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MHS grad lands dream job working with dolphins

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Marshalltown native Hannah Thomae, 24, recently scored her dream job, working as an animal care specialist at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, a 135-acre animal theme park located in Vallejo, Calif.

VALLEJO, Calif. — Perseverance has motivated Marshalltown native Hannah Thomae to keep reaching for her dream job. She recently began working as an animal care specialist at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom, a 135-acre animal theme park located in Vallejo, Calif.

“God has perfect timing; never early, never late. It takes a little patience and faith, but it’s worth the wait,” she wrote on her Facebook page.

Thomae, 24, graduated from Marshalltown High School in 2012 knowing she wanted to go into biology and work with animals. She enrolled at Iowa State University, double majoring in biology and animal ecology.

“Way back when, Iowa State did actually offer marine biology as a major, and then they realized we didn’t have an ocean. There was also zoology then that wasn’t offered. Animal ecology focuses on wildlife, so I was able to take mammalogy, fish biology and anatomy classes,” she said.

Thomae pursued several job shadowing opportunities during and after college, gaining experience interning at the Wildlife Care Clinic in Ames, working with penguins at the Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium in Omaha, serving as a marine mammal trainer at Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Florida, then working with marine mammals at Shedd Aquarium in Chicago. All in the span of three and a half years.

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - Thomae pursued several job shadowing opportunities during and after college, including at the Wildlife Care Clinic, Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium, Clearwater Marine Aquarium and Shedd Aquarium.

She said at times she was encouraged to switch her focus to veterinarian science, work as a researcher or obtain a master’s degree. She spent the summer of 2015 working in a biology research lab in Spain and taking a Spanish class at the University of Valencia.

Upon completing her degree in May 2016, she took a job as a paraeducator at Lenihan Intermediate School, still searching for just the right job working with animals. She then secured a position at PetSmart in Clive as a dog trainer.

“Some people are lucky. They will do one internship and get the job right after. Sometimes it’s about timing,” she said.

But Thomae was determined to again have the chance to work and swim with dolphins — a dream she’s had since middle school.

At Six Flags Discovery Kingdom she works with a team of dedicated professionals training dolphins.

As a new trainer, Thomae was slowly introduced to the animals, first focusing on doing meal preparation and observing other staff members. She said establishing trust is key.

“Training is really great for their mental stimulation, exercise and socializing — we’re pretty much trying to enhance their care,” she said.

Now in the off season, when the park is in full-swing it offers several dolphin shows and demonstrations daily, in addition to the amusement park rides.

Thomae said the field of animal training is highly competitive, but rewarding.

“It’s a long process for sure, but I’ve learned that I needed all these experiences I’ve had to get me to where I am now.”