This blog's contents are mine and do not reflect the US Peace Corps' views

A New Adventure Begins...
It has been over a year since I posted here, on my little 'ol blog.
A lot has happened in a year, but I'd rather get down to the exciting stuff.

You may or may not have heard by now that I am leaving in June to start my service as a Peace Corps Volunteer.
But before I tell you about that, lets back up for a moment and talk about the process...and the timeline.

Back in April 2010 I started exploring the Peace Corps website (if you've been thinking about it, the website is a good place to start). I started my online application April 2010 and it took me about two weeks to finish. Afterward, I was sent more papers to fill out to help determine my skills for this job. Time passed and finally I was contacted my the Regional Recruitment Office in Chicago. I drove to Chicago for my Interview in July 2010. I was nervous as hell, but confident. I knew this was something I could excel at. On July 14th, 2010 my recruiter, Kristin Wegner, emailed me. I had moved from applicant to nominee! I was nominated to leave June 2011 to teach science, in Africa. And that was all I knew.
I worked hard to complete my medical and dental forms because I had to clear medical and dental to move on in the application process. I finished them both by late September. I was then told to keep volunteering. I needed to show I was still committed to this dream. So, I started tutoring biology students at Superior High School. Months past by. O.o
When I heard from Peace Corps, it was because they wanted my updated resume, wanted to know what I had been doing since July. So I sent it to them.
...more waiting.
Like 23 weeks of waiting. That's a lot of waiting.
And for those of you who think I'm not patient. I was.

Finally, with June creeping up quickly, I got a call from Washington D.C.
April, 11th 2011
Some follow up questions, and a unofficial welcome as an invitee. :) But where? I still didn't know
I got my official invitation by mail on April, 14th 2011 (my birthday) I felt that this was properly planned by peace corps. :)
I was invited to Teach Science to 7th-12th graders leaving June 10th 2011 in Liberia, Africa.
I sent them my acceptance email on Saturday and sent out my paperwork the week after.

I'm all set to go, aside that I still have to pack and decide what to pack as well as set up my plane tickets for travel. I will be serving for two years and have 10 weeks of training before those two years start.

Next post will be all about Liberia where I will be living. I'm excited to start this (still nervous and scared too) do something I believe in and put my degree and character skills to work. I couldn't have asked for a better country to be placed in. I'm on the coast. Ocean views, and little sharkies, here I come!


Aquatics Internship Week 7-12
Because most of the things we do on a daily basis is routine, I'll skip those and just keep you updated on the different or interesting things from here on. In no particular order, here is week 7 through 12.

I was given responsibility of an exhibit tank (the mangrove tank for those of you who know the zoo). This was a way for me to maintain an exhibit without the other aquarists doing it for me (although I did need some tips which were good to know). It was a good way to put into practice my knowledge on filters/skimmers and the such. I'm in charge of my water changes and interior design as well. I added a pajama cardinal fish from fish holding to the tank that already had: sheepshead minnows, mono, several puffers, butterflies, goatfish, and a clownfish. However, this tank has been through 'ich' several times in the past years. Cryptocaryon irritans is a parasite that appears as a small powder-white dot on the sides/tail/fins of the fish. Stressed or sick fish are very susceptible. Well, 'twitchy' (that's what I named him since he twitches) got Ich. Becky and I did a scrape (where we scrape the skin of the fish with a slide cover and then view it under the microscope) and I got to see it. This was actually one of the best moments! It felt like being in school again, except very hands on. So we moved twitchy to a quarantine tank in fish holding for a copper treatment to get rid of his ich. The other fish in the tank still look fine, so I'm beginning to assume that they are resistant to a certain degree.

Not sure if I've mentioned it before, but we also have a Minnesota Lake display on the Minnesota Trail. It's a collection of freshwater fish found in Minnesota. One day, after feeding them, I came back with a good news/bad news scenario. Good news? The sauger was getting his fair share of food. The Bad news? One of the crappies was sticking out of his mouth. And so I got to explain to the many huddled adults and children around the glass that it... sometimes happens.

