A Young Alumna Reflects

Back in 2010, the Albion College equestrian program featured three of our students in a series of summer blogs. One of those bloggers was a student who graduated in May but had a really unique internship with Mote Marine Lab in Sarasota, Florida that we asked her to share with us.


Mary Applegate ’10 has a high-flying career as a marine biologist – the exact job she hoped for when she graduated from Albion.

That alumna was Mary Applegate ’10, a four-year member of our intercollegiate dressage team, a two-time IDA Nationals qualifier, and our 2010 Most Valuable Rider winner for dressage. In re-connecting with her as part of our “Where Are They” Wednesday photo series on Facebook, we thought it would be fun to let her share a more in-depth description of what she’s been up to since graduation.

Here’s Mary, in her own words:

My “official title” these days (e.g. how I get hired/ fancy words to make me fit a box) is “OPS Fisheries Biologist I.” In reality, I’m a Marine Mammal/ Marine Protected Species Observer, and in the simplest terms, I’m a marine biologist.

My job is quite unique, a little crazy, and hard to understand.

In a nutshell, I fly around in small planes and work on boats for a variety of research organizations where we survey marine protected species – specifically marine mammals and sea turtles. My job is especially unique because I work on a variety of seasonal contracts throughout the year, which takes me around the country.

I have settled into more of a rotation these past few years and work seasonally in the winter in St Augustine, Florida for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on their North Atlantic Right Whale Program. This position involves aerial- and vessel-based research on the distribution, photo documentation, and ship strike mitigation for these critically endangered animals, which use the coastal areas of northeast Florida and southeast Georgia in the winter to give birth and nurse their young calves. (Learn more about my current project here.)


Applegate at work.

I alternate this project with a variety of other contracts, which vary from dolphin research, coast-wide species distribution population surveys, and even river and stream conservation.  As you can imagine, this leads to quite the dynamic and ever-changing life, which is wonderful. I think Albion really prepped me for this because, aside from getting an amazing education, and having wonderful experiences in the sciences, when I look back, I realize that Albion really prepped me for the diversity of my career. Albion as a whole emphasizes creating a well-rounded student who is prepared for anything, and that’s the key to my career. I left college not only with an amazing educational background but ready to take on anything the world had to throw at me.

Unfortunately, my career right now makes it difficult to stay active in equestrian activities. That can be a sad reality of the real world, especially in a nomadic job and life like mine. The upside to my travels is that I often have a bit of time between projects to catch up with family. I’ve developed a good relationship with a barn at home and often will go work horses, take lessons, and get my horse fix in. I’m very lucky in that regard and look forward in the future to settling in one place and getting more involved with horses – and hopefully show again!


Applegate at her final Intercollegiate Dressage Association national championship in 2010. She finished sixth individually in 2008 and fourth individually in 2010 to cap her career.

Overall, Albion helped to shape me into a very well rounded career-minded person. Not only did I leave with a strong background in science, I left with an interdisciplinary mindset that develops from a strong liberal arts college background. Learning to mold, adapt, and problem solve through the IDA team and my riding lesson experiences not only set me up to be a well-rounded rider, but taught me traits that strongly carry over in my career.

I work with a diverse group of people in situations where teamwork is essential. Being a part of a collegiate team as well as the equestrian club emphasized teamwork and encouragement that has really prepared me for the variety of people and experiences that I have encountered on the job. It also equipped me with leadership skills that prepared me for not only working with a number of people, but being able to guide others through new experiences in the field.

To learn more about Mary’s post-grad experiences with Mote Marine Lab, you may read her 2010 blog entries here. (Please note that blog entries post in reverse order.) To find out what other Albion equestrian alumni are up to (both in the saddle and in the workplace), visit the Equestrian Center web site.





The Good, the Bad, and the Magical

I’m sorry it has been a while, but it has been a busy few weeks!

Like anything in life, we take the good with the bad here at Mote and that means that we have stayed busy in the stranding department!  Hatching season is in full force, which means that a lot of adorable baby turtles are flopping to the ocean.  Lights on the beach often confuse the youngsters, however, so they become disoriented and wind up in someone’s laundry room or a pavilion at a park, resulting in a lot of worried turtle lovers who call us.

