Wildlife Research: Andy Garrett

Andy manages the Marine Mammal Pathobiology Laboratory (MMPL) and coordinates staff at the MMPL in responding to live and dead marine mammal strandings and necropsy. He also serves as Florida's manatee rescue coordinator.

Andy GarrettDegrees
Marine Science with a Concentration in Biology, Eckerd College, 1999

I graduated from Eckerd College with a degree in Marine Science.

I always enjoyed the water and especially the life beneath it. I grew up fishing on lakes in the Midwest, and although it wasn't the ocean, it did spark an interest to study marine life. I earned a degree in Marine Science at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida. Throughout my life, I have always been interested in studying large marine animals. When a job opened up at the path lab after graduation, I knew that this job would give me an opportunity to study marine mammals.

From June 1999 to June 2005 I worked at the Marine Mammal Pathobiology Lab (MMPL) in St. Petersburg, Florida. My primary duties at the lab during this period included the salvage and necropsy of stranded marine mammals in Florida. A majority of the dead marine mammals I worked with were manatees, but I also gained experience recovering and necropsying bottlenose dolphins (and other small cetaceans) as wellas large whales (i.e. sperm whales). During this time, I was also able to spend some time in Sausalito, CA working with live and dead stranded California sea lions and seals at the Marine Mammal Center.

While at the MMPL, I was also able to gain valuable experience in capturing, handling, and taking biomedical samples from manatees and dolphins. I served as the captain of the manatee capture boat and helped coordinate manatee rescue and research captures out of the path lab.

In June 2005, I was promoted to a marine mammal field lab coordinator in Jacksonville, Florida. My primary duties included managing the marine mammal carcass salvage and rescue for northeast Florida, assisting the right whale research program, and coordinating the FWC's manatee capture and rescue efforts. While in Jacksonville, I became trained and certified to respond and assist in efforts to disentangle large whales in Florida and I was able to use this training on several occasions and successfully disentangled a Humpback whale. During my time at the Jacksonville Field Laboratory, I also received training in right whale photo identification and right whale dart biopsy.

In June 2007, I returned to the MMPL as a research administrator. In this current position, I manage the MMPL and coordinate staff at the MMPL in responding to live and dead marine mammal strandings and necropsy. I still continue to serve as Florida's manatee rescue coordinator.

Over the past eight years, I have also had the opportunity to capture and handle manatees in Belize, Puerto Rico, Georgia, and throughout Florida for both rescue and research capture operations. I have also worked with several organizations and agencies that deal with marine mammals in Florida and the Caribbean.


What are you working on now?
I recently returned from Crystal River where I was working with the US Geological Survey's Sirenia Project to capture and perform health assessments on manatees wintering in King's Bay. This process involved setting nets around manatees that were using the King's Bay area and pulling them to shore. Once on shore, a team of biologists and veterinarians obtained biomedical samples (including blood and skins samples), photographed scars, and obtained a weight and then released the manatee back into the water.

What would you say is your biggest accomplishment?
I believe that my biggest accomplishment is the knowledge that I have gained over the past eight years working with live and dead marine mammals in Florida. I feel that I have used this knowledge to better our understanding of the marine mammals in Florida. I also feel that my hard work and dedication has helped to contribute to better protection and conservation of marine mammals in Florida.

What do you like most about your career?
I enjoy waking up in the morning and not knowing what my day will be like. Because of the uncertainties of my job, I often arrive at the lab not knowing if I will be heading out to do a rescue or heading into the lab to necropsy a manatee. This uncertainty keeps me on my toes.

Another aspect of my job that I enjoy is rescuing injured manatees. It can be hard work catching and handling manatees, but it is also quite rewarding. Releasing a manatee back into the wild is particularly satisfying when I helped with its rescue. Knowing that I gave that manatee another chance at life keeps me doing this job.

What do you like least about your career?
There are a few aspects of my job that I can dislike. One of my primary duties at the lab is to assist with manatee and dolphin necropsies. On occasion it can be difficult to see dead animals on a daily basis. It is especially difficult working on animals that have been killed because of human-related activities. Pregnant female manatees that have been struck and killed by boats can be particularly upsetting.

This job can require long hours and often requires unexpected weekend and holiday work. This can be difficult, especially when I have plans with family or friends.

What are some of your biggest challenges?
Some of the biggest challenges at the lab are trying to accomplish all the jobs I have been assigned to do. I lead a very active life, and sometimes I have to put my life on hold to rescue or necropsy manatees. This is usually a sacrifice I gladly accept, but it can be difficult when I have to cancel plans with friends. Coordinating manatee rescues can also be a challenge. Because we never have advance warning about injured manatees, rescues can happen any time of day or night. Trying to find people that are ready to go and getting the rescuers to the injured animal can be quite a task.

What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career in your field?
My first suggestion would be to find an organization and either volunteer or become an intern. Usually these programs can give you a taste of what the field is like. Often organizations will hire volunteers and interns if a job opens. My other suggestion would be to take advantage of opportunity, and learn as much as you can. If you are interested in a certain field, it would be good to read up on the important issues concerning that field.

FWC Facts:
Four species of horseshoe crabs exist today. Only one species, Limulus polyphemus, is found in North America, along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts from Maine to Mexico.

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