Aquarists are the frontline people who take care of the exhibits. One of the primary skills an aquarist must bring to the job is nationally recognized certification as a scuba diver. In addition to maintaining and cleaning the exhibits, aquarists are the primary people responsible for stocking them. Depending on the size of the exhibit, an aquarist will do a lot of diving both inside the exhibit tanks as well as out of the building, collecting in local waters.
There are several aquarist rankings, and the job titles will vary depending upon the particular institution. In general they are: aquarist-in-training, trained aquarist, senior aquarist, and supervisor. At the New England Aquarium, aquarists are also divided into two main categories: diving aquarists and gallery aquarists. Diving aquarists dive into the large tank exhibit to maintain the health of the fish and to take care of the exhibit in general.
Gallery aquarists are in charge of smaller exhibits, but many more of them. Gallery aquarists also spend time in the water, but they aren't in a wet suit every day. Everyone gets wet; some get wet more often than others.
All aquarists go on collecting trips and use their diving skills in that capacity, too.
Aquarists also need fishing and boat-handling skills.
At some institutions, as aquarists become more experienced, they are given opportunities to develop their own special niches, getting involved in research or conservation projects as well as participating in collecting trips.
An aquarium's general curator takes care of all husbandry matters. Under this top position's jurisdiction would fall curators responsible for different areas of an aquarium's operation. For example, an aquarium could have curators of fish, marine mammals, exhibit design, research, and conservation. These curator positions often involve more administrative than hands-on duties.
At some institutions, trainers would follow rankings similar to aquarists: assistant trainer (or trainer-in-training), trainer, senior trainer, and supervisor. Trainers are responsible for the care of their animals and the exhibits as well as teaching medical behaviors, presentation behaviors, and research behaviors.
Every institution runs a veterinarian services department; the number of staff involved depends on the size of the facility and its budget. Turn to Chapter 5 for more information on veterinary careers in zoos and aquariums.
Other departments within aquariums are similar to those found in zoos and museums. They are: conservation, design, research, education, marketing, and public relations.
AQUARIUM DESIGN AND MAINTENANCE
Huge exhibition tanks in public aquariums are often set into the walls. Thousands of fish of many species share settings of rock, sand, or coral that imitate their natural habitats. Aquarium staff design and place signs or charts that indicate the popular and scientific names of the specimens and where they originate.
Glass is considered the safest construction material for aquariums. Other materials, such as certain plastics and adhesives, can be poisonous to water-breathing animals. With marine animals, it is even more important to take care with construction materials because saltwater can dissolve metals and produce substances that are toxic.
Large public aquariums are particularly difficult to maintain because the requirements of many different aquatic animals must be taken into account. These aquariums usually require a number of accessories and sophisticated support systems, including such items as filters, air pumps, lights, and heaters.
SALARIES FOR AQUARISTS
Salaries vary depending upon the institution's funding and the size of its budget. An entry-level aquarist would start from the high teens to the low twenties. Senior aquarists would move up the ladder in the neighborhood of $27,000 to $30,000 a year. A super-visor could earn in the mid thirties to low forties.
SALARIES FOR TRAINERS
Entry-level salaries begin in the twenties and go up from there. A trainer can advance quickly and at the assistant curator level earn between $30,000 and $45,000, depending upon experience.
SALARIES FOR CURATORS
Salaries for curators range from the mid forties to the mid sixties, depending upon the numbers of years of accrued experience.
BECOMING A CERTIFIED DIVER
There are four or five nationally and internationally recognized certifying agencies. Future aquarists are responsible for obtaining this training and should do so in most instances before applying for an aquarist's position. Many university physical education departments offer diver training. It can also be pursued privately through the YMCA or local dive shops. There full services are offered, including equipment use as well as training. A glance through the phone book will point you in the right direction.