One of our patients here at the lab.

The normal protocol for these little guys is to keep them at Mote for the day (stored in hatchling boxes – like a makeshift nest) until evening when the turtle patrol workers release them into the ocean.  Turtle patrol is important during nesting season, marking off every nest on the beach the morning after it’s laid, tracking nesting times, tracking hatchings, and digging up nests four days after the first hatch to make sure all the hatchlings have gotten out.  I have been lucky enough to watch a re-release and am still hoping to find a nest that’s actively hatching.  I also have gotten to see quite a few adorable babies – including one that we saved from a canal!

Of important note:  If you vacation or live on the coast where nesting happens, please keep your outdoor lights off! This helps prevent hatchling disorientation, as well as increasing the likelihood that adult females will nest on your beach!

We have also had a few calls about adult turtles that have died naturally and washed ashore.  Often by the time they get to shore, it’s difficult to tell what happened due to the level of decomposition, but sometimes we find clues.  Of late, we had a large male loggerhead stranded on a local beach and still alive.  Usually animals that beach themselves do so because they are sick and that was the case with this big boy, who died before we could get there.  A full necropsy was done but the results are still out.

Remember that I said the good comes with the bad around here?  Now the good:

In the last few weeks, we have released two rehabilitated turtles back into the wild!  Zora, a juvenile green turtle was rehabbed at Mote after being found floating in shallow waters with fibropapilloma, a viral disease common in green turtles that causes large, cauliflower-like tumors to grow internally and externally.  There is still a lot to be learned about this disease and no known cure, but in Zora’s case the tumors could be removed and she cleaned up nicely!

Snapper, a loggerhead turtle rehabbed from the oil spill, was also recently released.  Other than that, we are happy to say that, while not affected by the oil locally, we took in 11 Kemp’s Ridley turtles (the world’s smallest and rarest sea turtle and an endangered species) rescued from oily waters near Louisiana.  The turtles came from the Audubon Nature Institute in New Orleans, where they received initial treatment.  As of today, five of them have been released and the others should be released soon!

I also recently went out with the manatee research team for a day. We worked in conjunction with an aerial survey plane looking for manatees from the air.  When we found the animals, we took a photo and drew documentation to visually ID the animals.  The team also gets genetic samples from skin to help see the diversity of the population.  I am learning a lot and getting to do a lot of different things!

I’m still having fun too.  Recently, my sister and brother in-law came to visit and we had a blast exploring Sarasota/Venice, finding shark teeth, and (of course) going to DISNEYWORLD!  We explored the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, where I recommend the Butterbeer!  They did an awesome job of creating authentic storefronts, a castle, and the characters.  The tour through the castle ride was one of the best I have been on.   (Also, I recommend going to Ollivander’s to get your wand made – while only one in 30 get to actually do the wand experience, you’re reading the blog of that one!  One wand of oak with a dragon’s heart string, please!)

As you can tell, Florida is great and (luckily) hurricane season has been relatively calm so far – knock on wood!

Dolphins and Tigers and Rays – Oh My!

Hello, my Florida followers!

I have been here two weeks and still love every minute!  I started work on the 19th with a rousing morning of safety videos (such as “How to Use a Fire Extinguisher”) and lovely lab videos that began:  “Picture a lab where nothing is labeled and all chemicals are the same color…” and then explained ways to prevent blowing myself (and half of Florida) up!

The first day of work was good, though.  I met the people I would be working with and, while two other interns are here now, one left today and the other leaves in a week.  Soon I will be on my own.  Everyone is really nice and I felt at home right away.

I've made a lot of new friends in Florida so far.

The first part of the week was full of learning what I will do on a daily basis, figuring out where things were, and learning about the paperwork and data entry that power the operation.  I also learned some of the techniques that we do, like flensing (removing all meat and blubber from bones) and boiling bones to clean them.  Flensing is done in the lab after necropsies.  We save all the humorous bones of the sea turtles that have died in order to properly age them as part of the records for strandings, which gives us an idea of what is happening to the population and what kinds of animals get stranded or die.  It’s interesting and I’m happy I took anatomy!  I can also say that my knife skills are quickly sharpening (sorry – that one was too easy!).

