Madison Collins, 2020 Marine Mammals Education and Research at the New Engand Aquarium

Welcome aboard! My name is Maddie Collins and I’m a Marine Mammals Education and Research intern aboard New England Aquarium’s whale watch vessels. As a rising junior majoring in Biology and Environmental Studies I was excited to accept this internship in Boston as I wanted to educate, and research in the place I call home. I initially heard about this internship while working for Boston Harbor Cruises, and with previous experience at the New England Aquarium I thought I would be an ideal candidate when I saw the internship listed on Handshake. As I have always been passionate about marine ecology, my internship gave me a glimpse into potential career paths in my field of interest.

Since my first whale watch in May, I have worked alongside Naturalist on high speed catamarans. Although we depart from Central Wharf Boston, we venture as far out as 45 miles off shore to Stellwagen Bank, a national marine sanctuary. Traveling at 30 knots it takes about an hour to reach Stellwagen Bank. During this time interns and Naturalists educate passengers about the area’s geography as well as marine life we may find. Beginning with a tour of Boston Harbor’s natural history, and then teaching in the cabins, our goal is to connect how the area’s unique geography supports ecology for flagship species including Northern Atlantic Humpback Whales. Once we arrive on the Bank we keep an eye out for a vertical column of mist called a spout, which is produced by condensation exiting a whale’s lungs during an exhalation. Once spotted, we begin researching and narrating our observations. Research includes survey data, photo records for behaviors, and location of whales. When research is completed, we head back to Boston. While returning home we answer passenger’s questions and show them whale “biofacts” such as baleen, and vertebrae. After a four-hour trip we dock at Central Wharf, and conclude our whale watch.

It has been about three months since beginning my internship and throughout this past summer I have learned a great deal about my possible career trajectory. Since my freshman year, I have realized that my strengths as an accademic are grounded in analytics, but my interpersonal skills are more conducive to science communication and networking. For the past two years I have sought to find an experience that suits both my strengths, and my internship was the perfect fit. I discovered that in the moment I enjoy interacting with people, but in the long term I find fulfillment in piecing together my observations. Beyond Skidmore I will pursue programs and a career where I can utilize both these strengths.    

Since the New England Aquarium is a non-profit organization they rely on volunteers and interns to fulfill many necessary roles. In exchange for our dedication and service, the Aquarium offers experiential learning. Receiving funding allowed me opportunities to take first hand field data, and strengthen my abilities to communicate in science. Without the generous donation from Skidmore’s Summer Funded Internship grant I would not have been able to dedicate my time to this internship. Thank you!

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