Below are questions frequently asked of DCP director Dr. Kathleen Dudzinski, together with her answers. Click on the question to reveal the answer.

  • Did someone inspire you to pursue your career and if so, who?

    My parents were my two biggest inspirations ... but not because they were scientists. They taught my sisters and me to be independent and to question what we did not understand. After them, I'd say my biggest influences were three science teachers, in middle school, high school and college. They were hard teachers but also fair. They inspired me to want to learn and to continue my path with animals through science ... though I can only recently put that into words that I understand. When I was younger, it was just a feeling that I knew I would become a scientist.

  • How/when did you first become interested in marine animals?

    I have always loved the ocean. My family and I went to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, each summer for vacation. I grew up in Connecticut and went to the beach whenever possible. I have always loved animals ... I actively participated in Vo-Ag and FFA (Future Farmers of America) in high school, worked at a veterinary clinic and raised chickens in my backyard (Yes, in the city!). But, it wasn't until the summer after my sophomore year in college that I realized I could merge my love of animals with the ocean into a career. I was an intern with a whale watching company and worked 7 days a week, 12 hours a day. I loved every minute of it. After that summer, I read all I could about dolphins and whales and wrote to scientists for more information.

  • What advice do you have for people interested in dolphin and marine animal research?

    I would advise you to read about the different topics and animals that you find interesting. To write to the authors and other scientists to learn more about their work. Ask for reprints of their work. Visit aquaria, zoos and other facilities that might have information about the ocean or her marine inhabitants. Look for internship or volunteer programs. It's not enough any more to say "I want to study dolphins." You must begin to narrow your question(s) and focus. What do you want to study? What topic interests you? What information do you want to learn? And, while you are still with your parents, and they are paying the bills, is the best time to participate in volunteer programs ... you need to have experience to get experience. Volunteering for various groups will allow you to get experience but also help you to learn about your interests and to determine if this is truly the area you want to study and work in.

  • What are some experiences you remember when you were young that may have influenced you?

    Vividly, I remember walking the beach with my dad or sitting on the dunes watching the water. Learning about currents and the animals we saw from my dad. I remember picking up shells with my mom and creating designs with them. I remember all the animals we had growing up and I remember my experiences on various farms. All served to encourage my love of science and animals.

  • What are some of your most memorable experiences?

    I remember the first time I saw a dolphin under water ... the first swim I had with a dolphin. It was July 1991. I remember she was a young dolphin, few spots. I remember the emotions I felt and the swim. I remember living and working on a boat and the feel of the boat's motion in calm seas and choppy weather. All exhilarating. I remember walks on the beach with my mom and dad and sisters. These walks inspired and fostered my love of the ocean and her creatures. I remember the first time I witnessed a huge fight among about 25 dolphins -- the variety of signals, the intensity of their sounds and actions. All just amazing. But I continue to be amazed with the information I learn. And, it is wonderful to be able to share that with other people, adults and kids alike.

  • What classes do you recommend that I take to better prepare myself for a career such as yours?

    I recommend that you take classes in the different sciences -- math, physics, chemistry, biology. I know ... I wasn't too fond of physics the first time, but I now see how it is applied and important. Besides giving you a solid foundation to pursue more science electives and such in college, you will gain experience in science to determine if this is something that truly interests you. I firmly believe that we should follow a career or have a job we like and are happy doing. Life is too short not to enjoy what we do day-to-day.

  • What is a "typical" day like?

    I am glad the quotes were added to the word typical in this question. It's true there is no typical day for me. My day depends on whether I am in the field gathering data or in my office analyzing data. And, for the former, my day also depends on whether I am in The Bahamas, on Roatan or Nassau or in Germany gathering data. If I am assisting with data collection from Bimini, I join Kel and the trips of guests to swim with dolphins whenever there is space on the boat. We spend about four hours per boat trip looking for and observing dolphins. It takes about 30 minutes minimum to prep my gear for the trip and about an hour to clean my gear and myself after a trip. Then, we log data sheets from the trip. When we are not on the boat, we analyze data -- videotapes for dolphin IDs and behaviors. When I was doing my dissertation in The Bahamas, we lived on the boat. So my days ran from sunrise till about midnight. I have always liked mornings because most folks are not awake yet. When on the boat, it's quiet and I prep the data sheets and gear for the day. When we see dolphins during a boat trip, we (researchers and eco-tourists) record data and sometimes swim with them and record their behavior underwater. After each swim we log data on data forms ... all of our observations and any dolphin IDs. The evenings are filled with informal presentations about dolphins, their lives and distribution and other information about ocean conservation.

