Cronen’s internship at Mote deepens her love for animals
It is 11 a.m. on a Saturday morning, and the mammal center at Mote Marine Laboratory is growing more packed with each passing second. Sophomore Nikki Cronen takes guests on tours around the center, briefing them on the lives of the mammals. For her, showcasing the animals in the center is more than just a job; it is the chance to share an animal’s story with the public and to educate the people on the closely-knit relationship between mammals and humans.
When she heard Saint Stephen’s offered a Mote Marine internship, Cronen jumped at the idea last September.
“I’ve known that I’ve always wanted to [pursue] the career of marine mammal training, and I thought this would be a really great experience,” she said.
Because of her passion for animals, Cronen was able to easily immerse herself in the lives of the sea creatures at Mote. She quickly obtained a position at the mammal center and penguin exhibit.
Cronen said working with the penguins is a unique opportunity, especially since they will only be on exhibit until April.
“I tell people about the penguins and try to do some crowd control when feeding time comes around. I also have an immense amount of fun watching the little guys,” she said.
What keeps Cronen motivated is her love for not only eventually pursuing a career as a mammal trainer but also educating the public on how closely animals and humans are related. Animals and humans rely upon each other for survival, she said.
“We’re responsible for the endangerment of numerous species of sea turtles, penguins, manatees and countless other animals,” Cronen said.
“We’ve destroyed entire ecosystems and then completely disregarded our actions. I’ve seen that we as humans are the only ones who can correct our own mistakes.”
Some of the animals Mote rescues are ones humans have injured. Hang Tough, a green sea turtle, is completely blind. He was found with life-threatening head injuries, which have severed his optic nerve. Mote greatly improved his health, she said.
Through the opportunity to see her fellow trainers work with Hang Tough, Cronen has a greater appreciation for the amount of training that is involved with teaching the sea turtle how to survive. She said she has developed has a great amount of respect for staff’s devotion.
For Cronen, actively protecting the rights of these animals and successfully educating the public on what they can do to help is the most self-gratifying feeling.
“I can give animals who have been dealt troubles by humans a second chance. I can further the connection with these animals that I’ve always felt and help improve their lives. The feelings I get when I’m anywhere near a manatee, a sea turtle or a penguin is what I live for,” she said.