I had never heard of IAAAM before. But Dr. Bill Van Bonn of Chicago's Shedd Aquarium had. I contacted him in the fall of my freshman year of high school to ask for assistance with finding research papers concerning cancer in the beluga population of the St. Lawrence Estuary which I needed for an informative speech I was doing for school. After a few e-mail exchanges and conversations with Dr. Van Bonn, he suggested that I might wish to consider attending the IAAAM conference. It coincided with my spring break, so I registered, became a student member, and brought my mom (a physician) as my guest.
As soon as the first lecture began, I was unable to concentrate on anything else! Every presentation was interesting, informative, and exciting. I took extensive notes (33.5 pages!), and I rarely had to ask Mom to explain something. My favorite presentations included "Successful Diagnosis & Treatment of Nasal Mites Utilizing Voluntary Rhinoscopy in 3 Pacific Walruses," "Development of a Reference Atlas of Killer Whale Ultrasonography," "Pouch Laceration Repair in Brown Pelicans," and "Tricaine Anesthesia & Sedation Parameters of Atlantic Purple Sea Urchin."
I have been a Shedd member since I was two years old, and I had always wondered where the sick animals were taken for medical treatment. What a treat it was to see Shedd's veterinary hospital! An unexpected bonus was seeing the pathology laboratory, where I really enjoyed looking at krill through the microscope! I also saw a small necropsy table, which even included a miniature table for dissecting Shedd's deceased frogs and small fish!
At the Brookfield Zoo Veterinary Hospital, things were a lot bigger, as were many of the animals! I never knew how large a pharmacy was needed to care for the zoo's creatures. I was intrigued by the design of the tranquilizing room, which was heavily padded to prevent large animals from injuring themselves. I also saw an animal ICU for the first time, an animal X-Ray room, and the zoo's operating room. The necropsy table was many times larger than Shedd's!
In summary, I found attending the IAAAM conference to be a worthwhile experience, though likely not for a typical high school student. But, I'm not typical. I listened to all of the lectures, and understood perhaps 90% of the material presented, and in the process, learned a lot. I saw places I would not otherwise have seen: Shedd's Veterinary Hospital and behind-the-scenes animal care at the Brookfield Zoo. And, I met many wonderful people from all over the world, who despite all of their differences, had many things in common, including their love of marine life, their concern for it, and their desire to improve its future. And most of all, they all made one very atypical high school student feel very welcome, and made her feel like she belonged!
* Presenting author