It is early morning when Jennifer Odell arrives at the Georgia Aquarium, the second largest aquarium in the world, to start her job as the associate curator of mammals and birds. It is the busiest time of day at the aquarium, when physical exams, cleaning, and feeding of the animals occurs before opening to the public.
Odell's job is to oversee all areas of the mammal and bird operations which include the beluga whales, African penguins, otters and harbor seals. She helps to provide daily care to these animals and manages the team of people who work with them.
After graduating from Saint Anselm with a biology degree, Odell signed on as a volunteer with the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut. Her dream of working there came true when she was hired as an aquarist of marine mammals and birds. From there she found her job at the Georgia Aquarium, a place that she loves coming to every day.
"I love the relationships I can build with the animals as well as the people I work with. I can't look at the faces of the animals and be unhappy," she says.
Odell has watched many animals give birth and has seen the babies grow into adults. "Watching penguins lay eggs and then seeing them hatch is one of the coolest things I have ever seen. It's the miracle of life lived out in such a short period of time of only 40 days."
Odell likes showing other people what she does, especially children. "I get to share my love and passion for animals and what I do with the guests. You can see the excitement reflected in the eyes of the children," she says.
It's a dream job for this biology major, and her career is still on the move. "What is important hasn't really changed, she says: "My job always will be about providing the best possible care to the animals."
In November of 2012, Odell traveled to Cape Town, South Africa for two weeks to help the South African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds (SANCCOB). SANCCOB rescues and rehabilitates all coastal birds; however, much of their work is with African Penguins. Odell admitted new birds, provided daily care for the animals, and helped with the release of six penguins back into the ocean. Throughout her two weeks at SANCCOB, the Chick Rearing Unit went from caring for four penguin chicks to 28. "It was an amazing experience," she says.
Odell has also been able to be a part of the ABC show Ocean Mysteries with Jeff Corwin, which works in conjunction with the Georgia Aquarium. Jeff Corwin, a conservationist and TV personality, shows what life in the sea is like while also promoting important messages about conservation and ocean research.
"It has been really cool to work with Jeff and develop a relationship with him," she says. Odell sees many celebrities at the Georgia Aquarium but she loves interacting with all guests, famous or not, because she is passionate about her job.
Odell believes that her background in biology helped her to understand the way animals are made, how their bodies work and medical issues that they encounter. She feels that her college career prepared her for the real world, teaching her time management, a strong work ethic and how to relate to people.
"I'm proud to work for the Georgia Aquarium. We have the chance to impact hundreds of thousands of people who visit us every year, hopefully encouraging people to care about and protect the world around them. It's always a responsibility to care for animals, but it's so rewarding and I'm thankful every day for my job," she says.