An Internship You'll Flip for: Working with Military Dolphins

Military DolphinsIt may not pay anything, but the experience is priceless. The Navy's Marine Mammal Program is offering student internships at its marine mammal facility in San Diego, where participants will be involved with either animal care and training or veterinary medicine.

Program background

The Navy's Marine Mammal Program actually extends beyond just dolphins. Several species of whales are used, including pilot, beluga, and killer (orcas), as well as various species of seals and sea lions. These animals are used in a variety of tasks such as mine hunting, object recovery, and force protection.

The animals are divided into various teams, each of which has a specialized function. Dolphins used in mine hunting actually locate and place physical markers on underwater mines. Sea lions used on object recover can dive to depths of over 1,000 feet and tie a tether to lost objects, so that they can be recovered. Both sea lions and dolphins are used for force protection patrols, which involves a variety of tasks, including marking enemy divers.

The mission requirement of military working mammals provides an extremely unique opportunity for budding veterinarians and developing marine biologists. The fact that these animals train and work in open water, and are transported around the world to complete their missions, means that these animals have extremely unique veterinary and husbandry needs.

Undergrad program

In the Animal Care and Training Internship Program, undergraduate students will actually gain hands-on experience with marine mammals, and will do a number of support tasks with dolphins and sea lions, including diet preparation, sanitation, and equipment and facility maintenance.

Interns also get to assist the marine mammal training staff in husbandry and open ocean training, and provide support to the animal care staff during animal physicals and assist with a number of different marine mammal research projects.

In addition, there will be plenty of informative lectures and field trips, best suited for juniors and seniors in fields such as biology, zoology, marine science, animal behavior, psychology, and veterinary science.

It is, however, a substantial commitment. The volunteer program requires that students dedicate 40 hours per week for 16 consecutive weeks. Students are responsible for their own transportation and housing arrangements, and must be U.S. citizens in a U.S.-accredited school within the United States.

Veterinary program

But there's another option: the Veterinary Medical Externship, which is designed for veterinary students, preferably during their senior level or fourth year at an accredited veterinary college. Four students are selected each year to participate in the four- to six-week externship; only one student is on-site at a time. During this time, they will observe and participate in various clinical activities under the direction of the veterinary staff. In addition, they are expected to select and complete a clinical project in marine mammal medicine during their stay.

To apply for the Animal Care and Training Internships, send a resume, letter of intent including career goals and reasons for wanting the internship, a copy of your transcripts, proof of medical insurance, proof of U.S. citizenship, and a minimum of three letters of recommendation from professors or employers, to this address:

Attn: Coordinator of Volunteer Opportunities
Space and Naval Warfare Systems Center Pacific, Code 71510
53560 Hull Street
San Diego, CA 92152,
or fax it to (619) 553-2678.

Students interested in the Veterinary Medical Externship should also send a letter to the same address. The letter should include reasons for wanting to participate in the program and dates of availability. It's best to list at least three prioritized availability dates. In addition, you must submit a curriculum vitae, two letters of reference, and proof of U.S. citizenship.

For more information about any of the Navy Marine Mammal Programs internships, send an e-mail to

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