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Matigan Paulsen ’19 Gets a Glimpse Behind the Glass

Published: July 03, 2017
Matigan Paulsen ’19, a marine science-biology major, is interning this summer at the Scott Aquarium within the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, NE.
Matigan Paulsen ’19, a marine science-biology major, is interning this summer at the Scott Aquarium within the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, NE.
Paulsen’s internship has shown her the view from the other side of the aquarium window and the appreciation for what goes into keeping those tanks healthy habitats.
Paulsen’s internship has shown her the view from the other side of the aquarium window and the appreciation for what goes into keeping those tanks healthy habitats.

Seeing a bonnet head shark biopsy and feeding a giant Pacific octopus her lunch are all in a day’s work for Matigan Paulsen ’19, a marine science-biology major who is interning this summer at the Scott Aquarium within the Henry Doorly Zoo in Omaha, NE.

A typical day starts with Paulsen taking morning assessments of the dissolved oxygen, salinity and temperature for all of the tanks within the aquarium and then scrubbing the algae off the inside of the windows using giant magnets.

“Other than that, no day is typical,” said Paulsen. She lists a variety of tasks that fill up her days: helping with diet prep for green sea turtles and sharks when needed; checking water chemistry on tanks to ensure the systems are safe for the fish; helping to feed rays, green sea turtles, the loggerhead sea turtle, the octopus and many other fish when needed. “We do a lot of cleaning algae and use a lot of squeegees for cleaning up water messes, as expected in an aquarium.”

Before arriving in Omaha, Paulsen had only seen the aquarium fish the way most visitors do — standing in front of a big plane of glass, watching the sharks and rays and fish move in front of her like a choreographed dance. Her internship has shown her the view from the other side of the window and the appreciation for what goes into keeping those tanks healthy habitats.

She said she’s learned about filtration and sand filters, and how to backwash systems to ensure they flow properly. She’s learned animal care procedures, like how to feed fish properly by broadcasting so that smaller fish retrieve food. And she’s gotten to see a lot of different styles of tanks, and gain a better understanding of how surface area in a tank is important for oxygenation of water.

“I feel as though I have learned more during this last month of hands-on experience than I ever could in a traditional classroom,” Paulsen said. “I have endured hours of chemistry courses, but they never really clicked in my head. Working at this internship I am seeing real life applications of what I have learned in the classroom.”

Paulsen grew up in Lincoln, NE, where she began volunteering at the Lincoln Children’s Zoo in the seventh grade. When she turned 17, she was hired as an instructor to help run the zoo’s summer camps, which she did for two summers. Since her first year at UT, she has been involved with assistant professor Kristine White in researching the relationship of amphipods and sea sponges. All experiences have given her a taste for the variety of careers she could pursue with her marine science-biology degree, but none more so than this summer internship, which has focused more on zookeeping and in a large facility.

“This internship has definitely confirmed that being an aquarist is the career that I want. It has also confirmed that I want to work at a zoo or aquarium for sure,” she said. “I love what zoos do for conservation and education for the general public, and I want to be a part of that. Preferably hands on with fish.”  


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