Behind the gat(ors!) at Cal Academy, part I

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photo by Andrew McCormick, Graphic Designer at the Academy
Lately my whole focus has been on September 27, 2008. The last four years of my life as well as the lives of other staff at the California Academy of Sciences has been in preparation for opening day. It is now 38 days and counting until the Academy opens its doors once again and all those years of work can finally have a culmination. The building is a flurry of constant activity and I've decided to dedicate the next few blogs to highlight some of the activity behind the closed glass doors and the spot that has gotten the attention of staff the past few weeks has been the swamp tank.

The swamp tank was an iconic feature of the old academy complete with a seahorse railing. It has been recreated with some additional touches. There is now a viewing window from the aquarium level so guests have the opportunity to either look down at the swamp's inhabitants or get eye level with them in the aquarium. For months, we have seen this tank filled and drained to test water quality. Last week the tank was filled and readied for animals.

Two large coolers were brought in filled with water and specimens. A host of aquarium staff took turns catching catfish and crayfish out of the coolers and transplanting them into the swamp by way of ladder. The swamp tank has no entrance so the only way to get animals transplanted in the tank is either ladder or crane. The crane has been tested numerous times with weight bags for larger animals. Last week the crane transported live cargo for the first time. The alligator snapping turtles were given a physical on the floor, complete with cutting of toenails and then were hoisted into the tank by crane. As exciting as it was seeing the turtles and fish acclimate to their new home, staff came out in bunches before noon today to see the final additions.

Two alligators came in the back entrance of the Academy around 11am this morning. They were individually carted in wooden crates. The female was taken out of her box first with many aquarium staff on hand for safety. The Academy vet and animal health staff gave the alligator a quick physical and herded her back into the wooden box for final transport. Her box was then fitted onto the crane by half of the attending staff while the other half of staff readied the male alligator for his physical. The male came out fighting and it took quite a bit of staff to restrain him. Staff let out a collective yelp when seeing him, as he is an albino alligator and the white of his skin was striking.

After both physicals, the alligators were housed back in their crates & they were hoisted one by one into the swamp. An alligator handler was waiting in the tank to steer the crates and coax the alligator out of it once it was set down. He unhooked two of the ropes securing the crane and lifted up the back of the crate so each alligator could slide easily in to the water. The female went into the water with no hiccups but the male took more coaxing. Even with lifting the back of the crate, he wasn't budging initially. But with a steep incline for the crate, he eventually slipped into the water. Collective cheers and clapping occurred when both alligators were in the tank. The audience of staff had been safely watching the whole episode from the catwalks above the tank. All in all, the whole transport from truck to tank took two hours.


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