In week 10, I made my first appearance in the Coral Reef Dive Show. I had done four cleaning dives before that moment and felt a bit unprepared. (I had less cleaning dives the first two months of my internship because the algae in the tank does not grow as fast in the winter) My introduction was a bit short and my mask was a bit leaky, but overall, it wasn't a disaster. Becky got on the microphone so I felt more comfortable that way. All the gel diet kind of ended up in a giant pile at the bottom, but the talking part came easy for me.
After that, I've been pretty good. Diving three or four times a week. So if you're stopping in the cities, I have a awesome dive show you shouldn't miss. :) It just gives me more opportunities to spread shark conservation to the world.

I did get in for a cleaning dive last week and cleaned the glass, while all the visitors watched and waved at me. I brought my camera along this time in it's underwater housing for some digital camera underwater test shots. I took some video too. It may take another dive to get all the adjustment bugs worked out, but I did get a few great shots.

Mark and I also got to net up one of the leopard sharks in the estuary for a vet procedure. (I get so excited for vet work and disease work) The shark has a white shot on her back that we wanted to take a look at. So far we haven't heard anything back. The spot doesn't look better, but it doesn't look much worse either.

Speaking of vet procedures, the darkest (#2) female southern stingray was caught up into the holding pool because of her fluid-filled back end. We got a better ultrasound on her and it turns out to be a fluid-filled cyst. The vets took another sample of it, this time it came out milky white, and we discovered a half-dollar sized sore on her underside. The vets decided to drain the fluid and you all know how excited I would have been.... but they did that on my day off when I was forced to go north for a doctors appointment. But I talked with the aquarists about it when I got back and apparently they withdrew 6 liters of fluid!! O.o We now have her on meds so hopefully that will help.

For those of you who visit the Minnesota Zoo annually but haven't lately, you'll need to know there is a dwarf croc exhibit being but up in the tropics trail. Aquariums is currently housing the varied cichlid species for the tank when it goes up in April or May. We have several hundred in fish holding to add some movement and color to the tank. The fish are really starting to color up and look great. Dan and I cleaned the filters on those two large fiberglass tanks last week and I wish I'd wore rubber boots. As you pull the filters out (after we turn them off) I was splatted with what can only be described as 'cichlid poo'. Those pants needed extra attention that night...

Also in the process of cleaning the three Minnesota Trail exhibits we have for fish and herps, Doug found a tiger salamander in the pipes. Poor little guy probably had not eaten in several weeks. We now have him in shark holding and I'm pleased to say he's been eating pieces of earthworm every morning and looks stronger every day. He'll soon be on his.. or her way to full recovery.

In other good news, the three cobia we added a few weeks back are braving the front window. They have ventured out from the back of the shark reef tank and are now front and center during the fish and shark feedings. They look really cool and we hope they grow fast. They don't look too much bigger, but now that they're eating more, we'll see.

I only have a month left, but more exciting zoo stuff is on the way. Until our next update,


Aquatics Internship Week 5 and 6
Time to play catch up. :) Hopefully you're bored this weekend because I have a lot of reading for you.

Now, this gel diet. :) We feed it to both our freshwater and saltwater fish. It's an omnivore diet that includes fish meal, shrimp meal, nori seaweed, spirulina algae (which gives it the green color), krill, vitamins and a few other things. All of this is held together with a unsweeted, flavorless jello. We let them cool on large dough pans and then weigh and cut the gel before freezing it so it lasts longer. When we do feed the fish, the gel is easy to cut into any size pieces, making it a good option for all our omnivore fish. The seafood variety found in the gel offers a great nutritional balance for our fish.

Another thing we make at the zoo are anemone cubes. We melt them into containers with live brine shrimp and this is what I use a turkey baster to distribute to the anemones in the tidepool. We throw various fish (capelin, herring, sardine), shrimp, clam, brine, and krill into a large blender. We blend it all together into a smelly seafood smoothie and pour the mixture into ice cube trays and freeze them.

