Hi every-fish! Thanks for the great response to my first journal entry about Mermaid K. I’ll be doing a follow up one where we post the video from surprising her, and also about her upcoming birthday once it has happened. She appreciates all your words of encouragement.
Today I am going to talk about my first aquarium experience, and the several experiences I had after that! I have always wanted the experience of swimming in either a tank or an aquarium. Over the past 7 years of my professional mermaid career I have come so close to getting to do one of those; only to have the opportunity fall through.
This past June I was invited to audition and give a pitch for Doors Open Halifax through Dalhousie University. Doors Open is an event that happens all over North America where parts of the city that are normally closed to the public are opened up, and public spaces give “behind the scenes” looks. I was being contacted by one of the most prestigious marine science departments in the world to participate and I’ll admit it was a bit intimidating. The specific contact person had been at a booking of mine 4 years ago and I’d won them over back then, so they wanted me to come in!
I always wanted to be a marine biologist when I was little. I had an undiagnosed learning disability that made it very difficult to comprehend math and science. It wasn’t until I was already in university to become a teacher that I was diagnosed and learned skills that took from barely passing those courses to getting A’s in every single one. (even a few A+s!) But by that point in my life marine biology was long gone for me and I had instead transferred my love of the ocean into my mermaid work. Through environmental education workshops I could utilize my love of the ocean and my teaching skills along with empowering kids.
The aquarium at Dalhousie is called, The Aquatron. According to the Dal website, “The Aquatron Laboratory is Dalhousie University’s aquatic research facility, located on Dalhousie’s main campus in the heart of Halifax. Considered by many to be one of the best in the world, the Aquatron is the largest university aquatic research facility in Canada. The Aquatron is well suited to accommodate almost any lab-based aquatic experiment. It boasts six large tanks holding a combined volume of over 2,000 m3, as well as a wide variety of smaller tanks, research spaces and equipment. These world-class facilities are backed by our mechanical system, which can provide high quality, temperature controlled seawater and freshwater year round, as well as a professional team of both biologists and mechanical operators who are available to run the systems and help researchers.” You can check out the hyperlink to learn more about the Aquatron.
For my first meeting about the aquatron and my pitch I was invited to the facility for a tour. The water was only 4 degrees Celsius and inside it were lobsters that were part of a study. I learned that over the years a variety of studies had taken place in the lab including a family of seals, a shark, sustainable fishing techniques, laboratory equipment testing, and more. The facility was very industrial and we had to walk down a spiral staircase made of metal to get below the surface and look through the windows into the aquatron. As it is a research facility it was free of everything except the research subjects; so no plants or corals or rocks etc. The water was pumped in from the ocean and treated, but under the special lights I could see plankton moving.
I gave my pitch for the event and everyone really wanted me to pair my performances with environmental lessons for kids. I agreed and won them over. I didn’t have a reference point to work with in terms of how long I should perform in the water. I figured my standard swim parties are an hour, so why not an hour for a workshop and an hour in the aquatron for several hours a day? Seemed like a good idea at the time… I made a date to come for a test swim to get familiar with the space and they promised me it would be warmer.
I arrived for my test swim with some media coverage in tow. I’ve been very lucky to be able to continuously secure good media coverage. I was filming a spot for The Weather Network.
The way the aquatron worked is that there was a smaller pool I’d get into and swim through a tunnel to get to the aquarium area. Then the reporter and aquatron staff would go down below and watch through the windows. I eased myself into the smallpool and gave my interview. I was pretty happy with the results, and then I took a deep breath and jumped into the water. IT WAS SO COLD. It was 18 degrees C and it instantly took my breath away. I didn’t adjust for the entire time but luckily I was only swimming for about 45 minutes to get footage for the reporter and to get a feel for the place.
Behind the scenes photos of filming
This was my first time in anything like this. The water was so salinized that I was beyond buoyant. I could barely get down at all and in the media coverage you can see I am struggling. It was so cold that I couldn’t take full breaths and I’d come up to the surface and be disoriented and gasping for breath. I also have chronic pain which flared up right away. There was an oxygenator in the center that made it harder than normal to hear underwater and made it tricky to see. I’ll be honest; I was starting to doubt my ability to do the booking but I wanted to give myself a chance to learn. I’ve always been the time of mermaid that I don’t know how to do things instantly or already have a knack for them. I’ve had to learn and practice. This would be no different. While I swam around awkwardly I’d eventually get to a point where I was killin it! The media coverage turned out pretty great. I was exhausted, freezing, and had water pour out of my nose every time I bent over for the next two days.
