Iceland 2013: Saga #8 – a personal perspective
We are often asked by people how we got to work in cetacean conservation and what advice we could offer to anyone starting out in the field today. For this blog, I have asked two researchers, Julie Bessau from France and Sara Tavares from Portugal, how they first became involved with cetaceans and how they ended up in Grundarfjordur in Iceland studying the wild orcas.
Julie Bessau My name is Julie and I have been fascinated by the ocean for as long as I can remember. I obtained a Master’s degree in Marine Biology in Brest, France, in 2010. Over the years I have been involved in several different marine biology projects from studying coral growth under different types of aquarium light to hydrothermal vent ecosystems. However I have always been attracted to working with marine mammals and after I completed my Masters I worked as a volunteer for six months in Normandy studying the large population of bottlenose dolphins found there. This work was used to estimate the distribution and demography of this population present in the English Channel. I then moved to Scotland and worked for two months as an intern at the University of St Andrews studying the sounds of the orca, Morgan who was found in shallow seas off the coast of the Netherlands in 2010. I am currently in Iceland for two months (February- March) working as a volunteer and investigating the population of herring-eating orcas. My task is to take pictures of encounters with orcas during the boat trips and to make underwater recordings. The pictures we take are used to identify each individual and will contribute to a photo-ID catalogue for the orcas seen in Grundarfjordur during the winter. As to the future, I would like to continue working with marine mammal acoustic research with possibly a PhD or a research assistant job.
Sara Tavares I’m Sara, I’m 24 years and I’m Portuguese. Since my childhood I’ve been drawn to nature and wildlife but with a special enchantment for the sea. Although my fondness for mathematics, the sea and the animals were what really filled my heart and I went to Porto University, in Portugal, to do my bachelor in Aquatic Sciences. I became interested in ethology (animal behaviour) but due to some changes in the format of the course I was not able to continue with this subject. So, I decided that the best thing for me would be to continue my studies in the same University and do a Master’s degree in Marine Sciences/Marine Resources, with a specialisation in Marine Biology and Ecology. My Master’s dissertation was in animal behaviour, with the title “Behavioural study of Labrador Retriever in aquatic environment”. Through this I became even more attracted to animal behaviour and keen to pursue a career in this area of study. A month after finishing my Masters, I decided to continue studying towards a PhD. I found a post-graduate research opportunity at the University of St Andrews in Scotland looking at the social, acoustic, foraging behaviour and ecophysiology of orcas in the North Atlantic. I wrote a research proposal to the University to study the social associations and group level sound production of orcas in Iceland which was accepted and some months later I was able to obtain a PhD grant from FCT (Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia). I feel that I have so much to learn but I don’t regret the hard work I had to embrace to get where I am, nor the one that I know is yet to come. I’m just starting the fieldwork in Iceland this season and I feel so privileged to have the opportunity to be here, to work in the natural environment and to be close to these magnificent whales. The funniest thing is that, although I can’t remember, my parents say that when I was little I used to say that when I grew up I wanted to go in a boat, onto the sea, play the guitar and listen to the whales “singing”. And the sound of the orcas is the most beautiful sound in the world to me…