An Special Section FRIDAY, MAY 14, 1999
Hours, prices, and other information were current at time of publication and may have changed.


- Introduction
- Going there
- The murals
- The music
- Shop and Eat
- Beginnings


- World Rivers
- Shore Gallery
- Touch Pool
- Bizarre & Beautiful
- Dangerous & Deadly
- Riverbank
- 'Gator Bayou
-Amazon Rain Forest
- Coral Reef
- Jellyfish Gallery
- Kingdom of Penguins
- Ray Nursery
- Repopulation
- Surrounded by Sharks


- Staff and keepers
Oceanic Adventures Newport Aquarium] [Building image]
Meet staff and keepers

        Juan Sabalones likes to joke around. But when it comes to his new job, he's nothing but serious. As the director of husbandry, “I care for all the critters - the aquarists and the animals.”

        In short, he makes sure everyone is happy and healthy.

        This fortysomething native of the Philippines is well versed in aquarium life. Before moving to Newport, he was curator of fishes at the National Aquarium in Baltimore for 17 years and spent three years as an aquarist at the Mystic Marine Life Aquarium in Connecticut.

        He says he's learned a lot about every aspect of this fascinating business.

        “I was in Baltimore when the aquarium opened. We were a little short staffed, so I found myself doing a little bit of everything there.”

        Choosing to live as well as work in Newport keeps commuting time to a minimum which is important. Right now he and his staff work 12-13 hours a day. Their goal is to get the routine of their work (checking animals and exhibits, feeding and cleaning) completed as quickly as possible.

        “If we want to move forward, we need to get the routines running efficiently. That will leave us time for improvements down the road.”

        Has this University of Connecticut graduate reached the big time? “Well, in our field, yes. This is a major aquarium. I think we're on par with any institution in the country.”

        Pam Lyons, aquatic director, oversees the acquisition and care of every animal in the aquarium. She's also keeper of the Riverbank and responsible for acquiring all fish and turtles that will live here.

        Ms. Lyons, 28, was formerly assistant curator of fish and invertebrates, and an aquarist, at the National Aquarium in Baltimore.

        For the Newport Aquarium, Ms. Lyons developed the local wildlife collection plan, but quickly gives credit to the Kentucky Fish and Wildlife Department, Thomas More College and the Tennessee Aquarium for their substantial support.

        Ms. Lyons, who lives in Independence, says her work is “never dull because there is always something new to learn.”

        Crystal Phillips is senior aquatic biologist in charge of the daily care and feeding of the 16 King Penguins and maintaining their 640-square-foot exhibit. But she likes to compare her work to that of a kindergarten teacher.

        After one month she claims to know the personality of each.

        “A month ago, they all blended together. I can tell them all apart now . . . their personalities are very distinct to me.”

        Because birds usually don't show they're sick until it's too late, Ms. Phillips, 26, keeps careful records on each penguin, including their eating habits, behaviors and dispositions. She was in charge of the penguin exhibit at the Indianapolis Zoo for three years prior to moving to Independence and her new job.

        Linda Hanna personally transported many of the sharks living in the gallery she supervises.

        This was not a simple task. After building a mini-aquarium on wheels and placing it in a rented truck, she drove 13 hours to Virginia in order to collect five nurse sharks.

        The return trip took much longer, as she pulled off the road every hour to check on each animal, the water temperature and oxygen levels, making adjustments when needed.

        Wanting to make the trip as quickly as possible for the animals, she refused to stop overnight, arriving in Newport at 2 a.m.

        Ms. Hanna, 29, is a senior aquatic biologist and former aquarist at the National Aquarium in Baltimore. She lives in Independence.

        David Mahan not only is charged with the care and breeding of the jellies, he also must breed the brine shrimp the jellyfish eat each day.

        A resident of Westwood, this senior aquatic biologist especially likes jellies “because they are such an interesting and complicated creature to maintain.”

        Formerly head aquarist at the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden, Mr. Mahan, 56, is familiar with the challenges jellyfish present. Thanks to advances in technology, “we're now able to mirror their natural environment in captivity.”

        Mark Lewin's fascination with fish began long ago when he received his first fish tank and continues in his position as Shore Gallery keeper. He was devoted to Jacques-Yves Cousteau as a child, and has been an avid scuba diver since he was 18.

        “I always have to be dragged from the water on dive trips,” says the 38-year-old Fort Thomas resident.

        A full-time biology student at NKU and a full-time aquarium employee, Mr. Lewin says his first and foremost responsibility is the feeding and caring for the animals under his charge. The overall theme and appearance of Shore Gallery, where he is keeper, is also his responsibility.

