When I was 18 years old, I worked at the Gulfarium in Fort Walton Beach, Florida. It was a summer job that I had gotten because I had done a science internship there that winter and helped to take care of all the animals.
I was immediately made to understand what an honor it was for me to have this position because no female had ever been allowed to work with the animals before. As it ended up, my job was "tropical bird handler". I took care of all of the birds' needs, took them out each day, showed them off to the tourists, and answered questions. It was a good job.
I especially loved my two Australian Cockatoos. They loved to put on a show for the tourists. I would hold one on each arm and he would "kiss" me. Actually, they were licking the salt off of my upper lip where I was sweating. It was a cute trick.
In addition, every morning and every evening I would help de-scale fish for all the animals and exhibits. It was incredible the amount of herring we went through in one day. I once fed a Peruvian penguin 11 herring!
One particular day, early in the summer, the exhibits' boss told me to get my suit on because everyone was going swimming in the main tank. This was the large show tank with the largest and oldest of the dolphins in it. I was apprehensive, but excited, so I got ready and joined him on the platform. It turned out to be just us, which was okay by me as I was still very shy about being in a bathing suit. I had one of those one-piece strapless things that allowed you to get a good tan while covering up at the same time.
As soon as we got in the tank my boss started giving me a long list of what not to do around those particular dolphins, all of whom were over twenty years old. Let me tell you, those dolphins were huge up close. When they let me touch them, they felt wonderful, soft and warm. But, by the time he'd finished his list, I was afraid to move any more. I was afraid of agitating one of them and getting rammed. Of course, he had done this on purpose, but I didn't know that at the time. All I knew was that I couldn't tread water with my legs for fear of striking one of the circling dolphins and that I was suddenly in the middle of this huge main tank because the water system caused a constant gentle swirl to the center.
After a few minutes of leaving me there in agony, my boss indicated that we should get out. He swam casually to the lower show platform and jumped out while I made my way painfully slowly using only my hands and arms. The largest female, Bubbles, kept swimming directly underneath me and rolling on her side to watch me. I was terrified of accidentally kicking her. I kept looking down at that one large intelligent eye, so curious about the newcomer.
Finally, I made it to the platform, oblivious to the crowd of my coworkers who had gathered on the upper gangway. I grabbed hold of the platform to pull myself up. I came up, but my bathing suit did not. It was then that I heard the cheers and whistles. I sank back into the tank, mortified. I managed to grab my suit before the dolphins got it. Surprisingly, I also managed to get back into it on the same breath of air. When I came back up, everyone was clapping. My boss helped me out this time. I was so embarrassed. But nobody said a thing.
That had been my initiation, and I guess I passed, because no one ever complained about girls working the exhibits again. And, after that, I got invited to all the after work beer and raunchy joke sessions too. Now, I was just one of the boys.