April 06, 2005

It's All in the Touch

Spring has arrived and once again, people are clamoring to do the tourist thang.

Working at a large tourist attraction (Aquarium) is always so precious during spring, summer and fall. People seemingly come out of the woodworks, as though this is the only time of year they are allowed to venture out of the house. Is this some sort of law that I just don’t know about? Sure, I realize the weather is more conducive to bearing the midriff, the cleavage and the painted toes, but come on folks … aquarium creatures don’t pay any mind to this and even if they did, most people exposing these bits have no business doing so in the first place. If someone looks in your direction and vomits, for the love of Lucifer, go put on a jacket.

In keeping with my topic today, I gracefully segue into people’s fascination with touching animals.

There are two programs at our facility that offer up-close encounters with our larger marine life. One is our Beluga Contact program and the other is our Penguin Contact program. To avoid reading as an advertising for the Aquarium, I won’t go into detail, but will gladly respond (in the comment forum) to any questions posed.

In each of these programs, people get to touch, pet, and in the case of the Beluga – hug the animals. I work in the reservation office and although I’m tethered to a telephone and computer for the bulk of my day, I’m afforded ample time to visit and familiarize myself with the marine creatures. In fact, this is an important function of my job. Our department fields a gazillion questions about these and various other educational programs, so we really need to be well-informed about all that our organization has to offer.

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Here you see me with Enuk in the first picture ~ a-touchin and a-huggin ~ and with Naku in the second picture ~ she's playing a game with me, I splash and she spits. What a blast!
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As mentioned, these programs have a name; either Beluga- or Penguin Contact Program. For whatever reason, people who see or hear an ad about these things completely lose all semblance of reason and hop on the phone so quickly that they forget what they’re supposed to ask about. They rename the programs according to personal preference. This might sound like a minor inconvenience, but when I’m on the receiving end of a voice (male or female) telling me in excited, high pitched tones that they want an appointment to “touch the penguins” I choke back a chuckle every time.

A couple of other gems are as follows:

Me: “Reservations, how many I help you?”
Ditz: “Yes, I’d like to come feel a beluga.”
(I want to say, “Sounds like a personal problem to me.”)

Me: “Good afternoon, may I help you?”
Whack Job: “Hello, I’d like to do the Penguin thingy.”
(I want to say, “Sure, and when would you like this thingy to take place?”)

Me: “Good morning, how may I help you?”
Airhead: “Oh hello, I want my husband to touch a whale.”
(I want to say, “There are therapists for that sort of thing.”)

Me: “Reservations, can I help you?”
Bumbling Imbecile: “Yes, how can I get to … you know … do that whale thing … where you let me see him in the water?”
Me: “You must be referring to our Beluga Contact program.”
BI: “No, no, the whale thing.”
Me: (spitting my M&Ms into a tissue so I don’t choke on them from laughing) “Yes, that would be the Beluga Contact program sir … would you like to reserve a spot in that program?”BI: “I guess if you don’t have whales, a beluga will do.”
Me: “Belugas ARE whales, sir.”
BI: “Oh, then yeah, that’s what I want.”

Me: “Reservations, may I help you?”
Dolt: “Yes, I want to swim with a penguin.”
Me: “If you’re referring to our Penguin Contact program, there’s no swimming involved.”
Dolt: “Oh … well can I walk with them?”
(I’m thinking, “Walk with them? You probably walk LIKE them.)

And my personal, all time favorite:

Me: “Good afternoon, reservations.”
Utter Buffoon: “Yes, I’d like to get up close and personal with a penguin.” (This is NOT made up)
Me: “You must mean our Penguin Contact program.”
UB: “Whatever. I just want to be able to touch one … do I get to touch it?”
(I don’t really want to say anything at this point … I’m just thinking this person might have some issues)

I suggested a while back that we start up a Shark Contact program, but I had no takers from the powers that be; something about liability. I assured them we’d get just as many phone calls for this program as we get for the others. I’d stake my life on it.

We do have a grand time in our office and no, we don’t make fun of every caller; just the ones who are mock-worthy. It helps pass the time.

