College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

Senior Biology Major’s Oceans Research Internship Includes Breaking World Record

 

Martha Frances Dalton of Corinth, a senior biology major at the University of Mississippi, interned in southern Africa last summer with the Oceans Research program, which provides and facilitates research relevant to the management and conservation of marine life.

Highlights of the experience, she said, included breaking a world record for tracking a great white shark, scuba diving with sharks to monitor their continuing presence in a given area and observing a white shark leap clear of the water in a natural predatory interaction with seals.

Dalton is a member of UM’s Sally McDonnell Honors College, which provided a stipend for the internship.

“Without the Honors College, none of this would have been possible,” she said. “This was my first encounter with any sort of scientific research. The knowledge and firsthand experience that I acquired will stay with me as I decide my future educational and occupational goals. This internship also guided me in some decisions regarding the subject matter of my senior honors thesis.”

 

Dalton was stationed for a month at Mossel Bay, South Africa, where her team collected data to monitor the abundance and behavior of great white sharks, which are at the top of the food chain and frequent the bay to hunt for resident Cape fur seals and the numerous species of pelagic fish.

On this charge, she was on a research team that broke the world record for the longest manual acoustic tracking of a great white.

“We tracked Pinocchio, a white female, for 106 consecutive hours,” she said. “Though this was definitely a highlight of my experiences, it was a demanding goal that required long work hours and several cold, all-night shifts on our research vessel.”

Prey-predator interactions were also observed, including hunting strategies of great whites and avoidance strategies used by seals. A natural predatory interaction occurs when the mammoth great white leaps clear of the water to snare a resident Cape fur seal at the surface, “which is a rare strategy that only takes place in a select few places in the world,” Dalton said.

“We were stationed in an area where observing a white shark breach in a predation attempt is fairly common in the winter, and being present for such a natural phenomenon is something I will never forget,” Dalton said.

On another monthlong assignment, she was stationed in Scottburgh, South Africa, where interns would dive with blacktip and sand tiger sharks to record the abundance of the animals and other related statistics. They also aided in the analysis of coral reef health in the area.

Dalton’s internship coincided with her being in South Africa while the 2010 FIFA World Cup was taking place.

“I traveled to Port Elizabeth to watch a first round Greece vs. South Korea match and to Cape Town for the second round Spain vs. Portugal match,” she said. “I also spent some time in Jeffrey’s Bay, South Africa, to watch the Billabong Pro international surfing competition. Needless to say, all these events were highlights of my summer, as well.”

Dalton, who received academic credit for her internship, is slated to graduate from UM in May. Her honors include membership in Phi Kappa Phi, the university’s highest overall academic honorary; and Mortar Board, a national honor society recognizing outstanding scholarship, leadership and service; and Phi Beta Kappa, the nation’s oldest and most prestigious liberal arts honor society.

While Dalton comes from a family of UM supporters, she said, “The opportunities and benefits offered by the Honors College were the real reasons I chose Ole Miss.”

The Honors College provides undergraduate students from all disciplines with a vibrant center of academic excellence, merging intellectual vigor with public service, to help them become outstanding in their fields and engaged citizens of their communities. For more information, visit http://www.honors.olemiss.edu/.

A graduate of Corinth High School, Dalton is the daughter of Dr. Frank and Mrs. Katie Dalton.