My Time at Dolphin Research Center
Employer: Dolphin Research Center
Job Title: Research Intern
Received Credit: Yes
Description of the Organization
Dolphin Research Center is a small, non-profit marine mammal facility in Grassy Key, Florida. The grounds began housing dolphins in the 1940's and the movie "Flipper" was filmed on site in 1963. After several changes in ownership, Mandy and Jayne Rodriquez purchased the property and it became known as Dolphin Research Center in 1984. Today, DRC is home to twenty-six dolphins (including the daughter of two of the original "Flipper" dolphins and her four kids) and four California sea lions. The animals live in natural lagoons in the Gulf of Mexico and are cared for by a staff of about 80. DRC takes great pride in the voluntary nature of the healthcare they provide, the research they conduct, and programs offered to the public.
Description of the Tasks/Projects Completed
As a research intern, I worked with the small staff of the research department directly. On a day to day basis, I was in charge of completing observations on dolphins participating in a respiration rate study and a lateralization study. I also had the chance to assist with larger research projects that are yet to be published, play "thinking games" with the dolphins, input data into the database, and spend the day with guests participating in the research programs offered. I worked to complete a journal, a personal goal, and a scientific goal during my three month internship on top of the forty hours a week I worked.
Skills/Knowledge Gained Through The Experience
Through this experience, I have learned so much more than I ever could have expected. DRC functions best when everyone works both inside and outside of their own departments. This meant that I not only assisted the research department, but I worked with the visual communications department to photograph guest programs, helped the other volunteers provide shade for the dolphins during sessions, and acquired many other random skills. I learned how to drive a John Deere gator, pour water down a tube into the stomach of a dolphin without allowing any air bubbles through, and much more. I also learned a lot of time management skills, built relationships with the staff, learned everything I could possibly know about dolphins, and made life-long friends!
Favorite Part of the Experience
My favorite part of my internship was hands-down the chance I had to build a relationship with an amazing animal. The staff of DRC really wanted all of the interns to have the opportunity to interact with the dolphins rather than just do all the "dirty work" that keeps the facility running. I bonded with a 33 year old female named Aleta, and I will never forget the time I got to spend with her and the way she always seems to know when I am nearby. This whole experience has further solidified the choices I have made about my career field and sparked my drive to protect and preserve our oceans and the animals living within them.
How the Experience Influenced Future Career Goals
I knew that I would enjoy my experience, but I never expected it to potentially shift my career goals. For years, I thought that I strictly wanted to learn as much as I could about marine mammals, particularly beluga whales, as a researcher. After watching the trainers at DRC interact with the dolphins and sea lions, and building my own relationship with them, I am now considering a career in marine mammal training.