The Chicago Zoological Society’s Sarasota Dolphin Research Program is based at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida, with the primary goal of contributing to a better understanding of the structure and dynamics of populations of small cetaceans, as well as the natural and human-induced 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 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 Sept. 1, 2020);
  • Summer (positions mid-May to August, applications due to Mote by March 1, 2021);
  • Fall (positions September to December, applications due to Mote by June 1, 2021).

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 two to four interns for each session and that we receive many more applications than we have openings for — the selection process is very competitive.

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.

Successful candidates will participate in the following research projects:

Dolphin population monitoring project (year ’round)

This study monitors the resident bottlenose dolphin community in Sarasota Bay and vicinity. Field duties include assisting with boat-based Photographic Identification Surveys for dolphin groups one-to-two weeks per month. Behavioral, location, individual, and environmental data is recorded for each dolphin group, and additional data related to human-dolphin interactions is also collected in conjunction with this project. While in the lab (at least two weeks per month), work will generally involve photo-identification of dolphins, computer data entry and verification, logging of videos into database and archives, dolphin dorsal fin identification catalog updates, boat and field equipment maintenance, and other duties.

Dolphin prey and habitat use project (January-March and June-September only)

This study uses the Sarasota dolphin community and fish populations to study relationships between distributions of dolphins and their prey, and the factors that affect fish community ecology, such as red tide. While in the field, work will involve sampling fish communities through purse seining techniques and collection of other environmental data. Interns typically participate in this project two to three days per month.

Other projects (To be designated)

Interns may participate in other research projects, depending on availability and timing of grant funding. Interns may also be asked to assist with dolphin rescues.


  • 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.

Application Process

  1. Fill out an application form at Mote Marine Laboratory’s website 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 Dr. Katie McHugh,, 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.
  4. 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, with questions.

Please contact Dr. McHugh directly for internships beyond 2021, as the SDRP application procedures are expected to change.

Internship applicants applying because of an interest in engaging in graduate studies with the SDRP should discuss their interests with Program Director Dr. Randall Wells upon acceptance into the program. Please note that there is no assurance participation as an intern with the SDRP will lead to graduate research program opportunities.