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Book Review:

Aquarium Careers

By Jay Hemdal

2001, 126 pp. paperback

Printed retail $12.95 U.S., $20.95 Canada

Writer's Showcase

San Jose, New York, Lincoln, Shanghai

An Imprint of iUniverse, Inc.


ISBN: 0-595-20151-2

Bob Fenner


Perhaps the most appropriate author to pen such a title, Jay Hemdal has "walked the walk" of pet-fishing… as an accomplished hobbyist, industry worker (retail clerk to the wholesale livestock end), writer and public aquarium employee. Here is a timely work on all aspects of "making money" in the fields of ornamental aquatics, told in a straightforward, complete, honest manner; drawing on Jay's definitions and examples of "job, occupation, career"… calling on the reader to consider well the differences in these "life choice" descriptions.

Do you know someone who's interested in aquaristics as more than diversion? This small book is a must for them, or you.


Chapter 1 describes Jay's take on the importance of education (formal, academic and not concerning preparation and involvement in the field. All are advised to actively seek educational depth and breadth in early grades on through college, and consider minoring in aspects of business itself. A handy table of Universities offering aquatic science graduate degrees is offered. Involvement in "extra-curricular activities" (computers, art, boating, horticulture, diving, photography) are discussed and encouraged.

Chapter 2 covers private sector jobs; working in retail shops and wholesale in various positions, the service end, possibilities in manufacturing, distribution, collecting, breeding, publishing, consulting. As in the rest of the book, Jay shows good humor and personal insight as to what the trade is like.

Chapter 3 goes over the myriad of public aquarium jobs, including an exemplary effort at describing the various hierarchies of jobs, titles to be found in various organizations, respective possible jobs per position and a graphic example of "relative annual salary ranges for various aquarium professionals", and a personal glimpse as to what one of his days schedule looks like as Curator in Toledo.

Other Jobs for Aquarists comprises Chapter 4. This vast arena encompasses government and private sector fish hatcheries, doing field and laboratory work, stints in "Science Museums" (yes, some have live aquatics displays), even the entertainment businesses (e.g. casinos, thematic restaurants, television/movie sets).

Chapter 5 does a good job of going over the miscellanea of "part time careers" involving aquariums. You might well try your hand at "supporting your habit pet-fish habit" by breeding/selling aquatic life, writing, making images, even writing software or helping make "fishy" websites. As long as these are true "for profit" ventures you may well be right to seek tax relief as a small business owner. Volunteering at public aquariums is given mention here as well… if it were not for such huge contributions from the general public few aquariums would exist (none that I know of).

Chapter 7, Related Topics is where the author really shines. All aquarists should have a thorough, state-able "understanding" of "what they're about" in the hobby (as with their very lives). Here is presented "grist for the mill" for your philosophy on public and private aquariums, ethos, a checklist of sorts for aquarium problem-solving and a host of posited exhibit design challenges. Lastly issues of professional associations in the field of public work and safety issues are discussed.

Finishing Materials include a description of Jay's background, a sample resume with notes on how to make your own, conduct an interview…), an annotated appendix of public aquariums, a very useful interpretation of acronyms and pertinent references.

My Exceptions, Suggested Changes:

While I agree or am confluent with ninety some percent of what is presented here I want to do a service to the readers of this small review and the author in offering my "dos centavos" for the works improvement. Firstly, there are a few dozen misspellings and grammatical errors to be found here. A thorough reading by a competent editor would/will disclose these (I will send my marked-up copy along). Most regrettable is the egregious mis-use of the term "fish" for more than one species of fish (fishes).

Whereas I am in total agreement with the authors stress on the importance of mathematics and science education, I am aggrieved at the dismissive attitude toward "grades". There are times and places where "grade inflation" and overemphasis is placed on such evaluation. Nonetheless, learning the material in "the real world" is tantamount to "achieving the grades" in many instances. Students should be encouraged to both excel in school and receive high marks for doing so.

I find the authors appraisal of the potential for income in "Aquarium Maintenance Services" too denigrating. There are some five hundred such businesses listed in the Los Angeles area Yellow Pages alone. I have friends who make (net) more than six figures a year doing aquarium installs and ongoing upkeep. This part of our trade has become a huge segment. I agree with Jay in it being an easy part of the trade to join (low investment, possible downside).

I am sure the statement on page 27, "All new exhibits must be designed with the interests of the visitors foremost in mind" is a lapse of reason… certainly, the foremost concern of a captive environment is the welfare of its livestock.

