As part of a cooperative agreement between the Chicago Zoological Society and the Mote Marine Laboratory, scientists and staff from the two organizations collaborate to provide education and training for area high school students.
The most recent example is a grant funded program to teach students to do basic research from which to develop conservation messages.
SDRP scientists and staff also have a long history of giving informal presentations to all age groups, including younger students.
Working with Schools
The goal was to teach high school students to conduct research, and then to use their findings to develop innovative conservation messages for different audiences. SDRP staff and Mote Marine Laboratory’s Education Division collaborated to recruit 17 local students for this purpose
The students collected data on dolphin behavior in high boat traffic areas of Sarasota Bay. Research questions included:
- How often are dolphins observed within 100 meters of recreational boats?
- How do dolphin dive patterns change in the presence of boat traffic?
- Are there identifiable “hot spots” of human-dolphin interaction?
Students spent two weekend days a month on the water to collect data and shot video from October 2007 through March 2008. Findings included:
- On average, a boat passed a dolphin within 300 meters once every 4 minutes.
- Dolphins dove longer, and fed and socialized less in the presence of more boats.
- The highest level of boat fishing activity occurred in the passes between islands, where the most dolphin patrolling behavior occurred. (SDRP Editors note: In colder months, Sarasota dolphins and their prey fish tend to spend more time in the passes, which thus impacts these results.)
The students then developed conservation messages to different target audiences, including:
- a coloring book for elementary aged children,
- a tent card for local area hotels and restaurants,
- a tide chart with information on the back informing boat rental customers to not feed wild dolphins,
- student presentations to local youth groups such as 4-H
- short video public service announcements to show to different target audiences.
The students presented their findings at the Florida Marine Science Educators Association conference in 2008 and 2009.
Support for this project was provided by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) through their Conservation Endowment Fund, the Chicago Zoological Society, and the Emily and Roland Abraham Marine Science Education Fund.
SDRP scientists and staff also give more-informal presentations. They include talks on dolphin biology, conservation measures, and sometimes simple demonstrations of research techniques. The audiences have included younger students in schools, museums, and an occasional Girl Scout troop meeting.
The subject of the talks varies with the age, interests, and locale of the audience.
Hands-on activities have included:
- how simple containers can be constructed to hold trash and fishing line to keep it out of the water, which will protect wild dolphins;
- the use of radio tracking gear to locate hidden radio transmitters (in a tree or held by another youth);
- differentiating individual dolphin dorsal fins from photographs;
- how to count the growth rings in pictures of dolphin tooth sections to estimate the age of the dolphin;
- hypothesis testing (called Super Soaker Science); the students learned about the scientific method to turn a simple question “Which is the best Super Soaker?” into a hypothesis to be tested. They learned that experiments are about measurement (How far does it shoot? How much water comes out per second?). Finally they tested for differences between different Super Soakers to come to their conclusions.
All photos © Sarasota Dolphin Research Program under NMFS permit #522-1785