When you think of an aquarist, what do you first think of? Probably a person who handles fish, cleans tanks, and maintains the life support system. Right about now you’d probably dredge up the mental image of a fish enthusiast whose pride is his aquatic fish display at home.
But being an aquarist is more than just that. It requires hard work, passion for the animals you work with, and an itch to dive in with objects of your fascination- from stingrays to angelfish to sharks. We talk to Akira, an aquarist with the Marine Life Park, to get the low-down on what it takes to be one.
1) Hi Akira. What exactly does an aquarist do?
In layman terms, an aquarist is in charge of the fish and takes care of them. But it’s also much more than that. As with all public aquariums, you need to treat fish diseases, monitor the water quality, ensure that the life support system is working properly, and understand the natural behavior of fish. You must also be able to dive into an aquatic environment.
2) Now that we have the basics down, tell us a bit about yourself. How long have you been an aquarist?
I started my aquarium career 10 years ago at a local aquarium and decided to continue my career with Marine Life Park this year.
3) How did you go about getting your first aquarist job?
I saw an advertisement that was hiring a “fish keeper” for a local aquarium; which is somewhat like a “zoo keeper” but caring for marine life. I signed up for the job and I have never looked back. This is what I love to do for work, for my career.
Like all things, there are pleasant and unpleasant moments. For example, it’s satisfying when the fish in your care willingly accepts food from you. Unpleasantness comes about when you underestimate them. The turtles that we had might have looked friendly, but their bites were very painful!
4) Why did you choose to be in this field?
Passion and interest; I like working with marine animals and the marine eco-system. What you see on TV is incomparable to first-hand experience. You get to see the marine life you care for grow bigger and stronger, and that is immensely satisfying.
5) How is being an aquarist challenging?
It takes time to understand animal behavior. The aquatic environment presents a totally different world to us; in a way it’s three- dimensional. The way a fish or shark swims may portray a behavior or tell tale-sign which requires copious amounts of time to ‘decode’.
6) Why did you choose to work here at MLP?
I know that I’m ready to commit to this industry (of public aquariums) for the rest of my life. Since MLP will be one of the world’s largest aquariums, it is a chance to put forward what I learned from my previous experiences to this upcoming magnificent oceanarium.
7) What can budding aquarists expect from working here at MLP?
You’ll be exposed to many fish species that are not kept by fish hobbyists. The dynamics of fish keeping are different, the water chemistry is different due to the large volume of water, and of course the life support system is also different.
8) List three challenges of working here at MLP.
– Tank maintenance – the tanks here are huge. The biggest tank we have holds up to 17 million litres of water and is 12 metres in depth. That’s almost the size of seven Olympic size swimming pools- a mind-boggling challenge!
– Keeping track of fish health is going to be laborious; we’re looking at 500 different species of fish. But we’ve got a checklist ready, and we’re working hard to ensure that we can enhance their welfare and that no species is neglected.
– To be well acquainted with the knowledge of the life support system will be a long process, perhaps a year or two. But of course it all depends on the individual aquarist!
9) What are the basic requirements of an MLP aquarist?
He or she must have a passion for, and interest in, fish-keeping. If you think that cleaning a tank is already a chore, then you may have a hard time! You also need to be able to swim and have a valid basic diving certificate and be physically fit, as the job requires manual work.
10) Why should someone consider working here at MLP as an aquarist?
This is a rare opportunity to be offered a chance to work in one of the world’s largest aquariums. You surround yourself with animals that depend on your care. Every day is different. And you find that the smallest of fish are entertaining and interesting from a behavioral and visual standpoint. It’s not an average daily job.
11) What is your most rewarding experience here thus far?
Not here per se, but in terms of my past experiences, when the fish breed and reproduce, the knowledge that the effort you put into taking care of them has paid off is very rewarding. You get to understand the life cycle of the animal and get to see it give new life. Also, showcasing these animals is proof that animals can breed in captivity and will therefore help to sustain animal populations in the wild.
12) Any other last words
It is a unique profession. If you have an interest and a passion for marine life, go for it. You’ll definitely find joy and satisfaction along the way.
If you think you fit the bill of an aquarist, visit www.rwsentosa.com/careers to apply.