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1 Day, 1 UConn Family:

The Machas
Member of the Macha family walks with farm sheep

Laurie ’87 (CAHNR), ’91 MS met Dave while she was a graduate student and he was working at the Animal Barns, a job he still has. Their son, Jared ’18 (CLAS), is an environmental sciences student who recently transferred from the Avery Point campus to the Storrs campus. We spent a late-July day with the family, just hours after Laurie, curator of marine mammals and birds, at Mystic Aquarium, had flown in from Alaska with some precious cargo.

Jared Macha

Jared Macha – New London, Conn.

8:18 A.M. One of first mate Jared’s duties in readying the Right Hook for a charter is to stock the holds with ice. He’ll also clean the fish, so clients go home with filets. Jared’s been working for Captain Bob on the Right Hook for many years. “My friends were having summer. I was making the money,” says Jared.

8:40 A.M. Casting off. The plan is to go out about seven miles and come home with a catch full of striper, aka striped bass.

Laurie Macha

Laurie Macha – Mystic, Conn.

11:03 A.M. As curator of marine mammals and birds at Mystic Aquarium, one of Laurie’s favorite jobs is rescue and rehab. This morning she flew in from the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, Alaska, with a spotted seal that had stranded and was deemed non-releasable. “For now she’s in quarantine, but soon she’ll live with harbor seals in our Arctic Coast exhibit. This is the first spotted seal I’ve ever seen. It’s really exciting to bring her here,” says Laurie.

11:37 A.M. Ziggy Star, a northern fur seal, has neurological issues that mean she needs more specialized care than most animals. Lots of training “lets us monitor her health really closely.”

11:43 A.M. Laurie trains Astro, a 500-pound California sea lion, to haul out onto a rock just in front of her — and a growing crowd. Astro was found stranded as a newborn pup in California and was released to the wild twice. After his second release, he was found with a bunch of local kids who were running on a track. That’s when he came to Mystic.

11:52 A.M. Training belugas with colleague Carey Richard.

12:00 P.M. The African penguins wear beaded armbands that tell staff their gender and the date of their arrival at Mystic. The pink identifies this one as a girl.

12:10 P.M. Doing “tacticle reinforcement” on penguins with Eric Fox ’13 (CAHNR). Through observation, Laurie discovered that penguins engage in a lot of tactile behavior with one another that can be successfully mimicked by trainers. It’s now standard procedure throughout the aquarium community. Macha does job fairs at UConn to give students like Fox the opportunity she got 26 years ago. “I did an internship here and found my instant love.” It was her first job out of grad school and she still loves it. “One day I have to grow up and get a real job. Can you really have this much fun working?

Dave Macha

Dave Macha – Storrs, Conn.

2:30 P.M. Every afternoon Dave heads to Spring Manor Farm to count heads, accounting for each member of the Angus herd there.

3:25 P.M. Back at Horsebarn Hill, it’s time to feed the juvenile lambs. Actually, because of our photo shoot, Dave’s 25 minutes late and the sheep know it. He talks to them like old friends and offers what appear to a visitor as loving pats on the head, but insists, “They’re food to me. Like carrots and spaghetti.”

Photos by Peter Morenus

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