The statement that a person's chances are greater of being elected as a U.S. Representative than working with dolphins is incorrect (p.34). There are several thousands of such jobs worldwide. (hundreds alone in Cancun and Cozumel Mexico).

I am surprised at the lack of internet resources, referral offered in this book. To wit, the several public aquariums listed in Appendix 2, the various professional associations… FishBase.org… Jay, where are their URLs?

All in All:

For its brevity, insight, slight cost this is an excellent resource for actually all "serious" aquarists, whether they intend/devise to make their hobby more than such. Here is presented one persons odyssey (thus far) in many aspects of "the business" of pet-fishing. If you yourself or someone you know is considering a paying position in the fields of ornamental aquatics invest your time and money well in procuring and critically reading this short book.

Jay's Book, Aquarium Careers may be purchased on line from the publisher, http://www.iuniverse.com/bookstore and through special order from Barnes and Noble or online from Amazon.com

Related FAQs:

re: Some help... Becoming a master fishkeeper; oneself        8/29/15
Thank u..I will
I want 2 be apart of u and this site...
<You already are! By writing to us, your messages will become part of the WWM site.>
I love animals but fish are my thing.
<Study hard, and maybe find a profession where you can explore this. Academic routes of course, marine biology, oceanography, ichthyology... but also vocational training too, such as fish farming, river/lake management, aquarium maintenance contracting, pond construction and maintenance, aquarium shops even.>
What can I do 2 become apart of this and be a master fish keeper???
<Well, I can only tell you how I got started. Besides keeping lots of fish (often taking them back a few months later to try something new) I spent time reading and writing about fish. At first I joined a forum and got into the swing of helping others and learning from their experiences. Lots of good forums out there, two favourites of mine are PlanetCatfish and
SeriouslyFish (both awesome websites too) as well as numerous specialist ones like Loaches Online, The Puffer Forum, Monster Fishkeepers, and so on.
The more you write, the easier it becomes and the better able you are at articulating concepts. That's crucial to the next step, which was sending off freebie articles to websites that needed them. A lot of forums have "pinned topics" or articles that people read rather than comment on. But there are also websites selling fish or accessories that like to have
written articles as well, and these can be a good place to develop your skills and, importantly, get your name out there on the internet. Once you've done a couple freebies, pitch an article at a magazine or website that'll pay you. Such unsolicited article ideas are perfectly normal, but it's important to have a couple freebies online you can link to, so the editor can see you can write well. If writing isn't your thing, try photography. Fish photos are probably in more demand than articles to be honest! Some people do both, like Bob F., owner/manager of this website.
He's a semiprofessional diver as well, so a lot of his photos are of reefs in the tropics. If that interests you, then maybe diving is something to think about?>
I really wanna do somethin better and greater.
<A fantastic ambition. Might I also direct you to a couple relevant pages on this website:
There's plenty of money to be made in the aquarium business, particularly the service side of things. Here in London there's a place called The Aquatic Design centre that can't recruit skilled aquarium maintenance people fast enough! Of course running your own service business would be better than working for someone else, but at the same time how cool would
working at Sea World be???>
Thank u sincerely terry
<Most welcome. Neale.>

Career's related to the aquarium hobby, or general field biology.  8/27/11
Hello there folks! I have a somewhat non "fish keeping advice" type question for you today...
I am a high school student who has been keeping fish and my interest for the aquarium hobby going strong for over 2 years. I've kept a fair amount of fish species from the average neon tetra to the intriguing spiny eel. I can never satisfy my urge to research and look up the care and interesting characteristic of fish, and quite frankly, it takes up most of my free time haha (In fact I found myself reading "Ecology and Field Biology" By Roger J. Lederer" yesterday)..... Anyways I am curious as to what sort of jobs/career's there may be relating particularly to the hobby itself or to the natural biology of ecosystems and the environments we see all of our home kept fish species from. As for field biology in general and ecology, I
know its much more than just fish itself, as its of course the whole system in which plants, fish, birds, and any other animals that live together as a whole that is studied (or specialization on a particular aspect or species)
<Hello! Do start by having a read here:
But more generally, there are really two ways forward. One is the actual trade side of things, in which case experience is as important as anything else, though some colleges do offer aquatics-related vocational courses. For example, here in the UK, Sparsholt College is well-known for its courses for those working in the aquarium and fish farming professions:
There may well be other classes in other countries. Some universities will have marine zoology, freshwater ecology, fisheries management, and ichthyology courses that might satisfy. This is the route to take if you're
interested in the science. There are negatives to this, in particular the fact that universities crank out far more graduates that there are academic jobs, and each step up the scientific ladder gets more and more difficult. Becoming a successful scientist is hard work and requires a lot of dedication, but if you do succeed, it can be tremendous fun. I have a friend who did her PhD about the same time as me, and she now works in Africa for much of the year collecting catfish and spiny eels in places like Lake Tanganyika. While she isn't a "fish" person as such, her work has allowed her to discover interesting things about how fish evolved. Do also check out a book called "The Diversity of Fishes". It's brilliant.
Honestly. Amazon sell used copies of the old edition for $2, apparently.
It's possibly the single best book on fishes ever written, and covers everything from taxonomy to behaviour to predation to reproduction and everything in between. I will make this very general point. Enjoying a scientific subject as an amateur (from the Latin, meaning "lover") is much more pleasant than doing something as a career. Scientists have to spend huge amounts of time writing grant applications and competing for jobs, and retailers have to compromise their beliefs sometimes simply to make a profit. Do hope this helps, Neale.>

