During the winter of 2015-2016, I was a behavioral research assistant at the Detroit Zoo. There, I observed the penguins and studied their behavior while they were in their original zoo habitat. While I was volunteering at the zoo, I was assigned a project in my creative advertising class to make a campaign for a a non profit organization. Ultimately, because I have already become so involved with the Detroit Zoo, I decided to use the new penguin exhibit as my focus (Detroit Zoo Ad Campaign).
The Zoo was constructing a new exhibit for them, and wanted to see how the transition effected their behavior. Did they like the deeper water? Would they respond negatively to the lack of the pre-made nests they loved? Did they exhibit more aggression after the move? Did certain breeds flock together more? So many questions could be answered by the observational study, and the data was to be shared with other zoos across the country so they could apply the findings to their own exhibits.
This behavioral study was a two year process. It began one year before their transition, and then one year after. For this particular study, an interval scan method, meaning every set time interval was when we recorded what the particular subject was doing.
Essentially, I was given a list of penguins to watch within the hour (the list would rotate so each penguin was watched during different hours of the day sense their behaviors varied by time). I would stalk each penguin for ten minutes and record what they were doing, which type of penguins they were near, where they were at, and at what elevation they were at every one minute. Along with this, I would record any behaviors that were less common and considered more important. These recordings were called all-occurrence-behaviors, and consisted of displays of affection, bathing, aggression, etc.
Days and times for individual penguins rotated throughout the week to avoid biased recordings, and every researcher had to pass a consistency test before becoming a part of this project.
I learned how to study, record, and interpret data from observational studies first hand. Though I studied penguins, the principles behind how the studies work and interpret data results are the same with humans.