Getting one's sea legs

Jeff Benson

Newport Harbor High School student Kevin Veitch said he never

envisioned that schooling would mean he'd be feeding 30 massive

bluefin and yellowfin tuna circling below him.

We're talking shrimp -- the good stuff -- and not served in brown

bag lunches, either.

The incoming senior jumped on the opportunity, however, to

volunteer as a tour guide at Monterey Bay Aquarium in the Bay Area.

Kevin, 17, spent a month showing groups around the facilities and

teaching people about many of the aquarium's 550 species of marine

life.

The aquarium hired around 60 student guides ages 13 to 17 and had them shadow some of its experienced volunteer guides. Kevin said he

was able to work alongside his aunt, Julie Veitch, a seasonal

volunteer at the aquarium who helped get him the job.

Kevin, whose favorite classes include psychology, physiology,

anatomy and chemistry, said he quickly grew accustomed to the marine

biology environment during a pre-work training program.

"A lot of biology and anatomy and stuff helped the information

sink in," he said. "Otherwise, there were a whole lot of facts

they're throwing at you. It's easier to have a science background."

He studied marine mammals, invertebrates, sharks and other species

of fish. He also learned about several Monterey Bay conservation

efforts, including the Aquarium Research Institute, Tuna Research and

Conservation Center and the Sea Otter Research and Conservation

Center. After one week, he was told by staff to palatably and

interestingly present what he'd learned to the public.

"One thing I learned, especially with kids, is that you need to

grab their attention right away," he said. "Parents will typically

stick around and be polite. You need to build up conversation and

really nurture their interest. That's something they really pressed

in training, and that whole aspect was really interesting."

Kevin said he enjoyed feeding the large tuna, which was actually

easier than it sounded. He said he stood on a platform atop a giant

tank and tossed in thawed squid, but the fish would literally jump

out of the water to snag their morsels.

"They'd eat 200 pounds of squid within five minutes and jump a

foot above the water," he said. "They'd get pretty ferocious.

Sometimes you'd just see a swirling mass of tuna, and that was a lot

of fun."

Kevin said he also found time to kayak in Monterey Bay and to earn

his scuba certification from the Monterey Bay Dive Center, diving in

a natural, cold-water kelp habitat.

Kevin said the experience working with animals and children was so

beneficial that he's weighing possible careers in marine biology and

psychology.

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