        Tim Mullican, DVM, is the aquarium's consulting veterinarian. He gives advice on such health issues as quarantine protocols, USDA import guidelines and preventive health care strategies. He also provides acute medical care for all of the animals housed in the building.

        Dr. Mullican, 40, enjoys the problem-solving process that accompanies the diagnosis and treatment of health problems for the aquarium's unusual animals.

        “The feeling of satisfaction when a treatment is successful and restores and animal to a normal health status” is especially rewarding, he says.

        Dr. Mullican is also vice president, medical division, of Observatory Group Inc., a marketing communication company specializing in brand identity. He was in private veterinary practice for nine years and took advance course work at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Mass. He lives in Columbia Tusculum.

        Roger Wilhelm is responsible for the installation, upkeep and monitoring of life support for the Amazon River tunnel and the Riverbank gallery. But like the other life support technicians, he helps in all areas of the aquarium.

        He especially enjoys the variety of the job.

        Before joining the aquarium, Mr. Wilhelm, 46, was a husbandry staff member for 18 years at Kings Island's Wild Animal Habitat. He lives in Mason.

        Keith Flynn is a life support technician in the shark gallery and the ozone systems in other exhibits. His job is to make sure all animals remain healthy in tanks that are kept clean by the organic ozone method.

        Sound difficult? Mr. Flynn is used to it. His last job, at the North Carolina Aquarium in Pine Knoll Shores, put him in charge of medicating, collecting, feeding and building life support systems for all animals.

        Mr. Flynn also helps feed, care and transport the alligators and helps maintain Gator Bayou.

        Why does this 29-year-old from Newport enjoy animals so much? “They never talk back.”

        Heather Warrender, 26, spends most of her time in

        the Eel Hideaway and Kelp Forest Tunnel. But whenever problems arise with any mechanical support that keeps the animals alive (air pumps, filtration and other engineering devices), Ms. Warrender, a life support technician, takes charge.

        That means making decisions quickly, “because something like air bubbles can create a lethal situation for the animals.”

        This Fort Mitchell resident enjoys the challenge of troubleshooting, but admits “it makes me nervous sometimes, because I'm responsible for keeping the animals alive.”

        Her former job: an aquarist at the North Carolina Aquarium in Pine Knoll Shores.

        Ron Bitner has owned and enjoyed an aquarium since he was 8 years old. Today the aquarium he enjoys most is 10,000 times bigger than his first.

        Mr. Bitner, 26, is a life support technician who spends most of his time in the Coral Reef and Jellyfish Gallery. He's responsible for the operation, maintenance and repair of all behind-the-scenes life support equipment including filters, feeders, temperature control, salinity, pH and chemical makeup.

        A former biology major at Northern Kentucky University, this Alexandria resident worked at Cincinnati Zoo for four years before joining the aquarium.

        Erika Schissler probably didn't mind taking tests when she was in school because today she takes up to 2,400 tests daily. And she likes it.

        She's the water quality lab supervisor, responsible for managing pH levels, clarity and temperature of the water throughout the aquarium.

        Some days she finds herself running 20 different tests twice daily in each of the 60 exhibits.

        “Most people don't realize that we have a fully staffed and equipped laboratory that performs water tests on all our tanks to maintain water quality.”

        Ms. Schissler, 25, worked in the water quality lab at the National Aquarium in Baltimore for three years prior to her job here.

        Jeff Gibula's new job is actually two jobs. As a water quality lab technician he maintains water quality and monitors ozone injection in the exhibits. As dive coordinator he manages the volunteer divers and their work of feeding the animals and cleaning the tanks.

        He says walking through the aquarium's tunnels is similar to diving.

        They “give people who can't or don't dive a chance to see what it's like.”

        Mr. Gibula, 23, of Fort Mitchell, became a certified diver at age 16 and is now dive master. He comes to Newport from the National Aquarium in Baltimore.

        Call Rich Terrell the Welcome Wagon. His job is to see that the fish, salamanders, turtles and plants feel comfortable in their new home. That's no small task, with 1,000 plants and nearly 1,800 fish — and each species requiring its own special food.

        This 28-year-old aquatic biologist of Erlanger pays special attention to detail. Each tank is a precise replica of the area where the animals are found.”


The Tristate is Goin' Fishin'
Going to the Aquarium
Murals bring seascapes to life
Music sets the mood for 16 exhibits
Shop, eat and watch a movie
The making of an aquarium
World Rivers
Shore Gallery
Touch Pool
Bizarre & Beautiful
Dangerous & Deadly
'Gator Bayou
Amazon Rain Forest
Coral Reef
Jellyfish Gallery
Kingdom of Penguins
Ray Nursery
Surrounded by Sharks
- Meet the staff and keepers

Copyright 1999 The Cincinnati Enquirer, a Gannett Co. Inc. newspaper.
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