I joined SDRP in 2003 as a University of California Santa Cruz PhD student with interests in the effects of harmful algal blooms (HABs) on marine wildlife. My research experience prior to joining SDRP was primarily focused on fisheries and human health, and as a true lab nerd, I had never seen a dolphin or spent much time on a boat. During my time with SDRP, I learned a variety of valuable field research skills that allowed me to successfully complete a dissertation investigating the effects of HAB toxins on the Sarasota bottlenose dolphin population. I also became conversant with important issues in marine mammal conservation biology that have served me well and shaped my research interests ever since.
After completing my graduate studies and leaving SDRP in 2006, I was fortunate to land a position with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) due to my experience combining the study of HAB toxins and marine mammals. At the NOAA lab in Charleston, South Carolina, I led a team of scientists who responded to, and provided analytical services for, HAB-related events, most of which involved marine mammal strandings. During this time I continued my fruitful collaboration with my SDRP friends and colleagues, who allowed me back every year for health assessments despite my supernatural ability to disable boat electronics simply by being near them. One highlight of this collaboration was when we jointly published the first case of multiple HAB toxin exposure in live dolphins sampled during the SDRP health assessments.
In 2014, I moved from my role as a federal research scientist into a faculty position at Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, Florida. During this past year, I have been able to start my own research program and advise graduate students as we continue to investigate the role of natural toxins in marine mammal food webs. The research we are beginning through FIT focuses on the nearby Indian River Lagoon Estuarine System, a critical habitat along Florida’s Atlantic coast, where HABs and bottlenose dolphins also overlap. Fortunately, our fledgling research program continues to benefit from support, training and collaboration with SDRP staff. With time, we hope our research makes as positive an impact on the Indian River Lagoon dolphins as SDRP has had on their Sarasota Bay counterparts.
This article appeared on page 31 in the December 2015 issue of Nicks n Notches.