Interns come in two varieties.
College students from the US apply to be interns if they want to volunteer as assistants while learning about research techniques for the study of wild dolphins.
We also invite foreign nationals to Sarasota to work with the SDRP. They receive a wider range of training then does the typical US intern. The goal for foreign interns is that they learn conservation and research skills to take back to apply to projects in their home country.
In 2009, interns racked up more than 15,000 hours of volunteer time as they served as assistants on various research projects.
How to become an intern
Sarasota Dolphin Research Program
The Sarasota Dolphin Research Program (SDRP), a partnership led by the Chicago Zoological Society and based at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida, conducts the world’s longest-running study of a dolphin population. The program’s primary goal is to contribute to a better understanding of the structure and dynamics of populations of small cetaceans, as well as the natural and anthropogenic factors that impact them. The SDRP uses an interdisciplinary and collaborative approach in conducting studies of bottlenose dolphins within Sarasota Bay, Tampa Bay, Charlotte Harbor, and the Gulf of Mexico coastal waters.
The SDRP selects volunteer interns during three seasons each year:
- Winter/Spring (positions January to April, applications due to Mote by September 1st);
- Summer (positions mid-May to August, applications due to Mote by March 1st);
- Fall (positions September to December, applications due to Mote by June 1st).
All internships must be a minimum of 10 weeks of participation, but ideally will run for 12-16 weeks. Please note that we typically only seek 2-4 interns for each session and that we receive many more applications than we have openings – the selection process is very competitive. Successful candidates will participate in the following research projects:
1) Dolphin population monitoring project: (YEAR ROUND) This study continues to monitor the resident bottlenose dolphin community in Sarasota Bay and vicinity. Duties in the field will include assisting with boat-based photographic identification surveys for dolphin groups during one to two weeks per month. Behavioral, location, individual, and environmental data will be recorded for each dolphin group, and additional data related to human-dolphin interactions will also be collected in conjunction with this project. While in the lab (at least 2 weeks per month), work will generally involve photo-identification of dolphins, computer data entry and double-checking, logging of videos into database and archives, dolphin dorsal fin identification catalog updates, boat and field equipment maintenance and other duties.
2) Dolphin prey and habitat use project: (JAN-MAR & JUN-SEP ONLY) This study uses the Sarasota dolphin community and fish populations to study relationships between distributions of dolphins and their prey and factors that affect fish community ecology, such as red tide. While in the field, work will involve sampling of fish communities through purse seining techniques and collection of other environmental data. Interns typically participate in this project 2-3 days per month.
3) Other projects (TBD) Interns may participate in other research projects, depending on availability and timing of grant funding for specific projects. Interns may also be asked to assist with dolphin rescues.
Interns should expect to spend about 20% of their time in the field, and about 80% of their time in the lab working with data, or performing equipment maintenance. There is no financial compensation for these internship positions, and successful applicants will be responsible for their own living and transportation expenses. Shared housing opportunities near Mote Marine Laboratory may be available. A few scholarships may be available from Mote Marine Laboratory through a competitive application process (US citizens only).
Applicants would ideally have the following qualifications:
- Minimum of 18 years of age and engaged in or recently completed undergraduate studies;
- A background or degree in Biology, Marine Biology, Ecology, Zoology or a related field;
- Basic computer proficiency in Microsoft Office programs (especially Excel and Access);
- Some field research experience preferred but not required;
- Must be able to swim;
- Enthusiasm and desire to learn a variety of field and lab based research methods;
- A willingness to spend a minimum of 10-12 weeks working full time as a volunteer with our program.
To apply for a Sarasota Dolphin Research Program internship, interested persons should:
1) Fill out an application form at Mote Marine Laboratory’s website (www.mote.org/research/internships) and be sure to select “Sarasota Dolphin Research Program” as your first choice;
2) Complete and provide to Mote’s intern office all other application materials including: a statement of interest, current college transcript, letter of recommendation, and curriculum vitae;
3) Send an email to the SDRP Intern Coordinator (Katie McHugh, firstname.lastname@example.org) stating your name, contact information, exact dates and duration of availability, where you learned about the internship opportunity (e.g. Mote, SDRP, Chicago Zoological Society website, MARMAM, etc.), and that you have provided all application materials to the Mote intern office, as detailed above.
All applications will be reviewed; those received by the application deadline will be given first priority. Applicants may contact Katie McHugh (941-388-4441 ext. 450, email@example.com) in the SDRP with any questions.
Applicants applying because of an interest in engaging in graduate studies with the SDRP should discuss their interests with Program Director Randall Wells upon acceptance into the program. There is no assurance that participation as an intern with the SDRP will lead to graduate research program opportunities.
We conduct the SDRP International Training program for invited members of foreign conservation groups seeking to learn skills to protect at-risk cetacean species.
Interns receive a full spectrum of training that will enhance their research and conservation skills when they return to their native country.
Interns learn by assisting on-going projects.
Safe dolphin handling, boat surveys, photographic skills, record keeping, field identification and lab verification skills are just a few of the experiences for the foreign interns. They also help with prey sampling, dolphin rescues, focal animal follows and other on-going activities.
We also have welcomed selected Aquamarina staff to serve as interns each year. They have been biologists, students, and fishermen. All have returned home with new skills to enhance their program.
Doctoral student Ibiza Martínez-Serrano, spent two months with the SDRP in preparation to conduct research about distribution and movement patterns of bottlenose dolphins near Veracruz, México.
United States interns
Interns from the US are usually assigned to assist with a 1-2 research projects. In that role, they learn skills specific to that project, which are often a combination of field and lab techniques.