I'd also like to briefly mention quarantine. I know you captive wildlife minors will know all about it, but some others may not have heard. All captive facilities quarantine their new animals and sick animals. This is so when you get a new animal from the wild or another facility, that animal doesn't transfer illness or parasites to your native population at your facility. In the aquariums business, quarantine is very important because some diseases can not only be on the fish but also in the water. Spreading disease can be as easy as dipping your hand into an infected tank to feed and infecting a clean tank next to it by putting your hand in. Fish holding and Shark holding at the Minnesota Zoo are used for quarantine or sick/surplus animals. We put our fish through formalin, panacur, and copper treatments. The fish may not have any visual signs of disease, but you need to be sure. If an infected fish is introduced to a large tank, you could loose thousands of dollars in fish or corals. After the quarantine period (which typically doesn't last longer than four weeks) the fish can be introduced to their new tank and tankmates.

We also shipped out nine (surplus) white-spotted bamboo sharks during these two weeks. Surplus animals are animals the facility doesn't need because it already has enough, or the surplus animals to not contribute to the genetic diversity of the facilities population. Now all sharks observe internal fertilization, but embryonic growth can happen one of three ways. Some sharks will lay eggs, others will give live birth either with a placental connection or a yolk-sack. Egg-laying sharks tend to be the easiest to breed. White-spotted bamboos are egg layers, making it easy to end up with surplus animals. What is nice though, it that all of our sharks got offers and now have new homes.

Lastly, I should finally address the sharks in danger issue I brought up a ways back. To avoid too much rambling, I will strongly suggest you watch the documentary Sharkwater if you have not done so already. You can watch the trailer here:

It's a great movie. You'll never know what's been going on out in the ocean until you see it. 4-7 humans are killed by sharks every year...worldwide. That's a tiny number considering how many millions of people swim in our oceans every year. Over 100 million sharks are killed every year by humans. They are mainly killed for shark fin soup which is popular in Asia. It's a very wasteful practice because the fins are all cut off and typically the rest of the shark is thrown back into the ocean alive to die.
And for those of you afraid of being attacked by a shark, here's some information to put your mind at ease...or make you laugh (some of these are almost embarrassing).
You're more likely to die from __________ than sharks:
-car accident
-heart disease
-dog, pig, tiger, or elephant
-lighting strike
-coconut hitting you in the head
-faulty toasters
-vending machine

I can't imagine being at the funeral of someone who was killed by a vending machine. They must have really wanted their snickers bar...


Aquatics Internship Week 3 and 4
O.o Tracy was the first to catch on that it's been too long since my last update. Sorry everyone. I've been busy and sleep is a precious commodity here. So I'm lumping week 3 and 4 together. :)

I should also point out now there will be things happening around the zoo that I will not be able to tell you all about. (for media reasons and such) But I'll do what I can.

Week 3 and 4:
I've graduated to feeding the sandtiger sharks in Discovery Bay. :) The Minnesota Zoo has three sandtiger sharks (one large female and two smaller males) in the shark reef exhibit and one white-tipped reef shark. For those of you who may not be shark savvy, typically with sharks females are considerably larger than male...also known as sexual dimorphism. We feed our sandtigers and white-tip mondays, wednesdays, and saturdays. (This is a hint that if you want to catch awesome shark action when you visit aim for one of those days) We use 6 foot long metal feeding tongs and stand on a platform about an inch above the water. When feeding the males, we lower the fish (typically mackerel or bonita) really close to their face but the female is more proactive about eating and... well, my first time I had the tongs a bit close and she grabbed them. It was scary... a 7-8 foot fish weighing 500-600 pounds... But lucky for me, she didn't pull me in and let the tongs go. Since then, I'm good about keeping the tongs away from her mouth. :)

I've also been more involved in feeding the Kemps and Green sea turtles. Aquariums are only allowed to keep sea turtles in captivity if they unreleasable into the wild. Our sea turtles were both hit by boat propellers. Our Green was hit in the back of her shell. She has some buoyancy issues, but moves around the tank really well. Our Kemps was hit in the head... now sea turtles don't have too many brains to begin with, so he's a bit slow. Luckily, we have him on a painkiller that makes him feel better as he's been more active. Our turtles are target trained which is fun. (It's like doing a bit of animal training...since sharks are not the best for target training) Basically, it works similar to target training any marine mammal. We have a white circle on a stick that the Kemps responds to and a black triangle the green responds to. We can get them to do dives or swim in a pattern (as long as you give them food after they touch the target). They're both very cute turtles and I even though they sometimes misbehave or don't do what you'd like, I like working with them. We feed them turtle gel (similar to the fish gel we feed with turtle chow in it) and greens and seafood (mostly shrimp, pollock, and sardines)