    At the field sites where I study captive dolphins, I coordinate my observation schedule around the staff's schedule for training. At RIMS, I'll conduct my first observation session before 8AM and then another one later in the morning. At DE, my observation sessions are between training programs, and this is the same at Zoo Duisburg. Because we know where the dolphins are at these three locations, my return on effort is much higher than in The Bahamas, or at Mikura Island, Japan.

    In my office, when out of the field and analyzing data, I work mostly with my computer, the video and stereo audio data, and the video logs. Every video tape is logged such that we know who is in view, who they are with and for how long. Once the log is complete, I watch the videotapes and log dolphin behaviors on data forms and into the computer. Volunteers and interns are exceptionally helpful with this part of the data processing - i.e., creating the video logs and event-sampling the behavior and audio. For the audio data, I measure sounds using special software programs to examine spectrograms. I also write reports and grant applications. I also take walks with Dixie, our beagle, when she decides I need a break!

  • What is your favorite and least favorite thing about your career?

    My least favorite thing is the cold water in Japan and Argentina. Sounds corny I know, but I am a cold water wimp! I routinely wear two wet suits when I work in those areas gathering data. (I even wear a think wet suit in Roatan!) My most favorite part may be surprising to many people - I love the data analysis part of my work. Yes, swimming among the dolphins is cool, too. But, I love reviewing the video tapes and analyzing the sounds because this is when the patterns become evident. For every hour of data I gather, there are at least 20 hours of analysis time! It's good I love that part of it!

  • Where did you train and study for this career?

    I received a Bachelor's of Science (B.S.) degree from the University of Connecticut in Biology. I wanted to be sure I had a solid background in the sciences (math, chemistry, biology, etc.) before I continued with graduate school. I received my Ph.D. in Wildlife & Fisheries Sciences from Texas A&M University. As a graduate student, you design your own program with a committee of professors. My studies focused on dolphin behavior and communication. I also did several internships and volunteer programs at various facilities including the whale watch internship, work with Mystic Marinelife Aquarium and more. Experience is key to clarifying what it is you want to learn and study.

  • How fast can dolphins swim?

    The dolphin's fast cruising speed (a traveling speed they can maintain for quite a while) is about 3-3.5 m/s (6-7 knots, 11-12.5 km/hr). They can reach speeds of up to 4.6 m/s (9.3 knots, 16.5 km/hr) while traveling in this fashion. When they move faster, they will start jumping clear of the water (porpoising). They are actually saving energy by jumping. When chased by a speedboat, dolphins have been clocked at speeds of 7.3 m/s (14.6 knots, 26.3 km/hr), which they maintained for about 1500 meters, leaping constantly. Energetic studies have shown, that the most efficient traveling speed for dolphins is between 1.67 and 2.27 m/s (3.3-4.5 knots, 6.0-8.2 km/hr). There have been reports of dolphins traveling at much higher speeds, but these refer to dolphins being pushed along by the bow wave of a speeding boat. They were getting a free ride (their speed relative to the surrounding water was low). A recent study using based on the vertical speed during jumps showed maximum speeds for bottlenose dolphins of 8.2-11.2 m/s (16-22 knots, 29.5-40.3 km/hr) prior to a high jump. The maximum speed for wild bottlenose dolphins was 5.7 m/s (11 knots, 20.5 km/hr) and for common dolphins 6.7 m/s (13 knots, 24.1 km/hr). sources: D. Au & D. Weihs (1980) At high speeds dolphins save energy by leaping. Nature 284(5756): 548-550 J.J.Rohr, F.E.Fish and J.W. Gilpatrick, Jr. (2002) Maximum swim speeds of captive and free-rangings delphinids: critical analysis of extraordinary performance Marine Mammal Science 18(1):1-19 T.M.Williams, W.A.Friedl, J.A. Haun & N.K.Chun (1993) Balancing power and speed in bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) in: I.L. Boyd (ed.) Marine Mammals - Advances in behavioural and population biology, pp. 383-394. Symposia of the Zoological Society of London No. 66. Clarendon Press, Oxford

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