Thursday, August 22, 2013

Keeper Spotlight: Kyle McPheeters

A new monthly series of blog posts about the staff and volunteers that care for all of the animals living at the Tennessee Aquarium. You can tweet your questions to us at @TNAquarium using the hashtag #QTheKeeper.

Name: Kyle McPheeters

Title: Aquarist

In charge of: Stingray Bay touch tank, shark eggs and stingrays in the “Q” room (an off-exhibit area where animals are quarantined before being introduced or moved to a new tank)

Kyle McPheeters began working at the Tennessee Aquarium nearly two years ago at Halloween. Since the tanks he works on must be maintained each day before guests arrive, a typical day for Kyle begins early in the morning. After an initial check on the touch tank in Stingray Bay in Ocean Journey, he heads to the basement to prep food for the animals in his care. The food mix includes several pounds of squid, clam shrimp, smelt and krill.

Introducing a new bonnethead shark to the Stingray Bay touch tank

When the food is prepared, Kyle removes netting from the touch tank and feeds the stingrays and sharks. He also target feeds the bonnethead shark, epaulette sharks and cownose ray with food that’s fortified with vitamins. Once all the creatures are fed, he scrubs the walls of the tank before visitors arrive at 10 a.m. (Catch a peek of Kyle removing the netting from the touch tank in this video about mornings at the aquarium here.)

Once the aquarium is open for the day, Kyle is ready to move to the River Journey building where he maintains several tanks with young sharks and rays, Besides feeding these fish, he also changes the water and performs any filter maintenance.

Trimming sting ray barbs

In the afternoon, Kyle spends his time diving, working on special projects or serving as a “swing guy” - helping out with other exhibits and keeper areas when he is needed. He also travels occasionally to other facilities to learn about new procedures or to pick up new animals. In his time at the aquarium, Kyle has also built a 700 gallon system known as the shark holding and rearing tanks where shark juveniles and babies are raised. Click here to watch a video of him showing off some recently hatched epaulette sharks.

His biggest passion is breeding sharks and rays. Since Kyle has been at the Aquarium, 22 baby epaulette sharks have hatched along with a few Atlantic sting ray pups. This same breeding program is home to the only mixed sex group of speckled carpetsharks at a public facility in North America. Kyle says, “They’re all young for now, but I hope that we can be the first to breed them in the US.”

If you attended SharkFest, you might also remember him from Cowboy Kyle’s Shark Roundup!

Got a question for Kyle? Tweet it to us at @TNAquarium with the hashtag #QTheKeeper. We’ll be tweeting the answers next Thursday, August 29 from 3-4:00 p.m.

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