Growing up in Orcas Island, Lindsay Lancaster became quite familiar with the sight of marine mammals. It’s been a lasting dream of hers to work with dolphins – and this summer she’s finally living it.
As one of only five interns chosen from over 200 applicants for the Education Program at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium (CMA) in Florida, Lancaster has been planning for this moment dating back to high school. With the internship being unpaid, and the housing and transportation costs not covered, a lot of the preparation was about saving up money for the experience.
Along with saving up money by working at Dining Services and at the Ace Hardware in Cheney throughout her time at EWU, Lancaster also received a $2,000 internship stipend grant through Career Services, which she will receive after the internship is completed.
“I knew from my senior year in high school that I wanted to do an internship, and I knew that the internships I wanted to do were in faraway places, so I just started saving up money,” Lancaster said.
When Lancaster graduated from Orcas Island High School in 2014, she wasn’t sure if she’d even be able to afford to go to college. When digging through a binder full of scholarship opportunities, she came across the Daniel and Margaret Carper Foundation Scholarship. After detailing her plans and future aspirations to work in marine mammal care in a two-page letter for the application, she was awarded the full-ride scholarship to follow her dream at EWU.
“I was very ecstatic when I got it,” said Lancaster. “I’m not sure if I would’ve attended college if I hadn’t had those funds, so I do really give a lot of credit to the Carpers and a lot of thanks to them for providing the funds to do this for so many students. It’s really a great opportunity.”
She has reapplied for the scholarship each year since, and is now just a year away from graduating at EWU with a BA in psychology.
“The professors in the Psychology Department are all really great and and a lot of what I’ve learned can be applied to dolphins, and I’ve noticed that when I’ve been out here studying the wild dolphin populations,” said Lancaster. “A lot of their social groups model after our social groups and a lot of their behaviors that they exhibit are a lot like ours. What I’ve learned from Eastern, I can really apply back to this internship.”
Lancaster first found out about the CMA from watching the movie Dolphin Tale, and afterwards became obsessed with everything they do. Now, she finds herself doing baseline research, assisting in off-site educational programs and narrating boat tours as an intern in their Education Program.
In order to “test out” of her internship program, she will have to narrate an entire boat tour all the way through. The CMA has multiple boat tours they offer to visitors and Lancaster was allowed to choose which one she wants to narrate. Naturally, she chose the Dolphin Adventure Tour.
“I knew that it was going to be the more challenging one to narrate, and I think that might be part of the reason why I chose it. I do like a challenge,” said Lancaster. “But mostly it was because it involved the dolphins and I’m really fascinated by the dorsal identification research. I want to know more about it, and now I get to go out and do it every day.”
Along with the full narration of the boat tour, she also helps in identifying local bottlenose dolphins through dorsal fin photo-identification, performing water quality testing, recording and logging behavioral observations and analyzing photos.
“It’s been a really great opportunity to experience dolphins in the wild and really see their psychological behaviors they exhibit naturally,” Lancaster said.
Although Lancaster only has a few more classes she needs to complete to finish her major, she still plans on taking a full class load every quarter in her final year because she wants to utilize her scholarship to its full potential.
After graduation, she’s thinking of possibly going back to Orcas Island to utilize her gained experiences to do an internship with photo identification of the largest species of dolphin: the orca whale.