Marilyn’s experience with marine mammals began in 1987 when she became a killer whale trainer. Since that time, she has dedicated her career to wildlife studies with an emphasis on dolphins inhabiting the Indian River Lagoon. In 1997, Marilyn joined Harbor Branch, was instrumental in establishing the Marine Mammal Research and Conservation program, and worked to build programs that support multi-faceted scientific and conservation initiatives. In order to fund such initiatives, she spearheaded the passage of two Florida laws, creating top-selling specialty license plates that support research, conservation and education activities throughout the state: Protect Wild Dolphins and Protect Florida Whales. She also helped develop a stranding/rescue program that has responded to more than 175 dead, sick or injured dolphins and whales since 1999. As a scientific investigator, Marilyn helped create and continues to conduct photo identification surveys of the Indian River Lagoon, an area covering 40% of Florida’s east coast, to assess the distribution and abundance of dolphins. Her lab currently focuses on dolphin fitness using photo identification to monitor reproductive success and survival, in combination with Harbor Branch’s ongoing molecular genetic and health studies.
Elisabeth has been involved in marine mammal husbandry and research, as an undergraduate and professional, for nearly two decades. Currently, a member of the PBBE photo-identification team, she has logged more than 1,300 hours of direct observation of wild dolphin behavior in the IRL. Her research focuses on using photo identification to identify and track cow-calf pairs to determine reproductive success, juvenile dispersal and other aspects of dolphin life history. Prior to working at Harbor Branch, Elisabeth volunteered at Mote Marine Aquarium’s dolphin and whale hospital for nine years where she started out as a high school intern. She also interned with Sarasota County’s Department of Natural Resources for three consecutive summers tagging nesting female sea turtles and determining hatching success. Other duties included helping perform a shoreline erosion survey of Sarasota County, dock permitting, retention pond verification and mitigation projects.
Elizabeth has studied skin diseases in the IRL dolphin population and the adjacent Atlantic ocean population for more than a decade. Much of her work focused on the fungal disease lacaziosis, which is found only in dolphins and humans, and was proven to be endemic to the IRL dolphin community. Elizabeth is currently studying the social structure of the IRL dolphins, focusing on the significant geographic area of the St. Lucie River. Previous epidemiological investigations have shown elevated rates of infectious diseases in this region. Higher levels of social interactions could contribute to increased transmission of diseases. The findings from this study will be compared to home range and genetic data to learn more about this important dolphin habitat.