Confession: I had no idea exactly how much the Zoo has in our aquarium until I reached out to Tucker Harrison, Blank Park Zoo’s aquarist, to learn more about his role and the aquatic life here at the Zoo. I don’t frequent the aquarium as often as I visit the other Zoo critters, and there are some really beautiful fish and aquatic life to discover in Blank Park Zoo’s Discovery Center (pun intended).
Tucker Harrison came to Blank Park Zoo in May 2012 as the Zoo’s new aquarist, overseeing the Zoo’s aquatic life in addition to helping out with the harbor seals and sea lions. He previously interned in the aquarium at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo.
Tucker took me behind the scenes above the aquarium where you could see the fish below
How many different aquatic animals do you work with?
I work with 49 species of fish, 24 species of coral and anemones, and 19 other species of invertebrates like snails, sea stars and crustaceans. Because Blank Park Zoo is not as large as other zoos, I also help out with seal and sea lion training. Every once in a while I will also help with penguins or otters.
Do you have a favorite animal you work with?
My favorite group of animals is coral, and I am a big fan of our frog spawn coral, Euphyllia paradivisa. Like their name implies, they look like a glob of frog spawn, with green tips and in a tight bundle of tentacles. We have a huge colony in our coral reef display in the water lab. They are my favorite because of the fluorescent color they show in blue light. The symbiotic algae in the coral give it a neon green color, and they are quite spectacular to look at.
Frog spawn coral, Aquarist Tucker Harrison's favorite species
What does a typical day look like for you?
I start every morning by preparing diets, taking measurements of the temperature and salinity of every tank, and feeding the fish. In the afternoons I usually do maintenance to the pumps or filters and test water quality. Occasionally I get to do really fun tasks. For instance, right now I am working on a special project to start training our South American river rays in the Amazon tank to come to a station, hand feed them and allow them to voluntarily participate in their own health care.
Do you do training with any of the animals?
The Seals and Sea Lions get trained and enriched every day. It’s harder to enrich fish because of the restraints of fouling the water, but training is a possibility. Just like with the sting rays.
Do you have a memorable moment or fun story to share?
I remember the first time I found clownfish eggs. I was so excited to be a Fish-Dad! Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to keep them for very long, but that’s what makes being an aquarist so great. It takes a lot of skill to raise baby fish, and the sense of accomplishment I will get when I finally succeed is what keeps me driving forward.
What is your favorite part of the job?
I love the fact that I learn something new every day. Whether it’s new behaviors, surprise baby fish, or a successful maintenance project, this career definitely keeps me on my toes.
Is there anything else you would like to share?
There is a lot that goes on in aquarium tanks. The next time you look our aquariums, take a closer look and you may see something new!
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