Ever since I can remember, I was passionate about marine life. While other kids would draw pretty mountains, and “m-shaped” birds, I would draw a pretty ocean full of whales and dolphins. Growing up in the middle of Brazil though, 1,500 km away from the nearest coast, “being a whale researcher” soon became a childish dream. I ended up doing International Relations as an undergrad, and came to the US for my Masters in Environmental Politics. In my first year of graduate school, I took “Marine Conservation Biology” as an elective, and realized that nothing would make me happier than to work in marine conservation. Most importantly, I realized how challenging interdisciplinarity can be. I was faced with biologists who did not respect political science as a science, and political scientists who did not see the importance of biology to my work. I guess being somewhat of an academic-masochist, I decided that was my new battle in life.
I soon realized I needed some more hands-on experience on the research/practical side of things. I started volunteering at the Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute and, upon graduation, I was thrilled to learn I got accepted as a Sarasota Dolphin Research Program intern. Coming from the middle of Brazil, and being a political science student, I was both very eager and terrified. I did not know what to expect. All I can say is that not even in my wildest dreams did I think I would learn so much on an internship. Everyone at the SDRP is eager to share what they know with the interns, and they are very patient. Unlike most internships, I felt like I was benefiting much more from the position than they were from having an intern. In the program, I not only furthered my knowledge and experience on photo-ID techniques and data collection, I also learned to drive a boat, and take photos of the dolphins; I learned the techniques of purse seine fishing for dolphin prey studies; the collection (and importance) of red tide samples. I learned a lot about acoustics, and how cool GIS can be. I assisted staff members with database management, data entry, biopsy darting, and even got the chance to interact with other programs, such as assisting with dolphin necropsies. And this is just the very summarized version of everything I learned.
When the internship was over, I was not ready to leave. I was still trying to figure out what to do next, so I stayed for a couple more months, helping with an acoustics project. Later in the summer, SDRP staff members learned there was an open position at Duke Marine Lab, to do photo-ID. They recommended me, and it is with great excitement that I took on my dream job, at one of the best laboratories in the world. All those people I look up to so much are now my bosses/co-workers, and I would not be here if it was not for my time at the SDRP.
It all makes me think how life is funny sometimes. After the world spun around the sun a couple of times, here I am, back at watching whales and dolphins, and fulfilling my dreams. I would like to say 5-year-old me would be very proud.
This article appeared on page 32 of the 2017 SDRP Annual Report, Nicks n Notches.