It was a slow week, which was good because it gave me a chance to learn the little details rather than getting thrown into the grind.  Also, in some ways it is good when we don’t get calls because that means animals are not getting beached, injured, or dying.  As a newbie, however, I was anxious to get into the field and know how a strandings call worked – wearing my official Mote Marine Strandings  Investigations shirt, of course!

Little did I know what was to come…

Friday morning was the normal routine – data entry, then we were flensing some bones when the call I had been waiting for came in!  It was a beached dolphin – the first one since the previous September.  So we headed out to the beach and found the animal.  It was clearly dead and had washed ashore, but this was a big boy and it wasn’t going to be easy to get him up the beach and into the truck.  After documenting everything we needed to, we loaded the 475 pound (!) dolphin onto the sled (similar to a child’s) and towed him up the beach.

The fruits of my dive labors (or rather, the teeth).

It took five of us to get him off the beach and over the boardwalk, but luckily there weren’t too many gawkers since we were on a private area of beach.  We transported him back to Mote to perform a necropsy (animal autopsy).  The process of measuring, taking samples for histology, and disarticulating the skeleton (we save the skeletons for the bone museum here) took six hours but was one of the coolest things I have been a part of!

It was like everything you expect to see in a human – only supersized! (Just so you know, dolphins do have big hearts!)  While most people might be tired after pulling a 12 hour day, though, I spent the whole night on the beach turtle tagging, which was one of those “I never thought I would be here” experiences.  We tagged, measured, and recorded data from seven loggerhead sea turtles nesting on the beach.  That was one of the most amazing days of my life – what an awesome week in Florida!

There's nothing like catching the hometown team when you're away from home - especially with friends.

Needless to say, I spent the weekend making up for lost sleep and going to the beach.  I even went snorkeling and found a bunch of shells, a shark tooth, and a 4 inch dive knife!

The following work week was a little less intense. We received a few calls – mostly about turtles that were long dead and had washed ashore.  I did, however, make it out on Wednesday to watch the Detroit Tigers game in Tampa.  We got a little lost on the way there (thanks to my GPS!) but made it for most of the game.

(Note to anyone traveling in Florida – stock your car with plenty of extra change!  Not having money at toll booths is not a good thing!  Luckily we found some spare quarters buried beneath the seats.)

Unfortunately the Tigers lost, but it was still a lot of fun!  Suffice to say, I am having a great time here!

Full Circle

Hello from Florida!!

This is the life!!

I have finally arrived after months of waiting and a marathon of driving.  And when I say “marathon,” that’s really what I mean.  I drove down myself (with plenty of music and books on tape!) in a car packed to the brim with swimsuits, flip flops, and (yes) the occasional work outfit.

The trip took three days so as not to get too much cabin fever.  I stopped in Lexington, KY the first night to see family there.  The city is, of course, in a mad rush to prepare for the World Equestrian Games in September and rumor on the street is they have a lot of work still to do.  It was a nice break in the trip after 8 hours in the car, though.

Still, as much as I love horse country, the looming 11 hour drive was calling, so I left early from for the next stop in Gainesville, FL ,where a close friend and fellow Albion alumna, Kelyn, is also down in the Sunshine State for an internship.  It was the first time I had seen her since just after graduation so the stop was a great excuse to catch up.

The last leg of the journey was a short (!) 3 and a half hour drive to the beautiful Sarasota/ Venice area.  I arranged to live in a cute little rental house with plenty of room for me and guests, with the possibility of getting another intern to room with.  The area is beautiful and I rolled into the driveway on a sunny day, ready to begin the process of moving in all the random things necessary for real life (at least for the next few months in Florida).

Needless to say, it’s a bit tedious.

Mom and I at the Mote Marine Lab - my new home away from home.