To sum things up, it’s my guess that people just want to touch things. For most, it doesn’t seem to matter what sort of animal they’ll be touching, they just want to get their hands* on it! I guess we’re just a touchy-feely society.

*Not only do I work at the Aquarium, I am also an avid supporter of such organizations. For that reason, I feel it necessary to note that these programs are carried out with great care and attention to the benefit of the animals. Sterilization of hands is essential prior to handling any of our penguins or whales. Through hormone testing performed following the programs, it is found that the animals react quite positively to human interaction. In fact, the whales in particular thrive on it. (Perhaps they see some humor in all the giggles, oooohs and aaaaahs)


Blogger Swifty said...

Hey, I didn't realise things were going so badly at the aquarium. I guess things will pick up though now summer is on its way. Even so, I guess your plug might make a difference :-)

Joking apart, interacting with those aquatic creatures is a SERIOUS experience. I'm not sure if we have the same opportunity to mix with them over here in the UK.


4:34 PM  
Blogger psuche said...

I used to work and volunteer at the Ding Darling Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, FL (The gulf side by Ft. Myers).

Two of my favorite questions were:

"Can I take a picture of my toddler on the back of an alligator?"


"Where are the whales?"

4:51 PM  
Blogger Weary Hag said...

Don, I never meant to intimate that the aquarium was in any sort of trouble. In fact we've had a wonderful year, even a great off-season!

Psuche, I'm dying laughing over here at your comment. Believe it or not, we also do traveling educational programs and a teacher once asked me if we bring a live shark for our "Amazing Sharks" class.

I don't think people listen to themselves sometimes.


6:35 PM  
Anonymous John said...

Wow! Very interesting job Carol. This reminds me, Are you aware of the Belle Isle Aquarium in Detroit closing due to lack of funds? Bummer....

Went there once when I was a kid. Detroit can't afford it anymore, like so many other things in Detroit.


7:30 PM  
Blogger Walker said...

You have a great Job . I beleive aquariums and zoo's for that matter give many people a better understanding of the creatures they read about and see on TV.

10:26 PM  
Blogger brooksba said...


I need to visit you. I adore penguins, I think they are cute creatures and so sweet. What type of penguins do you have? I'd love a chance to participate in the program (get up close and personal, maybe not, but to feel the feathers would be cool!).

Feel free to rip on me, but I'd probably be one of the people calling too excited to form proper sentences. I about jumped for joy just reading about it and I'm quite a few states away.


1:48 AM  
Blogger Swifty said...

Carol, I was joking. If you look at the second paragraph of my comment it begins with 'Joking apart'. Anyway, you have a GREAT job. As a slave to my desk, trust me on this.


3:39 AM  
Blogger Weary Hag said...

John - thanks for the link to Belle Island. How sad. I know as a not-for-profit organization, we rely heavily on corporate and state grants and on the kind contributions of people.
Walker - A huge part of our Mission Statement is Education. It's vitally important to have constant access to animals and marine life in order to best protect them in their natural environments.
Beth - The invitation still stands! I'm planning to scan a penguin photo just for you! First I have to find it in the rubble that is my office.
Don - I never was a good reader. Damn me!

7:14 AM  
Blogger Grant said...

Post more penguin photos. It's what every blog needs. BTW, if you train the penguins to stand rigid, they can be used for lawn darts. Just one of their many uses.

9:37 AM  
Blogger Hick said...

What a fascinating job you have. I love to go to the Monterey Aquarium...they have a sting(less)ray "contact" program there. My kids used to love to touch those baddies.

10:27 AM  
Blogger NYCbeauty said...

I absolutely love that you work in an aquarium. I have an absolute fascination with marine life and would probably be as inept as all the others if I called for a reservation to actually touch a beluga whale. A baby beluga was born at the Coney Island Aquarium when I was little on my birthday. I used to go and visit her and she was so cute and small through the glass. Another time I kayaked and swam with a dolphin quite by accident. She was just in a playful mood and I ended up hanging out with her in the water off of San Diego. It's not like I planned it or am a marine biologist or anything, but I just fell in love. I'm definitely coming to visit to do that whale and penguin thingy!

