While other students in her university's zoo science program were flocking to work with birds or stampeding toward the mammals, Sharyl Crossley focused on the noncuddly inhabitants beneath the waves.
In 2004, her work with aquatic animals landed her a position as a senior aquarist at the Tennessee Aquarium, where she is one of those caring for the facility's jellyfish and other aquatic invertebrates.
Over the past several months, Ms. Crossley's work-load has increased significantly as the aquarium prepares for the Friday opening of "Jellies: Living Art," a new exhibit featuring six species of jellyfish accompanied by glass art.
QWhat about the new exhibit most excites you?
AThe opportunity to work with all these different species and figure them out ... Each one has specific things they do well with or a specific temperature that they need to trigger their reproduction. Figuring out those tricks ... is kind of fun.
QWhat made you decide to be an aquarist?
AIt all started right out of high school. I got a job at a local pet store and really enjoyed working with some of the more exotic animals and different varieties of animals. That's where I really learned about keeping aquariums and decided I wanted to be some kind of zookeeper.
QWhat about aquatic animals appeals to you?
A Not a lot of people think about them. A lot of people are interested in mammals and birds, I guess because they're most like us, whereas fish and things like that aren't as popular with most people.
QDo you have a favorite animal to work with?
AI really enjoy working with the giant Pacific octopus. As far as jellyfish, the blubber jellies are probably one of my favorites. They come in all kinds of cool colors. They seem to have a little personality.
QCan you connect with a jellyfish the way you can with a bird or an otter?
AI think every animal has a story, and once you learn that, you can find a connection.
Q What's the best part of your day?
AProbably just the sense of accomplishment I get when I see that my jellyfish are growing and doing well and being productive. That makes me feel successful.
Q Does it hurt getting stung?
AI don't seem to be particularly sensitive. Different people react differently to jellyfish. A lot of times, I'll end up with itchy bumps like mosquito bites on my arms. With a couple of the new species, I'll be doing my thing, and sometimes I'm fine with it, and other times, I'll suddenly feel a little tingle and have to stop what I'm doing.
QWhat protective equipment do you wear?
AI try to wear rubber gloves or use a long handle on a scrub pad to keep my hands out of the water. I've also invested in some gloves that go up to my shoulder if I have to reach into a tank.
Q Why do you love animals?
AI love watching them and trying to figure them out. My dad was a forest service technician, so we were always out in the woods playing around catching frogs and salamanders. It's just how I was brought up.
QWould a jellyfish make a good pet?
AProbably not, but if somebody was really interested in it, it could be done. You don't want to go into it lightly because it can get quite expensive. Jellyfish aren't typically long-lived. They cost a lot to feed and take care of properly.