I love animals! I read every book about animals in my elementary library before I was 8, and then I read every other animal book available in my hometown's public library. My brother and I collected snails in our backyard, making habitats out of old glass mayonnaise jars, grass, and water and then racing them across our back patio, being sure to put them back once we had our fun. My first visit to SeaWorld San Antonio as a 12-year-old inspired my future direction - to work with marine mammals. 10 years later I was conducting observational and cognitive research with bottlenose dolphins and California sea lions while working on my PhD in Experimental Psychology with a dual emphasis in Comparative Psychology and Developmental Psychology. It has been an absolute pleasure to learn from and engage marine mammals of all types in different types of research from Mississippi to California to Texas. Since having my own children and teaching 100s of others' children, I have learned that dolphin mothers each care for their calves just a little differently, much like humans, and that beluga mothers care for their calves like bottlenose dolphins and killer whales but with a little more flexibility. Beluga calves will ride on top of their mothers like their wild counterparts and will play with just about anything they can manipulate or create games like "beluga of the hill" or "tug-a-war" with each other. From a cognitive perspective, belugas and dolphins look longer at objects and people that are unfamiliar and when they are "surprised" by something that was unexpected, acting much like human infants. My studies have taught me to appreciate not only similarities and differences between species but to also appreciate the importance of individual differences. Ultimately, I wish to take this knowledge gleaned from captive animals and compare it to animals in their natural habitat while also continuing to enrich the lives of the animals that have taught me so many things.
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