I would like to introduce Leah Fisher, a student in Dr. Dave Owens’ Marine Tetrapods class. This class combines students from both the Marine Biology and Environmental Studies programs, and each year Dr. Owens takes his students on a trip.
The Marine Biology Marine Tetrapods graduate class spent fall break traveling around Florida to see as many marine tetrapods as possible. A tetrapod refers to a four-limbed animal – so we saw animals ranging from seabirds, to dolphins, alligators, and manatees! The first stop on Friday was at the Archie Carr Wildlife Refuge, an expanse of beach on the Atlantic coast of Florida that contains some of the highest density of loggerhead sea turtle nesting for the entire Atlantic. Here, we released 3 juvenile sea turtles into Indian River Lagoon, witnessed a nest inventory to count hatched and unhatched green sea turtle eggs on the beach, hung out with graduate students from the University of Central Florida, and learned about the history and importance of the Archie Carr reserve for sea turtle conservation.
After leaving the reserve Saturday morning we traveled straight to SeaWorld, where we spent the entire day and even got a behind-the-scenes tour of their rehab facilities. Everybody enjoyed SeaWorld, and the number of tetrapods (and animals in general) that we got to see was unbeatable! We did the usual tourist activities – toured the Wild Arctic, watched the dolphins, fed the seals, bought souvenirs, and went to the Shamu show. However, we also spent time discussing the educational importance of SeaWorld and how they could do a lot more to get the public more involved with marine conservation. Plus our behind-the-scenes tour added another dimension to our understanding of SeaWorld’s involvement with marine biology and conservation. They have an extensive rehabilitation program for wounded or sick sea turtles, dolphins, seabirds, and manatees, plus veterinary care for all of their animals. All in all, it was a great day – we were at SeaWorld from 10a.m. until 5p.m!
On Sunday morning we snorkeled with manatees in Homosassa, Florida (near Crystal River). After our guide located manatees near some of the freshwater springs in this area, we were able to get up close and personal with these massive marine mammals. We swam near them without disturbing their feeding activity – they chow down all day on seagrass. Manatees are very docile despite their large size; one even swam with us and rolled over to let us rub its belly!
We then made our way to Sarasota to visit Mote Marine Lab. Sunday night we enjoyed a drum circle on the beach at Siesta Key, and Monday we toured the Mote lab. Like SeaWorld, Mote has rehabilitation facilities for sea turtles and dolphins, but something new we got to see were their animal behavior training programs on manatees and sea turtles. They have trained manatees to respond to whistle signals, and sea turtles to clickers, allowing them to do research on various topics such as sea turtle hearing or manatee sensory abilities. We wrapped up a great trip by enjoying the Mote aquarium and lunch by the water, and then it was time to return to Charleston!