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Summer Marine Mammal Intensive Learning Experience (SMMILE)

Are you a high school student in the 10th or 11th grade living in Hawaiʻi?

Do you love the ocean?

Interested in learning more about marine mammals & what it takes to be a marine mammal scientist?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, apply to SMMILE today!

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The Summer Marine Mammal Intensive Learning Experience (SMMILE) is a 10-day course hosted by the Marine Mammal Research Program (MMRP) from June 2-11, 2023. We are excited to invite twelve incoming juniors and seniors from all of the main Hawaiian Islands (Oʻahu, Kauaʻi, Maui, Lānaʻi, Molokaʻi, Hawaiʻi) to participate in this fully funded opportunity! During SMMILE, participants will live on Moku o Loʻe (Coconut Island) at the Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology. Preference will be given to Native Hawaiian, Pacific Islander, and students from other historically marginalized groups as an effort to increase diversity in the field of marine mammal science.

Did you ever think that working or talking to a marine biologist was out of your league because you're in high school? SMMILE will give you the opportunity to overcome those barriers in a fun, interactive learning environment!

Students will learn about marine mammals in Hawaiʻi and what it means to be a marine mammal scientist through fieldtrips and hands-on training. Workshops with current University of Hawaiʻi undergraduate and graduate students will allow participants to explore future educational opportunities in marine science. SMMILE participants will engage with marine mammal scientists through interactive classroom-based content where they will learn about current research in Hawaiʻi, a day in the life of a scientist, and the speakers' personal career paths.

Apply now for this unique summer program!

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My week at SMMILE was downright one of the best weeks of my life. It was a life changing experience for me and changed my views on the marine mammals surrounding Hawaii and my future plans in life.

- Kalamaku

Many of the activities we did were brand new to me like the dolphin survey, Dolphin Quest, viewing the Hawaiian monk seals, and flying drones. This whole experience has opened up new opportunities and pathways that I did not think I would ever pursue.

- Melina

My experience at SMMILE will forever be a core memory of mine and an inspiration to pursue marine biology in the future.

- Aubrey

The guest speakers spoke on a variety of subjects; their lectures ranged from necropsies, whale tracking, and to individual identification within species. Bri and Kirby made sure the learning was super fun!

- Andrew

The Course

The Summer Marine Mammal Intensive Learning Experience (SMMILE) is a 10-day course that will expose students to marine mammal science in a hands-on learning environment. Our goal is to provide an opportunity for high school students from historically marginalized groups to learn about marine mammal science, marine protected areas, and conservation.

This course will cover a variety of topics related to marine mammal research including:

  • Acoustics/Hearing

  • Animal Behavior

  • Population Health

  • Population Ecology

  • Stranding and Response

  • Innovative Technologies (e.g. unmanned aerial vehicles, 3D scanner, tags)

  • Conservation/ Management

The course will facilitate hands-on learning opportunities through:


Guest Lectures

If you could ask a marine biologist anything, what would you ask?

Invited speakers from MMRP and other local marine mammal conservation organizations will speak about what they study and describe their job and career paths.


Field Trips

Ever participated in a marine mammal survey?

Students will have the opportunity to visit local marine mammal related educational facilities and observe and study marine mammals in the wild.



Ever wondered how scientists use drones to study marine mammals?

Students will receive hands-on exposure to many different techniques and technologies used to study marine mammals.

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Thinking about going to college?

Students will engage in workshops with their peers to learn from current graduate students and professionals in the field.


Have you ever wondered what it might be like to live at a research institute alongside scientists?! Participants will live at the Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology on Moku o Loʻe (Coconut Island). Moku o Loʻe is a 28-acre island located in Kāneʻohe Bay. Participants will be staying overnight on the island in the Lanai Suites for the duration of the program. Students will be chaperoned by the instructors.


Meet the Instructors

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Kirby Parnell


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Brijonnay Madrigal


Together, Kirby and Brijonnay have over 14 years of experience in outreach and education with groups of students ranging from elementary to graduate level. Most recently, they worked together as Co-Coordinators for the Acoustical Society of America's Summer Undergraduate Research or Internship Experience in Acoustics (SURIEA) program for under-represented minority students. They love to create interactive curricula and lectures together and understand the importance of active learning in and out of the classroom. Developing and implementing SMMILE together last summer was an extremely rewarding experience and they are excited to offer this unique opportunity for students to become introduced to marine mammal science in paradise!


Have additional questions about the program?

Apply now!

Fill out the application to apply for SMMILE!


Hear from past SMMILE participants about thier experience


Support SMMILE!


Questions about SMMILE? 
Contact us!

Mahalo to our sponsors!

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