A dolphin researcher is a scientist who studies dolphins.
Each dolphin researcher has a scientific specialty. While the focus of
each researcher's work might be different, they all share dolphins as their
The most common kind of dolphin researcher is a marine biologist or
zoologist. These researchers study the natural behaviors and life histories
Biologists and zoologists spend hours observing dolphins and drawing conclusions
from what they've seen. One of the behaviors now being researched is the likes
and dislikes of dolphins.
Such research can be used in practical ways. For instance, if researchers
can determine that dolphins do not like a particular sound and consequently
do not go near it, they can use that sound to keep dolphins away from fishing
Marine biologists also study the life history of the dolphin. For instance,
they try to go to every beached, dead or sick dolphin they hear about. They
try to determine the age of the dolphin (from the rings in their teeth --
like a tree), what the dolphin has eaten and why it died.
Their research often has direct influences on laws. If the researcher discovers
that dolphins eat large amounts of a particular fish, then the government
might pass laws to protect that type of fish. If the dolphins' health is endangered
by pollution, the government might enact stricter pollution control laws.
There are other types of scientists who are involved in dolphin research:
- Acoustical engineers and audiologists study how dolphins navigate.
That is, they study the "echolocating" capabilities of dolphins.
- Psychologists and psychiatrists study the interaction between
humans and dolphins. There has been a lot of interest in the interaction between
dolphins and people who have special needs, like autistic children. It appears
that some children benefit from interacting with dolphins, although the reasons
for the benefits are unclear.
- Experimental psychologists study the learning and perceptual abilities
- Behavioral neuroscientists study the language capabilities of
Any researcher who does fieldwork should be in good physical health. And
those who are afraid of water need not apply!
"Dolphin research involves spending a lot of time working in remote areas
in small boats," says Kathy Heise. She has studied dolphins as part of her
Becoming a dolphin researcher requires many skills. You will need skills
with computers, people, equipment and boats. You will also frequently need
teaching skills. Researchers must be able to use many of these skills at the
"Developing basic mechanical skills, such as fixing outboards, comes in
very handy," says Heise.
You will also need to be a great scientist. "In order to succeed, each
scientist must have well-honed skills in methodology combined with the ability
to design proper experiments with the proper controls," says Mark Holder.
Holder is a behavioral neuroscientist. He studies the relationship between
the brain and behavior. Some dolphins in captivity have learned a sign language
with which they communicate with their trainers. Holder tests what the dolphins
know about language.
This is not a field for the money-hungry, says Heise. "In all honesty,
the prospects for dolphin researchers to make a go of it financially... are
extremely poor if dolphin research is to be the sole source of income for
the person," she says.
If you want to be a dolphin researcher, you must be prepared to study hard
and work hard. "Jobs are long, hard and competitive," says Denise Herzing
of the Wild Dolphin Project in Florida. "Many jobs can be seasonal or temporary,
depending on the grant environment."
Employers look for strong skills in a variety of areas. "The skills that
you learn as a scientist are very transferable," says Holder. "Technical reasoning,
marketing and selling, computer operation and communication skills are all
Remember, there are opportunities to work with dolphins even if science
isn't your thing. At the Mote Marine Laboratory, for example, only a third
of the employees are scientists. The rest are involved in grant writing, communications,
graphics, videography and teaching.