I got introduced to cleaning the estuary (the touch pool with sharks in Discovery Bay) and that's pretty fun as long as you don't forget to eat a quick snack before you jump in (like I did). Basically, I get some weighters on and jump into the estuary among the leopard, swell, and horn sharks and bat rays with my ginormous siphon. I get to suck up lots of shark poo, and remove trinkets dumb people throw in such as hair ties and pennies. At the end of my hour and a half cleaning in 57 degree water, I get to feed the swell and horn sharks by putting fish on a stick. Those two species tend to get out competed in the tank by the leopard sharks and it's a good way to offer just them some extra food.

I've also gotten a good hang of feeding the herps (turtles and amphibians) we're in charge of. We feed them earthworms, mealworms or crickets and fish for some of the turtles. The mudpuppies scared me fist time I fed them. They lay motionless until they realize you've put a earthworm in front of their nose. They snap quickly, a lot like a snapping turtle. Makes me jump every time :)

I've been doing a large number of shark feedings now at the coral reef tank. Our shark feeding is 3pm everyday. I jump out onto a rocky platform and sit atop it to feed the bamboo sharks that swim up and the zebra/leopard shark (I'm always afraid I'll mess up and fall one's fallen in yet... I really don't want to be that one... "hey remember that one intern who fell in") :) But it's fun. It's the one opportunity I have a day to make an impact on the public concerning the conservation of can only imagine how I ramble on. :) I'm always sure to mention the seafood watch program. The Minnesota Zoo has seafood watch cards put out by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. If you care about conserving fish populations I highly recommend you print one off. Print some off for your friends and family that eat seafood too :)

We have five southern stingrays in our shark reef tank and four of them are large females (4' by 6 or 7' with the tail). Our darkest female has had some bloating (fluid buildup in her back end) However this was not effecting her normal behavior in any way. I got to grab my weighters again one morning and jump in the holding pool of shark reef (about 4 feet deep in there). Mark and I were going to catch the stingray up in a net and hold her for the vets to draw some fluid out so they could test it. Mark let me take the net and catch up the large stingray by myself. We held her face in the water and her rump up for the vets. I can't say she was too happy about being poked with the needle, but the experience was amazing. I felt like a little kid during Christmas the whole day.

My parents also visited one Saturday and I got to 'show them what their money's paying for'. They were very impressed, especially with the life support staff's work. :) They are very important guys. During those two weeks Becky moved two of her four cuttlefish into shark holding as their exhibit tank was getting a bit too small for all four of them. The largest male is getting /huge/!!

I'm sorry I haven't gone into this 'gel diet' I keep talking about. Since this entry is long, I'll fill you all in on that stuff next time.
...and why sharks are in danger. :) So much to talk about and so little time.


Aquatics Internship Week 2
The more I do and watch the more I eventually get to do. :)
This week was more comfortable for me. I feel like I belong and can be myself.

This week I dabbled in use of the radio. Which isn't exactly hard, it just makes me feel special. I got to feed the white-tipped reef shark who resides in the Caribbean Reef tank. She used to live in the Indo-Pacific Reef tank (because that's the region she'd from but she was eating too many of her tank mates). Anyway, she was really fun to feed with the feeding tongs. I also started feeding gel diet to the animals in Discovery Bay. The zoo has a tank with Lionfish in it...and most people know lionfish are venomous. The zoo has a few 'Dwarf fuzzy lionfish' and if dwarf and fuzzy don't make you laugh...(well, I do have a few good jokes left). I just thought it funny that a fish that was venomous was called a dwarf fuzzy lionfish (that doesn't mean you should go squeeze him).
I also got to have a go at the 3pm shark feeding. Becky helped me out by talking and answering questions while I fed the bamboo sharks and zebra/leopard shark (and dumped krill all over my pants). I also managed to kneel in some gel diet that week too, but I got the green spots out with some stain stick.
I did more diving. Cleaned the viewing window in the coral reef tank (while the little kids on the other side watched with big, little kid eyes) and collected leaves off the bottom. I also found a few shark eggs without embryos...but still cool. I found a mask that fits! So now I'll have less trouble diving.
At the end of the week I tried feeding the sandtiger sharks (it actually went better than I thought). We have three sandtiger sharks: two males and a large female. These are the only known sharks to observe Inter-uterine cannibalism. It's a cool story...and I wrote a paper on it once so skip ahead if you just ate. :)
Sandtigers have two uteri and they deposit a dozen or so fertilized eggs in each after mating. These fertilized eggs are also surrounded by unfertilized eggs. The first embryo in the uteri to reach 10cm will start to eat his/her siblings FIRST and the unfertilized eggs last. So, the sandtiger gives birth to (at max) two young (around 3.5 feet in length). I've also read somewhere they only reproduce every other year. This combined with how long it takes them to sexually mature (10 or so years) the population can be easily impacted. This is the case with lots of shark species and many have been reduced 90% in the last 10 years. The reason why?!?!?

