of the Beluga whales, has taken ill and requires very intensive medical attention. In order for him to receive the medication properly, he needs to be held by 15-20 people in the pool so that he remains calm and stationary. This effort requires that volunteers spend +/- 90 minutes in the water in a wet suit. Caring for Inuk around the clock has put considerable stress on the MA community, and they are in need of additional volunteers to care for Inuk.

If you would like to volunteer your services, please be in touch with Tracy Sullivan at Feel free to share this request for assistance with others who might like to help.

Following are the details of volunteer needs. Please indicate shift(s) you are available for (first and second choices would be helpful if possible).


Please include your contact information if it is other than by email. Tracy will respond to you as soon as possible to get you on the schedule.

:arm flail:
OMG, I want to do this SO BADLY!!! But I have no way of getting there! I would totally take off work, but I imagine they must have tons of people who want to do this who can actually get there. Still, maybe I should respond anyway!
nycmermaid: (scubagirl)
(c/o Monterey Bay Aquarium)

The gray whales are migrating south past Monterey now, and the humpback whales are wintering in the Hawaiian islands, where I'm going in 2 weeks! I've wanted to go to Hawaii to see the whales ever since I got involved with the Sierra Club because they run service trips every February to see them. I hope to go on a whale watch while I'm there, or, even cooler, somehow encounter them while diving. I'm not holding my breath for the latter (ha ha) but even hearing a whale while I'm underwater would be too amazing for words. I still don't know if I'm going to do my advanced open water there or not...I change my mind every other day! I'll decide one way or the other by tomorrow, I don't want to put it off anymore.

I've been pretty obsessed with scuba diving lately. Last week I went to one scuba meetup (NY Sea Gypsies), where I met some divers who got me started on Scuba Board, and this week I went to a different scuba meetup, Oceanblue Divers. Oceanblue seemed to have more young people, but people were very friendly at both events. I even ran into my friend Andrea from the zoo at the one this week, as well as a guy Marsha and I hung out with this summer.

Last week I posted to SB looking for information about the NY Aquarium volunteer dive team. Not too many people knew much about it. Well, a guy who was at Sea Gypsies last week remembered me, saw my post, and then came up to me at Oceanblue and introduced me to a guy who is on the team. This guy, Avra, has been diving at the aquarium for 6 years and loves it. In fact, it seems everyone on the dive team loves it. He said it's a great way to get involved at the aquarium, practice diving, learn about marine environment issues, and meet other people passionate about marine life. They do expect you to have your own equipment, but apparently they do have extra things they can lend you until you get all your own stuff (scuba equipment is not cheap!). According to Avra, they ask you to commit 2 weekend days a month, just like at the Central Park Zoo.

Now, there are many things in the way of me just joining this dive team. One is the commute (over an hour each way by public transit); one is the cost of gear; and one is the time commitment. I'm already committed to volunteering at the zoo for another year since I got this animal handling gig. But the more I learn about the aquarium dive team, the more it feels like something I need to get involved with. Definitely something to consider for next year if not this one!
nycmermaid: (scubagirl)
It's been awhile since I did a good "MD as wannabe marine biologist" post.

First off: We already knew octopuses are smart. They have huge brains in relation to their bodies, and they can learn. They're known for escaping tanks at aquariums, and they can unscrew jars. But now it has been documented that they are the only invertebrates known to use tools. The video is really adorable. The octopus basically picks up the coconut shell with its crotch and walks around with it.

Secondly, the IUCN released a list of 10 animals that would be most impacted by climate change. Three of the 10 happen to be animals I encountered in the wild in Australia (staghorn coral, clownfish, and koala). Another happens to be the beluga whale.

