DCCC Zoo Student Swims with Sharks, Piranhas at Internship

Heather Key 1

July 8, 2013 – Heather Key, a zoo and aquarium science student at Davidson County Community College and native of Arcadia, N.C., is swimming with sharks and tending to endangered species this summer as an aquarium intern at Riverbanks Zoo and Botanical Gardens in Columbia, S.C. 

As an aquarium intern, Key is responsible for cleaning and maintaining 20 aquatic tanks, preparing and feeding the animals, testing water quality, performing algae cultures, and more. She’s already experienced many unique opportunities, such as feeding a loggerhead turtle, feeding black-tip reef sharks and even diving and snorkeling with piranhas and an electric eel.

Heather Key 2

Key, who previously earned a Bachelor of Arts in English with a minor in biology from East Carolina University, says the fundamentals she is learning at the Riverbanks Zoo not only directly apply to her internship, but also back in the classroom at DCCC.

“It is beneficial to be able to apply techniques such as operant conditioning, understanding exhibit design, as well as care and husbandry,” says Key. “Learning and understanding these ideas from a classroom, and then seeing them and applying them directly to your work is a rewarding feeling.”

Key says she will apply these experiences in her future career. Upon graduation, she hopes to work as a marine mammal keeper, tending to dolphins, orcas, or polar bears, or a large carnivore keeper, tending to black bears and grizzlies.

“This summer has been a rewarding and unsurpassed experience thus far in the knowledge that I have gained about aquatic ecosystems, care, and husbandry for all varied fish and invertebrate species,” says Key. “With an aspiration of becoming either an aquarist or marine mammal keeper, the opportunity given to me to intern at Riverbanks puts me one step closer to this realization.”

*Editor’s Note: Pictured in the first photo is Heather Key caring for a jellyfish. The second photo shows Key cleaning one of the aquatic tanks at the Riverbanks Zoo and Botanical Gardens in Columbia, S.C.

Founded in 1963, Davidson County Community College is noted for its quality educational programs and services. As one of 58 institutions within the North Carolina Community College System, DCCC offers studies in more than 50 degree programs. A fully-accredited, multi-campus college,DCCC celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. It is committed to developing minds, inspiring imaginations, and preparing students for enhanced career and educational opportunities within a changing global environment. Visit Davidson County Community College on the Web at davidsonccc.edu.