That's your homework. :) And of course I know, but I'll wait until next week to give you the full answer but do some research on your own too.

Let's see what I learn this week!

Aquatics Internship Week 1
I couldn't sleep well the night before...but I assure you, I slept great every day after that. I'm living in Brooklyn Park, and for those of you who know Minneapolis, Brooklyn Park is quite a distance from Apple Valley where the Minnesota Zoo is. So I woke up at 4:45am... ewww. I was early, but that's better than being late.

On my first day I met most of the aquatics staff and other zoo staff...I'm still trying to remember all the names. I followed Becky around all day and watched and 'absorbed' (like a sponge :D ) everything she was doing. Daily things we do include taking temperatures and checking our tanks. If temps move too much it could be bad news for the animals.
There are many locations in the zoo where we work but the largest and most common are: Fish holding, where we keep quarantine/extra fish and Doug's coral frags, Shark holding where we keep more fishes and the extra sea dragons, Coral Reef where the 82,500 gallons contain numerous saltwater fish (more to come on this as I learn more), and Discovery Bay which holds various smaller exhibit tanks and the large Shark Reef exhibit that holds 218,000 gallons of water (this is the one that holds the sandtiger sharks, southern stingrays, many fish, four eels, a white-tip reef shark, and a green and kemps sea turtle).
I got to feed the stingrays my first day. There are two methods: you can use one of the shark grabbing hooks or lean down and feed them by hand (the latter often meaning you get wet). The rays swim up the side of the tank on the visitor glass side and you slip the fish (stuffed with yummy vitamins) between the cement and ray. They often get eager, flapping more than halfway out of the water.
I also watched the Coral Reef dive show. At 10:30, a diver jumps in with a bucket of gel diet (more on gel diet on another day) and uses two-way communication to talk to the visitors on the other side of the glass. I get to watch the shows because eventually I'll have the opportunity to perform a show myself. :)
I also discovered the marine mammals people have a new intern as well... her name is Stephanie. O.o

On the second day Doug took me up to fish holding to see his corals and let me touch a few. Now, after all my years of scuba, I was sure that I shouldn't be touching live coral because sometimes your finger can kill them. But Doug assured me it was alright. Doug takes care of the coral here at the zoo and right now is trying to figure out what is wrong with his tank...seems the coral aren't doing too well but the chemistry is normal.
I joined the weekly aquatics meeting that day and met all the aquarists I didn't see yesterday. Becky helped find me a wet suit to dive in and I... did not have much fun trying them all on (taking dry wet suits on and off can be tiring), but it was necessary. In the process of finding me some boots to wear, everyone found out I wear size 11 in womens or 10 1/2 in mens shoes. I have bigger feet than at least two of the guys...
So now I'm playfully being teased for that.
I'll also mention for Tracy's benefit that the MN Zoo has seven dolphins currently (eight if you count the bun in the oven). Three are from the Brookfield Zoo in Chicago and will be returned there after their renovations are finished.

