Hello! Hola! Jambo! I’m a self-proclaimed “whale nerd” on my 40th trip around The Sun on this beautiful place we call Earth. I’m a Canadian who does not necessarily embrace all things Canadian…the snow (Brr!), skiing (ouch!), snowboarding (more ouch!), shoveling slippery sidewalks (eek!), hockey (nope!), Tim Hortons (okay, maybe I’ll take the occasional break from a healthy diet to consume a sugar laden French Vanilla coffee!) and did I mention…the cold?! I mean the COLD is REALLY not my thing. I’ll take a day frolicking in the sea at a tropical beach anytime over a day in the snow.
My international friends don’t understand my aversion to the cold. “But you’re from CANADA!?” they say. Yes, I’m from Canada but that doesn’t mean I have THE gene for loving the cold and snow. I don’t know where the aversion comes from as I was born in Edmonton, Alberta, one of the coldest places in Canada, but this Canuck does not like the cold! Fortunately, when I was 8 years old we moved to Victoria, British Columbia, arguably the warmest place in Canada. Though Victoria is tropical in comparison to Edmonton, my body and mind have craved the sun and warmth, somewhere like Africa or the Caribbean or the South Pacific, since I was a young child.
As a kid I loved nature and wildlife. I captured caterpillars and woodbugs for ‘bug circuses’ I held in our backyard in Edmonton. I also spent hours in the trees, played in wooded parks and on the log rafts I built at the beaches near our home in Victoria. Life was an adventure. When we first moved to Victoria we didn’t have a car so we walked everywhere. My brothers and I might have hated all that walking then, but in my memory those walks were great adventures as we wandered around Victoria’s neighbourhoods and explored the beaches and parks. I loved being out in nature!
Then I saw the film Gorillas In The Mist which told the story of Dian Fossey’s adventures studying mountain gorillas deep in the jungles of Rwanda. From the moment I saw that film, I was inspired by her story and fascinated by her work cataloguing individual gorillas and their behaviour in Africa. It was from that young age that I longed to be like Dian Fossey and go on adventures studying wild animals in the jungles of Africa!
My passion for whales and dolphins was sparked when, shortly before finishing high school, I went on a high speed whale watching zodiac to learn about the work of marine naturalists for my school work experience program. This opened up a whole new world to me and I was glowing after my days “at work”. I was exhilarated racing across the ocean at 30 knots and observing and learning about local marine wildlife and the wild killer whales that travel, forage and socialise in the waters off Victoria. My breath was taken away the first time a pod of whales swam toward the boat. While we sat still, engines off, a male killer whale’s large dorsal fin cut through the water as he approached us and then it ever so smoothly dipped down, into the murky depths, just before brushing the boat.
From that moment on, I did whatever I could to pursue my new-found passion to observe wild whales. I volunteered with the Marine Mammal Research Group in Victoria and worked as a naturalist on whale watching boats while studying for my undergraduate degree. I volunteered and later worked at the Center For Whale Research (the Center) assisting with photo-identification research on killer whales around southern Vancouver Island. The opportunity to work with the Center was a dream come true and my first step towards a life following my passion to work as a marine mammal research scientist!
As much as I enjoyed my time working at the Center I had another itch I needed to scratch, my desire to travel and work internationally. As you might recall this Canuck was drawn to warmer climes and was attracted to Africa from a young age…so that’s where I headed!
For the better part of the next ten years the majority of my personal belongings sat in storage, i.e. my parents’ basement, while I traveled the world. I worked as a research assistant collecting and analysing data for marine research projects, including research on killer whales, gray whales and humpback whales in Canada, leatherback sea turtles in Costa Rica and gray whales and bottlenose dolphins in Baja, Mexico. I also fulfilled my childhood dream to study wildlife in Africa when I worked as a research assistant on projects studying bottlenose and humpback dolphins and humpback whales in Kenya and Tanzania. I even earned my master’s degree overseas. In 2007, I was accepted as one of fifteen students in the first year of the Master of Research programme in Marine Mammal Science at the University of St. Andrews in Scotland.
After completing my master’s degree my globe-trotting adventures didn’t stop. In fact, I have traveled the world observing marine wildlife for nearly a decade since graduating with my master’s degree. I’ve worked as a Marine Mammal Observer (MMO) and Passive Acoustic Monitor (PAM) on offshore oil and gas ships ensuring they followed guidelines to minimise the impacts of their activities on the marine wildlife. I’ve certainly seen a lot of the world through this work! Since 2009, I worked nearly 1000 days at sea, in 14 different countries, in 3 oceans (Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean and Indian Ocean), 4 seas (Mediterranean, North, Caribbean, Tasman) and the Gulf of Mexico and Bay of Bengal!
As much as I loved working as an MMO and PAM consultant, I started feeling the pull to return home. After more than a decade traveling and working around the world I am ready to re-establish myself in my field at home in British Columbia. In 2016, I started doing contract work for Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) on ship-based marine mammal surveys. In September 2017, I started working as a marine mammal research technician for DFO assisting with hydrophone (underwater microphone) deployments around the Salish Sea and analysing data to look for killer whale, humpback whale and other marine mammal vocalisations.
The future is looking good and the stability of being home in recent months has been wonderful. As a casual employee or contractor with DFO I’m not 100% re-established at home but I am the most settled I’ve been in years. I haven’t had jet lag in 9 months! Can you believe it?!
What’s the next step for me? Will I continue working with DFO, eventually getting a permanent role? Or maybe, depending on how long I work as a contractor or casual employee, I’ll consider options with local environmental consulting? Or maybe grad school? It’s exciting to think what might be the next step for this ‘whale nerd’…stay tuned to find out!
The Purpose Of This Blog
After more than two decades of marine wildlife observation I gained a deep connection to nature, an understanding of the far-reaching impacts of human activity and the importance of communicating the value of nature through the these experiences. After having many conversations with friends, family, acquaintances and many individuals who reached out to me online, I came to realize I have much to share from my experiences and I want to inspire others with the same drive to observe, appreciate and care for the natural world. Through this blog and my website I have decided to share my stories, lessons learned, and provide guiding information to those who have the same drive and passion to dive into the realm of marine mammal research and conservation.