Bárbara Cartagena Matos, research student – My Fulbright Experience
For a field biologist, personal and career experiences often go hand-in-hand, and for the past five years, throughout my bachelors’ degree, I had these experiences in Europe, South America, and northern Africa. However, I wanted that ultimate adventure, as well as the opportunity to continue to do field research in a wild, cold, beautiful land, and I got all that in Alaska. Through the Fulbright research scholarship, and as a master’s thesis, I had the opportunity to do what I love, which is traveling while researching the behavior of wild mammals, and so, I researched the feeding habits of sea otters in a small community of Alaska, called Sitka. I wanted to know how sea otters choose their prey, more specifically, if sea otters choose prey according to their nutritional value. This type of research is very emergent in Behavioral Ecology, and it has never been done with a wild marine carnivore mammal.
With the help of my supervisor, professor Heidi Pearson from the University of Alaska Southeast, I was able to put together a project and enough contacts to help me through this research. During my stay in Alaska, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work alongside brilliant scientists in my field of expertise – Behavioral Ecology of Marine Mammals – from the UAS, Sitka Sound Science Center, and NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center.
Adapting to life in Alaska was easy. It was not my first time living in a different country, and life in Alaska combined with my personality. Sitka is a very small town, where the relationship between Americans, native people, and wildlife is strong. Alaska is a bit expensive, but I was able to live and work as a volunteer at the local Hostel and that enabled me to see what it is to live in a community where everyone helps each other, with an amazing friendly energy, especially in the scientific community. Even though it was cold and rainy almost all the time!
I’ll forever hold close to my heart the life I had ‘into the wild’, but now I’m excited to be back home, and input here what I’ve learned there. I am most certain that my Fulbright experience will open a lot of opportunities for me as a wildlife biologist, and I’m extremely grateful to be a part of the Fulbright family. Thank you!