THE WORLD OF ANIMALS IN THE 21st CENTURY
New Aquatic Animal Center Houses 10,000
Almost thirty years later, I am still stopped in my tracks when I observe a child with her nose squished up against the exhibit glass, as Nuka, the twenty-seven-year-old Pacific walrus—an orphan, who I bottle-fed as a 150 lb. Baby—cruises by to check out her newest visitor. While many NYC school-age children may have access to the F train to Coney Island’s beach, the ocean’s wonders while only a few miles from their homes is still worlds away from their educational experience and career goals. The oceans cover 70% of the Earth’s surface yet remain unavailable for exploration by tens of thousands of children without education centers like the New York Aquarium, a division of the Wildlife Conservation Society.
The twin missions of the New York Aquarium are conservation and education. Among the many initiatives that the Aquarium employs to accomplish these are state of the art exhibitions, entertainment and special education programs. Raising awareness about global issues involving aquatic landscapes and species is central to our mission. The Aquarium is home to more than 10,000 aquatic animals including reptiles, amphibians, birds and six species of marine mammals all with unique needs.
In May 2008, after years of design and development, the Aquarium has opened a hospital designed to care for sea creatures ranging from a petite 25-gram seahorse, to a 3,000-pound walrus like Nuka.
The Aquarium’s Aquatic Animal Health Center staff is composed of marine-biologists, veterinarians, water chemists, veterinary technologists and animal care staff, specialists who not only provide care for the Aquarium’s animal collection but may also be asked to contribute scientific expertise on animal health issues around the world.
As the Curator of Aquatic Health, a typical day might find myself consulting with an aquarist on the behavior and dietary needs of an octopus, or a shark, or working with an animal behaviorist to develop a training program for a sea lion or a sea turtle so our veterinarians can perform health exams without stress to the animals. When I am away from the Aquarium, it might be to work in the field supporting conservation efforts for species under the threat of extinction or aquatic environments in trouble. On the local front, the health care staff provides consultation support to thousand’s of NYC fish hobbyists on questions from water quality to fish disease diagnosis. On the community front, working with our award winning Education Department, countless numbers of high school and college students have become “fully immersed” in marine science education and conservation, through great programs like “Aqua Vet”, designed to teach students about aquatic veterinary science and aquariology. Who knows, maybe one day one of those students could find themselves working in Madagascar on a rescue mission saving stranded dolphins, tagging great white sharks for conservation biology in Australia or performing health exams on critically endangered iguanas for re-introduction to the wild on a Caribbean island. The possibilities are endless… careers in Aquatic Biology can be almost as varied as the species of animals found in the oceans.
Catherine A. McClave is the Curator of Aquatic Health Sciences & Living Systems at the New York Aquarium. #