As I’ve started the process, it brings back memories of that first day at Albion and moving into Wesley Hall four years ago.  I have the same nervous, anxious feelings about the complete change of life ahead.  The main difference about this move-in experience, however, was that after unpacking got a bit old, I decided to go to the beach.

(By the way, said beach is at the end of my road – Wesley Hall was great, but it never had that.)

I spent most of the time in the water, which is the perfect temperature and, after a good soak in the Gulf of Mexico (oil free), I headed home to finish unpacking and make the house ready for the all-important Mom visit.  (Of course Mom had to check out the place where her baby was living.)  I picked her up from the airport and excitedly rushed off toe Sarasota to Mote Marine Lab where I will work for the next few months.

They have a beautiful aquarium there, which I highly recommend!  It was a nice treat for my mom to get to see where I will spend a majority of my time and next we cruised downtown Sarasota, with its cute cafes, shops, and galleries.  Then we needed some time at the beach.  (Can you sense a theme here?)  It was another great day, even though the heat and humidity are pretty toasty (around 95 degrees each day).  

This is a shot from Siesta Key beach. (Get ready for a LOT of beach pictures in upcoming blogs!)

We went to one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, Siesta Key Beach, which is miles and miles of the softest, finest, whitest sand you have ever seen.  The waves were perfect for body surfing too!  And, because in Florida, there is no such thing as too much beach, we then took another soak at the home beach.  Later that night, we ate seafood at the pier at a place called Sharkies.  (The name refers to the ease with which people find shark teeth just by shifting though the sand.)  It was a great day that was topped off by meeting some of my fellow interns out in Sarasota.  (More on them to come.)

The last day of the Mom visit was spent at Myakka State Park, which has walking trails, a tree top canopy walk, as well as canoeing and kayaking.  We had a great time climbing up way above the treetops of the park and going on a 2 hour canoe ride through the gator-infested water!  (We did spot a handful of gators all of which sunk below the water when we approached, more annoyed than threatened by our presence.)

Here I am in the canopy.

All in all, it has been a great few days and I anxiously await my first day of work tomorrow.  More pictures and updates to come soon!

The Australia Adventure Concludes

After Sydney, we headed to Canberra, the capital, where my brother lives.  Unfortunately the weather the first day was a bit soggy and, I must say, the whole “fall weather during what is early summer at home” is really odd!

We changed our plans a bit to accommodate and visited the old and new parliament.  Even as a biology person and not as into politics, it was really interesting to see the way a different government works.  I won’t bore you with details, but the highlight was attending question time, which is when members of parliament ask questions of the Government Ministers (including the Prime Minister) which they are obliged to answer.  It sounds boring, but you had to be there – it was like a class of first graders yelling at each other!

The Australian War Memorial

The Australian War Memorial

The next day we took it easy in the morning, then headed out for a walking tour of Canberra, which involved going to the National War Memorial.  The mile stretch up to the memorial has monuments on every block and the main memorial represents every branch of the armed forces.  It’s a very beautiful and peaceful sight with a direct view of parliament so that those lost will never be forgotten.

That night, we attended the meat raffle.  (For the record, this event is exactly what you are thinking – you buy a ticket and hope to win one of the platters of meat.  Unfortunately, the Applegates were unsuccessful.)

The next day was one of the highlights of the trip for me – an excursion to Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve, one of the coolest places I have ever been to.   On the road up to the information center alone we spotted numerous kangaroos and emus!  None of the animals are fenced in and, while there are fences in the park, if the animals chose to, they could just walk out.  We spent hours exploring various walking trails – including sightings of several groups of kangaroos! – and exploring aboriginal sites.  We even found an elusive platypus and kookaburra.  (Yes, he was in an old gum tree!)

Tidbinbilla Nature Preserve

I loved my time at the Tidbinbilla Nature Preserve!

The most exciting wildlife sighting was a koala; he was right off the trail, awake, and relatively active – munching away at a eucalyptus tree.  We spend a good half hour just watching the little guy and taking hundreds of pictures, paparazzi-style.

