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EXTRAORDINARY PEOPLE: Our Pal, the Gator Gal

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KURE BEACH, NC (WWAY) -- Our Extraordinary Person of the Week is one who walks with the wild.

The North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher is quite an adventure. You can find loggerhead sea turtles preparing for the ocean, you can find a bald eagle that was saved from what was a doomed life, and you can find our pal, the gator Gal....who has an 'Extraordinary' way with the wild!

"That's just the crocodiles. I see the crocodiles," a child screamed in excitement as she stared into the exhibit.

Very close, little one. They're actually american alligators. While extraordinary in their own way, they aren't our feature of the week. So see ya later, alligator.

Meet Julie Johnson, a Aquarist at the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher.

"A normal day for me is taking care of the animals," Julie said as she explained her job. "Anywhere from getting in a tank and scrubbing it, to feeding," she added.

Julie Johnson does just that, she takes care of these alligators at the Aquarium.

"I kind of stumbled into it. I came to UNCW for marine biology and wasn't sure what I wanted to do with my degree. I started volunteering here, just to get my hands wet and some hands on work and fell in love with it."

And while to the naked eye it's feeding time here with the alligators, it's also an exercise.

"We're not asking them to do anything they wouldn't already be doing, so we're just using that," Julie said. "We know they're willing to open their mouth and we can ask them to open their mouth and get a look inside to make sure nothing is going on , or we get them to target, go up to a target and touch it and we can visually look at them for injuries. So it decreases the stress on our side and the danger on both sides."

But Julie's extraordinary way with the wild is more than just hanging out with ol' "AL"-i-gator.
She's also an educator, teaching all ages the dangers this little guy(sea turtle) can run into when they release him into the ocean.

"We get a good message out on conservation in what people can do locally, what they'll see on the beach in the summer visiting us," Julie explained as she talked about their sea turtle program.

And that's what it's all about, learning about each other, even the ones that can be a little intimidating(alligator).

"Taking the time to actually pay attention to it to see what behaviors are normal allows us to tell when it's doing something that's abnormal. So I find joy in studying the behavior in animals I take care of," she said.

Here's lookin' at you, Julie, and your extraordinary way with the wild.

For more information on the NC Aquarium at Fort Fisher, click on their website..... http://www.ncaquariums.com/

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