For the Love of Pinnipeds

For the Love of Pinnipeds

I love pinnipeds, plain and simple, which is what prompted me to spend the summer of 2012 in southern Brazil.

As part of the Post-Graduate Certificate in IVM, students are required to perform at least one International Summer Research Project. As I entered into my second year of veterinary school, I prepared to identify my own project. Though the IVM program at Cummings School is vast, and there were a number of international projects that professors were involved in that I could have pursued, none of them included pinnipeds.

Persistence, hard work and luck

One of the wonderful things about Cummings School faculty is that they always seem willing to help pursue individual passions.  After speaking with my IVM mentor about my desire to study pinnipeds, we started looking for a project. The field of marine mammal medicine is inherently difficult to get in to, and it took months of persistence, hard work, and luck before we finally connected with a veterinarian in Brazil who was happy to have me come study parasites in pinnipeds at a marine animal rehabilitation facility. If it wasn’t for the Cummings School faculty who helped me fight for this, I never would have attained my dream.

First impressions

Although I love traveling, adventures, and experiencing new things, I can be anxious and become overwhelmed by completely new situations.  Indeed, I was overwhelmed and a bit homesick when I first got to Brazil.  I didn’t speak Portuguese and I didn’t know anyone (yet). Initially, I questioned my ability to get through the summer there.

Yet, like all other new situations, I settled in, and, was completely blown away by how welcoming and kind the people were to me in Brazil.  My colleagues went out of their way to drive me to and from work, take me to the grocery store, translate Portuguese, teach me, open their homes to me, include me in social activities, and to help me feel as at home as I possibly could.


Kristy, 3rd from the right, with the team from CRAM.

Though most of the people at the marine center spoke English, a few of them did not.  Together we found more creative ways to communicate. There was, of course, translation by the English speakers.  There was miming.  There was Google Translate.  Some people who did not speak English did speak Spanish.  I have a very elementary ability to understand and speak Spanish, and we would often try to talk in broken Spanish. Over time we were able to not only communicate needs, but to get to know and like each other, and laugh.

Living the dream

I worked at the Centro de Recuperação de Animais Marinhos (CRAM—Center for the Recovery of Marine Animals), in Rio Grande, on the southern coast of Brazil.  The work I was doing there was essentially what I had dreamed of doing my entire life.  My daily routine involved caring for wild pinnipeds, penguins, sea turtles, and marine birds that were being rehabilitated.  This included any number of the following:  cleaning, sorting fish, tube feeding, animal restraint, washing oil off penguins, and a number of other husbandry tasks.



Kristy, on right, holds a penguin.

While the mornings were spent taking care of the animals, the afternoons were focused on research.  I was studying respiratory and gastrointestinal parasites of pinnipeds, which included collecting fecal samples to analyze under the microscope and performing necropsies to collect parasites.  The work wasn’t glamorous, but I loved every second of it.

Like in most research, the final identification of the parasites and analysis took quite a lot of time, and I have to thank my Brazilian associates for dedicating their time to this work.  There was a lot of international communication and collaboration that went into this, and I am thankful and proud to say that the findings of this collaborative study was ultimately published in a 2016 issue of The Journal of Zoo and Wildlife Medicine.