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Head aquarist: Octopus with shark tattoos

My job — He is the aquarist, or animal keeper, at the Øresund Aquarium. And he is a nature guide, ticket seller, craftsman and multi-tasking handyman at the UCPH aquarium in Helsingør.

“Are you being photographed for Euroman magazine?” a passing colleague teases. “Marine man!” Kristian Vedel Christiansen retorts.

The photograph was staged, because the Øresund Aquarium’s head animal keeper was not scrubbing off biofilm and feed residues from the glass in the angler aquarium when the University Post dropped by. But he could very well have been:

KRISTIAN VEDEL CHRISTIANSEN

37 years old. Living in Hillerød with his girlfriend. Has been working at the Øresund Aquarium for 16 years, ever since he took on an internship. Is also a trained nature guide. His interests range from the heavens to the seas, as when he is not working, he is an amateur diver and astronomy enthusiast.

“Because we are so few employees, we all need to be where we are needed the most. The director also teaches first-grade classes, and I’m also in the ticket box and I clean up aquariums. And when a fisherman calls in and has caught a sunfish in the net, somebody needs to move fast. In this way, we all have to be like an octopus, multi-tasking with many arms so that the aquarium can work.”

Kristian Vedel Christiansen is a trained aquarist and nature guide and has worked at the aquarium on the seaside promenade in Helsingør all his adult life. These days he is responsible for daily planning and he loves his job.

First-time visitors to the Øresund Aquarium often react in the same way that they react to the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen. They are disappointed with its small size, Kristian says. But this passes when the dialogue about the content of the aquaria starts:

“Our strength is precisely the simple stuff: Putting a clam on a stick and spending a day at the water’s edge with the kids. The guests have gotten used to these huge ocean aquariums, but this is not us. We, on the other hand, know what we are talking about. And if a guest asks us something we cannot answer, we just go up and bring down a professor who knows everything about microorganisms,” says Kristian, who appreciates the collaboration with researchers and master’s theses writers. The co-operation is of mutual benefit to the research and the aquarium visitors.

The rock gunnel is the coolest

Kristian is in his element when he talks about the wildlife of the Øresund waters, which are surprisingly rich – and much wilder than nature on land:

“Danish waters seem to be a little bit green and boring when you snorkel, but because the Øresund is connected to the Atlantic Ocean and there is plenty of food, we have seen sperm whales, humpback whales, sunfish, conger eels and even a dolphin in my time …” Kristian stops himself:

“My boss says I shouldn’t exaggerate, but if you have to grab the attention of the couch potato, it’s no good talking about sand gobies. You need to bring people in with the net,” he says, adding that everyday life out in Øresund is “exotic” enough in itself:

“The blue-finned tuna has returned. It’s crawling with squids. And nothing surpasses a quiet summer night in a rubber dinghy, where you see seals and porpoises with small calves calving.”

 

All animal keepers have animal tattoos. This is more than a job.
Kristian Vedel Christiansen

 

Kristian knocks lightly on the aquarium, because he wants to show us his favourite: the rock gunnel. A small ribbon-shaped dude that’s related to the eelpout. Nothing flashy, but:

“Now I’ll say something you are not supposed to say as an animal keeper. It has so much personality. It’s curious, active and cute. And the male is so dedicated that when the female has laid eggs, he puts himself in a protective circle around them. There he lies, fanning fresh water over the eggs with his tail. And no matter how many larger animals endanger his project, he does not flinch.”

Kristian Vedel Christiansen himself is to be a father for the first time in December.

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