Aquarium Careers Book by Jay Hemdal - 4/13/07 Mr. Fenner: <Fernando> Let  me introduce myself, my name is Fernado Marin, I live in Venezuela and I am an avid aquarium hobbyist. <Ahh! Pleased to meet you> First  of all let me express my congratulations for your excellent web page "Wet  Web  Media",  as  well  as  for  your  book "The Conscientious Marine Aquarist".  I  have  found  both  very  useful to increase my skills in the hobby, and encourage my to go into a further steps in aquarism. <Muy bien!> Recently  I  read  your  article  about  the  review  of the book "Aquarium Careers,  by  Jay  Hemdal"  and I am very interested in to purchase it, but unfortunately  the  book  is currently unavailable, neither in "amazon.com" nor in "iuniverse.com". <Agreed... I just looked... I do think this book may be being revised by Jay... I couldn't readily locate his email either... But you might do well to write the Toledo Zoo (where he works) re> For this reason, I would like  to request your kind support  to  inform  me if there is any other source in with I can purchase this book (could be in printed or electronic version); or if it is possible to contact Mr. Hemdal to get this book. <I think this last may be your only course here: http://toledo-zoo.stores.yahoo.net/toledo-zoo.html> Again, many thanks in  advance for your kind support. Best regards. <Wish I could be of more assistance here. Nos vemos, Roberto Fenner>

Re: Aquarium Careers Book by Jay Hemdal   4/15/07 Mr. Fenner: <Fernando> Many  thanks for your kind support. I will try to contact Mr. Hemdal to the Toledo Zoo, to try to find a way to purchase this book. <Real good> Again, I really appreciate your help. If there is anything I can do for you here in Venezuela, please do not hesitate to contact me. <I thank you for your kind offer> Best regards and my best wishes your you and your team of Wet Web Media. <Again, a pleasure to serve, share. Bob Fenner> Fernando Marin

Question about Marine Career   8/17/06 Hello WWM Crew, <Nathan>             I am 20 years old and going into my junior year of Fresno State College in California. Right now my major is in business with an emphasis on real estate. <Good fields> My passion has always been with animals and over the past four years it seems to be with marine animals. I have been keeping reef tanks for about three years now. Although I like real estate, everybody says to follow your passion and do what you love, my passion being with animals. <Mmmmmm, please read/listen carefully... I too agree/d with this position... and hence went ahead with many years of formal education in the life sciences, principally organismal... But at the same time, fully realizing that I would/could not "get along" with a minimum of economic "freedom" (the capacity to choose what one wants to do...), sought the means to earn/save/invest enough to pursue "life appreciation" interests as well... Hence, I encourage you to read George Clason's "Richest Man In Babylon"... and formulate, regularly examine a "path" that will allow you both avenues as well... For me, it was saving 5-8 percent pre-tax income from working in the aquatic service industries (designing, installing and maintaining aquarium systems, ponds, lakes) in vehicles that gained faster than the gov't devalued the currency (mostly stocks and bonds), then real estate (starting in 1973)... I retired from much in the way of paying work in 94. Much, much we can chat re> Now I am looking into careers having to do with marine animals. I have been researching and I like the Aquarist type position (there are a lot of other positions related to this one that are also interesting).  So I guess my question is what should I do?? Should I switch my major to Marine Biology (which is not that great at Fresno State)? <A very good idea... to help you gain further insight, theoretical knowledge, socialize with folks of similar mind, goals...> Should I do Saddlebacks Community college Aquarist degree ( http://www.saddleback.cc.ca.us/faculty/janderson/MarineAquaProgram.html)? Should I just try and get a full time job at an aquarium (aquarium of the pacific, Long Beach has an open Aquarist position) or maybe at a fish business? Would the experience help more than the classes? <Both are strongly advised...> I would be fine moving down South, as I have a lot of family there. Maybe you have some other ideas? I'm also PADI certified. <Ahh, one good notion here... to plan at least one trip a calendar quarter... get out even for a long weekend... enjoying yourself... in different surroundings... diving, visiting public aquariums, aquaculture facilities...>   Any help would be appreciated. I need to make a decision soon so I don't continue to take and pay for business classes that I don't need. Thank you for taking time to read this. Hope to hear from you soon. -NN p.s. I know, check out Jay Hemdal's "Aquarium Careers". I'm working on it. Also, please feel free to ask me questions. <None for now... do keep your passing lanes open. Bob Fenner>

