Visitors to SeaWorld Orlando can now find out what it's like to spin, glide, skim and fly like a giant ray when they experience the only flying roller coaster of its kind in the world - Manta. In addition to enjoying the thrill ride, guests also find themselves surrounded by the beauty and mystique of Manta's underwater elements, including 10 stunning and uniquely configured aquariums.
SeaWorld's Aquarium team is “growing” coral for the reef aquarium at Manta. SeaWorld Aquarist Justin Zimmerman shares how his childhood interest grew into a career.
How did you know you wanted to work with animals?
I was given my first 10-gallon aquarium when I was 5 years old and was instantly hooked! By middle and high school, I always had at least one aquarium, and they grew bigger and more advanced as I got older. I also visited the Baltimore Aquarium and experienced a behind-the-scenes tour. Once I got to Penn State, I decided to major in Biology and Marine Sciences.
How did you get hands-on experience with animals?
I helped professors with their classroom aquariums to gain more experience. I also researched and applied for college internships. In fact, I started my SeaWorld career as an intern teaching SeaWorld Adventure Camp. It was a fun way to share my interest in animals while learning a lot about SeaWorld and the people who work there.
Any advice for those interested in working with animals?
My best advice is to begin preparing now. Start with a real interest in the field you're studying and learn all you can about it. There are plenty of tools to help - internships and part-time jobs, the internet and connecting with people who are already working with the animals.
How's the coral project coming along?
Even though coral is an animal, it can be grown by taking small “cuttings,” much like plants. Since the reef aquarium at Manta is so large, we need hundreds of corals to begin the growing process. It's a lot of work, but the end result will be spectacular. When we designed Manta, we wanted to use as much coral raised by people as possible. It's important, since homegrown reefs means that we don't need to take coral from its natural environment in the ocean.