A Part of Something Greater

Working on the isolation of fatty acids from Arctic Greenland Killer Whale samples.
Working on the isolation of fatty acids from Arctic Greenland Killer Whale samples.

Two years ago, I began looking for research opportunities to get involved with. As a pre-veterinary student, I was looking for research experience to add to my resume. But unbeknownst to me, this opportunity opened my eyes to something bigger than just working in a laboratory. I now perceive the world in a different light and understand the importance of research. I have grown as an individual because of the knowledge I have attained.

When I inquired on the types of research professors at UConn are conducting came across a topic that really interested me. Dr. Melissa McKinney, an assistant professor in the Natural Resources Department, explained how she collects data to evaluate the anthropogenic effects on Killer Whale feeding habits and bio-accumulation of chemical contamination.

As a new student, I worked on an experiment that resulted in the isolation of fatty acids from blubber samples of killer whales and several other kinds of marine mammals, as well as samples from prey fish species. The measurement and comparison of fatty acids is a useful tool in obtaining the fatty acid profile of an individual animal. We can compare each individual’s profile and determine their food source. Due to global warming and climate change, ice melt has caused a shift in the patterns of Arctic Greenland Killer Whale migration which has resulted in changes to their feeding habits. The hypothesis concludes that they are now feeding more on smaller marine mammals and less on fish. This alteration in the food web may have significant impact on the marine ecosystem due to the dynamic changes in species’ populations.

Photo of a Killer Whale taken by the National Park Service.
Photo of a Killer Whale taken by the National Park Service.

The field of research is crucial in advancing the planet. I realize that studying different ecological systems is important to find and confirm data which may suggest that the system is functioning properly or not working well. Figuring out the cause and effects of today’s biggest issues concerning climate change helps scientists and researchers advocate for changes that increase the life of our planet and its ecosystems. Policies and laws can be adjusted to suit ecological needs that are important to humans as well.

As an individual, I have changed a lot about myself to help the planet. I have reduced my carbon foot print by recycling, carpooling, planting and growing my own food, and decreasing my consumption of animal product. These changes are small steps in reducing my carbon footprint and preserving the life of our planet and the animals that depend on it. Recycling conserves the planet’s natural resources and backyard planting helps increase biodiversity. By reducing my meat and dairy intake, I am decreasing the support of food industries that emit an excessive amount of greenhouse gasses into the environment. Carpooling is another way to cut down on the release of carbon dioxide and other pollutants into the air. It’s not about being extreme and changing one’s lifestyle drastically, but rather doing small things each day that help the planet. If everyone understood the impact each of their actions had, the quality of life for everyone and every animal around the world would increase.

Finding this research opportunity has really opened my eyes to the small things people do every day that negatively impact the planet. I stop and think about what affect will my next step have on the planet. Will it be a positive one? I seek to improve my daily actions and contribute to the quality of life on Earth. I enjoy being a part of the research performed by Dr. McKinney because it contributes to something bigger than myself.