Speaking of beluga whales, but on a more positive note: Chicago's Shedd Aquarium (one of the best I've visited) had another beluga successfully born yesterday morning. You can see the video of the birth here. It's apparently rare for a beluga to give birth head-first, but everything went swimmingly, and the baby is cute as can be.
nycmermaid: (scubagirl)
My mom asked if I was interested in seeing the new movie Amelia this weekend. I said no. Mostly this is due to the fact that I have seen Hilary Swank play so many disturbingly doomed characters, I can hardly look at her without feeling depressed. And I don't have an overwhelming interest in Amelia Earhart either. But this is pretty cool. They may have found evidence of what happened to her. She may have crash landed on a deserted island and been eaten by these guys: Now cut for the crustacean-phobic! )
nycmermaid: (bowling for nipples)
So, as I mentioned here and about a billion times on Facebook, I got my open water scuba certification this weekend. :) It's something I thought I was unable to do for years until I got the courage to give it another try this summer, and thanks to the encouragement of 2 lovely scuba instructors, I am now fully PADI certified for general open water dives. I can only imagine what would have been had that first instructor I had in college encouraged me to keep trying despite my sinus squeeze issues. Well, the fact is it is an expensive sport and I couldn't have afforded the expenses then anyway. But now at 31 I am certified!

I did my certification dives with Empire Divers, a shop on the upper east side, and my instructor's name was Debbie. Debbie is what I imagine Madonna would be like were she a scuba diver instead of a singer. Sassy, self-confident, physically fit, fashionable, wise, and warm. Needless to say, I like her a whole lot and that was a huge part of why it was such a good experience. Don't get me wrong, I liked my pool instructor, Peter, too, but I was much more comfortable with a female instructor for some reason. The dives were done in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, at a dive park called Dutch Springs. It's a quarry that was used until the miners hit water, then it was allowed to fill up and turned into a diving/adventure park. There are several platforms and wrecks inside at different depths. We did a total of 6 dives all weekend; the first 4 were for our certification. Basically those involved going down 27 feet to a platform and doing different skills, like mask removal and clearing, buddy breathing, and compass navigation. Since I was diving with a new mask, I initially freaked out that it was filling with water and panicked during my first descent. Debbie calmed me down, told me my mask was fine, and helped me slowly descend to the platform. (She later told me she at first thought I wasn't going to make it, and when we got out of the water she was really excited I had made it and gave me a huge hug.) On our first dive we swam around for a bit, including around a fire engine that was sitting at about 15 feet beneath the surface. There wasn't much to see in the water itself, some bass about 8 inches long, and the water was like swimming in an uncleaned fish tank. The quarry is also covered with zebra mussels, an invasive species that cover and corrode every surface, but do help keep the water cleaner by filtering it. We did 3 dives like that the first day. I didn't get dizzy or queasy once and handled it just fine. I think it helped that the weather was cool and it was drizzling all day.

I should also mention that there were 4 in our group of open water students, 3 guys and myself. There was also another instructor and a woman there to do her dives for her advanced certification. Her name was Cathy and we shared a hotel room. Her boyfriend is in Hawaii right now doing his divemaster training. I really got along with everyone on the trip. My dive buddy was named Alexei, and at first he looked like a scraggly little guy but then I realized he had ridiculous strength and he was very helpful getting me into my equipment. That stuff is HEAVY. The tank alone is about 20 pounds. Then I had 16-18 pounds of weights in my buoyancy vest. Carrying that to and from the water, along with fins, while dressed in head-to-toe neoprene, is no easy feat! Of course, once you get into the water you feel light as a feather. One of the other guys was British, from Leeds, and he was cute, but also seemed rather full of himself and didn't seem impressed at all with the fact that I've been to Leeds on several occasions. Whatever dude!

Saturday night we all went out to dinner at a restaurant called Bocca di Beppo, which was a gaudily decorated, family-style Italian place, where we sat in the "Pope room" at a large table with a bust of Pope John Paul II on it, and ordered a ridiculous amount of food, and PJPII stared at us every time the lazy Susan spun around. My friend Karen, who recently started her doctorate program at Lehigh, joined us, and she and I went out afterwards to a local bar. I had 2 glasses of wine with dinner and Debbie told me as I was leaving that I was not to drink any more alcohol or she would not let me dive the next day. Yes scuba mom! I met Karen's new boyfriend and we had a fine time even though I wasn't drinking at all. Yes, scuba diving does not go along with my alcoholic lifestyle, but anything that makes me drink less is a good thing.

