Public Education and Outreach: We work to educate the general public regarding bottlenose dolphins and conservation issues.
We do this through public presentations at the Chicago Zoological Society’s Brookfield Zoo, Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium, and elsewhere, articles and interviews, and through volunteering opportunities.
We also produce books for the general public and students. One of these, “Dolphins, Whales, and Manatees of Florida: A Guide to Sharing Their Waters,” by John Reynolds and Randall Wells, was published in 2003 to fill a niche for teaching people about how to better appreciate and treat marine mammals in their environment.
Another, “Dolphin Man: Exploring the World of Dolphins,” by Laurence Pringle and Randall Wells, was published in 2002 to provide middle school students with an opportunity to learn about Sarasota Bay’s dolphins and about one pathway for becoming a marine biologist engaged in dolphin biology research and conservation.
An Immersion Cinema interactive program, “Dolphin Bay,” loosely based on our long-term dolphin research and conservation efforts in Sarasota Bay, is aired during multiple daily showings at Mote Marine Laboratory’s 165-seat theater. Participants are able to investigate realistic threats to bottlenose dolphins in the imaginary bay, and attempt to resolve the threats for the animals by applying field research techniques and performing rescues. The program is designed to entertain as well as educate young people, especially, about the threats faced by coastal dolphins, and about the means available to them for making a positive difference in the dolphins’ lives. It tries to present a balanced selection of realistic alternatives. The consequences of the choices made by the participants are shown through modeling of the Dolphin Bay population using the program “Vortex” (developed by the Chicago Zoological Society’s Dr. Robert Lacy), indicating the population size 50 years hence.
In response to an increase in dolphins taking bait, catch and discarded fish from anglers, we worked with NOAA Fisheries Service, Hubbs-Sea World Research Institute, and fishing guides and anglers to develop Dolphin Friendly Tips intended to improve the experience of the angler or boater while enhancing protection for dolphins. By making these cards available to boaters, anglers, and the general public, we hope that more individuals will become aware of the risks and legal issues involved when interacting with wild dolphins and choose to engage in responsible viewing and fishing practices when dolphins are present. These “Dolphin-friendly fishing and viewing tips” cards were initially developed through the support of the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund, with additional funding for re-printings coming from Marineland: Dolphin Conservation Center, Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution, and Fish Florida. Distribution throughout Florida and the southeastern United States has been coordinated by the SDRP, and the United States Coast Guard and Coast Guard Auxiliary recently began distributing our cards to fishermen and marinas up and down the eastern seaboard. More than 304,000 cards have been distributed since January 2008, including 13,450 in Spanish. Please contact our website if you have any further questions or would like to help distribute the cards. We will continue to make them available at no cost to those who can effectively distribute them to people likely to come into contact with wild dolphins. The cards are available in English and Spanish as downloads at: www.sarasotadolphin.org.
With the help of a generous donation from Wing and Jan Park, we also worked with Mote Marine Laboratory to update their marine mammal educational display materials. One phase of this effort involved placing a display near Mote’s Dolphin and Whale Hospital that features the “Don’t Feed Wild Dolphins” public service announcement (developed in 2009 in part by the SDRP), presented alongside the list of 10 “Dolphin-friendly fishing and viewing tips” discussed above. This display is located in a high-traffic area of the aquarium and highlights the dangers of feeding wildlife along with ways that members of the public can interact with wild dolphins in a more responsible manner. This PSA is also available online at: www.dontfeedwilddolphins.org.
Sharing Scientific Findings and Participation on International and Government Panels: Our efforts to provide information to our colleagues and wildlife management agencies continues, through publication of numerous peer-reviewed scientific articles, through invited presentations at various scientific conferences and through participation in national/international panels such as the Atlantic Scientific Review Group, Bottlenose Dolphin Take Reduction Team, the IUCN Cetacean Specialist Group, the IUCN Reintroduction Specialist Group, and the Board of Governors of the Society for Marine Mammalogy, the largest association of marine mammal scientists in the world (Randall Wells, President, through June 2012).
