“Interning with the Wild Dolphin Project was easily the most enriching experience of my life.”
~ Liah Mcpherson, student intern
In the past few years, the Wild Dolphin Project has started taking student interns on board. This internship is primarily designed to expose students to fieldwork while allowing them to assist WDP graduate students and research assistants with data entry and photo-identification (additional information on the internship can be found on our website here).
Our interns come from a variety of backgrounds and levels of experience. Some are college students studying marine biology others are high school students exploring a potential interest in the field or even wanting to try something totally different. In any case, it is an invaluable experience. This year we had two student interns from very different backgrounds. Liah Mcpherson is a high school student from North Carolina and Shauna Niemeier is a first-year nursing student at Columbia University School of Nursing.
“Interning with the Wild Dolphin Project was an incredible experience. From taking photographs and identifying the dolphins during our encounters, to reviewing and studying the video footage we collected at the end of the day, there was always something new to do and learn. Simply knowing we were playing a small part in the work Dr. Herzing is doing was so rewarding ” states Shauna. If students have cameras they can bring them in the water (or borrow one of ours) to practice taking photo-identification shots. Later that evening they can try to identify the dolphins in their shots, with the help of Dr. Herzing. During this time the research assistants on board are usually labeling their own work photographs and entering data- also available to help.
This year graduate students Nate Skrzypczak and Alyson Myers presented their thesis research on board. Nate is studying individual personality in spotted dolphins while Alyson is studying synchrony in males during aggression. These talks give interns a chance to see the kinds of projects graduate students are doing. After these talks, there is often open discussion on what it is like to be a graduate student, the application process, conducting research etc…
Both Liah and Shauna learned a lot about spotted dolphin behavior and data collection, but there is more to it than that. I admit, despite being both physically and mentally exhausting, life in the field is like nothing else- away from cell phones, television, traffic, and noise. “Interning with the Wild Dolphin Project was easily the most enriching experience of my life. Waking up on a boat in the Bahamas and freediving before breakfast, eager to find out what dolphins, sharks and shipwrecks and the day has in store for us… there is no feeling like it. The combination of spending time in the water observing spotted dolphins and learning the ropes of field research both humbled and inspired me. Making eye contact with wild dolphins is surreal- especially when you can jump in the water and recognize them as intelligent and diverse individuals ” states Liah.
It is easy to see that both Liah and Shauna learned a lot while also having a unique and unforgettable experience. Some parting words from both of them…
“Living on the RV Stenella for just ten days introduced me to these incredible dolphins and equally incredible humans. The people I met during this internship and the conversations we shared were of the highest caliber. So many aspects of my experience with the Wild Dolphin Project have nourished my determination for my future and I am beyond privileged to have had such an amazing opportunity.” – Liah Mcpherson
“Observing dolphins in their world was a life changing experience; but perhaps the most (pleasantly) surprising part of my internship with the Wild Dolphin Project was the incredible conversations I shared with some of the most unforgettable people. The friendships I made during our ten -day long journey are some of the truest, and I look forward to staying in contact with, and supporting, the Wild Dolphin Project for many years to come. Though I am now pursuing a calling and a life of working in healthcare, I believe my experience with WDP is one that will continue to shape my worldview and influence the way I approach treating and working with my future patients. Who knows, maybe one day I will successfully find a way to combine both of these passions!” – Shauna Niemeier
We have had so many great interns over the past couple of years, and hope to see them again and look forward to hearing about all their future endeavors! Please keep in touch and let us know what you have been up to!
text by Bethany Augliere