This past winter I was given an opportunity to become scuba certified through a grant John Ball Zoo had received. I felt extremely lucky! For those of you who have gone through scuba certification, you understand how expensive it can be! Myself, and 2 other keepers worked with Moby's dive shop and passed our open water dive on a chilly November evening in 50 degree water! Little did we realize that was going to be the normal temperature we would be diving in!

            Some of you may not realize that we actually regularly dive in our tanks to help keep them clean. The Kelp tank is done weekly (on Wednesday), and on top of cleaning, the sharks and sea anemones are fed. The Patagonia fish tank (the small one next to penguins) is also done weekly (on Tuesday). Both are fun to watch because the sharks get so excited and when they try and feed the sea anemones in the Patagonia fish tank, the diver disappears because the fish like to surround the keeper and steal the food!

            The tank I dive in is the penguin tank. Now people always ask me why I have to dive in the tank, we don't feed the penguins in the water so what mess is there? Well first everything poops, and that includes penguins, and they don't just poop on land! Also sometimes fish fall in the water, or they take the fish with them, so we have to get the gross stuff at the bottom.

            Now their tank isn't salt water like the rest of the tanks, but it is a warm balmy 54 degrees. I get to wear an extremely thick wet suit (7mm) and take a really hot shower afterward! We suit up with a hood (to keep our head warm), face mask, vest, tank and a really heavy weight belt to keep us on the bottom so we can vacuum. Yes we vacuum! For those of you who have ever had to clean a fish tank at home, ours is just like that but on a bigger scale. We have 2 hoses that hook up into the wall of the tank that runs to a pump behind the scenes. It creates a suction so we can clean off all the junk off the bottom!

            Now there is always safety in numbers so we always have 2 people dive. One person is a keeper and the second may be another keeper or it could be a volunteer! Volunteers are a HUGE help to us, donating their time to come hang out in frigid temperatures with us!!

            Once we finally suit up, we jump in and go to work. Hoses in hand we start cleaning. It is sometimes hard not to get tangled in the kelp, so I will understand if you laugh at us! You may notice that once we go in, most of the penguins get out. They generally are not a fan of us being in the water, and they would prefer to keep their distance, but there is always one or 2 that hang out in the water. I can almost guarantee one of them is our baby from last summer, Zippy. He likes to swim on the surface and check on our progress. He does dive down to get our attention or to tap on our tank to let us know that he is still there. Lastly we clean the acrylic with vinegar water to help get scum off (Zippy tries to help) and out of the pool we go!

            For me its an amazing experience, one that I would never have had if I didn't work here. Hopefully ill see you at my next dive! If you ever see us in the tanks feel free to wave!

About Kristi Koole

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Kristi started her career at John Ball Zoo in guest programs supervising the event staff.  In 2011, she became a Zookeeper.

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