International Training Opportunities: The SDRP is a component of the Chicago Zoological Society’s Conservation, Education and Training group. As such, we provide training opportunities for scientists and students from outside of the United States. These sponsored training opportunities allow foreign scientists to participate in SDRP field and laboratory research activities and discuss with staff how such activities might be applied to their own situations at home. Standardized research methodologies facilitate comparisons across research sites. During 2012, we hosted five people for extended training periods: Celeste Bollini and Yamila Rodriguez from Argentina, Camila Domit and Beatriz Schulze from Brazil, and Yujiang Hao from China. Celeste and Yamila each spent one month in Sarasota finishing work on the senior thesis projects they began in 2011 and assisting with lab activities. Beatriz spent 2 ½ months and Camila spent 1 ½ months in Sarasota learning about field and lab techniques. Finally, Yujiang began his training in Sarasota in September and will work with the SDRP through January 2013. In addition, a number of international trainees participated in our 2012 bottlenose dolphin health assessment in Sarasota Bay, including three researchers from Malaysia, seven scientists and veterinarians from Brazil, two researchers from South Korea, and researchers from Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, and Spain.
Graduate Students: As described throughout this newsletter, graduate students from a variety of institutions, especially the University of California-Santa Cruz, the University of South Florida, the University of North Carolina Wilmington, the Medical University of South Carolina, Michigan State University, Duke University, the University of Florida, and the University of St. Andrews involve the resources of our program as they conduct their thesis or dissertation research. To date, about 25 doctoral dissertation and 30 master’s thesis projects have benefited from association with our program, through field research opportunities or access to data, samples, or guidance. During 2012, two doctoral students involved with our program, Glenn Dunshea and Peter Simard, successfully defended their dissertations. Currently, eight doctoral students and three master’s student are making use of resources provided by our program.
Undergraduate College Internships and Other Volunteers: At the college level, we are fortunate to have access through Mote Marine Laboratory to high quality, dedicated undergraduate student interns who volunteer with our program for at least 2-3 months at a time (for more information on internships, please contact Katie McHugh, SDRP Intern Coordinator, at: email@example.com). During 2012, 16 interns and out-of-town volunteers provided approximately 7,200 hours of assistance to the program. In addition to the five international training participants from Argentina, Brazil, and China described above, we also provided training to interns from outside the USA, including Russia. Many of our undergraduate interns apply their training with the SDRP towards advanced study in the areas of marine animal conservation, research, and management, including five 2011-2012 interns who are now either graduate or veterinary students. During 2012, we also had 12 local volunteers assist with our surveys, prey sampling, and capture-release operations.
High School Programs: We offer both formal and informal educational opportunities for high school students. A formal curriculum, “The Secret Life of Dolphins,” was developed by the Chicago Zoological Society in collaboration with Mote Marine Laboratory, and focuses on high interest dolphin research ongoing at the two institutions. The formal curriculum models a set of technology-based educational components, enabling students and teachers to work with real dolphin data from Sarasota Bay and Brookfield Zoo dolphins, using interactive data analysis software. It has been designed to offer teachers and students a dynamic array of experiences and scientific inquiry tools that can be used together or independently, centered on an overall theme of understanding the nature of science and the role of research in conservation. The curriculum immerses students in scientific investigation. They can manipulate and analyze real dolphin data, while gaining an appreciation for the uncertainty of science. The downloadable curriculum unit (approximately 4 weeks long) includes background information for the teachers and classroom-based activities and lesson plans related to: 1) basic content on dolphin research, 2) computer software, and 3) a field trip to either Mote Aquarium or the Chicago Zoological Society’s Brookfield Zoo. The materials are available as downloads at no cost at this website.
This article was published on pages 34-35 in the January 2013 Nicks n Notches.
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