Being an intern is a full time, but unpaid, job. Many interns find part time work to help support themselves. If you are interested, see the section above on how to become an intern.
Usually, interns are heavily involved with dolphin surveys. During long days on the survey boats, they will observe, and often learn to identify, individual dolphins.
Interns learn to record sighting information, including environmental data, and afterward they help validate the sightings by comparisons with photos from previous encounters.
Interns learn what an efficient data management process should be like. Working with data and photo-ID matching gives them a taste of the tediousness of accurate data collection. They also learn about the self-discipline needed to make it in the research field.
Both on the boat on in the lab, interns also learn about the professional work ethic of field biologist.
Perspectives offered by former interns
“The SDRP has had a profoundly positive impact on me. I was first exposed to the incredible and important work of the SDRP when I was an undergraduate and the experience inspired me to pursue a career in marine mammal conservation. It has been a great privilege to assist and work with the SDRP and I am grateful for the kindness, support and opportunities that the SDRP team has provided me over the years.” Trevor S. (1991), MS – Currently working with the Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program of NOAA’s Fisheries Service, Silver Spring, MD
“My internship definitely taught me how to design, conduct and fund scientific research. Although my current jobs aren’t in marine science, I use the same methods/procedures I learned from the SDRP. The knowledge and experience I gained at SDRP has translated nicely into several scientific arenas and I think the SDRP internship was an invaluable experience.” Tristen M. (1994), MS
“For any student struggling to find direction in the scientific community, a hands-on internship provides vital experience in what it really means to do research. Interns see what it takes to not only gather the data they need, but also all of the behind-the-scenes work needed to process those data. In the case of SDRP, interns are entering the sometimes glamorized field of marine mammal research and will gain much needed understanding of the real scientific dedication involved in running these programs. Participating in this internship is a major stepping stone to making the connections and gaining the experience and perspective they will need to pursue a career in this or any other related field.” Kristi F. (1995), MS
“I gained valuable experience during my months interning for SDRP including data management organization, boat driving skills, and field method protocols. I participated in great research opportunities, working with some interesting people, which broadened by perspective, challenged me and helped me realize what I did, and did not, want to do with my future.” Leigh T. (1998), PhD
“My experience at SDRP was invaluable to my scientific career. It was during my time as a SDRP intern that I discovered a true interest in scientific research and conservation. Without this initial experience, I doubt I would have chosen to go to graduate school and stay in the field of scientific research. For any young academic who is considering a career in marine science or conservation, I would strongly recommend an internship at SDRP.” Anna S. (1999), MS
“The field work from the internship gave me the ‘previous experience’ necessary to obtain research and job opportunities. The contacts I made that summer opened doors later on during my research, career, and graduate school pursuits. The type of research I participated in that summer helped narrow and focus my own research interests.” Leslie B. (2000), MS, PhD in progress
“My internship with SDRP taught me so much about studying cetaceans and how a professional project is run. I liked how I was treated as a proper member of the team rather than just an extra and was really encouraged to get involved with as many parts of the project as possible.” Eleanor S. (2003), MS
“Being able to interact and question people at every stage of academia gave me a much better picture of what it means to be a lifelong scientist. /…/ I came to Mote with an interest in graduate school, but without a clear understanding of what it really means to be a graduate student and formulate a dissertation project. I didn’t know about the various options available to people at each particular stage of education. Working as a research assistant for a doctoral student was excellent in this regard: I discussed with her how she designed her project, what graduate school was like, and how she overcame some of the obstacles she had faced. We discussed grant applications, comprehensive exams, choosing a program, and many other topics I had not previously considered thoroughly enough.” Leslie C. (2005), PhD in progress
“The SDRP gave me my first research opportunity to work with marine mammals. Thanks to this program, I was a competitive graduate student applicant, and was given the opportunity to continue doing research in the highly competitive field of marine mammalogy. The hands-on experience also made me more comfortable with working on boats, and I subsequently was a competent boat operator while working on sea otter research in Prince William Sound, Alaska. The skills I gained while looking at dolphin behavior and photo ID was also helpful when I had to plan my own Master’s research thesis.” Olivia L. (2005), MS in progress.
“Participating in an internship at SDRP was a great way to learn about research processes, network within the marine mammal field, and help me find out what career path was right for me. I would probably not be in the same place in my career path if it wasn’t for my internship at SDRP. /…/ By interning at one of the longer running dolphin research programs, I was exposed to techniques which have proven to be successful and efficient throughout the years. I have been able to take ideas and techniques seen at SDRP and implement them during my work at other facilities. I would strongly recommend anyone interested in pursing a career in marine mammal research to participate in the SDRP internship program. The experience was not only very educational and professional but it was also a lot of fun!” Vanessa G. (2007), BS
I came to the SDRP during the 2008 winter of my junior year in college with the goal of getting more field experience. I had spent a little time on boats and a little time observing the great whales of the Gulf of Maine. I felt Mote Marine Lab would be a wonderful opportunity to get some more field experience, or at least give me a chance to dip my feet into research (Laura Howes, 2008)
As a girl born and raised in India, marine biology was not a subject that was known or discussed as a career option. My only exposure to marine mammals and the oceans was through television documentaries and magazines. I saw my first wild dolphin when I was 22 years old! Yet, driven by a strong desire to study and learn about the oceans and dolphins in particular, I took a trans-Atlantic trip to the United States to pursue higher studies. (Mridula Srinivasan, 2010)
My interest in marine species and the marine environment began when I started volunteering at The Marine Mammal Center (TMMC) in 1991, where I was first exposed to the impact that disease can have on marine mammal species. (Deborah Faquier, 2011)
All photos © Sarasota Dolphin Research Program under NMFS permit #522-1785