My desire to study to marine mammals started at the age of five. In college, I have had the opportunity to augment my knowledge on this topic. As a human ecologist, I see science strongly intertwined with humans – in both a positive and negative way. My interest with the effects of human interactions on marine mammals began with my days on the water in Mauritius, an island south-east of Madagascar. Tourism brings a substantial amount of income for the island community. Spinner and Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins are commonly observed in Mauritius and are subjected to the anthropogenic disturbances. The spinner dolphins come into the bay early in the mornings to rest; however, during this critical moment for the dolphins they are accompanied by multiple tour boats and swimmers. In Mauritius, we are still fully unaware about how much of an impact it is having on the dolphin population. I want to be part of the process that is capable of understanding these effects and find ways to improve it. My interest also revolves about policies and regulation. Due to the lack of resources in Mauritius, the presence of enforcement is minimal. I am interested in understanding the perspectives of tour operators, tourist, and researchers.
I applied for this 13-week internship at the SDRP to be able to gain more skills and tools in this field. At SDRP, I have picked up skills in photo-ID, data collection, data analysis using ArcGIS, driving boats, and methods to assess prey-predator interactions. I am currently conducting my undergraduate senior thesis involving both Sarasota and Mauritius. My project focuses on the impacts of human interactions on dolphins in both locations and ways to assess these impacts. Dr. Katie McHugh and Dr. Randall Wells have been of valuable help in aiding in developing my project and teaching me methods to approach data and to analyze it. I also would like to thank Shauna McBride for being unbelievably helpful and patient in teaching me multiple ArcGIS methods and analyses. Even though the primary purpose of this internship was to gain more skills, I ended up gaining something else of extreme value. My daily tasks at SDRP and the multiple conversations with the staff have developed a sense of independence and happiness for me, so thank you Sunnie Brenneman, Jason Allen, Aaron Barleycorn, Shauna McBride, Elizabeth Berens McCabe, Kim Bassos-Hull, Katie McHugh, and Randall Wells for this amazing opportunity.
This article appeared on page 32 in the December 2015 issue of Nicks n Notches.