On the way out, we spotted a wallaby, which means that we pretty much checked off every animal on the “Must-See in Australia” list.  Tidbinbilla was great and I think I could just about spend my life in that place.  (If I lived in Canberra, I’d be there every day.)

The last day in Canberra brought a strictly family day, including a wine tasting tour in the countryside.  It was a beautiful day of driving, visiting vineyards, and seeing more Australian wildlife.  I even took the plunge and drove, both on the wrong side of the road and wrong side of the car – strange!

Mary meets a kangaroo.

I seem to make friends everywhere I go!

This brought the end of our time in Canberra and we were off to Melbourne, a short flight away.  We spent the days touring the city and even saw a movie being filmed!  We also went to one of my new favorite things:  a professional Australian football game.  This is an odd mix of rugby, football, and various other sports that makes it all its own.  I am officially a Hawthorn Hawks fan for life!

The days went quickly and, before I knew it, it was time to go to the airport and to say goodbye to my brother and sister in-law.  It was a hard thing to do, as it is always a long time before I get to see him again.  But Skype helps!

Before I knew it, we were back in Sydney for our last day in Australia.  And what could be better than the zoo and the beach?!

At Taronga Zoo, we went on a behind the scenes tour which was totally worth it!  We got to see all the food prep, animal cages, and background of the zoo – all of which was right up my alley!  I even got to hold a feather glider (see picture below) – super cute!  We even got to do an up-close koala encounter and, when the tour was over, explored the zoo some more on our own.

Mary holds a feather glider.

Cutest. Thing. EVER.

After that, we decided to take a ferry over to Manly, a little surfing town with a beautiful beach.  Despite the chilly weather (and water!), plenty of surfers were out.  We just missed sunset on the way in, but were in time to see Vivid Sydney, an outdoor art exhibit that lights up all of Sydney’s notable landmarks, including the opera house.  It was an amazing way to end the perfect trip.

Unfortunately now I’m back to real life, which means working and desperately trying to organize my life before the big move – which is coming so fast I hardly know what to do with myself!

Mary’s Australian Adventure, Part 2

When last I blogged, we had just visited the aquarium in Sydney.

The Australian Continent

We started the trip in Sydney, but next we're off to Canberra.

After that, we hopped a ferry taxi over to the area by the opera house.  Arriving by water definitely gives you that feeling that a choir has begun singing around you when you first see the opera house!  Or, at the very least, it reminds you of that great scene in Finding Nemo (which I watched on the flight in – appropriate!).  We took advantage of the nice weather and explored the opera house for a bit.  What a sight!

Later, we went to afternoon tea and then planned to go to the botanical gardens – except that Mother Nature threw a curve ball and made it rain.  Again.  With this rain, however, came rainbows – two of them!  It wasn’t just a small part of a rainbow either, it was a full arched rainbow over Sydney and you could see both ends.  Amazing!  You probably couldn’t have written it better.

When it started to clear up (the rains don’t last too long this time of year – thankfully!), we explored the gardens, but since it was dusk, it meant one thing:


Actually let me rephrase that.  They aren’t bats called bats here, they are called Flying Foxes.  Why?

Um, it’s because they are HUGE!  They are seriously the size of a cat, if not a small fox and they all (there are too many to count) hang out (no pun intended) in the big trees of the botanical garden.  At dusk, they wake up (hundreds of them!) and fly right over your head.

Australian flying fox

I didn't take this picture (too dark!), but this image from the web should give you a good idea of how crazy these flying foxes look when they're airborne!

One word comes to mind: EW!

(I know, I know – I’m a biologist.  I like wildlife.  I do.  But I really prefer that wildlife of that size not fly over my head.  I don’t think that’s too much to ask.)

After watching the bats take off, we walked around the harbor one more time to see the opera house at night.  So beautiful!

Sunday was our last full day in Sydney, which brought some morning rain.  (I know, everyone in Michigan had 85 and sunny and I got rain – but it has been clearing up and I can’t complain.  I’m in Australia!)

