Waves and Smiles: Behind the Scenes Working at an Aquarium

Strong is Our Sexy reader Shawnie is a performer and exhibit interpreter at the Newport Aquarium in Newport, Kentucky. In addition to sharing her love of animals and entertaining aquarium guests, she is also a entrepreneur. We’ve interviewed her to get a behind-the-scenes look at her world:

holding a boa at the aquarium

Some people wouldn’t hold a boa constrictor if you paid them, but for Shawnie, it’s a dream job.

What is a typical day like for a performer and exhibit interpreter?

Shawnie: When I get to the aquarium, I could be doing anything from performing in the Penguin Parade, to teaching guests how to touch sharks, to telling guests all about otters, turtles, sharks, octopi, or alligators.  I handle tortoises, snakes, penguins, blue tongue skinks, and lizards. I have the best job in the world because I never get bored. I teach people all day long about all of these wonderful animals.

What got you interested in working at the aquarium? 

I have a Bachelor’s of Arts in Theater and a Masters of Arts in teaching.  The teaching field is saturated in Northern Kentucky, so this is the best way to use both of my degrees.  I love animals, so it just seemed like a great fit for me.

What kind of training or education did you need for your position?

There are a lot of people at the aquarium who are working on a degree in biology, but there are also a lot of us who are performers.  I have learned so much about animals at the aquarium just by performing the shows about each animal.

What do you like to do when you’re not working at the aquarium? 

I have many different jobs.  I get bored easily, so I do massage.  I also created my own company, Northern Kentucky Self Defense. I teach easy-to-use self defense techniques that require little to no strength. I am available for parties, private classes, and corporate events. My fiance and I also started Tower One, where we add on to the self defense aspect of protection.  We teach situational awareness, active shooter workshops, and anti-terrorism tactics.  In the spring, I am also a tour guide for Ride the Ducks.

What is the most rewarding part of working at the aquarium? The most challenging part?

The most rewarding part is opening up someone’s eyes about the importance of the animals that we have.  The WAVE Foundation leads us all in conservation information, but as performers and exhibit interpreters, we strive to teach people about why the animals are important to our world and how we can help them survive. I also love making someone’s day by helping them to touch a shark or giving them information about a favorite animal.

The most challenging part of my job is learning all the information, especially when we acquire a new animal.  We want to give the guests our best every day, but when a new animal is introduced, sometimes it is hard to put any more information into my head, but I manage somehow.

What has been the most surprising thing you’ve learned along the way, something maybe most people don’t know about this job? 

The most surprising thing I learned about this job is just how many people it takes to give every guest an unforgettable day. From biologists, admission cast, the administration, the front line cast downstairs, the people who work in the cafe, the retail personnel, the sales team, the engineers who make sure that everything is in good working order, the task force who helps to keep the aquarium clean and orderly, we all work together to make sure every guest has the best day ever.  It is our mission to help our guests make memories that will last a lifetime. I was so surprised to find all those aspects at this job.

Tell us about a particular day, event or  project that left an impression on you, good or bad. 

I have the opportunity to do dive shows, and a lot of guests will propose to the their partners during these.  It is always a joy to be a part of that.  However, about a year ago, I got the opportunity to be a part of surprise for a little boy whose father had come home from serving our country.  The little boy didn’t know his daddy was going to be there, and when his dad came out from behind the scenes, the tears started to flow from everyone who experienced their reunion   How blessed am I that I get to help with these special, life changing moments?

aquarium worker shawnie holds a tortoise

Where do you see yourself going with this in the future? 

I would love to move into a training position at the aquarium or become a member of the education program, but I love my job so much now, it is just a joy to be a part of any part of the team.

What would you say to other women interested in working at an aquarium? 

My job at the aquarium is the best job I could have ever asked for.  I have the opportunity to make everyone’s day special. I can bring light to someone’s day who may be having a bad day until they walk into the building. Sometimes I can help them by just smiling at them and welcoming the to the aquarium or by teaching them something they didn’t know or by interacting with some of the animals.  I entertain, inform, and get to work with animals and some of the best people I have ever met.  If that is something, you are interested in, I would definitely recommend this job.

What does the phrase ‘Strong is Our Sexy’ mean to you?

Many people think “strong” means to be strong in your body. I highly recommend taking care of yourself physically, but strength is so much more than that.  I think strength is being true to yourself, helping others, knowing who you are, being confident about who you are, and bringing your light to everyone you meet.  I have often said that everyone has a light.  Sometimes that light is dimmed due to circumstances beyond our control.  As long as you don’t allow that light to go out, you are doing well.  And just like candlelight, the light gets stronger when we share that light.  That is what makes us strong and sexy.

Be sure to check out other interviews and features from our Behind the Scenes series.

Do you want to be interviewed about your job, hobby, or passion? Send a message to writers@strongisoursexy.com and we’ll be in touch! 

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