On Sunday we only had one dive to go before certification. It was our compass navigation dive, and it was easy! We surfaced and Debbie said "What we have here are 4 newly certified open water divers!" Yay! Then she let us dive down again and swim back to shore underwater. Every dive you make gets recorded in a log book and basically counts as a record of your experience, so the more dives you have under your belt, the better. After lunch we went for our deepest dive yet, to a sunken helicopter. I was nervous about how I would do, since I do have still have some equalization issues, but I have found that if I go slowly I do just fine. After about 25 feet, I found that further depth didn't bother my ears at all, and I made it down to the helicopter, and swam through it, and around it, and under it! It was without a doubt one of the coolest things I have ever experienced in my life. Generally, my interest is more in wildlife than in diving wrecks, but I just loved it. Scuba diving is, in a way, like flying -- you can go over, under, through, up, down, wherever you want. I kept checking my depth gauge because I couldn't get over the fact of how deep I was. We went down to 56 feet. It was cold, but I was really comfortable in my wetsuit. That's another thing that made the experience great -- the wetsuit I rented from Empire Divers was in great condition, fit well, and was not smelly.

All in all the whole experience was great. My ears however are kind of clogged still, which worries me a little. I'm going to Empire Divers tonight because Debbie said she would get me a better mask and would take back my old one even though I didn't buy it through her. I'm going to ask her what she thinks about my ear situation. I really don't have time for another damn doctor's appointment so I really hope it goes away on its own soon.

So, now here I am, the first day of my last week of work before my trip. I am now trying to figure out what to do with my time in Cairns. A 2-day live-aboard snorkel/dive boat would be my best option, but they are expensive, and I want to know that the boat I choose is eco-friendly and well reviewed. There's so much to consider, but I feel so accomplished and excited! Now I'm probably going to want to go on dive trips in addition to all the other vacations I already want to take. :b Apparently, Eilat, Israel, is a hot scuba diving destination. Wouldn't it be funny if scuba is the thing that ultimately gets me to the Holy Land?
nycmermaid: (Default)
ALL of them.

Contrary to what was known, all octopuses are venomous, a new study finds.

Researchers knew that the blue-ringed octopus packed venom. Now they say all octopuses and cuttlefish, and some squid are venomous. In fact they all share a common, ancient venomous ancestor, the study indicates, and the work suggests new avenues for drug discovery...

The origin of these genes also sheds light on the fundamentals of evolution, presenting a prime example of convergent evolution where species independently develop similar traits.
nycmermaid: (Default)

I wish I could run down there and get a glimpse of it. I really hope this whale makes for the ocean and turns out okay, unlike most instances of whales and dolphins in this area. Almost always, they're here because they're sick and lost.
nycmermaid: (Default)
I'm back, jet-lagged and exhausted. I think it's good, though, to return to work after a vacation on a Friday. That way you only have to work one day and then you get a whole weekend to rest up. I could write a lengthy post about my thoughts on this trip, but as I don't have time right now and want to post something, here it is:

- The Monterey Bay Aquarium and its surroundings are more wonderful than I ever imagined. An example of how humans and animals can live peacefully side by side, it is a truly amazing, inspiring, and for me a very spiritual place. I'm still trying to figure out what it all means in terms of what I should be doing with my life, but I am leaning more and more to possibly teaching biology, ecology, and conservation. I've never wanted to be a teacher because I always viewed it as something people do for the people they're teaching. But if I choose to do it, it will be because I am so passionate about the subject matter that I want to share it with others. Because if I can inspire someone else to become the researcher/scientist I didn't, it would be the next best contribution I could make to science. I had a little "a-ha" moment at the end of my last day in Monterey when I was buying a book at the gift shop. The woman at the register asked if I was an educator, because they give a discount if you are. I said "No, not really, just volunteer." And without saying a word, she gave me the discount. And I realized, hey, I *am* a teacher. An educator. Maybe not in a professional sense, but I already am in a position to teach and inspire others about nature and conservation.

