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Volunteer Diving at The National Aquarium in Baltimore

Discussion in 'Mid-Atlantic States' started by Hoyden, Dec 5, 2008.

  1. Hoyden

    Hoyden Instructor, Scuba

    # of Dives: 2,500 - 4,999
    Location: Rockville, MD
    Diving at the National Aquarium in Baltimore is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. I can't recommend it highly enough if you can fit it into your schedule. Volunteer Divers at NAIB get a chance to get to know a variety of marine animals (fish, sharks, rays, sea turtles and eels) as individuals.

    The National Aquarium in Baltimore dive program will begin its winter recruitment with a written test scheduled for Monday evening, January 12th, 7:00 p.m.-9:00 p.m. The following prerequisites are required to apply as a volunteer diver: 18 years old and out of high school, Advanced Open Water (or higher) certification required,30 logged dives.

    After completing the written test, the top scoring applicants will have in-water test later in January. After that, the selected applicants will undergo training and join their dive team. You need to be able to commit to one full day every two weeks. You provide your mask, wetsuit and booties and the NAIB provides the rest of your needed equipment.

    If you have any questions, I'd be happy to try to answer them either inthis thread or by pm. There are4 also several other NAIB divers on SB. If you are ready to sign up to take the test, you can go to National Aquarium in Baltimore, click on Ũet Involved and follow the directions from there.

    Did I mention free warm water "local" diving?



    # of Dives: 0 - 24
    Location: LONG ISLAND, NY
    wow wish i live near there!! sounds awesome
  3. Ron G.

    Ron G. Nassau Grouper

    # of Dives: 200 - 499
    Location: Ellicott City, MD

    I've been looking forward to the application process, but I'm not very optimistic (and you don't help matters...) :)

    My understanding is that they typically have a couple hundred applicants for a dozen or two spots. Lousy odds for interested folks.

    I also understand that the written test includes info on diving, but also marine biology. (If I remember correctly, their website says that one thing you can do to prepare for the test is to study biology books!)

    So, I'm gonna take a shot at the application process, but recognize that the odds are that I (and most other applicants) won't make the cut.

    You're right, though....it does sound like a great opportunity.

  4. offthewall1

    offthewall1 Instructor, Scuba

    # of Dives: 2,500 - 4,999
    Location: Baltimore, MD
    Jackie makes grunt work sound like fun! Cleaning the inside of tanks, cutting fish food and cleaning up fish poo... most of the time out of the water... with minimal time in it.

    It is a great opportunity to occassionally get wet... and interact with people from all over the world.

    The process is difficult, time consuming, inconvenient and in the end your odds of getting accepted are slim. Then if you do get accepted - you basically have to be unemployed or have great flexibility with your schedule - as most newbies have to have weekday availability - all day.... not just evenings.

    The written test is challenging and it does include marine biology - which makes no sense for glorified window washers to need to know... and by the way... in many places people get paid to clean the insides of tanks... somehow NAIB has duped the locals into volunteering... good for them.

    I used to be a Corporate Sponsor of the National Aquarium in Baltimore... giving them thousands of dollars a year... and I couldn't even get in the fish tanks for a swim...

    Now as a shop owner... it turns me off that the NAIB has chosen to grant a monopoly to a private scuba company to run the Guest Dive Program there. This is something that should have went out to bid... and it is a primary reason I will no longer give them money as a sponsor and I will not volunteer. Maybe I'm just being pissy... but I don't think a public entity operating on donated money should just hand thousands of dollars to a private party by giving them exclusive rights to run a guest diver program. There are many dive shops out there that would bid on such an opportunity.

    In any event, if you choose to volunteer there... they have a really cool new Dive Safty Officer from the NC Aquarium... Nicki... she's very nice and you should look her up...

    Good luck on the tests... and most importantly - Have Fun!
  5. mheaster

    mheaster Instructor, Scuba

    # of Dives: 1,000 - 2,499
    Location: Tappahannock, Virginia, United States
    I know nothing about the National Aquarium or the business dealings BUT I will second your opinion about their new Dive Safety Officer - Nicky! She and I did our IE together! I hope to visit her up there sometime soon. She is a very talented young lady!
  6. NAIBdiver1

    NAIBdiver1 Barracuda

    Wow, some really negative stuff written here !!! I'll speak a little to some of the issues raised as well as my personal experience as a vol. diver at NAIB for the past (almost) 9 years.

    1. Yes, sometimes there are a large number of people that come for the testing process. At other times the number is smaller. Slots are filled as they are vacated

    2. The test is hard ??? I don't think so. Study biology books ??? I don't think so. The test questions should be easy enough if you're a proficient diver and have passed your advanced open water. The animal questions shouldn't be a problem at all if your interested at all in ocean life and enviroment. I'd been a diver for quite some time when I took the test and every day diving and sea life observation did me well enough.

