Education continues to be a major component of our program’s activities, directed toward the general public, students, colleagues in the United States and abroad, and wildlife management agencies.
Public Education and Outreach: We work to educate the general public regarding bottlenose dolphins and conservation issues 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.
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 Working Group on Marine Mammal Unusual Mortality Events (chaired by Randall Wells), 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).
International Training Opportunities: The SDRP is a component of the Chicago Zoological Society’s Dolphin Research and Conservation Institute (DRCI). As part of the DRCI, 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 2010, we hosted two people: Ronar Lopez of Cuba, and Sujit Bairagi of India. Because of the importance of Cuba as one of only three nations surrounding and influencing the Gulf of Mexico, we have been trying for seven years to bring Cuban researchers to the SDRP for training and to begin multi-national collaborations, but this is the first time we have succeeded.
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, and the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, the University of California-Davis, the Medical University of South Carolina, Michigan State University, Duke University, 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 2010, two doctoral students involved with our program successfully defended their dissertations: Katie McHugh and Martin Mendez. Currently, eight doctoral students 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: firstname.lastname@example.org). During 2010, 17 interns and out-of-town volunteers provided approximately 6,600 hours of assistance to the program. In addition to the two international training participants from India and Cuba described above, we had several other interns from outside the USA, including two interns from Argentina, and one each from Australia, Denmark, England and Canada. The rest of our interns this year were from the USA. During 2010, we also had 8 local volunteers assist with our rescues, 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, and 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 www.sarasotadolphin.org.