By Kevin Smith
Throughout my life, two things have always kept me excited and intrigued. Music, of course, has changed my life and allowed to me have one of the best day jobs I could imagine. My other passion is wildlife, and more specifically marine life, including fish, coral, and other creatures that reside below the water’s surface. On my days off from the BSO, I have recently begun volunteering at Baltimore’s National Aquarium as an Aquarist Assistant. Much like the comfort I feel coming to the Meyerhoff, I find another home working on the second floor of the Aquarium, in an exhibit area called Maryland: Mountains to the Sea. This new opportunity has allowed me to pursue both of my passions concurrently.
When I was in middle school, I kept a small freshwater aquarium in my bedroom. My parents gave me an allowance to purchase fish, but the maintenance and care was my responsibility. This was a fun and informative project, and I kept the aquarium for multiple years while getting to enjoy and learn about the fish. Little did I know, this was only the beginning. As I started high school, my parents and I began looking into starting a saltwater aquarium, and eventually setup a display with colorful fish and corals in our dining room. This was a fun and exciting time, as I would spend countless hours figuring out how to best care for these animals. I had to consider water quality, feeding, light requirements for the corals, and maintaining the equipment that is essentially the life support for the inhabitants. Each time I go back home to visit my parents, I get to see our aquarium, and the fact that it is still thriving over 10 years later gives me pride that we did a solid job. All of the hands-on work that we did gave me knowledge that I can use during my volunteer shift at the National Aquarium.
Some days are busier than others, but a typical day of volunteering involves:
8-9AM: – Taking temperatures and checking the life support systems for all the habitats the public sees as well as the many smaller, holding enclosures behind the scenes. Cleaning and preparing exhibits for the day. This is also the time I take a look at the fish and animals to make sure every one is looking healthy and displaying normal behavior.
9-10AM: Preparing meals and feeding all the animals including turtles, bullfrogs, and fish. This includes an array of quality seafood from shrimp, krill, seaweed, algae-based diet enhancers, and other miscellaneous foods.
10-11AM: Interacting with guests at exhibit feeding times. Although I wasn’t sure at first, this has become one of favorite parts of the day. Being able to teach people things about the animals and seeing their faces light up when I feed the exhibit is extremely rewarding.
11-noon: Changing out the water on specific enclosures to make sure the animals stay healthy, in addition to sanitizing equipment that was used that day to keep everything clean and ready to use again.
Most days end up being packed full of tasks, but luckily after my shift, I usually get to enjoy looking around another section of the Aquarium, which is definitely an added benefit of volunteering.
When the BSO played a pop-up concert at the Aquarium in early February, my two worlds collided in a unique and unexpected way. There we were, playing a selection from Handel’s Water Music next to the fish, rays, sharks, and turtles swimming in the Black Tip Reef (a highlight of many people’s trip to the National Aquarium). It’s such a joy being part of two great Baltimore institutions, and passing my excitement along to the patrons, whether I’m working in the Coastal Beach exhibit or performing Brahms at the Meyerhoff.