Juan Manuel (Manny) Ezcurra

Manny Ezcurra

Manny Ezcurra

Year finished at Moss Landing: 2001

Lab while at Moss Landing:  Ichthyology lab

Undergraduate education: B. S. in Marine Biology from California State University Long Beach, 1991

Current job position and location:    Associate curator of Elasmobranchs at the Monterey Bay Aquarium

Some Questions for Manny:

Q:  Why did you decide to pursue marine science/come to Moss Landing?

A: I had the good fortune to study Marine Biology at Cal State Long Beach, and Dr. Dick Bray had mentioned MLML to me when I had come up the Monterey to take a job in the education department at the Monterey Bay Aquarium (MBA).  It took me a while to get acclimated, but then I called Dr. Gregor Cailliet and talked with him about attending MLML while working at the aquarium.  Greg was very supportive and I decided that working on some sort of research project with captive elasmobranchs held at MBA would be the way to go.  I still look back and enjoy the fact that I was able to accomplish this task with the great acceptance and support of my wife Roxane.

Q: What did you do your thesis on and why do you find it interesting/important?

A: I studied the metabolic rate of the pelagic stingray (Dasyatis violacea), and created an energy budget for these captive rays (how many calories they consumed and expended).  This was something that I wanted to do because the pelagic ray is an interesting fish in that, unlike many stingrays that are associated with the bottom of the ocean in near shore areas of the ocean, the pelagic ray is found off shore in open waters, as its common name suggests.  This animal had been studied at MBA to determine captive feeding and growth for this species, but we didn’t know how much of the energy from the food intake went to metabolic costs and how much went to growth in this very fast growing specie of ray.

Q:  What did you go on to after graduation?

A:  I’m still enjoying work with the captive elasmobranch collection and the collection of pelagic fishes in the Outer Bay exhibit at the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  I enjoy the collaboration that we have some research institutions like MLML and find that it keeps my job challenging and interesting.

Manny helps capture a young white shark in a holding pen in southern California to transport it to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Manny helps capture a young white shark in a holding pen in southern California to transport it to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Q:  What do you do now (if different from above?) Please describe your job and the highlights/challenges of your work.

A:  My work is to coordinate a team of aquarists who maintain a collection of healthy animals on display in exhibits that are both as realistic and beautiful as possible.  We set diet types and feeding amounts for the various fishes and try to maintain a collection that is healthy, interesting for the public and that allows us to keep pelagic fishes in captivity long term.

Q:  What’s the best thing that you took away from MLML?  How did you time at MLML prepare you/influence you for what you do now?

A:  I was able to learn to look at my work more critically and to use more rigorous methods in determining what course of action to take with our collection.  This allows us to do a better job with the health of the collection, but also to create a opportunity for collaboration with researchers when possible.  Our main goal is to educate the public about our marine resources and the need for conservation; however, if we can learn more ourselves in the process then all of us benefit.

Q:   What would you do if you could do anything differently?

A:  I would have had a good thesis idea mapped out at the start of my class work at MLML.  This may have helped me streamline the work that was required, but generally life isn’t so neat and tidy.  You deal with challenges as they emerge, and persistence is a virtue.

Q:  What advice do you have for someone who wants to go into marine science and/or graduate school?

A: Think of the undertaking as a journey which will be good as some points and bad at others, but you need to always stay focused on the destination so that you have the energy to get through the tough spells.  Above all, enjoy the ride and you will be able to muster the stamina to complete the program.  This will not only help you in a professional arena, but also as personal development that you can always look back upon and feel proud that you were able to complete something in your life of value.

Q:  What advice do you have for someone who wants to pursue a career like yours?

A:  Working in the aquarium field is in many ways like the basics that you learn about ecology: resources are limited and competition is high; some of us have to be generalists and opportunists, but at times there are specialized niches that one can occupy.  The real trick to find one that you enjoy and that allows you to live in a way that makes you happy overall.

In addition, you need to find opportunities to get your hands wet and get some real world experience while attending school.  I was fortunate enough to work at the marine lab at CSULB while attending classes, and cleaning and feeding tanks led to a career in public aquariums.  Also, at times you need to take opportunities that aren’t quite what you had in mind, like the first job I had at MBA was dressing up as marine creatures for the outreach education programs.  But I was able to get a commercial license to drive to the schools in our Aquarian, and the driving lessons still help me today while I’m driving on the freeways with a tank of water weighing over 3,000 lbs. in the back of our trucks after a collection trip.  Above all, if you want to pursue this type of career stick with it and you will find your way.

Find Out More!

Learn all about sharks at the Monterey Bay Aquarium at this website:



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