Tuesday, February 8, 2011

FAQ: What kind of skills are needed to care for penguins?

Many of our penguin volunteers (me included) decided to become a volunteer to gain some experience that would be valuable when looking for a job working with animals. As a penguin volunteer you definitely gain a lot of experience feeding and learning how to care for the penguins, but there are many other skills that you might not have expected to learn while taking care of the penguins.

Mountain Climbing
Most penguin species live in pretty harsh habitats with rocky shorelines; the six man-made fiberglass islands in the exhibit were designed to replicate the habitat of these penguins in the wild. Some of these islands can be quite treacherous for us to move around on especially when you are wearing a cumbersome wetsuit carrying a bucket of fish. Some days I wish I brought in my climbing harness.

Climbing around (or slipping) on the islands and general wear and tear from everyday use sometimes causes our wetsuits to rip or get small holes in them. Before we get a new wetsuit we will patch the old one if possible. This is very similar to darning your socks or patching your jeans except we us dental floss instead of thread since it holds up better in the water.

Hose wrapping
It may seem pretty easy but neatly wrapping two 50-foot hoses in a 2-foot space is definitely quite a skill. Those hoses can get pretty tangled and it can take some time, patience and attention to details to put them away neatly. This skill could come in handy if you wanted to become a firefighter.

Now that's a tangled hose.

It takes a lot of skill to take a messy nest of hoses and put them away nicely.

Shower cleaning and laundry
Soap scum and mildew are inventible in any shower. The shower we use behind the scenes to get in and out of our wetsuits is no exception, especially when you have up to 8 people showering in it two to four times a day! With that many people using the shower we also go through a lot of towels. Whether or not you clean your own shower or do your own laundry at home, as a volunteer you will eventually be asked to clean the penguin department shower and do some laundry.

Adding Fractions
In addition to counting how many fish each individual penguin eats we also record how many pounds of fish each species eats in a day.  This requires a little bit of mental math. We fill each food bucket to a specific weight then weigh the buckets when we are done with the two daily feedings, then take the difference and you have the pounds of fish eaten in each feed. We add the two feeding totals together.  This math often involves adding and subtracting fractions, which most of us have not done since we were back in elementary school. I guess math teachers are right when they say that one day you would need to use math in the “real world.”

Public Speaking
The open design of the penguin exhibit gives our visitors an up close and personal view of the penguins as well as the staff and volunteers working in the exhibit. Whether answering a quick question from a visitor or doing a microphoned penguin presentation from inside the exhibit, interacting with the public is a big part of our daily routine. For most people public speaking is a little scary but the staff and senior volunteers conquer their fear twice daily to teach thousands of visitors about penguins. 


- Andrea

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