THE FISH WHISPERER
Erin Mellini joined the staff of Snakes-N-Scales in 2008 as a zookeeper, aquarist, (our “fish whisperer”) and educator. Her experience was not reptiles, but aquatics and fish, though she mastered the learning curve extremely quickly and was soon wrangling the large pythons and alligators like an old hand.
Erin Mellini brought her expertise to Snakes-N-Scales,
which allowed us to add all our programs involving fish, sharks, crabs, urchins, starfish and other water creatures, including our Fish Party, Fish Tales and Ocean Oddballs, Coral Reef Great Swamp Habitat Comparison, Shark’s Ocean Animals Assembly, Shark Party, and River of Monsters Party.
So to say the least, she has had a dramatic effect on Snakes-N-Scales, what we can offer and how we offer it. But she is also involved more subtly in other programs. The Radical Reptiles Birthday ,was Erin’s idea, born of a conversation with Bill on programs we offered to 7-10 year olds. Creating a program on Amphibians was also her brain child and she was very involved in the creation of our Zoo Party, The Snake Experience and The Night Belongs to Us, program that was offered to libraries in Summer 2012, and many others!
Erin Mellini came to Snakes-N-Scales because she recalled an educational program on reptiles presented by Bill during an animal behavior class in high school, but that is really toward the end of Erin’s story of coming to Snakes-N-Scales. The start goes back a bit further…
Erin Mellini got “hooked” on marine life at the age of 4 when she won a goldfish in a bowl at a carnival. It was the first in a long line of family pets having everything from fins to fur. At an early age, she knew that working with animals was the only career she’d ever consider.
She says, “Dogs have been and will always be my favorite animal on a more personal level, but anything that lives in the ocean is fair game. I am most partial to the whole cetacean family. They are so smart and complex and incredibly beautiful. The sheer size of them is amazing.And to be honest, working with animals is exactly what I knew it would be. It’s not all always pretty or easy but the rewards are endless. I wanted to work with animals because they can’t always help themselves. I wanted to be the person to help them.”
“Shows like Sesame Street gave me a foundation in general lessons about the environment and animals. One episode in particular still sticks with me to this day where they showed what can happen when you throw things away. They showed how things like plastic soda can rings could get caught on an animal like ducks etc. and choke them or how plastic bags look like food to animals like sea turtles. So the basic lesson was to do little things to help like cutting the rings on the plastic rings and recycling plastic bags over throwing them out.”
“Then cartoons like Captain Planet and the Planeteers, always taught me about the impact of pollution, poaching, deforestation and I think the bad guys in the show got me angry enough to want to try and make a change.”
“The day Animal Planet was offered by our cable provider was one of the best days of my life! I don’t think the channel on my TV changed for months! Any discovery channel special, especially anything to do with the ocean, always caught my eye. The best thing that ever happened to me were the Planet Earth and Life series.”
“And today shows like Whale Wars, Zoo Confidential, and Swamp Men are all shows I enjoy to watch.”
Erin Mellini on Her Inspiration
“When I was really young, my parents were my biggest inspiration. They both instilled in me an enormous respect and love for wildlife. From the minute I came home from the hospital, we’ve had a dog. I would always help my dad fill bird feeders or put out peanuts for squirrels. And as a family we’d go to zoos and aquariums on every vacation and every single trainer and keeper was someone I looked up to. Watching them feed the animals and care for the animals was mesmerizing to me.
So as I got older and realized working with animals was a possibility, I watched Steve Irwin and Jeff Corwin constantly. I learned a lot of basic training techniques from Victoria Stillwell who is a dog trainer. And the deep ocean was always one of my favorite things, so while its not animal related, I read and watched a lot of stuff by Robert Ballard. And something completely out of left field, Betty White. She does amazing work with the Seeing Eye here in Morristown and she says that being a zookeeper is her life long dream. I figure if Betty White envies what I do, it must be pretty awesome!”