Assistant Curator of Blue Wonders
Year zoo career began:
Jennie Janssen currently works at the National Aquarium where she is an Assistant Curator of Blue Wonders. In her position, she oversees two teams of aquarists and the care of the aquarium’s large fish and shark exhibits, jellyfish gallery, and culture lab where they raise jellyfish, planktonic food sources, and other small fish. Her daily tasks include managerial duties including timesheets and finances, but Jennie also dives in the exhibits for feeding and cleaning, coordinates and leads routine medical exams for sharks and rays, partners on a number of research projects, and is lead on the International Census of Chondrichthyans in Human Care. Her team works closely with the aquarium’s dive safety team, veterinary team, and other aquarist teams to ensure their animals have the best care.
Jennie began studying biology at Southern Adventist University in 1993. In her first year of college, she became scuba certified, and in 1994 she began a research internship at the Tennessee Aquarium where she studied sharks and their parasites. In 1996 she presented on her research at the first conference she attended, which was for the American Elasmobranch Society. After earning her degree in 1999, she concluded her internship at the Tennessee Aquarium and began working on a master’s in biology at Andrews University. She left her master’s program to begin her first paid position as an aquarist at Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies in 2002. In 2005, Jennie left the Aquarium of the Smokies and began working as a Senior Aquarist at the Georgia Aquarium where she cared for the whale shark exhibit for 4 years before caring for jellyfish. During this time, she finished her master’s in biology in 2008. In 2012, Jennie became the Manager of Changing Exhibits at the National Aquarium where she was responsible for the aquarium’s jellyfish. In 2016, she was promoted to her current position.
Jennie’s favorite parts of her job are diving with the sharks, mentoring her team of aquarists, and collaborating on research projects. People would be surprised how much engineering goes into culturing and displaying jellies, being that they are such seemingly simple creatures. Jennie worked with the late Dr. George Benz, then Chief Research Scientist at the Tennessee Aquarium, who was a great influence in her career. He taught her to never limit herself to other people’s standards, norms, or ideals of success.
Photo credit: Georgia Aquarium