Working on a boat is incredibly different than sitting in a traditional classroom at school. My internship is tied to the weather and the behavior of unpredictable wild animals. Often times, thundershowers and torrential down-pours do not stop our whaling adventures, and I have come to learn to be ready for anything. Recording data in brutal wind conditions or spotting for whales with reduced fog visibility has honed my observation skills and my adaptability in the field. That being said, occasionally work is canceled due to massive sea-sick inducing swells and brutal wind, and I feel like I do in school when we get an unexpected snow day.
Whales are wild animals and therefore unpredictable; every day I get to observe them in their natural habitat. As much as we can make predictions about where the whales will be and what they will do, I have been shown many times this summer to never take anything for granted. For example, one day a whale named Diablo appeared right outside of Boston Harbor, 10 miles from where we expected to see her. Another day, we went to an area where whales had been feeding for weeks and found absolutely nothing.
Visitors will sometimes come with sea-world assumptions, and an important takeaway from my internship is to understand how to balance expectation versus reality. While I get to see amazing behaviors frequently, such as breaching or open mouth feeding, some days the whales are less surface active.
An important part of my internship has been learning how to articulate critical messages of environmental conservation about these spectacular animals, and to treat each day as an opportunity to learn something new. Understanding marine mammal physiology and behavior has not only broadened my academic understanding but has allowed me to better understand why whales will behave in certain ways on certain days. Even on “average” days, my internship has provided me opportunities to learn something new every time I go out on the water. For example, just today I got to see a Mola mola for the first time! Mola mola, or Ocean Sunfish, are huge bony fish that look like big dinner tables in the water.
Over the last few months, I have seen myself expand in my comprehension of marine conservation and marine mammal behavior as well as gain field skills, technique, and knowledge through data collection and observation. One of the coolest ways I have been able to track my own progress is through the identification and behavior of humpback whales. I now can recognize many individuals by eyesight. By discerning individuals from each other, I have picked up on subtle behavioral distinctions between humpback whales that I would never have been able to recognize without spending months in the field. The Aquarium has provided an amazing opportunity and network, and I am so happy for this internship that has provided resources for my interest in a marine conservation/biology career.
– Kate Laemmle ’20