Sarasota Dolphin Research Program Internships

The Chicago Zoological Society’s Sarasota Dolphin Research Program (SDRP), based at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida, conducts the world’s longest-running study of a dolphin population. The program’s primary goal is to contribute to a better understanding of the structure and dynamics of populations of small cetaceans, as well as the natural and anthropogenic factors that impact them. The SDRP uses an interdisciplinary and collaborative approach in conducting studies of bottlenose dolphins within Sarasota Bay, Tampa Bay, Charlotte Harbor, Naples/Marco Island, and the Gulf of Mexico coastal waters.  For more information about the SDRP, please visit: www.sarasotadolphin.org.

For 2021, the SDRP will select volunteer interns through Mote’s College Internship Program during three seasons:

  • Winter/Spring (positions January to April, applications due to Mote by September 1st)
  • Summer (positions mid-May to August, applications due to Mote by March 1st)
  • Fall (positions September to December, applications due to Mote by June 1st)

All internships must be a minimum of 10 weeks of participation, but ideally will run for 12-16 weeks. Please note that we typically only seek 2-4 interns for each session and that we receive many more applications than we have openings – the selection process is very competitive. Successful candidates will participate in the following research projects: 

1) Dolphin population monitoring project: (YEAR ROUND) This study monitors the resident bottlenose dolphin community in Sarasota Bay and vicinity.  Duties in the field will include assisting with boat-based photographic identification surveys for dolphin groups during one to two weeks per month. Behavioral, location, individual, and environmental data will be recorded for each dolphin group, and additional data related to human-dolphin interactions will also be collected in conjunction with this project. While in the lab (at least 2 weeks per month), work will generally involve photo-identification of dolphins, computer data entry and double-checking, logging of videos into database and archives, dolphin dorsal fin identification catalog updates, boat and field equipment maintenance, and other duties.

2) Dolphin prey and habitat use project: (JAN-MAR & JUN-SEPT ONLY) This study uses the Sarasota dolphin community and fish populations to study relationships between distributions of dolphins and their prey and factors that affect fish community ecology, such as red tide. While in the field, work will involve sampling of fish communities through purse seining techniques and collection of other environmental data. Interns typically participate in this project
2-3 days per month.

3) Other projects: (TBD) Interns may participate in other research projects, depending on availability and timing of grant funding for specific projects. Interns may also be asked to assist with dolphin rescues.

Interns should expect to spend about 20% of their time in the field, and about 80% of their time in the lab working with data, or performing equipment maintenance. There is no financial compensation for these internship positions, and successful applicants will be responsible for their own living and transportation expenses. Shared housing opportunities near Mote Marine Laboratory may be available.

Applicants would ideally have the following qualifications:

  • Minimum of 18 years of age and engaged in or recently completed undergraduate or graduate studies
  • A background or degree in marine biology, biology, ecology, zoology, wildlife, fisheries, or a related field
  • Basic computer proficiency in Microsoft Office programs (especially Excel and Access)
  • Excellent verbal communication skills, fluent in English
  • Must be physically fit and able to swim
  • Must be able to work effectively as part of a team
  • Some prior field research experience preferred but not required
  • Enthusiasm and desire to learn a variety of field and lab based research methods
  • A willingness to spend a minimum of 10-12 weeks working full time as a volunteer with our program

To apply for a Sarasota Dolphin Research Program internship, interested persons should:
1) Fill out an application form at Mote Marine Laboratory’s website (www.mote.org/research/internships) and be sure to select “Sarasota Dolphin Research Program” as your first choice
2) Complete and provide to Mote’s intern office all other application materials including: a statement of interest, current college transcript, letter of recommendation, and curriculum vitae (incomplete applications will not be considered)
3) Send an email to SDRP Intern Coordinator (Katie McHugh, kmchugh@mote.org) stating your name, contact information, exact dates and duration of availability, where you learned about the internship opportunity (e.g. Mote, SDRP, Chicago Zoological Society, MARMAM, etc.), and that you have provided all application materials to the Mote intern office, as detailed above. 

All applications will be reviewed; those received by the application deadline will be given first priority. Applicants may contact Dr. Katie McHugh (941-388-4441 ext. 450, kmchugh@mote.org ) in the SDRP with any questions. Please make sure to contact Katie directly if you are interested in an internship position beyond 2021, as SDRP application procedures may change within the next year.

Applicants applying because of an interest in engaging in graduate studies with the SDRP should discuss their interests with Program Director Randall Wells, PhD, upon acceptance into the program. There is no assurance that participation as an intern with the SDRP will lead to graduate research program opportunities.