Blog: Center for the Science of Animal Care and Welfare

Making a Difference for Dolphins and Sharks

Krystan WilkinsonFrom the time she was in third grade, Krystan Wilkinson knew she wanted to be a marine biologist working with dolphins and sharks. Now a graduate student at the University of Florida, Krystan has made her dream a reality. She conducts a research study on shark-dolphin interactions in Sarasota Bay, Florida, as part of the world-renowned Sarasota Dolphin Research Program (SDRP) managed by the Chicago Zoological Society.
We had a chance to talk to Krystan about her role as one of the graduate students of SDRP. She, along with other graduate students, participate in the program’s activities such as dolphin surveys, rescues, and other research training. Let’s get to know her!
What inspired you to want to work with dolphins?
I was first inspired to work in marine science after reading Eugenie Clark's book "Shark Lady: True Adventures of Eugenie Clark" when I was 8 years old (third grade). I was immediately fascinated by everything in the ocean -- but especially by sharks. After a series of internships throughout college, I gained more experience with marine mammals, specifically dolphins, which lead me to an internship with SDRP. After my internship, I volunteered with the program, which led to a graduate student opportunity with SDRP Director Dr. Randall Wells and the program. Now I study shark-dolphin interactions in Sarasota Bay, and I couldn't be happier for how things have turned out -- my graduate student research has merged my initial interests in sharks and later experiences and interests with dolphins.

What’s one of your most memorable experiences working with the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program?
My first week as an intern, we were completing a dolphin population monitoring survey and received a call about a humpback whale in the Gulf of Mexico, not far from us.  We were asked to check out the situation and indeed it was a humpback whale!  That was truly amazing.

Krystan Wilkinson, Sarasota Dolphin Research Program
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
The most rewarding part of my job is the opportunity to constantly be learning something new. I feel very fortunate to be able to do this as part of my job and graduate student experience!

How can the general public help with dolphin conservation?
I think it is important for the general public to be well-educated and informed with conservation issues surrounding dolphins and the marine environment. It is also essential for marine researchers and educators to contribute to positive learning opportunities for children and the public. Human-dolphin interactions, such as feeding wild dolphins and entanglement or ingestion of marine debris, are of particular concern in Sarasota Bay. 

The Chicago Zoological Society has been at the forefront of dolphin care and research since it opened Seven Seas in the 1960s. The Society manages the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program (SDRP) in Florida, which is the world’s longest-running study of a wild dolphin population. To learn more, visit

Center for the Science of Animal Care and Welfare

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