55 Music Concourse Dr.
Golden Gate Park
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11:00 am – 5:00 pm
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10:00 – 11:00 am

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Matt Wandell

Matt is a Biologist for the Steinhart Aquarium.


Briefly describe your job and your area of expertise.  My role at the aquarium is to care for a wide range of aquatic animals, and my focus is primarily on animals that are found on and around coral reefs.  My favorite animals are usually the ones that are the most colorful, which usually happen to be the most challenging to keep as well.  Although live corals may look like rather simple animals, they are also one of the hardest to keep thriving.  Much of my time and effort is spend behind the scenes ensuring that these animals are living healthy lives.

What got you interested in becoming a biologist?  I have always loved animals and the ocean and have kept aquariums at home since I was young.  This is the ultimate dream job for anybody who loves working with aquariums.  On any given day I might be diving on a coral reef, playing with sharks, or interacting with a penguin.

What do you like most and least about your job?  I thank my lucky stars for every single day I get to work here.  I can’t think of any other profession I’d rather be doing.  Okay, maybe an astronaut.  The biggest downside I can think of is that at the end of the day sometimes I have to go home a bit wet and/or smelling like fish!

What college did you go to and what degree did you receive?  I went to UC Davis thinking I’d be a genetics major, and switched halfway through to earn my degree in marine biology.

What influenced your job choice and when?  After finishing college in 2004 I knew that I wanted to work at a public aquarium, but also stay close to home.  It was right around this time that a friend at the Academy let me know about the Philippine coral reef exhibit that would be opening in 2008 in San Francisco.  I’m about an hour from home and get to play with the largest coral tank in this hemisphere, so the choice to work here was very simple.

Do you have pets at home? What and how many?  I used to keep a lot of animals at home; octopuses, corals, jellyfish, sea urchins, and fishes, but I don’t anymore.  Work provides more than enough of a challenge!

Advice for someone wanting to go into your field.  Volunteer at a public aquarium, and then volunteer some more.  Get SCUBA certified, and get a degree in biology or a biology related field.  Even a degree in marine biology won’t teach you how to keep corals alive in a glass box, so keep an aquarium at home to cut your teeth on the processes and equipment.  Make your aquarium look great.  Doing these simple things will set you apart from most of the other applicants out there.

More about Matt


Matt’s Suggested Reading:

“Reef Fishes Volumes 1-5” by Scott W. Michael, 1998 (TFH Publications).

“Corals of the World Volumes 1-3” by JEN Veron, 2000 (Australian Institute of Marine Science).

“Fairy and Rainbow Wrasses” by Rudie H. Kuiter, 2002 (TMC Publishing).

“Coral Reef Animals of the Indo-Pacific” by Terrence M. Gosliner, David W. Behrens, and Gary C. Williams, 1996 (Sea Challengers).

“Cephalopod Behavior” by Roger T. Hanlon and John B. Messenger, 1996 (Cambridge University Press).

“Soft Corals and Sea Fans” by Katharina Fabricius and Philip Alderslade, 2001 (Australian Institute of Marine Science).

“The Perimeter of Ignorance” by Neil deGrasse Tyson, 2005 (Natural History).