On the third day I got to feed the cuttlefish!! We have four cuttlefish and I think they're just adorable. (they're relatives of the octopus and squid) I feed them buy sticking half a shrimp onto a plastic stick and they swim up and shoot their tentacles around it and carry it off to eat. These guys can also change color on a dime which is really cool. I also got the feed the eels in Shark Reef. That was similar to the cuttlefish except I had a much larger and longer pole. :) In Discovery Bay there is a small tide pool that holds pirate perch, sea stars, anemones, and sea urchins. I got to feed the anemones brine shrimp with a turkey baster. Basically, I just squirt shrimp at them. :)
I learned how to siphon tanks in Shark holding. This job is cleaning/water change intensive so you might find it boring but I don't mind it. I also took my first dive into the Coral Reef tank with Doug. My mask was a little loose and I got stuck in the current, but I had fun! The diving equipment was new. For those of you used to scuba, we use air hoses, not tanks. The masks we wear cover your whole face and are hooked up to the air hoses which feed above ground while you're diving. The water isn't too deep (about 12 ft) so I didn't have to worry about my my slow ability to equalize pressure in my ears. Doug and I power washed the fake coral at the bottom. We use high powered water guns to blast the algae off the fake coral so the whole tank doesn't turn red. The algae accumulates because of the sunlight that gets in from the sky-lit ceiling.

On the forth day I did a lot more on my own including cutting up the gel diet Doug would need for the dive show at 10:30 (he forgot he was going in and I helped cut up the gel while he suited up). I jumped in to clean in Coral Reef again but this time with Becky. After some mask adjustment issues (and Becky, Mark, and Dan grumbling about my apparently small face) we were in the water with our power washers. I took Allan's weight belt this time as 40lbs wasn't enough to keep me down last time (I had 50lbs holding me down this time). It was pretty awesome, kneeling in the gravel, washing algae off the fake coral heads while bamboo and epaulette sharks swam between my legs and often in my way. I would stop to pet them sometimes as they swam by. The fiddler ray followed me along the bottom, as if making sure I was doing a good job cleaning. :)

I have Friday and Saturday off and plan to do some sleeping :) I'll catch up with you all again next Thursday.
Let me know if you want more details on a certain task or specific animal. I tried not to ramble on.


It's 2am...
and I'm awake :) Honestly, could you sleep if you knew you were starting an internship at the Minnesota Zoo early Monday morning? ...perhaps not.

Since my last post I've discovered that fish do not feel pain. They just feel noxious stimuli but don't really have the receptors to feel pain. This surprised me, but considering that sound travels five times faster in water than on land, showing pain underwater would be a evolutionary disadvantage. But this doesn't mean you can hurt fish. :D

Since November I've also managed to get a B in Microbiology. I was worried about that class, but turns out if you set your mind to it, you can do well. So I finished the semester with a grand four A's and one B. Not too shabby for my last semester. Ask my roommates; I didn't slack off. :)

I also graduated on the 19th of December and that was rewarding. I spent the holidays with my boyfriend Ray and his family in New York and now I'll be packing up my belongings and moving in with my cousin Kelly and her family tomorro-- err, later today. :) I didn't forget to pack my shark week collection, sharkwater movie and Blue Planet and Planet Earth collections.

Charmin and Parsnip (my rats) are happy to have me home and I'm hoping they'll like it at my cousin's house (which is new, beautiful and humongous). :) Her kids, Grace and Anna are excited to meet the animals too, even my snake, Cookie Monster. After the move in, I'll be up at 5am and off to start my first day as a Minnesota Zoo intern.

I feel like such a geek, but I can't wait to learn from the Aquatic's staff!


O.o first entry
So I finally took my much needed study break tonight to get a livejournal. What may that be you ask? Basically a blog. Why does Steph need a blog? Maybe because she's starting a totally awesome internship at the Minnesota Zoo in January and want's you all to have in on the crazy fun stuff she gets to do.

I'll stop the third person thing. But incase you didn't bump into me lately, here's what's going on: I'm graduating this December... as in the 19th... literally 19 days from now. Anywho, this internship will involve the care of lots of fish and sharks **happydance** and I'll post my awesome adventures here. And for all those lazy people that want to read my blog but won't write down the web address, I am having them uploaded to facebook. *ta da* ...and if you don't have facebook? oh dear...

and yeah, that's it. for now. :D

I'm off to finish writing a paper on 'Can fish feel pain'. It's actually very interesting... details coming later.



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