Join us all week for National Zookeeper Appreciation Week! We’ll introduce you to a new animal care staff member everyday.
Today, meet animal trainer Ellen Riker!
What led you to choose a career working with animals?
I went to a small aquarium on Cape Cod while on a family vacation when I was 4 years old. They had an animal show that had dolphins, sea lions and seals. I was completely enthralled with the animals. When I was 7 we went back and they asked for a volunteer, my hand shot up and I ended up on the stage. The trainer picked me up and held me over the tank and said he was going to drop me in and have the dolphin save me to demonstrate how they help people. He was only kidding and put me down and had me throw a doll in and call for help. The dolphin brought me the doll and I gave it big herring head as a reward. I was fully prepared for him to drop me in the tank, I had no problem going in! From that moment on I knew I wanted to work with marine mammals.
What is a typical day at the Aquarium like?
Lots of cleaning and fish! We are always cleaning something. The tanks and exhibits are cleaned every morning before we open, behind the scenes areas are cleaned throughout the day. There is always an empty bucket to scrub after a feeding. Lot’s of the aquarium’s animals are fed multiple times a day so that creates a lot of dishes. We provide enrichment both edible and non edible to many animals. Water quality of certain tanks is checked on a daily basis and adjusted if needed to maintain proper living conditions for all of our animal’s.
What’s your favorite exhibit at the Aquarium? Favorite animal?
I don’t know…I’m a mammal girl at heart but we have so many cool fish and reptiles and amphibians! It’s a close call between Rasal and a lumpfish!
Do you have a favorite memory working with an animal or exhibit?
My special memory has to be my engagement. My husband proposed to me in the middle of a seal feeding. The staff was all in on it and helped him orchestrate it. He hid behind a boat in Falconer Hall waiting for the end of the feeding when we answered questions. He patiently waited as people asked questions and then raised his hand and said he had a question. He got down on one knee on the seal ramp and asked me to marry him. It was the most amazing and embarrassing moment of my life!
If you could work with any animal, what would it be?
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