‘I had to sneak in a picture kissing the dolphin!’
Ever since I was a young girl, I have been infatuated with dolphins. This summer, I was fortunate enough to go on a two-week trip called MARVET in Mexico, where a 20-year-long dream of working with dolphins was fulfilled. During this trip, there were lessons about conservation, pathology, and the anatomy and lifestyles of numerous animals, including pinnipeds, sharks, fish, and my personal favorite—dolphins! There were both American and Mexican veterinarians and PhD instructors who had vast knowledge in so many areas. Seeing medicine in a different country always expands horizons and opens eyes to different ways of practicing medicine.My trip started with an interesting journey of taking the public bus alone to my hotel, getting only a little lost, and meeting up with the marvelous group of 14 aspiring veterinary students. The trip started with lectures as a buildup to the unbelievable activities that were done during the rest of the trip. The activities started at Dolphin Discovery, where the first hands-on learning took place. Every student got to go in the water, and interact with the manatees. The trainers showed the students all of the medical positioning, and then the students got to feed the manatees lettuce while the manatees hugged onto all of our legs trying to peer-pressure us to feed them more.
After that, we observed the trainers working with sea lions, pointing out the important areas to focus on. What followed next brought me to the peak joy of my trip. It was dolphin day! Every student performed a complete physical exam on the dolphins, and practiced taking some samples and learning where the more invasive samples were obtained. Obviously I was an extreme tourist and had to sneak in a picture kissing the dolphin!
Dolphin Discovery is also very focused on community education and helping wild dolphins and other mammals in the ocean when they are unhealthy. They rescued a stranded dolphin, and rehabilitated it for months before the dolphin, Paki, was healthy enough to be released. The MARVET team was fortunate enough to accompany Paki and all the volunteers on the boat for the release. The dolphin was equipped with a tracking device and will be monitored for two months to both track his movements and ensure he is doing well on his own and has found a new pod.
The next section of the adventure took place at Xcaret, an eco-archaeological park, with a plethora of animals. There was a native zoo, where there were interactions with the flamingos leading them around by a bell, interacting with their macaws, and I was even lucky enough to get a kiss from their tapir! Moral of the story: animal kisses are always the best part of any trip.
While at Xcaret, the biannual exams were performed on all their sea turtles, which included drawing blood. There is an art to restraining turtles who weigh several hundred pounds, with the most effective manner for the students being straddling them like a horse. Fish anesthesia and diagnostics were also covered, and students got to sedate, sample, and then wake up a fish.
During the free time, students got to watch the unbelievable show put on at Xcaret, with hundreds of employees participating. There were ancient Mayan games played, incredible dancing, animal involvement, and some great Mexican history and heritage displayed during the show.
Another free day was spent snorkeling with whale sharks, the largest fish in the ocean! The tour guides warned how large they were, but words do not do the whale sharks justice until you swim with them in the middle of the ocean, and realize just how small you are. A few students also chose to go to Tulum to see the Mayan ruins, and the breathtaking views of the water from the cliffs of the ancient village. There was obviously lots of beach time, as the hotel was only a quarter-mile from the beach, and nothing starts your day better than a casual stroll on the beach at sunrise.
Between the aquatic adventures, and all of the tacos, I highly recommend this trip to anyone who has any desire to be active in the marine world, eat some delicious authentic Mexican food, and escape to a stunning beach. The pathology lectures get a little heavy, but it was nothing that the sun, waves, and sand could not help us cope with instantly.
—Rachel Hallman, fourth-year student