Morgan Denney, with octopus. Photo taken by National Aquarium staff photographer George Grall.
This is Technically Baltimore’s Geek This Week, a new, regular series highlighting the work of under-covered “geeks” in the Baltimore region.
Kicking off our Geek This Week series is Morgan Denney, an aquarist at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. One of Denney’s tasks is to care for their octopus, Poulpe.
Without further ado:
Describe your job in a sentence: I manage a gallery consisting of a variety of closed freshwater and saltwater systems, and I care for the animals living in those systems.
Tell us about a cool project you’re working on: A bit of an ongoing project is octopus training and enrichment. Giant Pacific octopuses are highly intelligent and require enrichment to stimulant their brains. A favorite of mine is the jar with food inside of it. The octopus has to figure out how to open the jar to retrieve its food. This “puzzle feeder,” as we call it, brings out natural foraging behavior.
Watch the Aquarium’s octopus beat the “puzzle feeder”:
What does an average day at work look like for you?
My job focuses on animal husbandry. This includes checking on the animals throughout the day to ensure they are looking and behaving in a healthy way, preparing diets and feeding the animals as well. I also maintain the closed aquatic systems that they live in by checking temperatures, water quality and other parameters to ensure that the systems are functioning properly. To keep the exhibit (and non-exhibit) systems healthy, I do water changes and other regular maintenance. I backwash the sand filters that keep the water crystal clear to prevent them from clogging and clean and tweak other filtration components such as protein skimmers — by far the nastiest to clean! — and fluidized beds. There is quite a lot of work that goes into keeping our animals healthy and happy!
Tell us about a workplace tradition or company culture at the Aquarium. Anything special your team does together?
We like to pull friendly pranks on each other. For example, there are several of us on the staff who are loyal to football teams other than the Ravens (*cough* Steelers *cough*). So, we tend to get big Ravens signs or other such items posted in our galleries.
What’s a lesson you’ve learned from your time at the Aquarium that’s applicable to people not surrounded by sea creatures all day?
Teamwork is paramount! Some work we do with our larger animals, including physical exams, requires many people from several departments. Everybody comes together to provide the very best care, and without the teamwork, it wouldn’t be possible.
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