Intern of the Year Studies Shark Spines

Erin Tate was an animal behavior research intern at the Florida Aquarium.

Published: Apr 5, 2011
Erin Tate ’11 was selected by the Office of Career Services as UT’s first Intern of the Year.
Erin Tate ’11 was selected by the Office of Career Services as UT’s first Intern of the Year.
Erin Tate ’11 spent hours watching videos of sand tiger sharks circling in their tanks, looking for the slightest clues as to why this type of shark develops more spinal deformities in captivity than other kinds of sharks.

Tate was an animal behavior research intern at the Florida Aquarium during the 2009-2010 academic year. Working with researchers, she analyzed data, interpreted the results, presented her findings at the Sixth International Symposium on Aquatic Animal Health and will publish her results in a research journal. This spring Tate was selected by the Office of Career Services as UT’s first Intern of the Year.

“I was nervous speaking at the conference, but I learned how to collect myself around other scientists, networked with colleagues and gained composure in speaking in front of a big audience,” said Tate, of Ridge Farm, IL. “I was so proud when it was done. It’s definitely going to be one of my best memories.”

Tate’s passion is wildlife, specifically field research, animal behavior and husbandry of animals in captivity. During her internship she spent many weekends scoring data, giving up her social life for research but being immersed in the scientific process and designing experiments.

“I had to learn a sense of personal responsibility,” said Tate, a biology major. “There were times when it was repetitious and tedious, but I knew it would add up to a greater goal and that was worth it.”

Tate said she helped discover, as part of a bigger research project on the swimming behavior of sharks, a correlation between tank size and spinal deformities.

“I hope the research enhances the welfare for sharks, making life better for them in captivity,” she said.

Dan Huber, the assistant professor of biology who introduced Tate to the internship opportunity, said Tate’s experience was enhanced by her willingness to learn.

“She fully engaged herself in the project instead of just going through the motions, which resulted in her being an important collaborator alongside various people with doctoral degrees and degrees in veterinary medicine,” said Huber, a shark expert. “Her data collection and analysis has helped us to identify the behavioral signs of developing spinal deformities in these sharks, which will hopefully lead to early diagnoses and treatment of these animals.”
 

Jamie Pilarczyk, Web Writer
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