New College ISP lets first-year student study alligators in the field

By Anna Wright

Some students come to Florida for the sunshine, some come for the… gators?

First-year Zane Walsh came to New College from Maryland to study biology, and until this month he had never seen an alligator in the wild. Now he gets to live his dream of working with Florida alligators, as his independent study project.

Alligators bask on the shore of a lake at Myakka River State Park.
Alligators bask on the shore of a lake at Myakka River State Park. First-year student Zane Walsh is studying their behavior for his ISP.

“I’ve had a very large love for crocodilians,” Walsh said. “I’ve always just thought they were very graceful and powerful animals which have an impressive history on this earth.”

During January, New College students in their first through third years conduct an independent study project, or ISP, centered around an area of interest related to their studies. For his first ISP, Walsh is working with Myakka River State Park to study the flushing behaviors of alligators in reaction to the presence of park visitors. 

“Flushing behaviors are basically like fleeing behaviors, so it’s really investigating the disturbance and how it disturbs the population,” Walsh said. “I’m going to be doing a lot of timing between when a human-caused disturbance happens and when a flushing behavior occurs, either in an individual alligator or in multiple individuals.”

When asked what he was most excited about, Walsh gave a huge smile: “I’m really excited just to see alligators in their natural habitat, and I’m more excited to see them unaffected by human presence.” 

New College students have an ongoing relationship with the Myakka park, and Walsh hopes to build on that relationship over his time at NCF.

“This is really I think the first step I want to take towards my career, which will hopefully be centered around studying crocodilians.”

At the end of the project, Walsh will have written a report explaining and analyzing the magnitude of a visitor presence in the park on alligator behavior. He hopes the report will be able to support restrictions on human activity in order to keep the behavior of the alligators as unaffected as possible.

“Alligators tend to be more skittish than people think they will be,” says Walsh. “So a lot of times they will flee from humans. They’re not always just going to lunge at you, which is what a lot of people think they’ll do!”

— Anna Wright is a Public Affairs Student Assistant in the New College Office of Communications and Marketing.

Located in Sarasota, New College of Florida has educated intellectually curious students for lives of great achievement since its founding in 1960. As the State of Florida’s designated honors college, New College provides an exceptional education that transforms students’ intellectual curiosity into personal accomplishment. The 110-acre campus on Sarasota Bay is home to more than 700 students and 80 full-time faculty engaged in interdisciplinary research and collaborative learning. New College offers nearly 40 areas of concentration for undergraduates and a master’s degree program in Data Science.

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