Jasmine Haddad, senior psychology major, spent last summer working as an intern for the Water Planet USA dolphin therapy program in Panama City Beach, Florida. Haddad had various jobs both on land and in the water.
While on land she assisted with therapy programs and activities that help people with various physical or developmental disabilities improve their capability in areas such as speech, motor skills, mobility, and more. While in the water Haddad helped both tourists and therapy patients safely swim with wild dolphins in a way that allowed humans and dolphins to feel protected and secure.
Water Planet USA is an eco-friendly company that provides opportunities for tourists to enjoy special interactions with wild dolphins, while simultaneously providing a safe scenario for the dolphins themselves. Water Planet USA also works with people with mental and physical disabilities by providing dolphin-assisted therapy.
Most companies use domesticated dolphins in their dolphin-assisted therapy programs, however, Water Planet USA allows people to interact with wild dolphins in the ocean. While most similar programs work with people and dolphins over the course of one month or one year, Water Planet USA works with their clients over a time frame of about a week.
“Even in working with these people for such a limited amount of time, I did see improvements in motor skills such as mobility and balance,” said Haddad. In general, “Animal-assisted therapy programs are used to improve speech and motor skills in people who have various developmental or physical conditions,” said Haddad. “I worked with more common conditions such as autism and very rare conditions such as Penta X syndrome.”
The Water Planet USA internship program accepts four new applicants from around the world each month. Haddad, however, had the opportunity to stay for two full months. “I was the only one without a completed bachelor’s who got the position. I worked with interns from many countries including Canada, Hungary, Russia, and Australia,” she said.
“As an intern, I spent upwards of 35 hours a week on the ocean, and I can happily say that I saw at least one dolphin every time I went out on the boats, although most of those times it was a lot more than one,” said Haddad. “I was also excited by the other critters I got to see and share with those around me such as sea urchins, stingrays, sea turtles, and jellyfish. (I got stung a few times and it HURT.) On one occasion I aided in the rescue of a brown pelican that was entangled in about 20 feet of fishing line.”
During her internship, Haddad made friendships and professional connections that she continues to maintain. “I was really excited about the variety of people I met both in the therapy programs and those who I worked with. Everyone I met was so wonderfully caring. My favorite thing about my time in Florida was the friendships I made,” Haddad said. “The people I got to meet were truly amazing, and we still talk every week.”
Posted May 13, 2019