All dolphin photography taken under MMPA Permit #21938-03.
May not be used for commercial purposes.
Read more about the field assistants for this summer on the Our Team page!
There are tourists lining up for another sunset dolphin cruise as I walk along the St. Pete Pier with my friends and (just like every person even remotely involved in marine mammal science) I feel slightly haughty. They don’t know these dolphins the way I do, I reason. I’ve spent hours, weeks, and months taking photographs, collecting acoustic data, and then matching up those fuzzy photographs of dolphin fins with 1,000 possible individuals and hunching over another audio clip saturated with the rapid fire click of snapping shrimp, straining to hear a faint whistle or burst of echolocation. I know these dolphins by name and I feel fiercely protective of them.
My name is Meher, I am from India, and the funny thing is, I used to be quite disdainful of dolphins. How they became the poster child of the ocean, I never quite understood. There were far worthier candidates in my opinion- and I carried this belief with me right up till the summer of 2021, when I worked with the Eckerd College Dolphin Project as a research assistant. Here I did the aforementioned data collection and analysis with two other interns and felt quite a kinship with the 1,000 local dolphins who are named and pictured in our extensive database. I remember the first time I listened to an acoustic recording and watched the spikes of colour in the spectrogram view. Alongside the echolocation I was seeing and listening to, something clicked. I had always been interested in marine mammal communication but that day it became a full blown passion and I decided that it was something I would be quite happy dedicating my life to studying.
Now, I am a field assistant with the Cedar Key Dolphin Project and I am quickly becoming similarly attached to the dolphins in these waters. Soon, I hope to know them as well as I knew the ones in Boca Ciega Bay and continue to study them and their fascinating foraging methods which are, incredibly enough, unique to this population. I have graduated from college and aspire to do my masters degree in marine mammal bioacoustics, which my friends and mother find quite hilarious, considering they have dealt with my griping about the unearned love dolphins get from the public.
So yes, dolphins are a pretty cool animal. The coolest in the ocean? Absolutely not. But perhaps I have judged the tourists a bit too harshly. I can hardly fault them for being captivated by an animal that is the quintessential symbol of the ocean, of wilderness, of exploration, and practically sentient in an otherworldly manner. The truth is, the incredible things that dolphins are capable of when encased by nothing but the wild ocean is so much more spectacular than anything we could ever teach them to do.