CLEARWATER, Fla. — Eckerd College students are studying a species of dolphin that is rarely under human care.
The Clearwater Marine Aquarium cares for two rough-toothed dolphins, Rex and Rudolph. The aquarium is one of only two facilities in North America with this species of dolphin.
Rex and Rudolph were rescued after becoming stranded. The two dolphins lack the necessary survival skills.
"Both of them deemed non-releasable due to having a hearing deficit particularly in the echolocation range which they utilize echolocation to be able to hunt and forage for their food," said Evan Keim, Animal Care Specialist at Clearwater Marine Aquarium.
The aquarium partnered with Eckerd College to give students a unique experience. Students visit the aquarium a few times a week and study these dolphins.
"Especially with the tough times of the pandemic last year, it really put a stall on doing physical in-person research so it’s been a great opportunity," said Kerri Olzewski, an Eckerd College student.
Erin Frick is an assistant professor of Animal Studies at Eckerd College. She also leads the research team.
"They’re out there each day collecting the data, bringing it back. We kind of coordinate who brings what...when to take camera data, back it up with video so a lot of it is all run and coordinated by the students with me," said Erin Frick.
Evan Keim, an Animal Care Specialist at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, said there is little information on rough-toothed dolphins because they tend to live in deeper water far offshore. They also are not frequently studied in the wild, says Keim.
"They're going to be way further off coast than bottlenose dolphins. They have been known to be seen out in the wild hanging out with bottlenose dolphins," said Keim. "They get their name from the shape of their teeth so if you were to look at their teeth under a microscope, they would have ridges on them."
Students are expected to collect data on these dolphins for at least the next two years. Their research will help the aquarium with health management and enrichment development.
"Really getting to see that animal behavior that I've learned about in class has been really beneficial to kind of apply it to a real-world application," said Hailey McGovern, a student at Eckerd College.