An update from Woods Hole Science Aquarium: I’m halfway through my internship, and it’s been awesome!

By Jessica Perelman

It has been five weeks since I began working as a NOAA intern at the Woods Hole Science Aquarium (WHSA), and what an amazing experience it has been! As I expected, this summer is presenting me with every opportunity to learn about animal husbandry, interact with aquarium visitors, and discover all that Woods Hole has to offer.

On a typical day when the aquarium is open, the other interns and I begin by walking through the facility and checking water systems, tanks, and animal behaviors. We prepare food for all the fish and crustaceans, which includes chopping up capelin and herring and preparing a blended gelatin food out of vegetables, fish, and various vitamins. On a feeding day, we go from tank to tank making sure that all the animals eat, which means target feeding many of the animals using a pole.

Me chopping capelin in preparation for a fish feed.
Me chopping capelin in preparation for a fish feed.

We also prepare food for the two harbor seals, Bumper and LuSeal, who are both stranding survivors and for various reasons are non-releasable. LuSeal was found stranded and underweight in 2002 at only a month old. After being nursed back to health she was tagged and released, but was found stranded again only 17 days later, having lost all the weight she regained. LuSeal was deemed a “failure to thrive,” and was clearly unable to feed herself in the wild, at which point she came to WHSA.

Bumper, on the other hand, was discovered stranded on a beach with severe wounds and infections as a pup in 2007 after being attacked by a shark. Although he was successfully rehabilitated and regained full use of all his limbs, heavy scarring had developed over his eyes leaving him almost completely blind. The two playful seals live happily at WHSA and are great assets for teaching the public about natural animal behaviors and the importance of marine conservation.

Identifying animals for the public on a beach collecting walk.
I enjoy helping people better understand the marine environment. Here I am identifying animals for the public on a beach collecting walk.
This young horseshoe crab was an exciting find during a collecting walk at Woodneck Beach!
This young horseshoe crab was an exciting find during a collecting walk at Woodneck Beach!

In addition to the work we do at the aquarium itself, one of my favorite aspects of this internship is the special programming coordinated through WHSA. They have organized numerous presentations for the interns, in which staff members from the NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center share their research and describe the conservation efforts currently in play for the Northeast Atlantic Ocean. I have learned about fish aging, marine mammal and sea turtle protection, animal acoustics and the effects of anthropogenic noise on marine species.

I have also been attending weekly lectures at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOI) and the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL), which have covered a wide range of topics related to oceanography and biological sciences. From these experiences, I have met and learned from some of the greatest researchers in the world of marine science, and have gained an infinitely greater appreciation for the work that goes into understanding and preserving the marine environment.

Bubble Net Feeding observed in humpback whales during a whale watch near Provincetown, MA. Credit: Jessica Perelman
Bubble Net Feeding observed in humpback whales during a whale watch near Provincetown, MA. Credit: Jessica Perelman

The staff at WHSA has gone above and beyond to make sure each intern is given every opportunity to learn and grow through this experience, and I could not be more grateful to them, and to The Safina Center, for making all this possible!

About the author: Jessica Perelman is a student at the University of Southern California studying biological sciences. She will be attending veterinary school in the fall and plans to pursue a career in wildlife and conservation veterinary medicine.

Ecologist Carl Safina is author of seven books, including the best-selling “Beyond Words; What Animals Think and Feel,” and “Song for the Blue Ocean,” which was a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. His writing has won a MacArthur “genius” prize; Pew and Guggenheim Fellowships; book awards from Lannan, Orion, and the National Academies; and the John Burroughs, James Beard, and George Rabb medals. His work has been featured in The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, National Geographic, CNN.com and elsewhere, and he hosted the 10-part “Saving the Ocean” on PBS. Safina is founding president of The Safina Center at Stony Brook University.
  • Andrew Frishman

    Woah!… this brought back great memories for me. I interned at the Woods Hole Aquarium the summers of the late 80s and early 90s and it was amazing and transformational – recently co-authored this blog about why such experiences are so important for young people http://gettingsmart.com/2016/09/work-and-learn-in-a-national-park/

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