Intern at Sea

News Feature

News & Events

July 30, 2012

One of the most interesting things senior [b]Kelsey Pinkham[/b] is learning at her summer internship with the New England Coastal Wildlife Alliance is the individual markings and names of whales off the coast of Plymouth, where she travels with a local whale watch. A crowd favorite is Salt, a world-famous humpback.

"Salt is a mother and grandmother, and was the first whale ever named," the Carver resident said during a trip out to sea with Captain John's Whale Watching and Fishing Tours. "We can keep track of her migration from the Caribbean to here. It's really amazing."

Each summer, BSU students like Ms. Pinkham take an internship with NECWA and travel frequently with Capt. John's tours for 12-weeks as research assistants for the alliance by collecting data on local whales and dolphins. Captain John's helps support the internship with free passes for the students.

Internship organizer [b]Carol "Krill" Carson[/b], a naturalist and visiting lecturer in the BSU biology department, said students learn the importance of combining research, educational outreach and conservation when studying marine life in their natural habitat, especially endangered species like the humpback whale.

"Interns learn they have a responsibility to the animals to not only learn all we can about their biology and ecology, but also to use that information to protect and conserve them for their own survival and for the benefit of future generations," she said.

While at sea, Ms. Pinkham, a biology major with a minor in chemistry, helps with educational presentations on whales and dolphins for children. Mid-voyage, she climbs to the boat's fly bridge to track the species, latitude and longitude, and behaviors of the whales, such as whether or not they fluke, meaning to display their tails while diving. Back on dry land, she enters her data into a system for NECWA, which uses the information for educational and conservation purposes, and to learn more about the animals, including their behavioral and migration patterns.

The internship aims to enhance a student's research skills by providing a hands-on study of marine life. It also comes with an unexpected perk: lessons in public speaking. Capt. John's allows the students to take the microphone and lead a historical tour of Plymouth locations as the boat travels through the bay.

"This certainly gave me a lot of skills I didn't have before," said Ms. Pinkham. "When I get out in the real world, I'll know what to do and have a better idea of how to do my job."

The public speaking was somewhat intimidating for Ms. Pinkham. And the research was all new. In a way, the internship was a trial by fire, which was beneficial, she said. "Getting thrown in to the job, you don't really know what you're doing at first," she said, "but getting through it really gives you confidence."

The internship has persuaded Ms. Pinkham to focus her studies on marine biology, with potential aspirations of becoming a naturalist. Ultimately, it was the close and personal study - learning the whales' individual names, markings and personalities - that gave her a newfound respect and fondness for the sea mammals. "Seeing them up close, really gives you a new appreciation," she said. "It's been a great experience."  (Rob Matheson, '07, G '11, University Advancement)

Kelsey Pinkham collects data on whales onboard the "Tails of the Sea" boat owned by Captain John's Whale Watching and Fishing Tours