- ABOUT US
- HEALTH & SAFETY
- MEDIA CENTER
Dolphins, dreams and marine biology
January 4th, 2023 | SIT Study Abroad, wildlife conservation
Lauren Walthour is a University of Washington marine biology student taking part in SIT Australia: Rainforest, Reef, and Cultural Ecology. UW talked with Lauren about her studies, research abroad experiences, and what inspired her to pursue a marine biology major. Her story and video are reprinted here with permission.
Find out more about SIT Australia: Rainforest, Reef, and Cultural Ecology
I am participating in the semester-long study abroad called SIT (School for International Training) Australia: Rainforest, Reef, and Ecology program. I am a junior with a major in marine biology and my dream has always been to visit the Great Barrier Reef and conduct research on it. The application process was a bit confusing at first, but I ended up finding a program that fit my marine biology dreams, but also would be able to teach me about topics I didn’t know as well, such as rainforests and ecology.
I ended up finding a program that fit my marine biology dreams, but also would be able to teach me about topics I didn’t know as well, such as rainforests and ecology.
My program has allowed me to go on multiple excursions to the rainforest, camp with Aboriginal elders and learn about their history, conduct research on urban bird ecology, and, of course, visit the Great Barrier Reef. One of my favorite excursions was visiting the world-renowned Lizard Island Research Station for two weeks. Here I collected data on triggerfish species and their abundance across different reef habitats.
I chose this program mainly for the Independent Study Project (ISP) portion. I have always wanted to conduct my own research that I can hopefully publish one day. The ISP is a project where you choose an advisor from anywhere in Australia, and they advise you in research of your choosing. You then do a write-up of 40 pages of your findings.
My study abroad was based out of Cairns, in North Queensland, so I wanted to see a completely different side of the country. I ended up finding Dr. Delphine Chabanne from Murdoch University in Perth, AU. She conducts research on Indo-Pacific Bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) in the coastal and estuarine waters surrounding Perth. My project is an addition to her research that has been conducted since 2011. Her past research on these dolphin communities was from 2011-2015, and she wanted to start up again this year.
I chose this program mainly for the Independent Study Project (ISP) portion. I have always wanted to conduct my own research that I can hopefully publish one day. The ISP is a project where you choose an advisor from anywhere in Australia, and they advise you in research of your choosing.
I am looking at skin lesions in these two resident dolphin communities to see if they have increased in scarring over the seven-year gap. My typical day includes waking up bright and early to get on a boat and participate in boat transects either in the Swan Canning Riverpark Estuary or the Kwinana Shelf. I collect environmental data on temperature, depth, salinity, turbidity, weather, boat traffic and more. When dolphins are spotted, I help aid in boat-driving while we collect photos to be used for photo ID in the future. I then go back home, process the data, and see if the resident individuals’ scars are new or old from the 2011-2015 data.
My love for marine biology started in fourth grade when I visited SeaWorld and swam with the dolphins (even though I know it’s a terrible place now). I ended up making a bucket list, with “becoming a marine biologist” as number one, and “visit Australia” as number two. The reason I chose this project is because it feels like a full-circle moment for me. I am fulfilling every wish my younger self ever dreamed of. I am so beyond happy with my choice of this program and am loving every second. I wanted to do this Instagram takeover to help others find their perfect study abroad program, and help to answer any questions!