There is so much to be appreciative of in the ocean that people don't even think about. For instance, I have come to the conclusion that everyone should see the animal in person if they're going to eat it. Not the actual animal they're eating, of course; what I mean is that people need to appreciate the dignity of this animal that has been reduced into a can. Very few people realize what a grand animal a tuna is. The big yellowfin tunas were my favorite animals in the aquarium (followed close behind by the bat rays, which at the MBA you can touch!). I'd include a photo here, but the things are too damn fast for my camera. The big message of the MBA these days is eating healthful seafood that is fished sustainably and low in toxins. A tuna is a top predator, a wild animal, and an awesome powerful creature. Having respect for these wild animals, I think, is of utmost importance. My job as a volunteer docent at the CPZ is a great start and I want to throw more of myself into that. The volunteers at MBA, most of them retirees, just like at CPZ, were so gregarious and passionate. It was very inspiring.

- I am seriously considering getting the MBA logo as a tattoo. I'm not going to rush into that or anything of course. I'm not even sure where on my person I would want it. I'm thinking maybe I will set it as a reward for myself once I've made some inroads as to figuring out what I'm doing with my life and how I will let my experience at MBA drive me.

Some pics, more to follow. )
nycmermaid: (HK)
I spent this beautiful sunny day on the beach. Okay, so it was below freezing temperatures. It was lovely. I went on an excursion with a hiking group to see seals in the "wild" (ie, not the zoo). We went to a beach in Westhampton and heard a lecture by a professor who is studying the seals. He is the president of an organization called CRESLI, Coastal Research and Education Society of Long Island. His is the kind of job that wish I could do. I have never wanted to be a teacher, but you know, if I could be the kind of teacher that shows their kids amazing stuff like this, maybe I could do it. I still mean to track down my sixth grade teacher, Mrs. Nieves, and thank her for taking us beach camping. It takes a pretty awesome lady to take a bunch of 11-year-olds camping.

Speaking of topics that make me quiver with an internal "I am supposed to be doing *this*" feeling, CRESLI also runs an annual overnight whale watching cruise in the summer, which I would be all over if not for the fact that it's during the week! Argh! Argh for having no more vacation days because I'm using them all to go to Australia. I want ALL THE CAKE DAMMIT. So.awesome!!! Oh well, I will be going whale watching in California, and that will just have to be good enough.

Anyway, the beach was beautiful. I wasn't even that cold. Patagonia thermals + legwarmers = rock.


Yes, this is about as close as we were able to get. I had binoculars, but not a telephoto lens.

More pics )
nycmermaid: (Default)
I think this is just so cool. The bottom of the ocean is full of the weirdest stuff.

I think it looks like one of the aliens from Independence Day.
nycmermaid: (HK)
...A spotted eagle ray jumped out of the water and collided headfirst with a 57-year-old woman standing in the front of a boat that was zipping along at 25 mph (and incidentally, with an 88-year-old man at the wheel). The woman died instantly of multiple skull and brain injuries. The ray died too, I presume, but none of the news stories talk about that.

I'm not saying it isn't tragic, but isn't that a cool-looking animal? I look at this picture and I want to pet it. It looks so smooth. How horrible is the sun visor sitting on its back? Was it hers?

More, cuter animals below. )
nycmermaid: (HK)
In the wake of the things I've been learning in my zoo class about polar bears, penguins, and seals, these articles are quite relavant. Just last week I was telling everyone why baby seals need to get fat!

This too. People may feel bad for our zoo polar bears, but they're actually in a very comfortable place, especially these days when it's getting harder and harder to be a polar bear. It's not easy to catch food when the ice they stand on keeps melting and never refreezing.
nycmermaid: (Default)
It's been an interesting news day for sea creature enthusiasts. First there was the whale that was discovered to have a lance in it from the 1800s, indicating that the whale itself was over 100 years old (Story). Then there was the blue lobster!


EDIT: In trying to prove my side in a debate with my boss over the natural color of a live lobster (she says red, I say green), I found this. How cool is that?!
nycmermaid: (HK)
With all the awful, horrible things in the news these days, I thought I'd share this one:

A juvenile minke whale was seen swimming in the Gowanus canal yesterday. It appears to be healthy. I hope so. Hello little whale! Don't know why you'd want to swim in the Gowanus, but if you're happy, I'm happy.

ETA: The whale died. :( They're saying it was too young to live on its own. I guess a whale in the Gowanus is quite a bad thing.
nycmermaid: (HK)

This rockfish, caught in Alaska, is estimated to be about 100 years old.

Wow. Who knew fish lived that long? Article.
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