Picture this: you’re sitting at your desk in your dorm room completing your pile of homework with your roommate next to you when you check your email and find an offer letter from the National Marine Life Center. I am a student at Northeastern University and I am almost done with my first co-op here at the National Marine Life Center (co-op is just a fancy word for a 6 month internship). Getting the offer for the Marine Animal Rehabilitation and Education Co-op position completely made my day because this was my top choice.
Upon starting the co-op, I was given a LOT of information and felt a little overwhelmed by it all, but mostly I was excited to start learning about marine animal rehabilitation. This was my first time working with marine life in this capacity, so I wasn’t sure what to expect besides what the job description told me. My first couple weeks here were better than I imagined and I was able to get a lot of hands on experience right away. The first 3-4 months were all about caring for our Kemp’s ridley sea turtles and grey and harp seals.
The turtles were in the hospital as a result of being cold stunned. In addition, some turtles developed pneumonia and had skin or shell damage. The seals came to us with varying issues from dehydration, body lesions, and pneumonia. Watching the progression of our patients from intake to release was so rewarding to see and being a part of their recovery made it even more special. With these patients, I would help with feeding, restraining, and food prep. My favorite turtles are Zuma (our smallest patient), Peso, and Stifler (his shell is beautiful). For grey seal season, my favorites were Emma Watseal, Denzseal Washington, and Seal DeGrasse Tyson.
In the last couple months of co-op, harbor pup season began. All of the volunteers from previous years kept telling me how cute the pups were and how different this season was compared to the grey seal season. I understood what they said, but I didn’t fully appreciate it until our first pups arrived at the NMLC for treatment. All of these pups are in our care because they have been abandoned by their mothers on the beach for various reasons. Since the end of April, we have worked with the various stranding networks in the Northeast region and now we have a full house of pups to care for.
This season of seals still requires daily feeds and treatments, but on a whole new level. Our pups get fed every four hours with a break overnight, but this means I had a couple late night and early morning feeds to make sure our pups were getting the best care.
Sure I was tired after, but it’s all worth it when you see how they progress. Johnny Appleseal was our first harbor seal pup and he is still my favorite. He came to us very premature and still had all of his lanugo (the fluffy white fur you might associate seal pups with) which should all be shed off in utero. After almost two months of treatment, he looks completely different and is doing very well! It’s never a boring day when you have 11 pups to care for. The other interns, volunteers, and myself are always busy with food prep (SO MUCH food prep), cleaning, feeding, restraining, and assisting staff with treatments. Whenever I tell people about my co-op experience, I always say that there is never a dull moment.
Along with the animal care aspect of this co-op, I have been able to help with education and outreach for the organization, take part in turtle and seal necropsies, and attend and help with a couple dolphin releases along side IFAW!
Looking back at my time here, I realize just how much I have been able to do and experience. I learned so much about the marine animal care industry and have gained so many skills that I hope to use in the future. It has been an absolute pleasure meeting and working with all the volunteers that dedicate their time to this organization. All the crews I work with have been great and I’m going to miss everyone when I go back to Boston. To the staff, I cannot say thank you enough for the opportunity to intern here and for everything you all have taught me! I am so SO grateful for this experience and wouldn’t change a single a thing about it. Needless to say, I’m going to miss it here and I hope to be back in the near future! 🙂