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From the decks of the Odyssey in Mauritius, Adrian scans the horizon looking for the blows of sperm whales.
Photo : Chris Johnson

November 27, 2003
'Perspectives : Working with Animals - A Dream Job'
Real Audio Report

Log Transcript

G'day - my name is Adrian Howard, people call me Howie. I'm the Science Associate aboard the Odyssey during the Mauritius research leg. When at home in Australia, I work for the Melbourne Zoo as a zookeeper, specializing in Asian Elephants and Australian Fur Seals. I also have keen interest in learning more about marine mammals and their ocean environment - an interest which brought me to volunteer my time on the Odyssey.

My job at the Melbourne Zoo involves quite a number of task. My day begins at 8am where I take care of the basic husbandry needs of the elephants and seals - this includes food preparation, exhibit cleaning and maintenance, environmental and behavioral enrichment, animal health treatments and training.

Animal training is a key component of elephant and seal husbandry. Training not only provides essential behavioral enrichment and stimulation but also allows us to work safely in close proximity to these potentially dangerous species. Behaviors such a mouth check - where a seal opens its mouth on cue - allows the keeper to check and even remove fish bones from the seal's teeth without the need for restraint or sedation and of course without being bitten. In the case of the elephants, foot care is very important, so training an elephant to present its feet for a pedicure each day is also very useful.

Adrian Howard with the elephant and seal team of the Melbourne Zoo.
Photo courtesy of Adrian Howard

As well as direct animal contact, keepers are also required to carry out a number of other duties such as water quality testing and filtration at the seal pool, educational presentations to school groups and zoo visitors, media interviews and field work which includes assisting scientists on research projects and marine mammal rescue and rehabilitation - in essence, the job of a zookeeper is to be a 'jack-of-all-trades'.

This brings me to my role on board the Odyssey. Each crewmember has a special role, however ,we also need to be a 'jack-of-all-trades'! Operating 24hrs a day at sea, we are required to carry out various duties including visual watches for whales, acoustic monitoring, helm duties, cooking, cleaning, maintenance, educational presentations and sometimes interviews for local media. In addition, part of my job entails jumping into whale 'poo'! That's right, when at the zoo I pick up 'poo' from one of the largest terrestrial mammals, and when at sea I am charged with the responsibility of scooping up 'poo' samples from the world's largest marine mammals. Collecting fecal samples from sperm whales provides us with squid beaks - squid being the preferred prey of sperm whales. These beaks allow us to identify the species of squid the whales are eating.

As the Science Associate, my role onboard the Odyssey is to assist the Scientific Manager in the benign collection of biological, acoustic and photographic data for the many studies conducted onboard and in conjuction with Wood's Hole Oceanographic Institute.

My work on the Odyssey and at the zoo have many similarities, presenting challenges both trying and rewarding, working with a close knit team of people around some of the most amazing animals we share this planet with. Reflecting on my experiences aboard Odyssey and my job as a zoo keeper, I consider myself a truly fortunate man.

As a child I watched documentary television programs about various animal species constantly, and read books about the people working with all sorts of amazing creatures. I would always dream about one day doing something similar. As I grew older, I thought these types of jobs and experiences were reserved for the fortunate few with the highest academic qualifications. What I discovered was that the most important quality is to dream and to follow those dreams with passion and vigor. The reward for pursuing this passion for animals is the chance to live my dream everyday!

Adrian with students from the International Preparatory School during a recent tour of the Odyssey.
Photo : Chris Johnson


Written by Adrian Howard.

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