10:41 AM  
Blogger Sask 1 said...

Wow what an awesome job you have Carol.I love those photos and btw i would sign up for sureto touch a shark.

12:01 PM  
Blogger happyandblue2 said...

What a great job. I want to fondle the whale and the penguins too..

12:34 PM  
Blogger Grant said...

That reminds me of a frequent exchange I have at work.
Caller: What do I use as my login ID?
Me: Your social security number.
Caller: Do I use uppercase or lowercase letters?
I swear I'm not making that up.

3:03 PM  
Blogger GratisGab said...

"Yes, I’d like to get up close and personal with a penguin.”

I read this just before dashing off for a meeting and you had me laughing out loud after a totally unrelated statement made by my manager!!! :D

Takes all kinds..

3:46 PM  
Blogger Weary Hag said...

BETH - We have African Blackfoot Penguins. They are a small breed and are warm weather birds - they enjoy the same weather we do and have to be brought indoors when the temps drop below 35 or so. You'd love them!

GRANT - Lawn darts. I'll suggest it but they don't generally go for my ideas.

HICK - We also have a Ray Touch Tank. I should have incorporated this in my post! (more touching) We work closely with Monterey and feature an underwater live cam show from there in our Immersion Theater. Gorgeous place!

NYC BEAUTY - Two and one half hours drive from you on the dreaded I-95. Let me know when you're planning to make the trip. Two or three weeks notice is a real good idea for booking these programs.

JUNE - You crack me up! I figured at least one person would go for the Shark Contact Program idea. Figures it'd be you. :)

GRANT - So which is it? Upper or lower case numbiz?

GRATISGAB - Sorry to ruin your meeting! I've caught myself laughing out loud in the car driving home sometimes. Fun job.

6:04 PM  
Blogger L said...

sounds like a cool place to work! I have a membership to the Florida Aquarium in Tampa, and I love to go. They let you touch starfish and things like that, but I always worry about stressing the animals out, so I don't do it...

6:41 PM  
Blogger Carol (Smiles and Laughter) said...

What a COOL job, Carol. Funny, things like the aquarium tend to be "seasonal" around here, too, and we have no snow and mild winters. I guess people don't like showing their faces unless they can also show their navels.

I want to touch a whale! But I promise if I call your reservation desk I'll refer to the Beluga Contact Program. ;)

9:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Neat post (like always!) You have an interesting job. Glad your aquarium is doing well. Ours in not. It was controversial from the beginning and now needs $350,000 more from the city council to operate. It doesn't look good. Our aquarium is a fresh water facility and not like yours, but it's fun anyway, just more low-key.

8:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Carol... I wont say it was a waste of time to send me the blog link, as I enjoyed the comments and humor intensely, and it has given me a further insight into your psyche. Hell, we have known each other on the net for a few years, now, and the blog page just allows me to learn a little more about you and your job...(read "Life" ) Interesting to read some of the comments from others as well. We have a colony of fairy penguins here on our local beach, and if only people would read the signs, and keep their dogs on a lead... we lose quite a few from this lack of petcare from their owners. Kevin Murphy.. Portland, Victoria, Australia.... By the way..... Portland was home to the biggest Great White shark ever caught...

9:03 AM  
Blogger CarpeDM said...


The minute I saw you wrote about the Penguin contact program, I knew that Beth would be thrilled. She adores penguins.

I am also thrilled because I think this sounds like a ton of fun. I've been trying to comment since yesterday - to tell you about my adventure.

Keem, Katie and I went to eat at a Chinese buffet the other day and they had a koi pond in the front of the restaurant. We stopped to commune with the fishes (yes, I know. It's fish. But I like calling them fishes. It is fun) and after a few minutes, Keem turns to Katie and told her we needed to leave.

Why? Because I was trying to pet the fish. In a gentle, non-threatening way, of course. It was great fun and the fish seemed to enjoy swimming up to me and then away. Silly fish.

9:35 AM  
Blogger brooksba said...


