'I saw my first scuba diver here': Volunteers descend into Lake Michigan exhibit

NOW: ’I saw my first scuba diver here’: Volunteers descend into Lake Michigan exhibit

MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) – You do not have to go deep into Lake Michigan to see the abundance of critters living in its depth because, at one hometown aquarium, the fish in its largest exhibit are ambassadors for its ecosystem.

At Discovery World, the curiosity of children is sparked every day. The Science and Technology Museum offers a variety of exhibits and is home to Wisconsin's largest aquarium.

"The really cool part is then they get to walk down a little bit further and then see live animals here," Reiman Aquarium Curator Brittanie Delorit said.

While petting sturgeon in touch tanks, visitors learn about their fishy neighbors from experts like Delorit.

"[Our Lake Michigan exhibit] is about 85,000 gallons, and that one has all the normal fish you find in the lake. Sturgeon, bass, catfish, all that good stuff," Delorit explained. "That one is pretty cool just because, you know, it really showcases Wisconsin and what Wisconsin has to offer as far as fish.”

In the enormous tank, guests encounter the aquatic Lake Michigan crew and a few people. Diving for hours with fish they describe as water puppies is just another day at the office for these divers.

"[Sturgeon] have little feelers to feel where they're going, but sometimes they'll just hit you. They think my feet are shrimp a lot, and they'll bite on my feet," diver Lucy Daniels said.

Every Wednesday at 9:30 a.m., volunteers like Lucy Daniels and Alyssa Jacobsen descend into the Lake Michigan Exhibit to clean it. However, their presence is also a positive thing for the tank inhabitants.

"It's also a form of enrichment for fish. So, fish, they're in their exhibit all day. They see the same things all the time. So, divers getting in the water kind of just changes up their environment changes up their day, and they get new senses and new sensations and new smells and new things to look at and things like that," Delorit explained.

The team of two divers interacts with the critters and the human spectators.

"I don't think people realize how clearly I can see out. It's clear both ways. It's awesome," Daniels said.

"I think it's hilarious," Jacobsen said. "I was waving at them, but they wanted me to dab, so I dabbed. They were ecstatic. It's so funny. I've seen people do rock, paper, scissors. You can just see how much joy it brings the kids. The parents are like, 'This is hilarious.' It's super fun. I love it a lot."

They also hand-feed the fish.

"They just swarm you like crazy puppies, and they bump into you, and they're trying to tangle your line. You're also trying to stay on the bottom and not bounce around. But it's super fun. You kind of just put [the food] out, and they suck it right out of your hands," Jacobsen said.

They even create special bonds with the animals.

"There's one big one that I named crackers. He always swims out to me and stops waiting to get a pet," Daniels said.

In true aquatic fashion, it is a symbiotic relationship as volunteer divers clean the tank and hang out with the fish while enjoying their hobby year-round.

“Unless you travel or dive in the real Lake Michigan, there's not a lot of diving nearby. So, this keeps you up to date on your diving protocol," Jacobson said.

When visiting the aquarium, the next generation of animal lovers is exposed to new creatures and ideas, while seeing that one day, they could dive into something new.

"When I was a kid, I saw my first scuba diver here, and I think that really inspired me, so it's very humbling to be able to do that to the next generation," Daniels said.

For a full schedule for dive times and hand feeding at Discovery World, visit their website.

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