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Georgia Aquarium’s Gregory Bossart Ph.D. ’95 on the importance of dolphins

Georgia Aquarium’s Gregory Bossart Ph.D. ’95 on the importance of dolphins

September 25, 2014 at 12:00am

Gregory Bossart, V.M.D., Ph.D. ’95

You’re a man of science, but many might see instead a lucky guy who gets to work with beautiful creatures. Which of these descriptions best fits you?

I think the second. Whether working at Georgia Aquarium with whales or in Florida with our stranded-dolphin program, I feel blessed to be around these animals, even 30 years into my career.

What started you down this career path?

My interest in becoming a veterinarian took root at age three or four while growing up in rural western Pennsylvania. We had various pets – dogs, cats, hamsters and, later, raccoons, birds and rattlesnakes – and my mother encouraged me by taking me to zoos and aquariums.

And how did you get where you are today?

As a veterinarian in Miami, I became interested in what causes diseases in animals. That led to four years of postdoctoral comparative pathology training at University of Miami School of Medicine as a National Institutes of Health Fellow. I then became interested in how disease relates to immune function, which led me to FIU. My dissertation work there on marine mammals was pivotal in my landing the job at Georgia Aquarium, the largest in the world.

Tell us about your research activities.

Much of my present research involves bottlenose dolphin health assessment studies in the Indian River Lagoon off the Atlantic coast of Florida. That work has morphed into using dolphins as sentinels for the health of oceans and even human health, which is like using dolphins as the proverbial canary in the coalmine. Frankly, we’ve haven’t been very good stewards of the ocean environment, and I believe that is starting to catch up with us. It is in our own best interest to investigate all wildlife health patterns that could potentially affect our own wellbeing as three-fourths of all emerging infectious diseases in humans originate in wildlife.

People often think of aquariums as tourist destinations. Why do we need such places?

Modern aquariums and zoos provide transformative life experiences and inspire children and adults alike. I am a living example. And besides the education they offer, aquariums and zoos conduct critical research and conservation programs. For example, our team at Georgia Aquarium is working with coral reefs in the Florida Keys, whale sharks in Mexico and endangered penguins in coastal South Africa, among other projects.

Tell us about your animal friends.

My favorites include Florida manatees. They are amazing creatures with a remarkably responsive immune system. My wife and two young daughters just got a new Labrador puppy called Sunshine. We have a ball python named Sammy and two macaws, Griffin and Caleb. They all are important members of our family.