While it’s a bit cliché, I was always one of those kids who loved the ocean and knew from an early age I wanted to translate that passion into a future career. While my undergraduate degree in biology provided a baseline foundation of knowledge, my internship with the SDRP in the fall of 2010 was my first exposure to both conducting fieldwork and researching marine mammals. Although my future career is still evolving, I know that my internship at SDRP was a critical opportunity that not only introduced me to field research, but opened the door to other valuable experiences.
After the SDRP internship I realized there was so much I still had yet to learn and decided to obtain my masters in Coastal Environmental Management from Duke University. I chose this program because of its focus on policy and management which is ultimately the niche in which I envision myself working. At Duke I had the privilege of being advised by Dr. Andy Read and completed an internship with the Marine Mammal Branch at NMFS’ Southeast Regional Office working on drafting policies to prohibit the use of harmful deterrent devices on bottlenose dolphins. Through my experience at NMFS, I was introduced to the partners of the Dolphin SMART program, a voluntary recognition and education program seeking to reduce harassment of wild dolphins in the U.S. I was lucky enough to complete my master’s project working with this organization and through interviews with tour operators and customers assessed the motivations and barriers to tour operators joining Dolphin SMART. Finally, in the spring of 2013 I assisted with fieldwork on a joint collaboration between Duke University and Murdoch University in Australia to study the effects of tourism on the spinner dolphins off the Kona coast in Hawaii.
Upon graduating from Duke, I originally anticipated applying for positions at either non-governmental organizations or NMFS focusing on ocean policy, and, if I were lucky, working on marine mammal management and policy. However, I still had a yearning to go back to the field and see a project through from beginning to end. At the suggestion of Dr. Read I applied for a Fulbright scholarship to work with the World Wildlife Fund in Cambodia studying the endangered population of Irrawaddy River dolphins in the Mekong River. I was awarded the Fulbright, and I will be working in Kratie, Cambodia for ten months starting in November 2013, implementing one of the recommendations from a workshop conducted in Kratie in January 2012 in which Andy Read and Randall Wells were participants (see January 2013 Nicks’n’Notches). I will be conducting behavioral observations to determine whether infanticide could be causing the high rate of calf mortality and the extent to which the tourism industry is affecting the dolphin population. I am incredibly excited about the opportunity to sharpen my research skills and work on a pressing conservation issue that has received attention from many experts who I admire in this field.
I emailed Dr. Katie McHugh, post-doctoral scientist at the SDRP, several months ago to thank her for writing a recommendation letter for the Fulbright (among several others she has written!) and to ask her whether she could review my research methodologies for the Fulbright study once they were complete given her expertise on dolphin behavior. The fact I was able to reach out to Katie for advice about a project similar to the work I helped assist as an SDRP intern speaks to just how important that internship was to the development of my early career, and I am thankful for the continuing support I have received from the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program.
This article was published on page 40 in the January 2014 Nicks n Notches.