Want to fish for the New England Aquarium?

“Where they Went” by Diane Daniel
(Published Aug. 31, 2008, in the Boston Globe)

I’d never stopped to think where aquariums get their stock until I heard about these “collecting” trips. What a cool idea to invite paying guests!

Russ Haims on a boat deck before diving in Bimini

Russ Haims on a boat deck before diving in Bimini

WHO: Russ Haims, 46, of Wayland, Mass.

WHERE: Bahamas.

WHEN: 10 days in May.

WHY: To volunteer on his fourth “Collecting Trip” conducted by the New England Aquarium. Haims returns because, “I love marine life, I’m an avid scuba diver, and the thought of helping out the aquarium and then taking my young children there and saying, look at what Daddy caught, what more could I want?”

GO FISH: “There are three crew, three aquarium staff members, and nine participants. Our job is to collect fish and marine life for the aquarium. Of course they’re very conscientious about handling the fish and protecting the reef,” Haims said. Usually the volunteers are hobbyists from around the country. But, aside from a Dutch couple, this outing comprised several aquarium staff members, including president and CEO Howard “Bud” Ris and his wife, Margaret. (Another Collecting Trip leaves Sept. 14, at a cost of about $3,500, excluding airfare.)

Russ (left) gathers fish with Joe Brennan of Boston (center) and boat captain, Lou Rich of Miami (Click to ENLARGE)

Russ (left) gathers fish with Joe Brennan of Boston (center) and boat captain, Lou Rich of Miami (Click to ENLARGE)

SITES AND FINDS: “The trips originate from Miami, and we always go through Bimini, but the itinerary changes depending on what dive sites we go to,” Haims said. “We’re on a research vessel, a 25-year- old dive boat.” The volunteers would dive three or four times daily for 45-minute intervals. On this trip they netted about 400 specimens for the aquarium. They also conduct scientific surveys of the reef life.

Russ during his diving trip to Bimini (Click to ENLARGE)

Russ spent several hours a day underwater. (Click to ENLARGE)

WISH LIST: “The New England Aquarium has a very detailed wish list of species, quantity, and sometimes gender. This time, for example, they wanted a yellow stingray of a certain size, but not a female so you don’t take babies.” They caught several, which are now part of the new touch-tank exhibit. “Before every dive we have what’s called a chalk talk where they explain where the boat is, what reefs are around it, what fish you might find, whether there’s a current, and they demonstrate on the boat how to catch the fish.”

Russ diving at Bond Cay in the Berry Islands outside of Bimini (Click to ENLARGE)

Russ diving at Bond Cay in the Berry Islands outside of Bimini

NET GAINS: The divers use several methods of catching fish, usually a net handled by two people or the whole group. “Every time you identify and capture them you put them in your catch bag. Then you bring them on board and see them alive. It’s very rewarding.” The fish are brought up slowly in order to acclimate and some even go into a decompression chamber. On “pack day,” the group awakens at 2 a.m. to painstakingly prepare the fish for the airplane ride home. “If people knew how much care goes into all the fish at the aquarium, they’d have such an appreciation for them.”

ON PURPOSE: Of the aquarium trips, Haims said, “I cannot imagine a more rewarding, purposeful, and enjoyable activity. I’m not interesting in diving to see something that’s just pretty anymore.”

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4 Responses to “Want to fish for the New England Aquarium?”

  1. Karen Says:

    I’ve heard about these trips. Paying guests work as hard as staffers…and everyone says it’s a memorable and rewarding experience. You are with NEAq. staffers who really know their marine animals and habitat – so you learn a LOT…much more than you could ever get diving on your own or on a tour. PLUS you truly contribute to the valuable research and educational mission of the Aq.
    Thanx for this interview – very interesting!

  2. scuba equipment Says:

    It’s great that you’re doing surveys along with this activity and even greater is the fact that you’re giving non-divers a preview of breathtaking underwater life through the New England Aquarium. I wonder how deep you go into the waters of Bahamas when collecting specimen. But then again, I’m sure there’s joy in seeing your collections enliven the tank. I wish I could come see those sometime or how bout letting certified divers dive in the tank? — steve

  3. karel Says:

    Amazing. I always thought that the era of finding new species had ended, say for more than 99%. And that institutes like the New England Aquarium were enlarging the population by breeding. Naive of course. Thanks for the lesson.

  4. fish Says:

    What an amazing and rewarding experience. What I would give to go with them just once!

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