    3. Grunt work with most of the time out of the water ???? First let me say, that on my dive day, I spend as much time in the water (or out) as I care to. My actual in water time averages 3+ hours a shift. (1 - 1.5+ hours a dive) Yes, being a diver at NAIB does include working. Preparing food for the animals, cleaning the exhibits, feeding the animals, working with and assisting aquarists and vets. Well, I actually enjoy all that ! I've actually learned enough about one particular species that my opinion about the welfare of these animals is sought from me by the vets there. We almost lost one, but was sucessfully brought back from near death - I'm very proud about this.

    OK, time to quit listing negative stuff and defending different points.

    What do I enjoy about being a NAIB diver. Wow, many things !!! First and foremost interacting with the animals. What fun! You really get to know and appreciate the different animals that you take care of.

    Talking to the public, answering question and hopefully giving people a sense of importance of ocean ecology, especially children who will make an impact in the future to our planet.

    Next, meeting and becoming friends with members of my dive team and other divers and volunteers at NAIB - what a wonderful group of people ! "Basically unemployed" to vol at NAIB. On my team we have a chemist that works for DOD, a psychologist, retired military, a lawyer that works for the security exchange comm., Community College admin, DOD instructor in programming, ....... All the people on my team are well educated professionals.

    One of my personal reasons for being a NAIB diver is the joy that I give (and receive) from Deaf visitors, especially Deaf children. I'm a sign language interpreter and when Deaf kids see me and we talk though the windows they are overjoyed. I actually started learning to sign as a diver at NAIB because of the number of Deaf visitors that I would see and this has evolved into a new career for me.

    I'm sorry for the bitterness that was written in the posts above. Oh, the issue about the dive shop bringing guest divers - I believe that the DSO Chuck (Nicki - actually asst DSO) is working to change that in the future.

    Lastly, I want to say that I really appreciate Jackie's post here on Scubaboard. I'm happy that I was able to help and encourage Jackie here on Scubaboard when she decided to become a NAIB diver and posted questions here. She's a real asset to the vol. diver community at NAIB

    Please feel free to ask away. either here or PM (I will be away for Christmas week in T&C though)

    Good luck to any and all who are planning to take the test soon and I'll see you in the water for the pool part of the test !!!

    Lastly, I'm actually quite proud that I was chosen to be a vol diver at NAIB from many applicants, speaks to my ability as a diver and person. (you also need to pass an interview - people skills)
    Last edited: Dec 16, 2008
  7. cdreamer

    cdreamer Solo Diver

    Thank you for your post NAIB diver. I was hoping someone from down there would
    address a prior poster. I have had the opportunity to dive at the National Aquarium
    as a guest last Feb. and the experience exceeded every expectation. You guys and gals
    do a fantastic job and I see why the volunteers never leave. It is a truly rewarding
    opportunity to be able to interact with the marine life, the children and staff of NAIB.
    Keep up the great work!
  8. Hoyden

    Hoyden Instructor, Scuba

    # of Dives: 2,500 - 4,999
    Location: Rockville, MD
    Art (NAIBdiver1) did a pretty good job addressing the issues raised in this thread - but I'd like to share my experiences there and try to answer at least some of Ken's points directly.

    Yesterday I had a typical day as an NAIB volunteer diver - I arrived at the aquarium at about 8:30 am, after saying hi a couple of folks, I went up to the food preparation area where for about 40 minutes I helped prepare the food that we would be feeding the animals that live in the two exhibits that we normally dive. Then I went back to the dive locker for a briefing by the dive safety officer and the aquarist in charge of our exhibits. This is a chance for them to bring us up to date on what has been happening since we were last there as well as give us any special instructions etc. Then it was time to set up my gear and go diving. We were in the Wings in the Water exhibit by 10:30 - right on schedule. My dive computer shows that I spent 42 minutes on that dive. I had general feeding duties so I fed the large female Southern Stingrays, the male southerns and the cownose rays at one of the windows. It is fun interacting with the guests at the windows. Then I fed the Tarpon (the largest female has been at NAIB since it opened over 25 years ago - she is one of my favorite animals in the building).

