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A dolphin called Arnie with a shell

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Common dolphins at surface

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Leaping harbour porpoise

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Holly. Image: Miray Campbell

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Humpback whale. Image: Christopher Swann

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Risso's dolphin at surface

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How Time Flies – My First Month as a Field Research Intern

Venus Fung is a recent graduate of Boston University and she started her internship with us at the end of March.  We are actually a bit delayed in sharing her blog since there has been so much going on! The spring is a very busy time for us; we annually participate in a number of outreach events, school talks, and are getting geared up for the start of our field season.   Since she wrote her blog, she has also been on a number of additional boat trips and helped us with our biggest event of the year- our annual Race to Save a Species 5k!  She has been a tremendous help to us and we are very happy to have her with us this spring.  Continue reading below to learn about Venus’ experiences thus far.

I’m usually not a big fan of clichés, but I definitely believe the saying “time flies when you’re having fun”. Without even noticing it, I’ve already spent over a month here at WDC as a field research intern.

Many of my first days here were spent indoors learning the ropes and familiarizing myself with all the different aspects of conservation that WDC undertakes, from policy work to outreach events to the area I focus on: research. So far, I’ve only been able to go out on a couple of whale watch trips since it’s still early in the season for boats to go out. It’s been a while since I’ve seen whales and dolphins in the wild, so I’m still learning to contain my excitement and focus on recording data whenever I see something out in the water. This was particularly true during my first trip with the Dolphin Fleet out of Provincetown, MA. I’d been reviewing the steps needed to record data, but once I encountered my first sighting (a pod of Atlantic White-Sided Dolphins), it took me a couple of minutes to stop “ooh”ing and “aww”ing, get my jaw off the floor, and record information on what I was seeing such as the coordinates, time, and behaviors of the dolphins. As if they knew that it was my first time collecting data for WDC, the whales and dolphins popped up everywhere around us, making it quite a show for passengers but also slightly difficult for me to keep track of everything on my datasheet. And while my fingers and nose all needed to be thawed out by the end, I couldn’t have asked for a better first trip because in addition to seeing 4 humpbacks (including a mom by the name of Tongs and her calf), I saw my first ever finback and minke whales. At the end of that trip, I felt very lucky to be where I am. After all, how many people get to say they go whale watching for an internship?

Another part of my internship involves completing a research project while I’m here. I’m interested in the awareness and outreach part of conservation work, so I’ve been compiling important dates for a calendar that will be used in the office, sent out to supporters, and hopefully inspire ideas for future projects and events. The dates cover various topics related to whales and dolphins, such as the passing of important protective legislation like the Marine Mammal Protection Act in 1972, the creation of marine sanctuaries, and important dates in whaling history as well as dates in orca captivity history. To make it more accessible to the general public, the calendar will also have miscellaneous fun facts on it, such as the dates for Right Whale Day and WDC’s annual Race to Save a Species 5k run to support our right whale program. I know that for me, learning information (especially with dates) is always easier when it’s more interactive and I don’t have to read it off of PowerPoint slides or a long paper. That’s why I really enjoy working on this project: while I create a calendar to be used as a fun educational tool for the public, I’m also educating myself on conservation policy and history. I’m very excited to see this calendar materialize, and hopefully I’ll be able to add “first WDC Calendar printed” as a date on the calendar!

Although most of my days have consisted of data and media organization or research in the office, there have been several trips and educational events I’ve participated in. Most of them are planned, but some have been very opportunistic, particularly marine mammal strandings. I’ve assisted in two stranding calls so far. Both calls were about harbor seal pups but sadly, they were both deceased. Obviously, I wouldn’t wish to have any more strandings to respond to, but at the same time I kind of hope I do so I can get more experience with helping marine mammals hands on! And when the staff isn’t out of the office responding to strandings, they are speaking at various environmental education events and schools. Last week, I went to a school talk for 2nd graders at George Mitchell Elementary School in Bridgewater, MA.  It amazed me how much some of them already knew about whales. My favorite moment from the talk was when a little boy told us that he’s already done research on whales and had a lot of questions for us. When we said we had seen a finback whale on a boat trip the day before, I heard him say, “Not fair!” The only downside to this event, as well as Right Whale Day at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, is that we were limited on time and couldn’t talk to the kids more! Their enthusiasm is infectious, and gives me even more reason to focus my future in public awareness.

In addition to my main duties as a research intern, I’ve gotten a chance to participate in many other projects around the office and dabble in the other workings of a non-profit. For example, I was able to attend the naturalist workshop in Provincetown, MA, an annual event cohosted by the Center for Coastal Studies and WDC. The speakers were some of the top people in the field, and attendees including myself learned about everything from the process of obtaining and transferring whale bones to current whale identification methods. The information was invaluable; it was great to learn about all the new developments in the New England marine field and familiarize myself with individuals and organizations that WDC works closely with. This easily became one of my favorite weekends here so far. I say that now, but I know that remaining time will fly by just as quickly as this first month, and I’ll have a ton of favorite weekends to choose from by the end of it.

I can’t wait to see what pops up on my next boat trip (pun definitely intended)!