Senior swimming in marine opportunities
By Carley Myers
Last summer Katie D’Addato had an experience of a lifetime. She spent her summer internship in Sarasota, Florida, working alongside unique aquatic animals.
“I was releasing baby sea turtles, checking on herd populations of dolphins out at sea, and training manatees for research,” said D’Addato. “It was not the typical internship compared to most of my friends back at Purdue.”
D’Addato, a senior wildlife and fisheries and aquatic sciences major from Frederick, Maryland, interned at Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium. The facility focuses on aquatic rehabilitation with animals such as manatees, dolphins, sharks, sea turtles, otters, and more. Mote also researches marine animals, educates the public, and spreads awareness about animal conservation.
The diverse marine life she worked with made D’Addato’s summer extraordinary.
“One of the coolest experiences was being a part of the sea turtle hatchings and releases to the coast,” D’Addato said. “At first, you can fit two to three sea turtles in your palm, and then someday they each become 500-pound animals. To see the beginning of that was such an amazing thing.”
Mote’s staff played a large role in helping young turtles arrive safely to the ocean by directly guiding hatched turtles toward the sea. Getting them to the water is extremely important, because there are more hotels and vendors along the coast. The businesses’ lights can confuse the sea turtles, because the turtles rely on moonlight to guide them, D’Addato said.
D’Addato also checked on marine animals out at sea. She sailed out into the bright sun and high tides to check on dolphins that have been released from Mote’s care.
“It was really neat to be on the team that gets to check up on dolphin populations,” D’Addato said. “We do this so we can see if their pod is growing and healthy, or if there is anything we can do to help them more.”
Long before the checkups, the Mote staff —including D’Addato — nursed sick and injured marine animals back to health. Injured animals were often brought to Mote in the hope that the staff could rehabilitate them.
Other animals, however, could not be released, including some sea turtles. These sea animals live permanently in Mote’s aquarium and provide valuable information about sea turtle behavior and their capabilities.
“Researchers were able to monitor sea turtles’ hearing to gain new information about how well they can hear approaching boats,” D’Addato said.
Mote’s staff taught sea turtles to react when they heard various sounds. This gave researchers important insights about pitches and frequencies of oncoming boats. That’s important because boat collisions injure lots of sea turtles every year. If researchers can identify frequencies that sea turtles can or cannot hear, they could prevent future boating accidents.
“I had no idea we could teach sea turtles in order to help save other sea turtles,” said D’Addato.
She acknowledged that her experiences may seem odd for a person attending a landlocked university in Indiana. However, the lessons she has learned at Purdue greatly prepared her not only for a summer in Sarasota, Florida, but also for wherever her future endeavors may take her.
“Purdue and Mote taught me about what priorities are important,” D’Addato said. “I want to continue to have a career where no matter how small the impact might seem to others I am always working to better the world around me.”