Even though Coronado is famous for sunny weather, usually in the 70’s, Liz Thaete wakes up on work days and has to wear a pair of long underwear and a couple of pairs of socks to her 6:30am shift in the 40 degree penguin enclosure at Sea World.
Liz Thaete’s family was brought to Coronado by way of the Navy. She and her sisters were born here and have been through all the schools, sports and youth groups the island has to offer. She graduated CHS in 2005. I was very excited to learn that we both had the same history teacher, Mr. Heaphy, while at Coronado High School.
Since Liz was little, she always had a keen interest for animals that her friends and family observed. She has always known she wanted to work with animals no matter what. While growing up she volunteered at local animal shelters to try and get as much hands-on experience with animals as possible before applying for a job that had to deal with any sort of creatures.
She attended Westmont College in Santa Barbara and graduated in 2009. During her summers away from college, Liz worked in the educational department at SeaWorld. Finally, when she was able to apply for a full-time job to work with any species of animals, she got the news she was going to be working with the penguins!
“It is not a glamorous job, but I love it” was Liz’s first reply when I asked her about what it is like to be a penguin trainer at SeaWorld. “Having penguin poop, scales, and the odor of fish on you all day,” she said, “is not pretty,” but she has grown to love the penguins who cuddle up to her legs when she is in the enclosure.
The young and high-energy penguin caretaker has a favorite flightless bird named Bart. He is an Emperor penguin, a species that can only be found in Antarctica, Japan, and San Diego’s SeaWorld. Bart uses loud and cacophonous sounds to communicate with Liz whenever she is working inside their freezing habitat to show that he cares for her.
At times Liz misses her “babies” if she is away from them for long periods of time. One may question, “Is it is dangerous to work with penguins?” The answer is yes. Liz says that there are always bruises on her legs from when the penguins get a little out of control and bite her, maybe even on her face at times. However, she says that she really enjoys being up close and personal with these personality-filled penguins.
Every work day is an adventure for her because there is no concrete routing the trainers follow, she tends to the present needs of the penguins and the penguin enclosure. One responsibility she has consists of jumping in the bone-chilling water of the enclosure to clean the glass through which all of us regulars see the penguins. Another task she has is coating the habitat with a fresh layer of snow because the penguins tend to soil the white ice rather quickly with their lightening fast metabolism.
Although it is chick season at the penguin unit currently, and the penguins seem cute and cuddly, Liz warns us that they would not make good pets because they need constant care, attention and don’t necessarily have learning capabilities because they are birds and not mammals.
And for anyone who is interested in following in Liz’s footsteps studying biology, psychology and getting hands-on experience is her advice to becoming a penguin trainer.
Today, whenever Liz runs into people she knows in Coronado and tells them she is working with penguins at SeaWorld, they are happy to hear that in the end, she has a career doing something she has always been extremely passionate about.
During our interview, I asked Liz what her take was on all the new restaurants and businesses popping up and closing down on Orange Avenue and she answered, “It’s weirding me out!” Liz explained to me that every time she has left the island and come back, it seems like a different town! A perk in her opinion, about our ever-changing main street, is the new Village Theatre which she goes to when she is not catching up on sleep or rock climbing on her days off.
From left to right: Liz with several of the Emperors inside the polar unit, Liz working with several of the chicks from this breeding season, Liz in her galoshes in the enclosure.
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