    After that we headed upstairs to dive in the Atlantic Coral Reef exhibit. We were in the water by 11:29 and my dive time for that exhibit was 48 minutes. I was assigned to target feed - which means I get to hang out with my groupers. In the ACR we have two Nassau groupers, a Red Grouper, three redhinds, four graysbys and a rock hind - being a "grouper groupie", feeding them is my favorite job. The larger ones clearly can distinguish individuals (even in matching wetsuits and gear) and I have spent years building a relationship with them. I find it very rewarding. After that dive we had our lunch break. After just over an hour of socializing (in this case, with new friends since I was acting as a substitute with a team I didn't know very well), we were back for our 2 PM briefing. The afternoon briefing gives us a chance to share our experiences of the morning with the aquarist (for ex. "the little xxx fish didn't eat and I thought he looked a little off...) as well as giving her and the DSO another chance to let us know about things.

    By 2:39, I was back in the wings in the water exhibit (dive time 42 minutes) and my job was to feed the bullnose eagle rays - we have two small, fairly shy males and they need special attention since they are too shy to feed in the open parts of the exhibit. After I fed them all they wanted to eat, I fed the Pelagic ray (a really beautiful purple mid-water dweller) - then I gave the tarpons what I had left. I got to spend a minute rubbing the shell of Calypso, our three-legged green sea turtle while waiting for the ladder to get out. At 3:33, I went in the ACR and my first job was to feed the porcupine fish and balloon fish. It is very cool to watch the porcupine fish eat a black mussel. They suck the entire shell in and out a couple of times and then there is puff of black dust as they pop the shell. The balloonfish is fairly small and shy and yesterday was the first time it ever ate for me. It has almost irridescent blue eyes and generally can't get away from me fast enough, but yesterday, it must have been hungry because it came right up to me and stayed long enough to eat. After that, I did a little general feeding (I fed the 6 new small jacks - wow, are they fast) and hung out with my groupers.

    When we finished there, we went down to the dive locker and cleaned our gear up. I was out of the building by 5 PM. That's a fairly typical dive day, although I might typically get a little more time in the water with my regular team - they tend be a little more tolerant and let me stay in longer.

    This morning I went in early to do a special scrub in one of the Australia exhibit tanks. I had to volunteer extra for this one - yes, you occasionally scrub on your normal dive days, but most of the major scrubbing is done outside of regular dive days - so I got up early this morning to do what some would consider "grunt work" - there were three of us who came in for this. I got to scrub the Archerfish exhibit - 85 minutes of hanging out with Funzo, the coolest pig-nose turtle - he is very interested in everything you are doing and just hangs with you (lays on your head, plays with your tank - "sniffs" your hands and scrub brush) - he really does look like he has a pig's nose.

    So over the last two days, I have been in the water at the NAIB for a total of 257 minutes or 4 1/4 hrs - I don't consider anything I have done over the last two days to be "grunt work", but I guess opinions vary:) When was the last time you hung out with a pig-nose turtle or hand fed a 27+ year old tarpon?

    Clearly, volunteering at the National Aquarium in Baltimore isn't for everyone, but if you'd like the chance to get to know some really cool animals (and some nice people, too) and enjoy free local warm water diving, perhaps it is for you. I have made lots of good friends volunteering at NAIB. My regular dive gets aloing so well that we are all going on a dive trip to Roatan together this coming April.

    As far as need to be unemployed to volunteer, my regular team is made up of a professional photographer, two government employees, a retiree, an IT exec, a house wife, a school teacher and me (self-employed dog trainer, dive bum, former dive shop employee). All have at least a college degree and a couple have advanced degrees (not that this is in any way a requirement). I think that what is most common on weekday teams is that people are senior enough in their jobs to be off a day during the week every other week, work at jobs that can be flexible in scheduling, are retired or are self-employed. There are occasional weekend slots available so even people with 9-5 m-f work schedules can volunteer, they just have to wait for a spot to open if there isn't already one available.

    As far as the process being difficult, time consuming and inconvenient, it is what it is. You have to show up at the aquarium and take a written test. I generally help proctor this test and I don't think that there is any reason that an advanced open water diver with a first aid class since 2005 that is moderately interested in sea life should do not well enough to move on to the in-water testing. If you move on to the in-water testing, you need to come back and go through that. I can't see how it could take more than a couple of hours (depending on your test taking speed) to go through the entire process.

    As far as NAIB politics, I am going to leave that alone, except to say that I know staff and instructors from 6 or 7 different dive shops that volunteer happily in the dive program. Art really did encourage me here on Scuba Board a couple of years ago when I was considering volunteering and then while going through the process and it is one of the reasons that I always try mention it here:).

    If you have any questions, please feel free to ask - apparently, I don't hang out here quite as much as I used to, so feel free to e-mail me at jackiecooper@comcast.net if you'd like.

  9. cdreamer

    cdreamer Solo Diver

    OK - that does it, I'm taking the test.
    Wish me luck!
  10. NAIBdiver1

    NAIBdiver1 Barracuda

    GOOD LUCK !!!

    Happy Holidays !

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