Dayna Plater Career Story - Aquarist at SEA LIFE Sydney

14/02/2022
Natalie Mallory

Dayna first joined the Merlin family in April 2017 when she was hired to care for our male Dugong "Pig", at SEA LIFE Sydney Aquarium. Since then she's been promoted to Aquarist, able to look after 3 large oceanariums! She currently looks after Pig as well as 5 large grey nurse sharks, 2 sawfish, 3 marine turtles, 1 giant smooth ray, and hundreds of tropical and temperate marine fish. She also has the pleasure of assisting the rescue and rehab facility run on-site. 

So what's it like working as an Aquarist? 

Each day is different which is one thing I love about my role so much. Some days I start my day prepping all the food for our animals, from the large grey nurse sharks to the tiny Port Jackson sharks. Other days I complete system checks and animal observations and maintain water quality with backwashing filter pods. I will also spend quality time with our Dugong, Pig, conducting training sessions related to his healthcare and feeding him a minimum of 30kg cos lettuce daily. Sometimes I even join the dive team and assist with cleaning the tanks or feeding the animals in the water.

I get to interact with a heap of different people in a day. My team includes people with over 10 years of shark experience, seahorse experts, very experienced divers, and water quality wizards. I also get to interact with the daily guests and teach them all things animal conservation and husbandry.

Pig the Dugong

And what’s your favourite thing about what you do?

My favourite thing is being able to build skills in areas I never thought I’d be doing. For example; in December 2020 I completed a commercial dive course with a group of my colleagues, where I was able to learn underwater skills such as sawing wood and drilling metal as well as undertaking a no visibility dive where I had to complete a knot-tying task. This course was a highlight for me and helped build my confidence as a diver. Another example is my opportunity to become an animal trainer. I began assisting in training our resident Dugong in 2019 and now I run his training session with a team of keepers, teaching him behaviours related to his health, like, presenting a body part for the vet to inspect. This training is essential in ensuring he is given the very best of care. 

What are some of the best memories you’ve had since working for us?

Working during lockdown was an experience but it did provide us with some great memories. We were split into 2 teams which meant I couldn’t physically see ½ of my team that I had become so accustomed to seeing daily. But it did mean I was able to build closer relations with the team I was rostered to work with during those 3 months. We gave ourselves new challenges every week to play including trivia and SEA LIFE Olympics.

Two standout experiences I’ve had so far are; the first time Pig successfully completed his ‘roll’ behaviour for me. This was a behaviour that was handed to me from the previous supervisor of animal training once lockdown ended. I had little experience conducting this behaviour myself, so the moment Pig successfully completed it for me was a tear moment. The second standout was my first in-water wild animal rescue. I assisted the rescue team in successfully cutting free and releasing a turtle entangled in shark nets offshore. The other diver and I rode a jet-ski out to the trapped turtle and experienced rough surf before making it out to the turtle. It was an experience I’ll never forget.

SEA LIFE Sydney team

Is there anything that’s surprised you, or you’ve learned in your role?

Safely transporting animals for vet checks is probably one of the coolest things I’ve learned in my role. Our Grey Nurse sharks, Saw Fish, and Smooth Ray all need health checks just like us and sometimes we need to move an animal from one location to the next. Being able to help assist the team in securing a large male Saw Fish or move a Zebra shark from one oceanarium to another gets the adrenaline pumping! Learning how to prep equipment for an animal move is something that surprised me. You’d think that there is probably a lot involved in shipping a shark from one site to another but, it's double that expectation. And the way the team come together to assist each other in a big project like that was also a great surprise, Although I shouldn’t have been surprised because they are an amazing group of people!

Pig the Dugong

What skills are needed to be successful in your role?

The skill that's important for me to be successful in my role is being versatile. As I mentioned, each day is different and any plan you may have had in place for that day can change in a second. Another skill is to be persistent. Some days are harder than others and you can get fatigued, but it's all worth the effort at the end of the day when you know you’ve done everything you could have for the animals you care for. One last skill I’d say is important is being a great communicator. Communication is so important for our team at SEA LIFE as we work with so many different people in a day and so many different animals and it’s very easy to get sidetracked with certain tasks, so it helps to know your team are across everything.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to work in your team?

 My advice would be to be an open book and versatile as each person that you work with will work differently and teach you different skills and it helps to be ready for anything. Be prepared to start at the bottom with cleaning buckets and preparing food. It takes time before the team move around and get to participate in animal moves or training session but it’s all-important and each part of the job offers an interesting challenge and skill.

SEA LIFE Sydney Team

Is there anything the public should know about the creatures you work with? (misconceptions / conservation issues etc.)

A note I’d like to mention for the creatures I work with is for people to stop anthropomorphizing them. We work in a ZAA accredited facility, meaning we meet all the requirements for providing our animals with the best care. A lot of our animals are either rescues or are from other facilities that have either closed due to lack of funding or because our facility offered them a more appropriate home. So the work we carry out is essential!