In the second semester of Shelby Loos’ freshman year, a manatee and her calves became stranded off the coast of South Florida.
Loos, along with other members of the University of Miami Marine Mammal Stranding Team, (MMST) were called to help.
While watching a veterinarian from the Miami Seaquarium help the calves, Loos said she came to a realization.
“Right then, it kind of clicked with me,” said Loos, now a senior and the president MMST. “I always knew that I wanted to work with marine mammals, but I didn’t know to what capacity. After that, I realized I wanted to be a veterinarian.”
The organization’s main role is to assist in rescuing animals that have become stranded on Florida’s coast.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), between 2001 and 2009, there were 51,649 marine mammals that stranded in the United States.
“There’s really no other school that has a stranding team like we do and it’s such a unique opportunity,” said Loos.
About 20 members of the group traveled over the weekend to SeaWorld Orlando to learn how larger organizations rehabilitate animals.
“It was absolutely amazing,” said Lauren Simonitis, the team’s treasurer. “I’ve been there a ton of times before, but I’ve never seen the backstage tour.”
In addition to a behind-the-scenes tours, the trip included a check-in on a whale that was stranded in May along with 44 others near Key Largo. Members of MMST were the first people to arrive on the scene.
Some students helped care for the whales over the summer by taking blood samples and watching veterinarians work.
“A lot of people know about SeaWorld’s show animals, but they don’t get to see how good they are with rehabilitation,” said Loos.
Simonitis said that the club had seen videos of one of the whales’ physical therapy.
“We got to see her in a stable environment, which was great,” she said.
The team plans to visit the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota and the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in March to learn more about rehabilitation.