On the Art of Kuragedo

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A philosophy for jelly teams

Chad L. Widmer, PhD
Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium
Tacoma, WA USA
Teammate, Defiant Jelly Laboratory

The Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium did not have a jellyfish gallery when I joined the team two years ago. Instead we had one little moon jelly exhibition that wasn’t particularly loved or well cared for. It was often the lowest ranking aquarist who was relegated to caring for them. But things have changed! Last year we had the pleasure of acquiring funding for, designing, and building a brand new little jellyfish exhibition. What I like most about this gallery is that at this moment it is possibly one of the most flexible jellyfish exhibitions in the world. We can display any type of jellyfish body plan, originating from anywhere in the world, from the deep sea to the tropics. The gallery also has a dance floor and a rocking wi-fi enabled sound system with digitally interactive signage that we can modify from our phones. It’s fair to say we’re proud of it. But more importantly I am very proud of the Defiant Jellies Team, and how we have come together to become fully functional and self-sustaining in such a short period.

As you may be acutely aware, maintaining a jellyfish gallery very much requires a sustained and prolonged team effort. A solitary jelly keeper left to tend the gallery by themselves will burn out, and move on in two years. To avoid this sequence of events myself I set about the process of training a new team of jelly keepers who are ‘with it’ and ‘for it.’ When I train a new jelly-head I require that they master a skill before they are allowed to learn the next one. Some of you reading this may have experienced ‘the Widmer way.’ I hope you found it time well spent. This method ensures that everyone on the team knows how to do everything to a high standard, and if someone has told me they’ve done something, I know that they have done it well without needing to double check. The method also allows me to confidently take weekends and vacations without returning to disaster.

During the new exhibition build out process the Team learned each new jellyfish husbandry skill with quickness, and they were eager to progress to the next level. I began to ask myself, what is it about this particular team that makes everyone so interested in learning so rapidly? And why are they so good at it? And why is doing everything to a very high standard really important to these particular individuals? I should also say that they all self-selected and chose to join the jelly team, they weren’t mandated to. In our service area conversations I soon learned that all of us had some type of martial arts background in common. Other international jelly keepers I know turn out to be martial artists as well. We all value quality, discipline, and paying attention to detail. Martial artists also understand and value mastering a skill before being allowed to progress to the next one, and these traits serve jelly keepers well.

It was from these conversations that the art of Kuragedo was born. ‘Kurage’ is the Japanese word for jellyfish, and ‘do’ means* ‘the way.’ Kuragedo is the way of learning to care for jellyfish. It is the art of training a new jelly keeper, and it is a method for knowing the relative skill set of a potential new hire. It is also the art of constructing and maintaining all things jellyfish gallery and culture related. Teamwork, mutual respect, and trust are the foundations on which Kuragedo are built.

Similar to the martial arts a code of conduct exists amongst the practitioners of Kuragedo. We call them the tenets. It is not a static list, but naturally a fluid one. We are open to suggestions and contributions as The Art grows.

The tenets of Kuragedo are:

1.To be better aquarists today than we were yesterday.
2.Recognize that jelly keeping is a process, not an event.
3.We value trust and brotherhood among Teammates.
4.We aim to display the most diverse, healthiest, and best looking collection in the world.
5.We will not be products of our environment. Our environment will be a product of us.
6.It doesn’t matter where you come from. It matters where you are going.
7.A mind is a terrible thing to waste.
8.We celebrate our mistakes, and learn from them.

Kuragedo is about establishing and maintaining a positive, fun and productive team culture that can accomplish any goal it sets for itself. A white belt in Kuragedo can walk around the gallery without accidentally destroying anything. A yellow belt can harvest Artemia nauplii and rotifers, and feed them to the appropriate animals. A green belt knows the scientific names of things, and can bleach a kreisel whilst a black belt can start new cultures and sustainably keep a gallery going. A master dreams up new things that make us all reach for our cameras. As for the color of my belt… all of the black has worn off, leaving me a white belt once again. My Team and I are evolving.

*Some words of acknowledgement about the word ‘Do.’ In the Japanese language the word ‘do’ has far more profound meanings than simply, ‘the way.’ Your homework Teammate is to find out how and report back.


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