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Shelley Dawicki
508 495-2378

August 25, 2008
166 Water Street
Woods Hole MA 02543

Ellen Gawarkiewicz (Falmouth, Mass.)

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Gawarkiewicz works with Bumper, a blind harbor seal, in the Aquarium's seal pool. Handlers are training him to come to the target (the blue float on the end of the pole) and reward him with fish. LuSeal is visible in the background. (Credit: Woods Hole Science Aquarium/NOAA)

Gawarkiewicz poses with Lavender, an endangered Kemp's Ridley turtle, during a routine medical check. The marine turtle spent part of its rehabilitation at the Woods Hole Science Aquarium before being released in July 2008, equipped with a satellite tag on its back for tracking. (Credit: Woods Hole Science Aquarium/NOAA)

Related Links
Woods Hole Science Aquarium
Bradford E. Brown Student Internship Program

“I had no idea what I was getting into, but it has been so much fun,” Ellen Gawarkiewicz said of her five-week summer internship at the Woods Hole Science Aquarium. “But I especially loved working with the kids who visit and come to the touch tanks.”

The Falmouth High School senior plans to pursue a career in marine biology or marine environmental education, and always thought working at the aquarium would be a dream job. Despite growing up in Falmouth and visiting the aquarium often with her family and with school groups, she admits she never realized what went into running a facility that welcomes 100,000 visitors a year, many of them children.

The Woods Hole Science Aquarium (WHSA) is the oldest continuously operating research aquarium in the United States, with a mission to do research, education and conservation, especially with seals and turtles. As one of eight high school students and three college interns at the facility this summer, she learned plenty about seals through feeding, training and enrichment activities with the WHSA’s two resident harbor seals, LuSeal and Bumper.

“It was so cool to feed the seals, which I watched for years as a visitor,” she said. “I also loved the collecting trips, when we went to local harbors and beaches to collect specimens for the tanks and just to learn about the marine life in local waters. It was nice to be able to share what I learned about the animals with the young kids on the beach who see us collecting and ask questions, and with the children who visit the touch tanks.”

As an intern, Gawarkiewicz had a daily routine of cleaning tanks, preparing meals and feeding the various animals, and making the rounds at the start and end of each day to make sure all the animals were okay. The group attended seminars and lectures to learn about marine research and the care of marine animals, and visited the Buttonwood Park Zoo in New Bedford, Maria Mitchell Association Aquarium on Nantucket and other local organizations that maintain animals for research and education purposes.

“I was so excited to come to work each day,” she said of the experience. “Each day was different and it was so much fun. I especially loved working with the children.”

As a senior at Falmouth High School this fall, Ellen has a full plate of activities. She has been class president since 2007, is a member of the National Honor Society, the music and math honor societies, and is a member of the Key, Creative Writing, Ecology and French clubs as well as the chamber music ensemble. She earned a first place award in the Falmouth Community Science Fairs in 2006, 2007 and 2008. This past year she did her research project for the science fair at the WHSA, focusing on the prey response to echolocation and vocalization capabilities of marine mammals.

When not busy with a demanding class schedule and school activities, Gawarkiewicz tutors second grade math students and teaches flute to fourth graders. She enjoys hiking, biking and kayaking, works part-time at the Falmouth Cinema Pub, and volunteers in church and community activities.

“I learned so much about fish this summer,” she said. “I had never been to Nantucket until our field trip to the aquarium there, and we visited the Marine Resource Center at the Marine Biological Laboratory to see how they culture marine animals for research.”

One thing is certain: she will never look at the WHSA the same way again.  “I appreciate it much more now that I have had the opportunity to get behind the scenes and see how much effort goes into running the facility. And I know for sure that I want to work with students in some type of outreach program like this in the future.”

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