A Doctor’s Love of Oceanography

Many doctors have other interests outside of medical research they are passionate about, and I can say I’m one of them. When I’m not reading up on the latest in preventative medicine or breakthroughs in stem cell research, I love traveling, observing art, practicing my photography skills and above all, learning about the ocean.

As a young man applying to medical programs, there was always that what if lingering in the back of my mind. If medical school didn’t happen, what could I do from there? I applied to the University of Miami’s oceanography program on a whim — I could still be Dr. David M. Kenton while diving and researching ocean life, couldn’t I?

I knew I loved medicine (I still do, if you were wondering), but I also loved collecting specimens, observing the tides, doing everything I could to soak up knowledge about the vast oceans around us. I spent a good deal of time near the ocean as a child. Many people can remember their trips out to the sea and other vacation activities like surfing or finding shells. As for me, I decided to create my own scientific adventure during our family’s trips to Block Island, Rhode Island. I started an ocean drift study of my own, dropping messages in a bottle off of one of two ferries on the island. I wrote notes with my name, sealed them off with a cork, spray painted the inside with fluorescent paint and sealed it off with wax. The furthest the bottles traveled was from the Portuguese Azores. I had pen pals from all sorts of places who would write back to me with both meaningful messages and jokes. I did it for 10 years with an approximate response rate of 35 percent, better than some of the more well-known maritime institutions including Woods Hole, MA. In the 1970s my results were published in the University if Rhode Island Maritimes publication. Not bad for a kid with a unique hobby!
Of course, I did get into a pre-med program, so oceanography would have to wait.

My undergraduate years were spent at Colgate University as a biology major. During my studies at Colgate I was fortunate to get the opportunity t travel to Port Antonio, Jamaica to study tropical ecology. My particular project was classifying the coral reefs and collecting unique specimens.

Port Antonio actually catered to college students like myself, so accessing the ocean’s reefs was as easy as walking across the road to study specimens. We also traveled by bus to Blue Mountain Peak, the highest point in Jamaica, to do further research. As we gathered samples of plants and animals, our professor mentioned something about a rare specimen that was the ancient link between annelids and arthropods. Only one had been found by a Harvard researcher long ago. No other specimen has ever been found.

My professor jokingly mentioned that if anyone could find it, he would buy us drinks for the rest of the trip. He of course never expected anyone to find it, but I was determined to be the one to solve the mystery. My peers and professor doubted me, but I was going to try my best to make it happen.

While exploring Blue Mountain Peak In the distance, one could observe Cuba and the majesty of Jamaica’s beauty. After collecting assorted specimens, it was time to board the bus to return to our hotel. With only a few minutes to spare, I ventured away towards a huge rotten log in hopes that this unique specimen would be found underneath it. At the risk of missing the bus I approached the log and with much effort rolled it over.To my utter amazement, there was the unique creature! I screamed to my classmate, “I found it, I found it”. My classmate thought I was fooling, but brought the professor over. He collected the specimens in a glass collection tube which was then donated to Colgate University biology department.I was proud of myself for letting curiosity get the best of me, the free drinks only added to my happiness.

Horseshoe Crab Medical Uses | Maryland Department of Natural Resources
Home Research Medicines from the Sea | National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

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