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  • Writer's pictureJessica Sprinkle

Get to Know Pt. 5: Ms. Rickards

Updated: Jul 26, 2022

Ms. Rickards was born and raised in Honolulu as the youngest of six kids and a twin. She went to Kahala Elementary School on O‘ahu, and later she attended Punahou high school along with Barack Obama and Jack Nicholson's daughter. During high school, she was an intern at Sea Life Park, a marine park on O‘ahu. She attended Reed College in Portland, Oregon as an undergraduate, and for her graduate degree, she went to the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.

Out of college, she got an internship at the Kewalo Basin Marine Mammal Laboratory where she conducted cognitive studies of bottlenose dolphins. She tested their intelligence and language capabilities in comparison to humans and other animals. While earning a master’s degree in psychology, she became the head dolphin trainer and a resident at the dolphin facility, meaning she lived at the research lab. During her time there, she realized that she didn't want to work with animals in captivity, rather wishing to work with animals in the wild.

The laboratory she worked for had a division studying humpback whales in the field, and the principle investigator, Dr. Louis Herman, asked her to go to Hawai‘i Island to research humpback whales in the winter. Then, Cornell University asked her to research humpback whales on both Hawai‘i Island and Kaua‘i. The goal of this research was to test the effects of frequencies of sound on whales.

Later on, Texas A&M University asked her to go to Sakhalin Island in the Russian Far East to study the critically endangered population of Western Pacific gray whales. It was very remote, with very few buildings or access to civilization. The lead on the project became ill after eating a bad mushroom, so he had to be medevaced out.

The situation was surreal for her because she was in a dirty, beaten down shack, and a woman in bright red high-heeled shoes, wearing lipstick and a snow-white doctor's coat arrived in a helicopter to evacuate the project lead. “It was very otherworldly,” she says.

After 3 years on an island off the coast of Russia, she was offered a job to go to Midway Atoll in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. She was placed in charge of a spinner dolphin research project for two years. Her team did photo identification and tracking with the goal of better understanding the resident spinner dolphin population.

Two years later, she decided she wanted to have children, so she returned to Hawai‘i Island and became a co-founder of the non-profit Hawai‘i Marine Mammal Consortium, which allowed her to continue working in marine biology while raising children. Once her kids were old enough to attend school, she sent them to Parker School.

She needed to get a job that could help pay for her children’s education so she applied to Parker School to be the AP biology teacher. She decided to become a teacher after enjoying teaching interns and volunteers about her work.

Here are some fun facts about Ms. Rickards: She always had a hard time picking a favorite color, but her children convinced her it was blue because most of the things she owns are blue. She likes all kinds of toasted bread, peanut m&ms, and anything coffee-flavored. She has never liked peppermint, but still wishes she was able to enjoy a candy cane.

Photo by Isabella Russo

Ms. Rickards at the 2021 Upper school campout wearing Myla's sunglasses.

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