Volunteering at a public aquarium - 3/2/04 Dear Bob, A few months ago I asked about working at an aquarium. <Paul in for Bob today>  Last Friday a guy who is a vet came to our school and talked to us about it. <Loved these presentations when I was in school. I ended up working for the vet who presented at my school. Worked for them for a few years. Great eye opening experience. Learned a lot!!>  He said he knows the person who's the head vet a Sea World too!  Well I was just wondering if I would have to be a vet if I wanted to work with sharks or what other jobs there would be. <Public Aquarium jobs?? or any jobs?  In general, there are lots of jobs that would allow you to work with sharks at the aquarium: general aquarists, vets and  vets assistants, volunteer divers, to name but a few opportunities. It is limited when it comes to interaction with sharks outside of public aquaria but there are some opportunities out there.>  I read in my dive magazine that you can just volunteer to work at one and they would let you clean it. <Well, depends on your skill set, age of the volunteer, and available openings. You should definitely check out your local public aquarium(s) and see what is available> Thanks in advance <Great question. Thanks for being part of it all ~Paul> Adam Siders Working at a public aquarium - 3/2/04 Yeah I meant working at a public aquarium because that's what I want to do. <Starting out at the volunteer level is a great start. I work at the Monterey Bay Aquarium and I am working on the upcoming shark exhibit. It is going awesome (read better than expected). How old are you Adam and what city do you live in? I can maybe put you in touch with an  aquarist in your area. ~Paul>

Working at an aquarium Hey right now im 13 and will be 14 in a few months < I think you are likely too young to volunteer at a public aquarium yet.> I live in the Kansas City, Kansas area <Is there a public Aquarium in your area you had in mind? I only know of the St. Louis Zoo which has the "Rivers Edge" exhibit. Not much on sharks as I remember. Things may have changed. ~Paul>

Keeping Catsharks - 3/4/04 Yeah well St. Louis is way to far anyway. About 3 hours. <yeah. I remember as much>  Right now I'm trying to get some coral catsharks because I think that would look good for an aquarium job. <Sure. Actually any fishkeeping is good enough for an aquarium job. Also, be sure to be aggressive in your schooling. I am sure you hear that often, but really, the science field likes highly motivated and highly educated prospective employees. A degree always helps in the public aquarium field.>  Do you know anywhere that could get some and maybe ship them to my LFS? <Do your research here. Be sure you have the proper tank and filtration before you even conceive of keeping sharks of any type. We have quite a bit of info on our site about this. Please do your best to read through it and prepare for the cost and time it will take to care for these amazing animals. I would order them through www.liveaquaria.com or www.marinedepot.com Thanks for the questions, Adam. Look forward to hearing of your endeavors in aquaria. ~Paul> Thanks Adam

