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CLEVELAND - Keeping a majestic atmosphere at the Cleveland Aquarium is no easy task. Many personnel work hard to keep the preservation of the animals inside. Brenton Maille is an Aquarist and took us behind the scenes to experience the Cleveland Aquarium through his daily routine.

Brenton Maille, Aquarist at the Cleveland Aquarium
Brenton Maille, a Aquarist at the Cleveland Aquarium cleaning turtle exhibit.
Photographer: Matt Frieden

What is an Aquarist? 

Think of Maille as the Cleveland Aquarium zookeeper. Besides making sure the animals are fed, Maille has a very broad list of tasks that vary day to day. He is always working on call 24/7. 

Aquarists are different from traditional zookeepers that take care of terrestrial animals. They have to control the environment the aquatic animals live in, but also educate the visitors that come to see the aquarium.

Brenton Maille, Aquarist at the Cleveland Aquarium
Brenton Maille, Aquarist at the Cleveland Aquarium, cleaning fish tanks by siphoning old food and waste out.
Photographer: Matt Frieden

One day he may be testing the water levels that come from Lake Erie into each exhibit, making sure no pathogens or high amounts of chlorine are present. Another day, he may be building bird feeders and toys. Or he may scuba dive to clean the shark tank. His daily routine will always care for the needs of the animals, physically and mentally. A high amount of knowledge in animal biology and chemistry is needed to keep the function of the aquarium interconnected properly. 

Brenton Maille, Aquarist at the Cleveland Aquarium
Brenton Maille, Aquarist at the Cleveland Aquarium getting food ready to be prepped
Photographer: Matt Frieden

Maille started his busy day for us by cutting up breakfast for the animals. He sliced fruits and vegetables to be divided for certain birds and fishes. Each animal does have a favorite food that Maille keeps in mind. He also has to keep track of what minerals and vitamins are in the food. Some foods can't have high amounts of iron for current animals.

Brenton Maille, Aquarist at the Cleveland Aquarium
Brenton Maille, Aquarist at the Cleveland Aquarium, shows us the bird toys he has built.
Photographer: Matt Frieden

After prepping for breakfast, Maille helps clean the tanks and exhibits. Cleaning consists of getting out waste, checking that filtration systems are working, siphoning old food, and sanitation. For other animals such as frogs, he will re-moisture the inside of their habitats with fresh drinking water and re-hydrate the plants.

Brenton Maille, aquarist at the Cleveland Aquarium
Brenton Maille, aquarist at the Cleveland Aquarium, checks the water filtration systems.
Photographer: Matt Frieden

When the aquarium opens its doors to the public at 10 a.m., Maille's favorite part of the day starts as he focuses on teaching kids and adults. His assistance ranges from helping them feel comfortable touching stingrays, to answering questions they may have. Maille recalls the people that fueled his passion when he was a boy and hopes one day to be able to inspire young people to follow in his footsteps. 

Maille passion to work with animals started when he was young. He grew up on a farm and not only took care of cows and pigs, but fish tanks in the house. He would stay long hours watching zoo keepers and aquarists do their job. His passion was so strong when he went to college that he studied to become a marine biologist. 

Yes, Maille does talk to his animals. Yes, many of them listen. 

When cleaning a turtle exhibit, a turtle sat and watched Maille clean. Occasionally the turtle tried to interact with the cleaning mop, letting Maille know she's still here keeping him company.