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Staff Spotlight: Kathy McCarthy

Kathy is an aquarist and one of our volunteer & intern coordinators who has been with the Aquarium for a little more than a year.
This well-traveled lady hails from five states and two different countries!
And she’s a smart cookie — She has a B.S. in Marine Biology and an M.S. in Biology from the University of West Florida.

Get To Know Kathy

What’s your position at the Aquarium:
Aquarist I & Volunteer and Intern Coordinator

Where are you from?
To date I have moved close to a dozen times between five states and two countries (perks of parents in the military!). I spent the longest time in Virginia and Florida, so I would say those states influenced me the most.

How long have you been at the Aquarium?
I started at the Aquarium December of 2018, so just over a year.

Tell us a bit about your background/your life before coming to the Aquarium of Niagara.
I graduated from the University of West Florida in sunny Pensacola. There I earned a B.S. in Marine Biology with a minor in Environmental Science, and an M.S. in Biology. I love being outside, conservation, education, and making an impact, and those passions have led me to a variety of jobs. In undergrad I worked at a SCUBA dive shop, as a genetics research assistant tracking sturgeon in local waters, and as a biology lab teaching assistant. In grad school I worked as a biology lab instructor, and during both I also worked at a hands-on science museum. After college I was a sea turtle husbandry intern and then a sea turtle clinical intern at the New England Aquarium. From there I worked as a fisheries technician for the state of Massachusetts, and then came here!

What inspired you to choose a career in this field?
I’ve always loved animals, the outdoors, water, and biology (growing up next to the Smithsonian museums was a big influence!). In middle school we took a field trip to some local Florida wetlands where we canoed, hiked through the mud, and caught bugs and small fish in dip nets. I often point to that trip as to what led me down the path of Marine Biology.

Have you held any other positions/jobs at the Aquarium?
Nope! I started as an Aquarist I and added the role of Volunteer and Intern Coordinator for our department a few months in.

What is your favorite thing about your job?
There are a lot of amazing things about working here. My top favorites are the moments when a volunteer or intern experiences something new. You are constantly reminded just how cool our job is when you see it through their eyes.

What is something about your job that many people wouldn’t know/realize is part of it?
I would say people probably don’t realize the variety of tasks we could complete in a day. There is a huge biology component, of course, but I’ve learned so much about skills like pluming and life support. From exhibit design, to enrichment, to training tools, if you need something for the animals, often you can design and build it yourself. One time I was using power tools in a wetsuit and remember thinking “how many people can say they did this at work today?”

What’s one thing you are most proud of accomplishing at the Aquarium?
I’m proud of the work I have done to improve the volunteer and intern program in my department. Last year the Aquarium sent my co-worker Krystin and I to the Georgia Aquarium to learn from their staff. It was an amazing opportunity to see how such a well-known facility supports their volunteers and interns. We used that knowledge to improve our individual departments and bring forth new ideas for the aquarium at large.

Tell us about your life outside of the Aquarium.
I love adventures! You can often find me hiking, exploring a new local spot, a few states away, or just lost in the adventure of a good book or video game. I also love dancing, writing, and generally learning new things.

If you were an aquatic/marine animal, what would you be and why?
It’s so hard to choose! I might be a manta ray. They live in warm waters and travel long distances during migrations. Manta rays live alone or in small groups but will often hunt together by chain feeding. They do this by swimming in a circle with their mouths open to create a cyclone effect. If they are alone, they will often somersault to catch more prey. Not just innovative—it also looks like dancing!

a fish swimming under water