Cetacean Celebration: ONR Sponsors Family-Friendly Dolphin Workshops in South Carolina

Cetacean Celebration: ONR Sponsors Family-Friendly Dolphin Workshops in South Carolina

By Warren Duffie Jr., Office of Naval Research (ONR). 
Originally published on April 26, 2024 on ONR News

Thousands of wildlife lovers learned about the lives and health of dolphins during workshops sponsored by the Office of Naval Research (ONR) — in partnership with the National Marine Mammal Foundation (NMMF).

The interactive events — titled “Dolphin Doctor: On the Front Lines of Marine Mammal Medicine” — occurred during the recent Southeastern Wildlife Exposition (SEWE) in Charleston, South Carolina. ONR funded the workshops through the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) efforts of its Warfighter Performance Department. Approximately 3,400 people attended.

“NMMF already has a huge outreach presence on the West Coast,” said Natalie Steinhauser, an ONR program officer. “This appearance at SEWE was part of a broader effort to expand the foundation’s outreach on the East Coast.

“The workshops are great for getting the public, especially kids who might want to pursue STEM interests, to see the Navy in a new way,” Steinhauser continued. “We’re not only about ships and weapons. Not a lot of people associate the Navy with marine mammals, but we do a lot of research and work with them, and are looking to attract more scientists and engineers to such domains.”  

NMMF Dolphin Doctor Workshop, SEWE 2024

SEWE is an annual celebration of nature, wildlife and the outdoors, spotlighting the sporting lifestyle and conservation efforts. With a focus on education, conservation and art, SEWE enables attendees to engage with compelling exhibits, demonstrations and expert presentations.

A frequent ONR partner, San Diego-based nonprofit NMMF is recognized as a leader in marine mammal science, medicine and conservation.

During the Dolphin Doctor workshops — named for Dr. Sam Ridgway, who helped found the U.S. Navy’s Marine Mammal Program in the 1960s — participants enjoyed hands-on activities involving mock wild dolphin health exams using inflatable dolphins; ultrasound demonstrations featuring lung and cardiac images from baby dolphins affected by oil spills; field microscopes displaying microplastics in dolphin tissue; satellite tag tracking of animals; and examples of entanglement in fishing nets.

There also was a panel discussion called “Women in Conservation: Wildlife Heroes of the Sea, Land and Sky,” which highlighted female veterinarians and scientists from NMMF and partner organizations.

“One little boy stayed in our ‘Dolphin Doctor Field Laboratory’ workshop tent for two hours,” said Celeste Parry, NMMF’s director of community engagement. “He couldn’t get enough and asked non-stop questions.”

“Events like these are vital in increasing awareness of Navy and ONR programs that care for marine mammals, as well as the research that goes along with them, because there are a lot of translational benefits to the bigger world of conservation.”

Both Steinhauser and Parry also emphasized that initiatives like Dolphin Doctor are valuable to increasing awareness of ONR’s Marine Mammal Health and Undersea Medicine and Performance programs.

Marine Mammal Health aims to improve the detection, treatment and prevention of diseases in marine mammals used and studied by the Navy, in order to ensure the ongoing health and overall longevity of the animals. It’s part of the Navy’s broader effort to better understand wild marine mammals and assess and mitigate the potential impact of naval activities on them.

Undersea Medicine and Performance develops improved methods, treatments and devices for understanding, preventing or mitigating factors that negatively affect the health of warfighters such as divers and submariners. According to Steinhauser and Parry, the study of dolphins has spurred various advances in human medicine — including the treatment of kidney stones, the effects of aging and understanding the biological sonar of dolphins.

“We want to show that the Navy offers exciting STEM careers in marine mammal and undersea medicine,” said Steinhauser. “Our goal is to create a pipeline of future scientists by inspiring the next generation through fun, engaging events like Dolphin Doctor workshops.”

Learn more about Dolphin Doctor at https://www.nmmf.org/workshops/dolphin-doctor/.

Find out more about what makes marine mammals, particularly dolphins and sea lions, so unique with our engaging Dolphin Doctor online course.

Warren Duffie Jr. is a contractor for ONR Corporate Strategic Communications.

About the Office of Naval Research

The Department of the Navy’s Office of Naval Research provides the science and technology necessary to maintain the Navy and Marine Corps’ technological advantage. Through its affiliates, ONR is a leader in science and technology with engagement in 50 states, 55 countries, 634 institutions of higher learning and nonprofit institutions, and more than 960 industry partners. ONR, through its commands, including headquarters, ONR Global and the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., employs more than 3,800 people, comprising uniformed, civilian and contract personnel.

About the National Marine Mammal Foundation

The National Marine Mammal Foundation (NMMF) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization recognized globally as a leader in marine mammal science, medicine, and conservation. Their team of experts is answering critical questions about the health of the world’s marine mammals and the ecosystems they rely on. The NMMF has a mission to improve and protect life for marine mammals, humans, and our shared oceans through science, service, and education. They advance their mission by conducting innovative research and collaborating with the world’s top scientists and institutions to translate their research into applicable medicine and species conservation. The NMMF provides technical, medical, and scientific expertise to help solve problems related to conservation medicine, human-made environmental change, and endangered species recovery.