I have a character in the profession of Marine Biologist. Jordan has agreed to let me interview her on her profession. When I think of what a Marine Biologist does, I think working at SeaWorld with Shamu. You can understand I need a lot of information to make my character real.
Mary: Jordan, could you give me a little bit of your background. Your title, what credentials you needed to become a marine biologist. A little about your personal background also, like did you grow up in Florida?
Jordan: I am a born and raised Floridian spending the first few years of my life in the Keys, then moving to a beachside town of Melbourne on the east coast of Florida. Ever since I can remember I’ve been on boats, snorkeling, swimming, SCUBA certified as soon as I was old enough, fishing off my dock, building forts in the mangroves, surfing, spending countless hours at the beach.
I have a degree from Palm Beach Atlantic University in West Palm Beach FL in marine biology. I took courses in ichthyology, microbiology, oceanography, invertebrate biology, marine biology, etc. Since graduating college I’ve had a variety of experiences mostly in education and with south Florida environments, as well as what you might think the “typical” marine biologist is : a dolphin trainer. I
After college I started out at Seacamp (www.NHMI.org) teaching summer camp and school groups during the year marine biology. Everything from: shark biology, sponge biology, coral reef, sea grass and mangroves, all typical Florida Keys habitat and ecosystems.
I then went to Naples to work for the Conservancy of Southwest Florida to take care of their aquariums in their education center, as well as snakes and other south Florida animals.
From there it was to the Miami Seaquarium to see if I really wanted to pursue the dolphin thing. I loved it, it was a lot of hard work, cleaning buckets, cleaning kitchens, weighing out fish, scrubbing the pools that all the animals live in. But it was so rewarding, especially SCUBA diving with the dolphins and whale It gave me a taste of what it takes to be a trainer.
I have recently come back into the education field, back in Key Largo at a place called MarineLab (Marine Resource Development Foundation) where I take kids on boats/snorkeling to see the coral mangroves and seagrass. As much as love to teach about what I love, I am actually taking a job as an associate trainer at Dolphins Plus to pursue my training career within the next month.
Mary: When did you know you wanted to be a Marine Biologist?
Jordan: I have wanted to be a marine biologist since I was in the 5th grade. My teacher had a background in marine science and on top of my love for the ocean it all made a great combination for what I wanted “to be when I grew up”. I have never changed my mind and didn’t change my major in college and have pursued different avenues figuring out what part of a marine biologist I wanted to be. I thought at a young age that marine biologist trained dolphins and whales. What little kid doesn’t want to do that? But I quickly found out that there is so much more to marine biology, but training& working with dolphins is still something I am pursuing.
Mary: Where in the world would your profession take you? Could you do research, with a grant or group? If so how would that work?
Jordan: Marine biology could take me to….Masters or PhD in a specific subject anything from dolphins to plankton. You could train dolphins, be involved in educational programs, write grants, do research for NOAA or other government areas including fisheries and different harvesting of organisms from the ocean. Water quality, biochemistry, microbiology, pathology, human impacts in different parts of the world. Turtle research, shark tagging, oceanography. Anything to do with the oceans and what impacts them could be considered marine biology.
Mary: What type of places would you be able to find a job doing what you do? And are they only in the coastal states/countries?
Jordan: Definitely could find a marine biologist nearby in any coastal state here in the U.S. I think we understand how important our oceans are not only to lifestyle but the rest of our environment as well. Not only the coastal places of states, but many landlocked and middle of the state areas have people pursuing schooling/careers in marine biology. Different firms and organizations will hire marine biologists to travel and research and experiment with water quality, etc.
Other countries on the other hand I feel the ones located near the ocean would have biologists/researchers and even some land locked countries with large aquariums would have marine biologists to upkeep the exhibits.
Mary: If I were to visit a marine wildlife sanctuary, what would I find a biologist doing?
Jordan: Water quality, researching human impacts on the area, researching native species or invasive species, education. John Pennekamp State Park in the Keys is a coral reef state park. Their website I believe might give some further info. Monterey Bay is another great example of a marine sanctuary area. http://sanctuaries.noaa.gov/ (great website!)
Mary: I hope I’m not showing my ignorance, too much, of your profession. I know that marine biologists are lot more than a whale or dolphin trainer. I imagine the number of areas for research are more numerous that you can cover in one short interview. If you could tell a little bit about a few, like what areas are you interested in? Marine Organisms? The Marine Creatures? Or…?
Jordan: I am mostly interested in education, mostly of Florida habitats (Mangroves, seagrass, coral reefs) because this is what I have had the most experience with and the most time spent around.
Marine Invertebrates (like coral, sponges, crabs, sea stars, sea urchins) they may not have a backbone but all are really interesting too me. They have some cool adaptations and corals are really important down here in the Keys, it makes up our marine sanctuary, people’s livelihood comes from it, tourism too. I also have a huge interest in dolphin training.
A general day includes fish prep: Weighing out different types of fish and making buckets for each animal for each show/interaction. Cleaning: the kitchen, the fridges the fish are kept in, buckets, every surface and area fish may have come into contact, this is so no bacteria forms that may make the animals sick. General facility upkeep & maintenance: picking up trash, laundry, costumes, scripts, office areas, docks & show areas. This is all before shows & guests arrive.
Shows: set-up props and buckets. Behaviors, and backup animals and behaviors. Cleanup and cleaning buckets. Think typical sea world show here.
Interactions: Briefing the guests on their interactions, rules to follow, taking care of the guests wetsuits, life jackets, cameras, etc. Stationing the dolphins, guests into the water, behaviors. Timing to make sure all dolphins are done at the same time, all fish are fed for that session. Extensive notes on vitamins/medications given to dolphins, general notes on dolphins behavior and guest interactions are written multiple times a day for each dolphin.
Play sessions: ice, hoses, toys, you name it. Its play time for the dolphins, if the dolphins want to play they can, if they don’t want to participate that’s ok. Their reinforcement is whatever they are playing with
Training sessions: teaching the dolphins new behaviors, adding another element to old ones, revisiting old behaviors to make sure the dolphins remember how to. Sometimes this requires us to get into the water and ask for different behaviors in a water session or teaching them new behaviors for guests.
Medical sessions: checking the overall health of the dolphins, pregnancies, eye drops, blood draws, urine samples, blowhole swabs, etc.
Mary: Is there anything that you feel would be helpful to an author whose character is a marine biologist? Advice to make the book correct? Something that most people do not know, and would be unique to have in a book?
Jordan: Sounds like you are on the right track with your book what a great subject to write about in my opinion of course. Thank you for the chance to educate and share my passion about the ocean with you. Good luck writing and I can’t wait to read the finished product.