Header Photo: Jordann Tomasek, Birch Aquarium

Celebrating Birch Aquarium’s Volunteers!


It’s National Volunteer Week and here at Birch Aquarium, we have an amazing and passionate crew of more than 300 volunteers who bring their time and talents to the aquarium every single week of the year. Each of our volunteers is a valuable member of our team, with their unique skills and perspectives that help us reach the hundreds of thousands of guests we welcome each year. Whether they are guiding guests through exhibits, helping with special events, assisting behind the scenes, or any of the myriad other roles they play, it’s safe to say Birch Aquarium would not be the same without them. Let’s get to know a few of our amazing volunteers!

Daniel Ricardo Melo

volunteer stands at railing overlooking Scripps Pier
Photo by: Ashley Pries, Birch Aquarium
  • Time Volunteering: since November

  • Favorite Animal: Weedy Seadragons

Tell us about yourself? 

My name is Daniel Melo and my favorite color is yellow. I discovered my love of aquarist work in high school and strive for such a position in the future. I graduated from California State University Monterey Bay with a Bachelors in Marine Science so I'd like to think I'm pretty well rounded in terms of ocean knowledge. I also enjoy cherry flavored candies and sunny rainy days.

Why do you volunteer? What do you love most about volunteering?

I started volunteering to gain experience working in an environment similar to the occupation I want in the future. I love helping our guests overcome their "urchin fears" and getting to explore alongside them within our tide pool area since every day there's something new or different hanging around.

What is something you've learned by volunteering here?

I learn something new every day while volunteering at the aquarium! For instance, did you know that the longest horn shark migration was about nine miles or that urchins create those iconic divots within the tide pool rocks? Another one of my favorite fun facts is that sea stars have tiny pincers on their top side that help keep them clean and can even cut hair!

Why would you recommend volunteering here to someone?

If you have a passion for marine life and oceanography, or simply enjoy the water and views, I would highly recommend volunteering. It’s a wonderful opportunity to learn about our local and non-local marine species, meet new people, and experience Birch Aquarium from a different perspective. Personally, it has really helped me with my public speaking fears. I rarely meet the same guest twice so it helps me step out of my comfort zone to start conversations and practice speaking loudly to a large audience.

Shelley Bakalis

volunteer leans over the rail at Tide Pool Plaza
Photo by: Ashley Pries, Birch Aquarium
  • Time Volunteering30 years

  • Favorite AnimalSeahorses

Tell us about yourself? 

Since I was pretty young, I knew I wanted to be a Marine Biologist – thanks to Jaques Cousteau – and eventually moved to San Diego to work at Scripps Institution of Oceanography. I am also very much into dog training and competing in many dog sports. For 45 years I've also been involved with boating education through US Power Squadron, and I like to grow my own fruit and veggies.

Why do you volunteer? What do you love most about volunteering?

The Marine Biologist in me loves to help take care of our residents, and I love passing on knowledge to our visitors!

What is something you've learned by volunteering here?

I've always had a deep connection to the ocean, even when I didn't live near it. Volunteering at the aquarium has taught me that so many others feel the same.

Why would you recommend volunteering here to someone?

Besides the fun and the best office view anywhere, helping to conserve species and educate visitors. And, without trying to sound too pretentious, it feels like a higher calling.

Ryan Ariola

volunteer sits at information desk at Birch Aquarium
Photo by: Ashley Pries, Birch Aquarium
  • Time Volunteering: 7.5 years

  • Favorite Animal: Loggerhead Sea Turtle & Little Blue Penguins

Tell us about yourself?

In addition to volunteering at Birch Aquarium, I practice photography. I visit several different locations around San Diego County and beyond to photograph anything that might look pleasing on Instagram and other photo-sharing sites. I also take pictures as a volunteer for the San Diego International Film Festival. 

Why do you volunteer? What do you love most about volunteering?

I volunteer at Birch Aquarium because I love exploring what this place has to offer and then extending that knowledge to our guests – for example, when we have different feeding presentations and locations for the various sea creatures. What I love most about volunteering is telling our guests where they can watch some of our feeding presentations, especially if they  are interested in a specific animal. 

What is something you've learned by volunteering here?

One thing I learned by volunteering here is the way fishes, sharks, penguins, seahorses, seadragons and other sea creatures really live and thrive in the water. I also learned that I can influence people to refrain from doing harmful things that would affect the sea creatures' way of life – for example, not throwing plastic and other sorts of garbage in the river.

Why would you recommend volunteering here to someone?

I would recommend volunteering here because any person – especially those interested in the ocean and environment – will learn more about sea creatures and how they live. Also, insights on how plastic waste in the water can affect the living conditions for all sorts of creatures. 

Ask a volunteer!

April is Earth Month and Birch Aquarium is celebrating sustainability and simple ways we can all make a difference. What are some sustainable strategies you already practice in your daily life?

Daniel: Separating trash and using reusable bags. It has become a habit to separate recycling from trash and to have a tote or other reusable bag on standby. I usually keep a bag in the trunk of my car just in case.

Shelley: Besides the obvious recycling and water conservation, I try to instill in others the need for all of us here now to be more mindful of the damage we are doing and our obligations to future generations.

Ryan: Some sustainable strategies I'm currently practicing would involve throwing any sorts of food waste in the compost (green) bin, recycling packaging made of cardboard or paper in the recycling bin, applying used coffee grounds to the garden and bringing reusable bags for shopping purposes to refrain from reliance on plastic bags.

Thank you to these volunteers for taking time to chat with us, and thank you to all of our Birch Aquarium volunteers. The aquarium wouldn’t be the same place without our volunteers! If you’re interested in volunteering, you can learn more on our website.