Most visitors may not think of this fun fact, but a major part of taking care of our aquarium actually occurs underwater!  I, and several other zookeepers, have gone through SCUBA certification and dive in several of our larger tanks to do cleaning, feeding and some general tank maintenance.

The striped sea perch tank is generally an easy tank to take care of but usually we dive in once every two weeks.  It’s a tight squeeze, so unless we are doing any extra work such as catching any sick fish, we only have one diver in the tank.  Even with only one diver in the tank, for safety a second diver is always suited up and “spotting” the first diver.  While inside they clean the windows, feed all of the sea anemones and check on the fish up close.  Sometimes the perch can be rather jealous and pesky of the anemone’s meals and you can hear them underwater pecking at your mask and any stray hairs out of you hood.

We also have two divers scheduled every other week to clean up the penguin tank.  During the dive, the pool gets vacuumed and the windows get cleaned.  Often times, when we have juvenile penguins that aren’t too used to being out on the deck they will follow us around checking out our dive equipment while we are working.  This can be pretty entertaining after you figure out what is poking or tugging on you!

Last but not least, my favorite dive would have to be the Kelp Forest tank.  Two divers generally try to get in this tank once a week to clean windows, vacuum the bottom, feed the anemones and feed our leopard and swell sharks.  The Kelp tank is about 18 feet deep at the very bottom so on the way down you have to equalize your ears or it can get a little uncomfortable.  While in the tank I love being able to interact with any visitors, especially by trying to bring the sharks in front for feeding.  I always get a kick out of children and adult’s reactions!

Beginning last summer, we started posting our dive schedule during our summer hours of operation.  Make sure to check the board when you enter the zoo or the John Ball Zoo app. for your mobile phone to see if there is a dive during your visit!

If these underwater adventures sound like fun to you then keep in mind, our diving team is not only made up of zookeepers, we also have volunteer divers.  They are a big help to us as it can be tricky to schedule two zookeepers out of their normal areas for 1-2 hours in a work day.  If you are SCUBA certified, and at least age 21 with 15 logged dives you could help us out!  Just visit the following link for information to sign up: volunteer.php  

About Jaime Racalla

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You could say Jaime  Racalla is tenacious.   Born and raised in Grand Rapids, John Ball Zoo was her home Zoo and she intended to work here.  

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