My summer internship at the New England Aquarium has wildly surpassed all my expectations and goals. When I first applied as a Marine Mammal Research and Education Intern, I had a broad understanding of what I would be able to accomplish in a single summer.
Contrasting the lack of Brandeis’s marine science curriculum, I originally hoped to academically broaden my marine science knowledge. During the last few months in a fieldwork setting, I have learned so much about whale behavior, physiology, as well as threats that they face every day from humans. After these few months I have a much more holistic understanding of the impact that anthropogenic activity has on marine life.
I also hoped to gain techniques and skills in the field that I could use in future research. I have become proficient in recording information such as weather data or distinguishing different behaviors of various marine mammals. This internship has taught me how to multi-task while consuming large amounts of observational data, overall teaching me how to better observe as a field researcher.
Finally, I hoped to progress in my articulation of environmental conservation. On the boat, I dealt with passengers from all over the world, with varying degrees of English proficiency, age, and understanding of marine science. When I discussed environmental conservation, such as the threats of Red Tide or Entanglement, I learned how to simplify complicated biological and environmental terminology into information that was digestible by a broad audience.
This internship helped solidify that I want to pursue a career in environmental conservation and marine science. I learned that I was incredibly passionate about marine conservation, and loved working in a flexible, dynamic, hands-on environment. I loved working outside conducting fieldwork, solidifying that I want to pursue a career where I can eventually conduct my own research. During our internship, we did a short research presentation about the impacts of marine debris on marine mammals, finding that many feeding behaviors that humpback whales exhibit in their feeding grounds (such as lunge-feeding) put them at direct risk for ingesting marine debris. I am incredibly passionate about the animals that I saw and am considering using the data I collected this summer to write a thesis for my senior year. I don’t know exactly the path that I want to take after I graduate, but I do believe that I want to take a year off in between graduate school to conduct research and broaden my field experience with marine-science.
To any future interns that apply to the New England Aquarium, or specifically as a Whale Watch Intern, I recommend to fully take advantage of the amazing opportunities around you. The NEAq is an amazing institution that provides amazing resources, from career planning to monthly lectures about recent research. You have unbelievable access to so much information about the marine world, don’t be afraid to explore the aquarium or talk to people outside of your department. The naturalists that I got to work with on the boats are all amazing individuals; never be afraid to ask questions and take advantage of the amazing learning opportunity you have in front of you. Finally, allow yourself to become adaptable! Working with wild animals outdoors on boats with 300+ people means that no day is “normal”. Be ready for every day to be different and to expect the unexpected!
I am genuinely sad to leave my summer internship. As the last few weeks wound down, it felt that the whales were exhibiting some crazy new behavior every day and I saw animals like Atlantic White-Sided Dolphin that I hadn’t seen previously in the summer. I was very proud to watch my own progress in identifying individual humpbacks from each other throughout the summer. Towards the end of the season, I was able to identify various humpbacks from simply their tail pattern or dorsal without the help of a camera.
My last day was bittersweet, but it was one of the most magical days on the water – with a fitting rainbow and crazy surface activity in the distance. However, I am thrilled to say that I was invited back in the fall! During the fall semester, I will help train the new fall interns and intern on the boat sporadically.
- Kate Laemmle