Meet Model Citizen, Alex Lawlor, an Aquarist at SEA LIFE Aquarium!

Alex earned a degree in Marine Biology from Roger Williams University and a Master’s in Oceanography from the University of South Hampton. Before relocating to Carlsbad, she worked in Displays Development at SEA LIFE® Weymouth, breeding Seahorses, Jellyfish, Clownfish and Bangaai Cardinalfish. Alex is currently in charge of Jellyfish Discovery at SEA LIFE Aquarium at LEGOLAND® California Resort.

How old were you when you realized you wanted to be a Marine Biologist?
When I was 8 years old, I chose to study Orcas for an endangered species project. It was that project which inspired me to become a Marine Biologist.

How long have you been a SCUBA diver and which dive has been your most memorable?
I’ve been a certified SCUBA diver for 5 years. My most memorable dive took place in Bermuda at Whalebone Bay; it was a night dive which allowed us to see a ton of octopus and squid!
It’s probably not an easy question for you, but what would you say is your favorite animal?
The Flamboyant Cuttlefish. Coincidently it is also the most dangerous animal I have ever worked with. This animal has the same venom as a Blue Spot Octopus. The Neurotoxin in the Cuttlefish is so venomous that one bite can shut down a person’s entire body.

Aside from the venomous Flamboyant Cuttlefish, which animal do you believe has been the most difficult for you to care for?

I would have to say Tropical Sunstars. It is incredibly difficult to get them to eat!

What would you say has been the best and most challenging part about working at SEA LIFE?
I love getting to work with different animals and teach children and families about the ocean and its inhabitants. I think
the most challenging aspect is learning how to care for unfamiliar animals as well as when an animal gets sick.

What advice would you give to kids who want to become Marine Biologists?

If animals and the ocean are your passion, do not give up.  Get out into the ocean, learn as much as you can and completely involve yourself in the subject.

Let’s talk Jellies! Can you describe the Jellyfish life cycle?

Jellies release Gametes into the water, which mix together and form Planula larvae. This larva settle onto hard surfaces which then turn into polyps. Once the polyps are ready to reproduce, they form flower-like stalks. These “flowers” are released and settle into the water column as Ephyra; each polyp can release around 200 of these. Finally, the Ephyra turn into its final stage, the Medusa.

How successful is Jellyfish reproduction?
Jellies have a high success rate because they have few predators when they are in the larva stages. The main predators of jellies are seas turtles and even other jellies!

How do Jellies sting their prey?

Jellies have specialized stinging cells called “pnematocysts” which are used to harpoon prey. Depending on the species, curators must take extra precautions when working with jellies. The most venomous jellyfish is the Box Jelly from Australia. In San Diego, the most common jellyfish is the Moon Jelly, however, if you were stung, you probably wouldn’t even feel it! Their pnematocysts are not strong enough to cause pain.

In closing, what final notes can you share with us about Jellyfish?
Jellies are amazing because they have no brain or nervous system; they are essentially stomachs with arms, yet they have survived and evolved for thousands of years. Pollution is one of the biggest environmental predators against Jellies because their bodies are so delicate; they can become tangled and torn in floating debris and sharp objects.

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