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Saturday, August 15, 2016

We will miss you Samantha!
Meet MRC's Summer 2016 
Aquarium & Education Intern
Sam Paitsel


 
1. What do you like to do for fun?
          I guess I like to make things.  I make and sell these little pencil cases that look like whale sharks, which is what I’ve been doing lately.  I also like to paint, even though I’m not really good at it, haha.  Lately I’ve also been playing this game called “Stardew Valley,” which is basically like Farmville but actually gives you a rewarding feeling.  When I’m not doing that, I play my ukulele, write little blurbs for never ending projects I’m working on, design costumes for upcoming musicals, and dance around my room to Broadway musical soundtracks.
 
2. So do you have a favorite animal?
          The answer to that changes daily, but it usually flips back and forth between whale sharks and giant squids.  Although, I do have to give an honorable mention to my pet fish, Drew, whom I love more than is probably healthy for a girl to love a Betta.


 
3. Where are you from and what brought you to Florida?
          I’m originally from a little hick town a few minutes south of New Orleans, Louisiana.  When thinking about college, I wanted a degree in Marine Biology, which very few schools offer, and I had my choices narrowed down between the Maine Maritime Academy and Florida Tech.  Once I thought about how much I absolutely hate cold weather, I figured Florida would be the much better choice.  Nearly 4 years later, here I am, and I couldn’t be happier.
 
4.  What got you interested in working in the marine biology and conservation fields?
          For as long as I can remember, I’ve always loved sea life.  I’m pretty sure part of that comes from my mother who, even though she’s a doctor and her career has had absolutely nothing to do with the ocean, always loved scuba diving and sea life, and even decorated my nursery with an “under the sea” theme.  Although I’ll be honest, my room still has the same decorations because 21 years later, we’ve just never gotten around to changing it.  She took me to Audubon Aquarium regularly when I was little, and I’ve always been happy around fish.  I remember watching a Discovery Channel documentary about whale sharks or something, and when I saw these scientists going out and scuba diving all over the world and seeing all kinds of amazing animals, I knew that was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.  Imagine how happy I was when my 6-year-old self found out that a Marine Biologist was a real job that I could do.  As I got older, I just never grew out of that goal.  Once I got to FIT and started doing real work in the field, I kept learning new cool stuff and kept wanting to learn more.
 
5. What previous internship/work experience do you have? Have you always worked in conservation?
          This is my first real internship!  I did have the opportunity to join one of my professors on a field course to the Galapagos Islands to do research this past summer, where we performed terrestrial and marine transects to get data that would be entered in a long-term (roughly 20 years long) data set.  Using this, we are able to observe the changes in species diversity in the area, and we can try to figure out what’s causing these changes, be it climate change or human involvement.  And swimming with whale sharks was pretty cool.
 


 
6.  If you could design your dream aquarium, what kind of exhibits would be in it?
          Assuming an unlimited budget, experts in all of the animals listed, the best animal care possible, and we could figure out appropriate enrichment for all parties involved, I’d start out with a huge reef tank that had a tunnel running through it that people can walk through, but it would be more like an “X” of tunnels that would lead to different parts of the aquarium and each arm of the X would have a different region of the world.  One would be gulf reefs, one would be like the Great Barrier Reef, one would be a Caribbean reef, and another would be something else.  I’d love to have a wing with a bunch of different types of sharks.  Reef sharks, whale sharks, maybe even a basking shark, nurse sharks, all kinds of cool stuff.  Another wing would be devoted entirely to cephalopods.  There’d be schools of cuttlefish, schools of squids, definitely an octopus or two (or twelve), and the crowning glory would be a colossal squid.  One of the other wings would have all the cute stuff, like seahorses and sea otters, and all that jazz.  And then in the last wing, I think it would be cool to have an exhibit all about home aquariums.  I feel like a lot of people get caught up in the “Finding Nemo” aquarium glamour and don’t really know how to care for a saltwater tank and exactly how much work is involved in its maintenance, and as a result, a lot of fish get taken from the wild and sold in pet shops just to die a few weeks later at the hands of an inexperienced home aquarist.  This way, people would have the opportunity to either get the information they need to obtain fish in an environmentally conscious way, properly maintain a saltwater tank, learn why say, an octopus doesn’t make a good pet, how expensive maintenance can be, and learn about the science involved (like the nitrogen cycle), or they would realize that they don’t have the ability to maintain a huge saltwater tank, and would instead devote their time to an easier to maintain smaller freshwater tank.  And I’d have a wall of Bettas.  Just a wall with a bunch of tanks with all kinds of absolutely beautiful show bettas in each one.
 
7. As the summer intern for MRC what are some of the projects you work on?
          I do whatever they tell me.  My biggest responsibility is tank maintenance, which includes feeding the fish, checking the water quality, and performing water changes when needed.  I also have been helping out with social media by posting on the Instagram account (@marineresourcescouncil), and setting up #IRLSpeciesSunday and #SunriseSaturdayMRC posts on Facebook.  I also painted and helped design a new educational exhibit that should be up in the Lagoon House very soon.  Right now I’m helping to set up some new tanks in a huge redesign of the exhibits, so check back in a couple of months for some exciting new exhibits!
 
8. What are some of your special skills and talents?
          I do musical theatre.  I studied ballet extensively for over 10 years hoping to go pro, but a couple of injuries set me back far enough that it wasn’t really feasible for me to do it anymore (although it takes real dedication to dance 6 performances of “The Nutcracker” en pointe with a broken foot thank you very much).  My junior year of high school, one of my teachers also did choreography for a bunch of other local theatre groups, and was trying to recruit as many of his dancers to audition for a production of Oklahoma! he was staging at the high school he choreographs for, and I always secretly wanted to be one of the Can-can girls, so I auditioned, and even though I sounded like a dying cat when I sang, I got cast, and I got to do the Can-can.  Ever since, I was hooked, and when I got to FIT, I joined College Players, where I’ve been in 5 shows, choreographed (officially) 2 of them (unofficially 3 ½), costumed 2, and directed 1, and I’ve been the Vice President now for 2 years.  I also sound much less like a dying cat now.  



 
9. What are some of your favorite topics or areas in conservation?
          I’m really interested in marine invertebrates.  I really like cephalopods, and my dream job would be to study their intelligence, but also I feel like in real life, inverts serve as a sort of “canary in the coal mine,” since they tend to react more strongly to environmental change than say, fish do.  I feel that by looking at inverts and trying to figure out what changes in their populations mean, we can get a good predictor of what will happen with larger species based on current trends.
 
10. If you could host a dinner party with 5 people from any point in history and pop culture who would they be?
          Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Dita von Teese, Bianca del Rio, and Francois Arnaud.  Almost no one would have anyone in common, but I really don’t care.

 

 


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