Meet Hannah Ban-Weiss

Sea Otter Aquarist II

Interview by Emilio Orozco, high school student and former Aquarium Student Oceanography Club (SOC) member

Describe your job here at the Aquarium.

I am, with my team, in charge of taking care of all the exhibit sea otters that are in front of the public.

What experience or skills do you need to work in this field?

In this specific field, you need a few things. One is your diver's certification. To dive here at the Aquarium, you need your rescue certification. We go in about twice a week and clean our exhibits. You also need experience working with animals. I worked at a place called Long Marine Lab, where I learned how to take care of animals in every capacity, whether that was cleaning up for them, prepping their food, bleaching equipment—pretty much anything you could imagine. I actually volunteered there for about four years while I was also working at an aquarium getting general husbandry skills, taking care of animals and cleaning tanks. I worked seven days a week for a while, because sometimes you just have to do that!

"As much as it looks like it's a glamorous job because we get to work with sea otters...about 50 percent of the job is cleaning."

What did you study?

I went to UC Santa Cruz and got my Bachelor of Science degree in marine biology. That gave me a really good background of the ocean generally, but also specifically of marine mammals, fish, invertebrates and all that. With a job like this you have to have college degree, but it's not like you have to have a marine biology degree. A lot of the time people study marine biology, or they'll study psychology because it's all about behavior and cognitive stuff.

What do you like most about your job?

The animals are my most favorite thing about the job. They all have very different personalities, so you can appreciate something different about all of them. Every single day there's a different thing going on, like they're in a different mood! But I really like interacting with the guests also. Whether it's with kids or anyone else, I really like being able to show my excitement. On top of being able to teach people, the other thing I really like is the Aquarium gives us the opportunity to work with everything. I've been able to work in the Education Department a little, and do some different aquarist work like feed turtles and penguins.

What's your advice for students interested in your career?

One thing that I would definitely suggest is getting general animal experience. It doesn't have to be with sea otters. It doesn't even have to be with marine mammals. Volunteer at the SPCA, the wildlife center—anything where you actually get hands-on experience with cleaning and all that sort of stuff. As much as it looks like it's a glamorous job because we get to work with sea otters, which is very cool, about 50 percent of the job is cleaning. It's fun for us because we're doing it for the animals!

What is your favorite exhibit at the Aquarium?

I mean, the sea otter exhibit! The reason being I love the otters and they are amazing creatures, but also being a part of that team is very fun. On our team we're all allowed to participate in decision-making. We are encouraged to contribute ideas. Our goal really is for it to look realistic and naturalistic. It's a cool feeling to know you had a part in an exhibit.

Which otter do you relate to most?

I would say I'm probably closest to Gidget. She just is a mellow animal, she's slow moving, and I relate in that way where I'm a little bit more predictable.

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