Immersed in happiness
Christine Landry's greatest pleasure in life is to make people happy. And she pulls off this feat every single day thanks to her colourful and captivating presentations at Aquarium du Québec. She tells people about rays, starfish, mammals… in short, about any one of the 10,000 marine animals that live there. Armed with her 16 years of experience, this pedagogical animal guide knows a thing or two. It’s our pleasure to share a meeting with this self-taught individual who learned everything on the job.
At the age of 24, Christine began her professional career at the Aquarium dressed up as PAQ the mascot. Even though she has no formal training as a comic or an actress, she’s a huge hit when she has the famous mascot perform all kinds of antics, much to the delight of the little ones.
Her talents as an educator and entertainer were quickly noticed. She was offered the position of conservation monitor with a vast array of tasks, including feeding the animals, cleaning fish tank filters, and looking after organized activities at the Aquarium’s Coastal Zone. She studied graphic design, not biology, but she excels in everything she does, with animals as well as with people!
Christine admits right away that her trajectory is atypical. Over the years, she’s been involved in all aspects of events and life at zoos: storyteller, team leader for the defunct Festilumières, performer for Halloween activities, conservation monitor, and, on occasion, aquarist.
In addition to her natural talent for theatre, she developed her knowledge of biology. “Aquarists and marine mammal guides have trained me,” she recounts. “Since I hadn’t studied in this field, I read a whole lot about everything related to animals. I'm very curious, so if I had to talk about lobsters in one of my presentations, I’d look for information on well-known websites. My lack of formal education in biology doesn’t make me any less credible.”
Today, at age 40, she’s a pedagogical animal guide, a position that suits her perfectly. Together with her team, she brings pleasure to thousands of visitors each and every day. Commented feedings, backstage tours, Touch Basin presentations, school group receptions … no two days are the same.
A growing passion
She has long been interested in humans and animals. As a child, she wanted to become a psychologist or a veterinarian, which says it all! “I find it easy to love animals, and when you love them, you want to protect them,” she asserts simply. “Animals can communicate their different needs in a language of their own.”
Over the course of her entertaining presentations, she sometimes realizes that certain animals are under the weather. She then takes the time to inform employees who look after their well-being.
“Animals have amazing characteristics, and they fascinate me. There are animals that change colour when they aren’t feeling well or according to their moods, including the octopus and certain species of fish. I find that incredible,” marvels Christine.
When it comes to wild animals, this cat lover has a penchant for arctic foxes. And what about aquatic fauna? She loves starfish, who conceal so many mysteries; among other things, they’re able to regrow a severed limb. Some even have the ability to divide in two to create a clone, thus carrying out asexual reproduction. Amazing, right?
Passing on one’s knowledge
Her interest in humans is just as great. “I’m first and foremost a people person, so that's why I'm at the Aquarium," she says. “When I do presentations at the Starfish and Sea Urchin Touch Basin and I explain their characteristics or their way of life to visitors, I need to make people laugh or I'm not satisfied.”
The animal guide takes her role seriously. “If I have to do a backstage guided tour with a school group, I'm pretty nervous,” she confides. “I see my task as a play. It has to be good, and people have to enjoy it.”
What drives her is the visitors' thirst for knowledge. “Sometimes people wait for me to finish my explanations to tell me that they found the presentation really interesting and instructive. This gives me the feeling of having brightened their day,” she admits. And certain little things in life make her really happy. “Seeing the surprise on customers’ faces and the wonder in their eyes when hermit crabs come out of their shell still moves me today… even after 16 years,” she adds.
Among the moments that remain engraved in her memory is the arrival of walruses at the Aquarium. Boris and Samka arrived from Russia in 2005, when they were orphans. Since newborns need their mother until they’re ready for weaning at about 18 months old, they had to be fed by marine mammal guides until the end of 2006. “To see the biggest babies in Quebec being bottle-fed by my colleagues a few steps away was very impressive indeed,” she recalls.
Christine plans to stay with her friends, the animals of the aquarium, for a long time to come. And with the team of pedagogical animal guides that she likes so much.
“There’s no more beautiful profession. Every day I have the privilege of seeing people, children and adults alike, who want nothing better than to be dazzled by animals. Sharing my knowledge with them is so gratifying,” she concludes.