Reaching the End: Recalling my best (and worst) memories

As we approach the final week of our field site (crazy!!) I am flooded with all of the amazing memories we have created here on the Outer Banks. I couldn’t pick just one, so I decided to tell you about a few of my favorites:

  • The unfortunate ending to a beautiful day (how I finally broke my worst habit)
    On one of the first days of our orientation, I rode in the car with our instructor Lindsay, and in conversation told her about how I have a terrible habit of locking my keys in my car in very inconvenient places. Little did I know, I would be demonstrating this horrible habit to the whole group months later on a field trip to Hatteras (about an hour and a half from my house where my spare key sat in my room). At one of our stops on the way to Hatteras, I got out of my car to find a big, fuzzy caterpillar making its way across the parking lot. Excited to show everyone, I shut my car door with only my phone in hand. Minutes later, I stopped in my tracks, knowing what I had done. After the group helped brainstorm how I could break into my own car, Andy graciously offered to call his AAA and get them to come to my rescue. What we thought would be a quick fix ended up being almost two hours of sitting at a picnic table by the water waiting for the tow truck. Andy (my hero) waited with me while everyone else returned home. During this time, I observed a cormorant for far too long, then Andy and I got to watch a family of tourists attempt to paddle board for the first time, which was very entertaining. After feeling so guilty, I made a point to never lock my keys in my car again.

The cormorant that became my friend :’)

  • Visiting the mystical land of mermaids
    The Army Corps of Engineers Research Pier in Duck had always been a big mystery to me and my friends that grew up on the Outer Banks. It was always closed off to the public and has an ominous gate that opens up to a long gravel road. Since we were young, we were convinced that they had discovered mermaids and were keeping them somewhere on the end of the pier. A few weeks ago, when I found out that we were getting the chance to take a tour of the research facility, I was thrilled. I immediately texted my friends that I was on a mission to discover the mermaids. We got to the pier and were greeted by the lovely Heidi Wadman who gave us a brief tour of the area, some cool equipment, and explained some of the things that happen there. Due to COVID restrictions, we unfortunately could not go inside the building (so I did not get to find the mermaids, even though Heidi said there were none). We walked to the end of the pier and it was an amazing view (although it was covered with a thick layer of bird poop). It was amazing getting to tour a place that not many people get to see.


  • My peaceful escape from reality
    I think I can speak for us all when I say it was an exceptionally stressful few weeks of election season at the beginning of November, especially when we needed to be focusing on wrapping up our classes and getting to work on our Capstone. One of those mornings, I decided I needed an escape to calm my nerves and distract me for a while. As I was headed to take a walk on the beach, I decided instead to go to a place we visited earlier in our semester—Pea Island Wildlife Refuge. This is an amazing place that I have taken for granted all my life living on the Outer Banks. I grabbed my Front Porch coffee and began down the trail, passing several kind people who I can only assume were there for the same reason I was. I watched the billowing smoke of a marsh fire a few minutes down the road until I made it halfway down the trail where I sat down on a bench and watched the thousands of birds all gathered together on the water. The air was filled with only the sounds of the feeding birds, crashing waves in the distance, and occasional passing cars. I was overwhelmed with a feeling of serenity that I very much needed. It was a very memorable moment for me because I got so lost taking in everything around me, I didn’t even know how long I was sitting there. That feeling of peace turned my day around, and I will definitely be taking more advantage of that special place.



Not only has this field site introduced me to such amazing people, but it also made me appreciate my home so much more. 🙂

– Emma Bancroft (Class of 2022)

An Internship on the Water: My Experience with OBX Center for Dolphin Research

Growing up on the Outer Banks, I spent every summer on the beach watching the dolphins pass by every once and a while. Sometimes if we were lucky, we could watch them ride the waves or playfully splash in the distance. I always loved watching them, but I never really knew much about them or even thought of them inhabiting any other place than the ocean. Early this semester as I looked through past internships to decide what I would like doing for the next few months, an opportunity with the Outer Banks Center for Dolphin Research really stood out to me. I knew that I wanted to do something involving research or field work, preferably something where I could be outdoors. The start of the semester was filled with uncertainty and new challenges for all of us. We really had no idea what to expect from our internships due to COVID, but luckily I was able to have a safe, hands-on experience while many others had to do everything remotely.

This semester, I worked alongside Jessica Taylor—the executive director of OBXCDR. When the weather was suitable on the weekends (which unfortunately was not very often), I was given the opportunity to join her on boat surveys on the Roanoke Sound to locate and photograph bottlenose dolphins. On the surveys, I was the designated data-recorder while Jess would photograph their dorsal fins. I would write down observations and details about the dolphin sightings including group size, observed activity of the dolphins, and weather conditions. We also took water quality measurements such as water temperature and salinity in certain locations along the route and during sightings. On my first survey, I learned that each dolphin has a unique dorsal fin that makes them recognizable. When Jess started to refer to them by name as soon as she saw them, I was shocked. It fascinated me that these dolphins were so well-known and frequently sighted in the area, and knowing many of them had names made me feel more connected to them.

Also, on the first survey I went on, as we were stopped at one location to take water measurements, an 80-foot yacht casually cruised by us. As it continued ahead of us, we read “Catch 23” written across the back, and quickly realized it was Michael Jordan’s fishing boat. Sadly, we did not see him on it, but I like to think that he was inside observing our dolphin research.

(Since I was busy recording data during sightings, I unfortunately did not think to take my own pictures of the dolphins, but I do have a picture on the boat with Jess’s puppy Lulu in her fancy lifejacket.)

My semester-long project for my internship was to compare a set of frequently-sighted dolphins in the Roanoke Sound to an online catalog of dorsal fin photos from Beaufort, NC. The goal of this project was to update a previous comparison done in 2016 and have a better understanding of the travel patterns of bottlenose dolphin stocks in order to better manage and protect their populations. I used the Mid-Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin Catalog that includes various photo catalogs from different locations across the coast. The process of comparing the Outer Banks and Beaufort catalogs was very time-consuming and involved scrolling through thousands of photos of dorsal fins, all with slightly unique characteristics. Although it did take a lot of time, it felt like a fun puzzle trying to find matching fins. I ended up finding four matches from my sample of 25. It was a very interesting project for me, and I am very glad I was able to go on the surveys in person to see the actual photographing process as well.

Although I may not end up working specifically with dolphins in the future, this internship did give me great exposure to research experience and validated my interest in doing research and field work in my future career. Jess was a fantastic mentor and gave me opportunities to continue working and volunteering with them after my internship is over. For anyone in future field sites who has an interest in marine biology or research in general, this is a great experience, especially if you like being on the water.

– Emma Bancroft, UNC Class of 2022