That weekend I couldn’t sleep I was so excited for the booking. I arrived early, wiggled into my tail and did my first workshop for a great group. This time the water was slightly warmer and I’d brought weights to help me sink. I got them to turn off the bubbles so I could see easier underwater and hear better. Sean brought a gopro which he synced to our tablet and TV so he could show the folks what I looked like underwater and I could also have a chance to watch on my break and see how I was doing. I brought webbed fingered gloves to help me do better back flips, and loads of water to help keep me hydrated in all the salt. I got into the aquatron for my first swim and I totally overdid it. I used all my effort to do underwater tricks, flips, bubble hearts and kisses, and fin slaps at the surface. The kids went wild for it and I did start to get a better feel for it.
After the first session I was wiped and needed to pee so bad. I have a bladder illness that is called IC. It basically makes you feel like you have an infection for your whole life. It was acting up and causing a lot of pain. The second I could get out of my tail I was down into the hidden bathroom trying not to be seen. Once I got back up I realized I had overdone things a bit. I was only 1 set down and I had 2 more to go. How did other mermaids do this?
I watched my video playback and made mental notes. I was surfacing too fast even with weights. What would I do in an aquarium with animals? I couldn’t surface that quickly or I’d hit one! I also wasn’t doing my flips correctly, and though I felt like I was swimming deep I wasn’t going deep enough. I had a bit to eat, drank some more water and went out for my next environmental workshop and my next splash in the aquatron.
The remainder of the time I did a better job. The water was still cold though and I was out of breath very easily. I learned how to push down to the bottom and work with my buoyancy to help my strike poses and do tricks while I was floating up. I also realized I could use less of my oxygen with slower longer tail kicks instead of many rapid ones. I was really finally getting a feel for it but I was EXHAUSTED and freezing. I knew I couldn’t do a second day of this by myself. There was no way. So I called in for backup…. Mermaid Mutiny!
Doors Open Photos
Having Mutiny come was so much better! I knew she’d be going through the same shock that I went through my first swim; but she handled it well. Mutiny wears our tail with a competitor monofin which is better equipped for ocean swimming than my foil. I was jealous watching her cruise around.
I had a competitor before and they’re amazing. One kick and you go so far; meanwhile my foil was good for turns and flips it just took me 5 times the kicks to get the same place Mutiny would go with 1.
Mutiny and I work very well together without the need for a lot of chatter when it comes to being underwater. We’ve both done modelling and photography for years so we have a good sense of what things look like to a viewer. It wasn’t long before we were doing synchronized flips and tricks and Sean was down below snapping photos after photo. He’d figured out the best way to deal with the glare from the aquarium glass and we were really getting great stuff. My nose plugs didn't even show up in photos or video for the most part- which was cool!
Mutiny was a champ. When we were finished they showed us some cuttle fish that were part of a study! It was so cool I thought they were really cute.
The event ended and had been a great success. We’d won over Dal and the aquatron staff who invited us to come back anytime we wanted over the summer. So when our friend Merman Christian came to visit… that’s exactly what we did! We organized a mass photoshoot for our whole Halifax Mermaids Team, and some “mer”ternity photos for Mermaid Mimi as well. Every mermaid got a chance to have some photos and video taken (I am still editing). It was a bit of a challenge for anyone who hadn’t been in it before but Christian and Mimi both took to it very easily very fast. Soon everyone was cruising around. I took most of the photos and then when I decided to get in the water; Sean took some of me! We tried to get group shots of everyone touching Mermaid Mimi’s belly, and she got bonked in the face a few times. It was pretty funny. (Mimi had to wear fabric because of her pregnancy). The water was warmer this time (very comfortable) but it made the water harder to see through. Turns out cold water is easier to photograph through!
Behind the Scenes/Out Takes
We returned to the aquatron again for a quick visit with Mermaid Iona. Our photos didn’t turn out that well but we filmed for The Canadian Press who will have their media go live next week and we’ll be able to show you the mermazing photos they took! (we hope to work with the photographer again sometime). There was a funny moment where I had to don goggles and a squeegee and go scrape barnacles off the glass! I'll share the photos/video/news coverage when it goes live!
Overall I would say that I’m not the best aquarium mermaid but I am certainly getting there. I know that the pros out there who work in aquariums all the time often have scuba backgrounds (which I don’t yet) and have plenty of time to rehearse their acts (which I really didn’t). I think I am slowly making my way through the aquarium ‘levels’ (that I invented in my head) and I get better every time. I look forward to continuing to work with the aquatron on a research study and other opportunities. I really love learning new things and having new experiences. I think I am very lucky to have had the chance to show them my stuff and win them over. Crazy to think this all happened because of a gig 4 years ago! It just goes to show that it’s important to put your effort into everything with gigs and your business- because something that seems so simple could land you something big later on! (our company being insured and having a reputation for education were two of the big deciding factors as well).
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