MARINE BIOLOGIST | Jenifer Burney An Aquarist's Dream 🐬
By Gina V. Ramsey
As someone who did not grow up on a farm, or even with family pets (unless you count the stray cats my sister enticed with cold cuts on our front porch), I naively concluded that animal husbandry meant a place I could drop off my husband to be looked after while the kids and I toured the aquarium gift shop without guilt. No one to automatically scowl at the price tag that hung from the glittery jellyfish hat that looked adorable on my daughter.
It turns out, animal husbandry is the ‘science of breeding and caring for animals!’
But you all probably knew that already.
Thank goodness for the opportunity to talk with Jenifer Burney from the Aquarium of the Pacific! Jenifer is part of the animal husbandry team at the Aquarium, where she is an aquarist who harvests tiny shrimp used to feed the thousands of jellyfish and other marine animals.
“I check and observe the animals to make sure they are healthy, happy, and fed, as well as make sure the displays are clean and look nice for our guests,” she said.
Happy, fed, and clean; exactly how I’d expect to find my husband after picking him up from the husbandry.
A Love For Animals and A Sense for Adventure
“Since I was a little kid, I’ve loved animals,” she said. “Sharks in particular.”
Growing up in North Carolina, Jenifer sought any opportunity she could to learn about different types of animals, their habits, and how to take care of them. While her high school was ‘limited with options,’ she took every science class offered. It wasn’t until studying at North Carolina State University that she combined her love for animals with science. “It just seemed like a great marriage,” she said.
She recalls her college years as the time she was able to take her biggest steps toward what would eventually become her calling.
“I volunteered in organizations,” she said. “I even got involved in the amphibian club,” she laughed.
Her involvement in such groups led her to volunteer at the North Carolina Natural History Museum where she worked with frogs, snakes, lizards and other reptiles, as well as fish and invertebrate animals. Eventually Jenifer earned her degree in Zoology and jumped at the chance to move to Guam for 4 years to work in an aquarium. While at a workshop there, Jenifer met people from Long Beach who were studying marine organisms.
“That’s how I learned about the Aquarium (of the Pacific),” she said. “I had never been to California until I moved for this job!”
A Part of the Whole
Jenifer has been with the Aquarium for 4 years, although she has worked in animal husbandry for 12 years. She loves to see people walk through the Jelly Fish exhibits and experience what she gets to do as her day-to-day job. The displays have to look good, because, as she pointed out, “The animals are the ambassadors here. They teach the guests [about marine life].”
Anyone interested in what she does should start with volunteering.
“It’s a great way to get hands-on experience with taking care of the animals, and to see a lot of the behind the scenes work that goes on,” she said.
The Aquarium offers intern programs for those looking to get into the marine biology and zoology career fields, but volunteers from all backgrounds are very much welcomed. Kids often volunteer alongside their parents.
“Any chance [a young person] can get to learn more about ocean life is great,” she said. “Such as summer camps and tide pools. Catalina Island is so close. We’re super lucky to live near the ocean.”
Living in Long Beach as an aquarist is practically ideal.
“[Long Beach] is such a unique and special place,” she said. “It’s got a beach town feel within such a large city.”
Jenifer enjoys snorkeling and scuba diving, something she has done for over a decade.
“There are so many opportunities to enjoy the beach. It gives me an extra connection to my job. I go out as much as possible.”