As reported by Chrissy Metzger Barth, Mystic Aquarium’s Trainer of Cetaceans and Pinnipeds
December 13-20: I arrived in Seward on the morning of December 13; excited to be back at the Alaska SeaLife Center (ASLC). I started out my career here in 2009, so I was ecstatic to be able to return to my first home. Without the opportunities the ASLC had given me and all the things their staff taught me over the years, I may have never had the chance to work at Mystic. I will forever be grateful to them!
Upon arriving, I met up with my colleague Ray Molnar (Senior Trainer of Cetaceans and Pinnipeds) for training. He showed me the role and responsibilities for the 4pm-12am shift with Tyonek where I would transition into lead once Ray left. I also attended my first 11:30 beluga meeting and met all the other staff from ASLC, Shedd and Georgia Aquariums that have collaborated to care for this amazing beluga calf.
After the meeting, I couldn’t wait to meet Tyonek! As I walked out to his area, I immediately was stunned by how dynamic he is. He was interacting with the enrichment and seemed to have recently just discovered how to shake his melon (which was funny to watch). Having been updated on his condition since he arrived, it was amazing to see how much he had progressed since October.
Next I learned all the tasks I would be responsible for during my shift; including how to make Tyonek’s specialized formula. Similar to an episode of the Great British Baking Show, I watched meticulously as the formula was being made to master the beluga version of the technical challenge. This required me to brush up on my skills of filleting fish, which I will admit was never a great skill of mine to begin. Luckily what I lack in knife skills, I make up for in scrubbing. Once the formula was made, we gave a thorough cleaning of the sink, floors, and formula making cart.
The final task I learned was also my favorite- how to do a bottle feed. We warmed his formula and put on waders for an in-water feed from a platform in the pool. Now an expert on receiving his meal from the bottle, Tyonek came over right away to feed effortlessly. Afterwards, he stayed close by for a body rub down before taking a lap around the pool to digest his freshly prepared lunch.
I already knew Tyonek was a special beluga, but after meeting and feeding him I cannot wait to see how he develops over my time here in Alaska. I could not be more thankful for the opportunity to help care for him, and I am excited for all that I will learn from him as well as all his other caretakers from around the country.
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