By Bryna Sim
ALL she knew was that she was supposed to clean the squid tank.
She lowered herself gamely into the tank and swam around, but was unaware of the squid swimming behind her.
She kicked it accidentally and it squirted black ink at her.
"The next thing I knew, all the other squids were squirting black ink into the tank," said Valerie Lim, 19.
She ended up having to change the water in the tank, as it was entirely stained with squid ink.
But Valerie is loving every bit of her 20-week internship as a diver at Underwater World Singapore.
Not only does she feed the sea creatures, she also prepares food for them, cleans their tanks and tends to their wounds.
Valerie is a final-year student in Temasek Polytechnic's Veterinary Technology diploma course.
The course was started in 2007, and she is in the pioneer batch.
She started the Underwater World internship in September after getting her diving licence two months earlier.
She has learnt to stay calm even when fearful.
The first time she dived into the shark tank to feed them, they headbutted her.
"I was so nervous and didn't know why they were being aggressive," she said.
She stood her ground and was later told that they acted that way because they were hungry, "the way some humans get crabby when they are hungry".
She also had "love bites" from over-enthusiastic leopard sharks and garoupas which mistook her hands for food.
"I've had half my arm sucked into their mouths before," she said.
The trick to retrieving her hand in one piece, she said, was to wriggle her fingers gently in their mouths so that they knew that she was not food.
Valerie said she has benefited from the expertise of her supervisors, who educate her in theoretical aspects of her internship.
She has learnt how jellyfish breeding is done, for example.
Having had such a fulfilling time at Underwater World, Valerie is reluctant and "sad" that her internship is coming to an end later this month.
"I will definitely take time to say goodbye to all the sea creatures," she said.
She has been trying her best "not to get too attached" to any creature in particular, but admitted she has a "soft spot" for the baby nurse sharks.
"They follow me everywhere I go, once I am in their tank," she said with a smile.
She said she is a "little mermaid" who has "fallen in love" with Underwater World, and hopes to get a permanent job there after graduating in April.