Tom Rowe on working at The Deep, the award-winning aquarium in Hull

Tom Rowe - just another day at the aquarium

Tom Rowe - just another day at the aquarium - Credit: Archant

Tom Rowe is husbandry supervisor at The Deep, the award-winning aquarium in Hull which is the biggest in the UK and home to over 3,500 fish

I’ve worked at The Deep for the past 15 years and I love it. It’s a friendly, caring atmosphere and very supportive. I imagine people think we spend our time playing with sharks all day. But what we do behind the scenes is hard work and a lot of it involves looking after the animals’ environment. You’re on your feet all day and you clock up quite a lot of steps. I like the spontaneity here. You don’t know what you’re going to experience from day to day. Sometimes you’ll do something and feel very proud of yourself, whether it’s raising a shark from an egg to an adult, or nursing an animal back to health.

Everyone has their specialty and, in my case, it’s jellyfish. I’ve worked with them for years and we’ve had a lot of success breeding them. Although sharks, stingrays and penguins are more charismatic, I like how bizarre they are. Jellyfish are very strange-looking and alien. There’s nothing else like them.

The first thing we do is make sure our displays are looking good, so we clean everything before the public come in at 10am. We have potentially dangerous animals at The Deep, although they’re well suited to captivity. Keeping safe is about knowing how to act around them: what to do and what not to do. We have to respect the possibility that they could be dangerous, although as long as we do what we’re supposed to do, the risks are minimal. The sharks could bite, but they’re not Great Whites. We do, however, have millipedes which are quite venomous and lion fish which have venomous spines – so in a way they’re more dangerous. We have special practices in place when working with them.

In the afternoon we go into the larger tanks and hand-feed the sharks. We have strict rules and have to be trained to high levels, so we’re all dive-masters. We always dive in pairs at least, while a supervisor stays on top of the tank to watch what we’re doing at all times. Plus the supervisor has someone within radio contact in an emergency.

You can’t just go swimming out into the tank and think: ‘I’m in charge here. I’ll go wherever I want.’ You have to be aware of the animals and, especially in the main tank, we try to be aware of where they are and what’s going on around us. Over the years we’ve got to know the animals’ behaviour and understand the signs to watch out for. If you get any kind of response from them it’s generally out of fear; but, really, they’re used to us being in the water and don’t feel any threat from us. They know if we’re in with them, we’re going to be cleaning the tanks or feeding them.

A lot of people would say: ‘Wow! You get to feed turtles and penguins! That’s amazing!’ And it is. But when you do it every day it can become ‘the norm’ – just another day at the aquarium. Sometimes you have to remind yourself that people would pay to do this. We’re lucky to do what we love and to work where we do.

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