Never stop learning: Managing mistakes as an aquarist

  • 2023
  • Marine Science
Sarah Taylor, Marine Science Center ManagerĀ 

Throughout our lives, from the moment we enter this world, we are in a constant state of observation, questioning, and learning. As a new mother, having just welcomed my baby boy into the world, I witness his learning process every second, even in his sleep. One significant aspect of learning is making mistakes. Recently, my son crawled over a pillow and ended up hitting his head on the hardwood floor. It was horrifying to watch as a mother, feeling the guilt of his pain. However, the following day, I noticed that he chose to crawl around the pillow instead of over it. It was a small example, but it showed me that even at the tender age of seven months, he could learn from his mistakes.

As a child, I used to believe that once I finished school, my learning journey would come to an end. I eagerly awaited the day when I would know everything I needed to know. However, upon entering adulthood, I quickly realized that learning never ends. We constantly find ourselves making mistakes, correcting those mistakes, and ensuring they do not repeat themselves in our daily lives or our broader perspective on life.

When discussing conservation, it is widely accepted that the best way, and sometimes the only way, to preserve something is for people to truly care about it. As Baba Dioum famously quoted, "In the end, we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught”. To love something, you must understand it, and to understand something, you must be exposed to it. This is my mantra as an educator. My passion lies not only in creating an enjoyable learning experience but also in fostering a deep connection to the natural world that goes beyond theoretical knowledge. In my opinion, aquariums, zoos, botanical gardens, and even nurseries play a crucial role in allowing humans to experience nature firsthand. Through these experiences, we can develop an understanding of nature, leading to appreciation and a desire to conserve it.

In the aquarium business, mistakes can and will happen. Animals may become ill or prey upon each other, and unfortunate events can occur. However, as a marine educator, the most valuable part of my journey has been the realization that I love learning. Don't get me wrong; it's a difficult and often painful process. As a child, I avoided and despised it. Yet, once you embrace the pain of accepting your mistakes, taking responsibility for them, learning from them, and ensuring they don't happen again in the future, you become a more resilient, well-rounded, and functional individual.

Recently, we experienced a devastating loss in the marine science center —the loss of our beloved stingray. For the past 2 1/2 years, she had happily resided in the touch tank, captivating visitors. However, during a weekend typhoon, something frightened her, causing her to swim to the edge of the tank and tumble out. This loss has been the greatest we've experienced in years. Nevertheless, we learned a valuable lesson from this unfortunate event. We have now implemented measures to prevent animals from falling or jumping out of the tank, such as installing an acrylic guard, and attaching a net over the top. While the pain of that morning, realizing that our beloved stingray was no longer with us, was intense, the important question is how can I use this as a teachable moment, not just for myself, but for my students?

Therefore, I have chosen to include this story in the blog I am writing today. Also we will keep our beloved stingray, Flapjack, and after six months, we will carefully preserve her skeleton. This preserved stingray skeleton will be showcased at the marine science center, allowing students to learn about her species and cartilaginous fish, commonly known as sharks. My message to my students and anyone reading this blog is that learning never ends. Find a way to enjoy it, to improve upon it, and to grow from it. By doing so, you will become a better version of yourself.

The journey of an aquarist involves continuous learning and improvement. Ethical treatment of animals in captivity requires proper animal husbandry techniques, including creating environments that resemble natural habitats, maintaining optimal water quality, providing enrichment and stimulation, and ensuring a well-balanced diet. Mistakes will occur, but it is through these mistakes that we learn and evolve. By fostering a love for the natural world and utilizing teachable moments, we can inspire others to appreciate and protect our environment and ocean. Let us embrace the never-ending journey of learning and strive to make a positive impact on the lives of the animals we care for and the world we share.

Flapjack was a female Kuhl’s Maskray, Neotrygon kuhlii. 


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