Thank you for sharing the species of penguin that you have. I'm familiar with the African Blackfoot. If my memory serves me correctly, they are also called the Jackass penguin because the sound they make is similar to the braying of a donkey. I've also heard that they bite (peck).

Oh, I do need to come visit. It's definitely being put on the agenda! (Well, it was, but the whole trip to Portugal is delaying other travel for a bit.)

I would love to see pictures of the penguins. They're so cute!


2:33 PM  
Blogger Becky said...

Oh, Carol! What a great job you have! My lovely daughters, Small and Medium, would love to do the whale thing and the penguin thing!
(I couldn't resist!)


3:23 PM  
Blogger Hermaphrodite said...

That job seems cool...and fishy.

4:44 PM  
Blogger jon said...

That sounds cool. I wonder if I could sell tickets to let people come sit on my couch and be able to experience a stinking cat's butt being stuck in their faces. Sounds like you really do have a cool job.

5:58 PM  
Blogger Bekah said...

I want touch a penguin! And I want to hug a whale! Oh goodness I got the biggest thrill out of feeding a dead fish to a dolphin at SeaWorld one time that my heart would skip a few beats of having interaction with Beluga whales and penguins. I love penguins! Oh my goodness. I'm all giddy and spazzy just reading your post. I'll go pet one of my dogs now, and pretend it's a whale. What an awesome job you have!

11:13 PM  
Blogger Bob said...

I need to add the Hugging a whale to my list of things I need to get around and do, that's sounds so wonderful and probably less dangerous than the parachute jumps and bungee jumps I do have on my list!

4:22 PM  
Blogger frustratedwriter said...

So has the whale ever come out of the water and looked at the potential hugger and refuse? You know...something along the lines of "What? You want me to hug that? No thanks, you don't feed me enough fish to hug something like that..."

Penguins are cool (no pun intended) and it would be wonderful to "contact" one.

Just had the experience of touching the sting rays at the Texas Aquarium in Corpus Christi. Pretty cool stuff. You have an excellent job! Oh, I did touch a shark once, but it was at the courthouse and he was wearing a suit, so not sure I can truly say I have had a shark experience or not.

good post!

4:38 AM  
Blogger dan said...

That's just one of the greatest jobs ever.

It's a great shame more people don't appreciate nature.

10:08 AM  
Blogger Weary Hag said...

Thanks to all for the great comments.

L - The Rays are a bit antsy about the whole touchy feely thing. Mostly, they'll just stay out of reach (down the bottom) if they get stressed, but we also close up the pool for about an hour every couple of hours.

CAROL - I'll look for your call! :)

BLUE2GO - It's sad to see these facilities closing their doors due to lack of funding.

KEV - It's always fun to hear from you and I'm so glad you stopped in to say hi.

CARPEDM - You always manage to crack me up! Like I said, petting fishies is fine as long as you rub head to tail. Unless you want to file your nails of course.

BROOKSBA - Still trying to find my penguin pics for you. And yes! They make a nasty bite. We only use our most people-friendly birds for the program.

BECKY - I'm sure they'd love it! (as long as they're both over six) :(

HERMAPHRODITE - Fishy indeed.

JON - I'm sure people would line up outside your house to have your cat's ass in their face.

BEKAH - I swear, you sound just like the people who call us! haha

BOB - Of course, you could always parachute into the whale pool. Errr... maybe not.

FRUSTRATEDWRITER - I do believe there have been some non-verbal refusals. (joking) As to that shark you met in court, did he have those unmoving doll-eyes? How buff were his pectoral fins?

DAN - I agree. Love the job. Hate the pay. Working for non-profit organizations can be a financial bear.

12:15 PM  
Blogger Dave Morris said...

Carol, funny stuff. I took the family swimming with dolphins last year in Mexico, they had a great time and we got good pictures.

Am enjoying your blog, thanks for the entertainment!

10:49 AM  
Blogger Rachel said...

Are we a society of animal molesters? (jk)

During our recent trip to Florida my son was blessed to go feed the dolphins before Sea World opened (it was a relative knew a friend who worked as a trainer there type of thing). It was such an awesome experience for my sensitive 4 year old.

12:03 PM  

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