Employment Questions Hi. I realize that you probably get hundreds of e-mails a day, and so I appreciate your taking the time to read mine. I will be graduating from Boston University in May with a degree in Biology w/ a specialization in marine science. Which is everything a biology major is except we get to take graduate level classes at Woods Hole for a semester. Anyway, I decided to put off pursuing a PhD for at least a year as I am a little burnt out. I should also mention that I have been a hobbyist for eight years or so keeping and breeding freshwater fish, marine fish and reef tanks. I am applying to all sorts of marketing and business related jobs in California to establish residency and make some money. <I understand> I recently stumbled across your amazing web site and quickly read most of the articles in the aquatic business section and I optimistically began thinking that perhaps there would be a way to make some money while doing something that I love.  <A very clear path> Obviously I can not start my own business as I do not have the funds, nor the experience necessary to do so. So my questions are: How much does one make as an aquarium technician (i.e. someone who services other's tanks, and set them up?)  <Some folks just enough to support their pet-fish habit... many of my friends, six figures> How about managers of stores?  <More to the middle of these figures... a few to a handful of tens of thousands of dollars per annum> It seems to me as if there is a lot of money to be made on Koi, as you know, but how would one get involved in that industry? <Mmm, not so on both counts. There are very few people who make "good money" in nishikigoi... takes many years of experience, study, associating in the field, travel...> To be honest, I would need to make between 30 and 35,000 dollars a year to give up going the business route (not that this isn't business). Does that seem feasible? Do you have any contacts or positions that you would be willing to refer me to?  <A few... but need to know people better... or just take you around and let you make your own introductions. Perhaps working with someone in the service side, even through a retail outlet would grant you experience, sufficient monies and satisfaction...> Thank you very much for your time. Mark R. Christie <Please take a quick read through Jay Hemdal's new book: Aquarium Careers: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/aqcareers.htm for at least some other and more insight. We'll be chatting. Bob Fenner>

Aquarium Careers Hi Bob, <Hi Jay> I stumbled across your review of "Aquarium Careers" and I wanted to say thanks. Did you get the copy of the book from FAMA, and will the editorial run there as well? <Glad to pen the review. Yes, Suze sent the copy along. Well done> Regarding the problems you found with the book, I did want to give excuses for some of them<grin>. First of all, this is the first and last time I will self-publish a book! <I am shuddering... your efforts were far superior to my first attempts> I had no editor for this, and the publishing firm had this odd way of sending me my author's proofs. They opened the book file on their web site as a PDF file that I could not print out or download - I had to read it online, and then was only allowed to make 20 corrections! Each correction had to be outlined to them via email on a chart, e.g. "Page 5, second paragraph, first line, change "fish" to "fishes". I literally ended up having to pick and choose what things to correct! <Yikes!> The huge irony of the "fish" versus "fishes" problem you noted is that I've long been a proponent for using the correct terminology! The errors may have crept in because I relied too heavily on MS Word's grammar checker. Honest, I do know how to use those words properly. <Ahh! I know what you mean> There truly are about as many marine mammal keepers in the US working at AZA facilities than there are members of the US House - I didn't expand that outside the US, and I should have stated that. The main point being too many people think they will get jobs as marine trainers...and they won't. I disagree with you about the grades - I have never checked G.P.A.s for any applicant, unless two of them are very close. My college overall G.P.A. was on the order of 2.75 (out of 4) and nobody has ever asked to see my transcript<grin>. Better to focus on internships, writing, diving, pet shop work experience, etc. and get a "B", than do nothing but coursework just to get an "A". <All are entitled to their opinions here... and you are the author. I "paid my debt to society" by teaching H.S. Chemistry, Physics and a few levels of Biology... and know too well the practices and dangers (not to mention stigmas) associated with grades, grading, "grade inflation"...> Regarding the exhibit / visitor conundrum, with exhibit *design* you do need to keep the visitor needs foremost in mind - but of course, not at the expense of the animal's well-being. An example of this might be the deep sea isopods. One aquarium decided that they must be kept in pitch-blackness. Honestly, you could not see the animals. Although the animals did well, the exhibit was a total failure and should never have been built. Exhibits must first be designed with visitor education, enjoyment and safety in mind - if they don't meet those needs, the process stops there. This does not mean that animal needs are less important, they are just examined at the second stage of the exhibit design process. Sorry about the "provincial slant" on the aquarium maintenance service biz - I had no idea that there are 500 firms like that in L.A. - there are two advertising in our area, only one is bonded. There are four or five guys working out of their car trunks. The Detroit metro area isn't much different - thus my underestimation of the scope of this trade. <I see> Thanks again for reviewing this for me! I'm writing a *real* book for Barron's now, and eventually would like to talk them into publishing Aquarium Careers - and fix the problems you pointed out by having the book professionally edited. <You may add my opinion here that this book will do well now and even better with Barron's re-issue. Please do send along our correspondence here to Sue Steele/FAMA. I am hopeful she will run this as an addendum to my small review. I will add it to the one posted on WetWebMedia.com. Am out of the country a few more weeks and don't have addresses. Hope to run into you soon. Bob Fenner> Jay Hemdal

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