When Director of Husbandry Operations Jon Hoech heard the Russians were coming earlier this year, he welcomed them with open arms. In early November, a group of four aquarists and one translator arrived from Vladivostok, on the Sea of Japan. Their mission: to learn everything possible about the Monterey Bay Aquarium—information they’ll use to build the largest public aquarium in Russia, planned for a 2012 opening.
“Prime Minister Vladimir Putin announced plans for the Primorsky Aquarium in 2004,” says Jon. “And their staff was charged with engaging with the aquarium community at large to learn more about management and husbandry.” So, in a gesture of goodwill and cooperation, Monterey Bay Aquarium staff hosted the group for the entire month of November. Our Russian colleagues shadowed our staff throughout the day, learning everything from finance to penguin feeding, guest experience to growing jellies. They wore Aquarium name tags, carried our handheld radios and generally acted like any other employees.
“We were here from 8 to 5 every day, cleaning, feeding and generally helping out,” says Interpreter Elena Boyko, fresh from watching a sea otter surgery that morning. “The idea was to not just learn theory, but to do it in a practical way.”
A State-of-the-Art Aquarium
Construction of the roughly 100,000-square-foot Primorsky Aquarium began in February 2010 and the opening is planned for summer 2012. It’s Russia’s first large-scale public aquarium, developed in association with Vladivostok’s Institute of Marine Biology, and will include sea otters, manatees, dolphins and numerous native species. Like the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Primorsky’s mission encompasses conservation, research and education, in addition to providing a state-of-the-art guest experience. “Our mission is to raise the level of knowledge of our oceans,” says Elena.
The Primorsky Aquarium is on an island, requiring a short ferry ride. A bridge is being built to serve the facility, as well as a university, associated hotels and a conference center. It’s all slated for completion in time for the annual Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation conference in summer 2012.
Living the Lives of Aquarists
The four Russian aquarists each had specific areas of expertise. Vladimir Maslov spent almost all of his time shadowing our sea otter staff, Victor Kolobov studied pelagic (open-ocean) fishes, Aleksei Bykov focused on our kelp forest exhibit and Marat Khaydarov learned about growing and caring for jellies. Staff from throughout the Aquarium was enlisted to help, sharing information about everything from diving to the deep sea.
“We really appreciated the opportunity to learn,” says Elena. “We were very impressed with the organization—it’s something we can strive toward. We don’t have such aquariums in Russia yet, so everything was new and interesting for us. We were overwhelmed to see how all things work together in operating a big aquarium, how the big tanks with different species are presented and maintained, and to hear stories about how everything had been started.”
Bike Rides and Big Sur
The visit wasn’t all business, however. In their spare time the Russian team visited San Francisco, the Big Sur coast and other local attractions. They rented bikes and explored the Monterey Peninsula. And, in a particular highlight, they even got to experience one Monterey Bay Aquarium staffer’s tree house.
Their visit was full of special experiences. At one point they were eating in a local restaurant and struck up a conversation with an Aquarium volunteer. Later, when they went to pay their bill, they discovered that their new acquaintance had taken care of it.
“It’s a very beautiful place—the people were very nice, very warm,” says Elena. “During the four weeks Monterey became a special place for each of us – neat, friendly, with beautiful and unusual flora.”
There were a few surprises—like steak cooked rare or medium. “In Russian we don’t eat meat if it’s not well done,” says Elena. They were also surprised when they weren’t required to remove their shoes before entering a house. “It’s not typical for Russia. Also the style of the dinner – very informal – we didn’t have to sit at the table all the time, but could eat wherever . It’s unusual for us, but we liked it!
“In general, our stay here was very positive and interesting. People are very nice and helpful and we’re very thankful of all the training and great attitude and cooperation of the Aquarium staff. Special thanks to the husbandry department, which allowed us to be with them and learn firsthand, and especially to Jon Hoech, who organized our visit inside and outside the Aquarium and became a true friend for all of us.”
And, in a fitting final gesture, one of the Russian team members got a shark tattoo on the last night of his stay. Dasvidania!