“When I was in college at Humboldt State [University], I took every scuba class they had to offer, from open water, to advanced, to rescue, to dive master and scientific diver,” she says. “Scuba was my foundation, and all my career moves were because of it.”
And she still dives, almost every week, as part of her job at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Sometimes, says Brianne, it hardly seems like work at all.
The Local Connection
Brianne, who has worked here for five years, grew up in nearby Hollister and started coming to the Aquarium in the year of its opening, 1984. “All our weekend trips were to the beach and the Aquarium,” says Brianne. “After coming here and seeing what was happening underwater, I was hooked.” After getting a degree in marine biology and zoology, she worked for eight years at a marine sciences camp for kids on Catalina Island (the Catalina Island Marine Institute). “I ran labs for kids and took them snorkeling, diving, kayaking and hiking,” she says. “It was fun and easy living on the island, and it was so great to be around the kids’ energy and see them introduced to nature. Some of them had never seen underwater life, and it was a great experience.”
After coming to the Aquarium in 2006, Brianne worked in the dive office and was put in charge of the Underwater Explorers program. Later, she moved into a management position in animal husbandry. So what’s a typical day like in her current job?
“The coolest thing is that there is no typical day,” she says. With hardly any notice, she’ll suddenly find herself donning a wetsuit and swimming alongside a giant sea bass—something she doesn’t mind a bit. “I might hop in the Kelp Forest for a little ‘gardening project,’ help out with a mola feeding or give a sea turtle its medicine,” she says. “I’m always available to jump in where coverage is needed. I plan my day, but sometimes that plan goes out the door. I never know.”
She recently helped transfer animals from the Outer Bay exhibit—which is being renovated—to the Aquarium’s holding facility in Marina. “My job was to help the dive team corral and catch the big sharks and transfer them,” she says. “It was a challenge—the sharks swim much faster than I do, especially when I’m wearing protective chainmail!”
She’s also frequently called upon to go on collecting missions. “I just went to the Monterey commercial wharf to collect eelgrass for our pipefish and aviary fish exhibits, as well as to get encrusting invertebrates for our pier piling exhibit,” she says.
Of course, there are routine tasks as well. “My job each morning is to help the aquarists get the galleries and exhibits prepared for the arrival of our guests,” she says. “We need to siphon the exhibits, clean the windows, feed the animals and ensure the exhibits are at the high standard that people expect.”
Almost every day contains a surprise. For instance, during Underwater Explorers, a youth program that takes place in the Great Tide Pool, the fun would sometimes be interrupted by inquisitive otters. “We would have an otter come into the exhibit, hang out and sun themselves. We can’t have kids that close to otters, so we’d cancel the program. But we’d have to laugh, because the ocean belongs to them.”
Once, during a collection mission, Brianne had an otter experience that was too close for comfort. “I was collecting eel grass, and at one point I looked up and saw this big furry object heading toward me. It was an otter, and he grabbed me with four paws on the sides of my head and gave me a shake.” Fortunately, no harm done—to either party.
Something’s in the Water
Sometimes, says Brianne, the myriad details of the job take over and she’ll suddenly realize “weeks have gone by since I’ve been in the water.” That’s her cue to renew the tie that brought her to the Aquarium in the first place. “What I love about scuba is that you’re always seeing something that you haven’t seen before,” she says. “My local connection is what makes my job unique—it’s been great to come back as a professional. And what makes us unique as an Aquarium is that we’re able to get water from such a clean, unpolluted source. Ocean water is the heartbeat of this place.”