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Former Student Rhiannon Nechero: Feeling Fin-tastic    

January 13, 2023


Former student Rhiannon Nechero at her internship at Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder Facility in Key Largo, Florida.

By Andrea Bolt

A childhood visit to SeaWorld sparked Rhiannon Nechero's love for marine mammal conservation. Now, that love is leading her there again.

Nechero graduated from Texas A&M University at Galveston in May of this year with a Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology, her lifelong passion. “Then,” she said with a laugh, “I packed a bag and headed to Florida!”

Nechero landed an internship at the Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder Facility in Key Largo, a critical step leading to her latest career move with SeaWorld in San Antonio.

As an animal care and training intern at the Florida facility, Nechero learned how to handle the everyday cleaning and maintenance duties, fish preparation, enrichment activities, and overall daily operations. She was involved in housing, caring for, and teaching about the six Atlantic bottlenose dolphins onsite.

Nechero is passionate about guest education and interaction sessions. She loved the opportunity to have one-on-one time with visitors to share conservation and education information about the beloved species.

“We talked to guests about all the research being done at the facility to benefit the species as a whole, and the rescue work they do as well,” she explained, “Like, of course, they come for the interaction part, to get in the water with these animals, but to see them walk away with that conservation knowledge they didn’t have before was really awesome.”

Nechero had experience thanks to her time volunteering with the Gulf Center for Sea Turtle Research as an Aggie by the Sea. The volunteering and course credit experience was, for Nechero, nothing short of “absolutely amazing.”

“I got to volunteer with the stranding team and the rehabilitation hospital, the nesting team, do educational outreach…I can’t emphasize enough all that I learned, and how educational it was for me,” she says.

“Students like Rhiannon are integral in our mission of expanding the monitoring and conservation capacity in the western portion of the Gulf of Mexico,” said Dr. Christopher Marshall, director of The Gulf Center for Sea Turtle Research and marine biology professor. “Her work and the continuing work of the Center and our partners will protect and restore sea turtle populations for generations to come.” 

Rhiannon Nechero sitting on a platform facing a dolphin in the water at her internship. Rhiannon's hand is touching the dolphin's snout.    Rhiannon Nechero swimming with a dolphin.

Combined with her classroom knowledge, thanks to the Department of Marine Biology’s Dr. Lene Petersen’s animal behavior and comparative physiology courses, the budding marine biologist and marine mammal trainer has recently accepted a position at her “dream facility.”

“I feel really grateful,” Nechero says, reflecting on her learning experiences, as well as her impending move back to Texas in the coming weeks. “This step is huge for me.”

After she advanced in her internship at the Dolphins Plus Marine Mammal Responder facility, Nechero dove into even more hands-on training and husbandry opportunities. She helped to train a “fountain behavior” in a young Atlantic bottlenose male dolphin named Tug, using positive reinforcement to help him learn a simultaneous splash and tail flick movement around the perimeter of the site’s lagoon.

Nechero feels showing visitors how incredible the animals are, with their intelligence and capabilities, is key to encouraging the next generation to care for and conserve the species.

“Developing this skill set, continuing to expand on my knowledge in such hands-on ways and just gain more confidence has helped me so much. I encourage other people wanting to do this to just keep an open mind–take advantage of all the experiences that come your way. Definitely get your dive certification, and any opportunity that you get with public speaking, do it!”

As SeaWorld’s newest husbandry assistant, Nechero will be working with sea lions and looks forward to the next wave of her career.

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Media contact:
marcom@tamug.edu


Texas A&M University at Galveston is the marine and maritime branch campus of Texas A&M University which educates nearly 2,300 undergraduate and graduate students in science, business, engineering, liberal arts and transportation. It is driving the development of the blue economy in the Gulf Coast Region and is a critical contributor to Texas A&M's rare land-, sea-, space-grant mission with nearly $10 million in research expenditures.

Texas A&M-Galveston is also home to the Texas A&M Maritime Academy, one of six state maritime academies and the only one in the southern United States, which trains over 400 cadets annually for maritime service and employment around the world.

Texas A&M-Galveston is located in Galveston, Texas on the Gulf Coast where it is surrounded by industry, environment and programs essential to fulfilling its special-purpose mission. Aggies are known for their deep commitment to the success of each other and their strong desire to serve.