University of Miami student Cassidy Renninger was an SDRP intern during 2021. Here, in her words, was what her experience was like.

Sometime between walking the paths at the Atlanta Zoo as a toddler and moving to Florida as a 5-year-old, the ocean became a place of comfort and adventure for me. Eyeing the horizon for any sign of movement and playing in the tide pools created by a recent storm were my hobbies at a young age. As I grew and learned about the marine world, I only wanted to explore more and more.

Throughout my education, I always gravitated toward the sciences and took any environmentally related course I could. By the time I was a senior in high school, it was clear to me that I would pursue a degree in the environmental sciences at the University of Miami. Through UM, I’ve been able to conduct research on staghorn corals, study abroad in the Galapagos Islands, and explore my research interests.

In the spring of 2020, I interned with Zoo Miami working with their African carnivores and primates. After learning about so many amazing terrestrial species at Zoo Miami, I wanted to explore my lifelong passion for marine mammals.

Once I discovered the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program’s internship, I knew that this was the program I was looking for. I was fortunate enough to be one of the few interns selected for the summer 2021 internship program.

The summer was full of surprises and new experiences that challenged me to grow as a scientist. Each day on the water allowed me to practice my photography and observation skills, all while watching (and thoroughly enjoying) the Sarasota Bay dolphins in their natural habitat. To my surprise, learning to set a purse seine and sample the fish communities in the Bay was an unexpected highlight.

Each time we put the net in the water, anything could happen. Scallops, redfish and bonnethead sharks were just some of the exciting species found and quickly returned to their home. Back in the lab, I learned the importance of data management, teamwork, and photo identification.

The many hours spent hunting for a fin match in the SDRP catalog with the staff and other summer 2021 interns provided as much learning as our time in the field. I will cherish the experiences and skills gained from my SDRP internship for the rest of my life.

After I graduate in May 2022, I intend to enroll in graduate school to continue learning more about the world’s ecosystems and how I can make an impact. From the day I found out about my acceptance to the program to now, my excitement about the research performed by the SDRP has only grown. I am so grateful for my time spent in Sarasota and the connections I have made with the SDRP staff and fellow interns, and I hope that our paths cross again!