We walked the length of the Sydney Harbor Bridge, explored some of the oldest pubs in Sydney, and went to the Rocks Market, which is a really neat art market that only happens on weekends.  Some highlights were corn on a stick (freshly roasted for street food) and homemade licorice in every flavor you can think of.  Continuing with my food theme, we had dinner on the harbor again, which was interrupted (in the best way) by fireworks.  How awesome is that on our first and last nights in Sydney?

Our last morning in Sydney was nice.  No rain.  We spent the morning walking through the fish market – an interesting sight where we ran into some huge pelicans there trying to scam a free meal.  We then went to see the botanical gardens in the day time and get a view of the opera house one last time.  The gardens were amazing!

This time the bats were mostly sleeping in the trees, but we did run into a large party of cockatoos.  (Yes – picture a lot of big, white, parrot-type birds.)  They are wild here and there were about 30 in this one small area of the garden.  I made “friends” with one, who decided my tennis shoe looked tasty.  He perched himself on my foot and, at one time I didn’t know if he was stuck in my shoe or not – pretty funny!

Finally, I decided he should go back to foraging, since his big pointy beak liked my shoe a bit too much.  After one last look at Sydney Harbor, we packed in the car and headed out on the 3-4 hour trek to Canberra, which is where my brother lives.  More from there in my next blog.  🙂

Mary’s Australian Adventure Begins

G’day mate!

A lot has happened in a little over a week, so let me catch you up:

On May 19 (Wednesday), I started my journey to Australia.  Two flights in, I left at 10:30 from LA, Sydney-bound on a 15 hour flight!  The time change and long flight meant we arrived in Sydney at about 6:30 am (their time) Friday.  (Yes, you read that right; I traveled from Wednesday to Friday.)  I completely lost Thursday, which means I will never get to experience May 21st 2010!

It was a pretty easy flight, we made it to our hotel, and luckily they let us check in early so we could get a much-awaited shower.  (After an entire day of travel, a shower seems to be just what you need!)  Our hotel was perfectly located right on Darling Harbor, which is right around the water from the opera house.  You couldn’t quite see it (or Sydney Harbor Bridge) from our view, but we were right in the center of some pretty neat things, including the National Maritime Museum, the aquarium, and Wild Life World.  Both are slightly open air and I could almost see into the shark tank from our window.  (It was the perfect hotel for a biologist!) 

We went to explore and, while in the maritime museum, a monsoon started.  (Well – not literally a monsoon – but it was a LOT of rain!)  I swear two inches of water came down in 5-10 minutes!  Luckily it was a brief storm and cleared up by the time we were ready to leave.  It even started to get sunny again and we were able to walk more around the harbor.

My brother works in Australia for the US Department of State and, anticipating his arrival, we headed back to the hotel feeling a tiny bit jet lagged.  (There may have been a brief nap – I can’t say!)  My brother arrived around 5:00 and had no idea I was coming.  (He expected only my parents.)  So when I opened the hotel door, I think both he and my sister-in-law had to pick their jaws up off the ground.  (I love surprises!)

Mary Applegate '10 in Australia.

I love this place!

That night was a lot of catching up and some dinner, which we ate right on the harbor.  The best part of the night was the fireworks over the harbor, which were shot off in honor of our arrival.  (Well, maybe it was for the jazz festival, but what could be better then fireworks over Sydney Harbor to welcome you to Australia?)

The next day we woke up to a kind of rainy dreary day, but it was the perfect day for the aquarium!  I must say that I have been to a lot of aquariums and this one is up there on the top of the list.  Most importantly I got to check off one of the requirements of visiting Australia:  I saw a platypus (even though he was trying to hide).

(I know what you’re thinking and the answer is, yes, they are as weird in real life as you think they would be.)

The aquarium was packed full of creatures, including a dugong (relative of the manatee) tank, and shark tank – both with underwater tunnels!  It was great to see all of these creatures you don’t get to in the States!  I even saw things I never heard of – which is kind of difficult after spending so much time studying marine life during my time at Albion.

Bottom line:  If you find yourself in Sydney, make it to the aquarium!

Many more tales from Australia to come, including the rest of our time in Sydney.  Then we’re off to Canberra.  No pony sightings yet, but I’m having a great time so far!