Hometown: Washington, DC
Current Job Title: Marine mammal scientist
Job Description: I communicate with and advise government officials and others about policy matters related to marine mammal protection; I research and prepare reports; I prepare and give presentations at various public events; I give media interviews; and I monitor ongoing marine mammal protection issues around the globe. I work on several campaigns and coalitions addressing problems associated with cetacean live capture, trade, and welfare in captivity, both in the U.S. and abroad. I have been a member of the International Whaling Commission Scientific Committee since 2000, where I participate in the subcommittees on environmental concerns and whale watching. I have authored or co-authored over 30 scientific papers and authored numerous articles for animal protection publications, as well as chapters in several books. I lecture annually at three universities on marine mammal protection and policy issues and speak at and participate in various conferences, workshops, meetings, and task forces at the international, national and state level. I have testified before the U.S. Congress four times and at state legislative hearings three times. My work was featured in the recent non-fiction book Death at SeaWorld: Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity, by David Kirby. I have worked in the marine mammal protection field for over 20 years.
Company, Academic Institution, Government Agency or Non-profit affiliation: Animal Welfare Institute
Highest Degree Level Achieved: and Area of Study: Doctor of Philosophy in Biology - my dissertation was on the social dynamics of male orcas.
What do you love most about your career?
It is important to me to know that I am helping to protect wild animals and their habitat. I like to think what I do matters - I want to leave the world a better place than I found it. I love to travel, meet people around the world, and help them with the issues that are important to them.
What inspired you to pursue a career in marine science or STEM related field?
I was watching a special on TV with my favorite singer and he had Jacques Cousteau as a special guest and they were out on the Calypso (Cousteau's research boat) and dolphins came to play at the bow. I was 13 years old - and this image of dolphins leaping at the bow of the boat just stuck with me and I knew I had to see that for myself one day. And from then on, I did everything I could (read books, watch TV documentaries, go whale-watching) to further my goal of one day being a marine biologist on a vessel where dolphins played at the bow!
Describe one of the most exciting moments you’ve experienced in your work.
I was in the field studying orcas and I encountered a female hunting fish. She had chased a big salmon into a crevice in a rock wall near my research boat and then floated there, waiting for it to come back out. I asked my assistant to drop me off on a rock ledge near her and I was able to walk closer to her - so close that I could almost have touched her. She saw me - she looked right at me with her eye - but continued to wait for the fish to come out of the crevice. It was the most amazing moment - to be that close to the ocean's greatest predator, in her natural habitat, quietly waiting for her lunch.
Describe the biggest challenge(s) that you’ve faced and how did you overcome it.
Working to protect whales and dolphins in captivity has been difficult for most of my career. When I started over 20 years ago, most people thought whales and dolphins in oceanariums were happy and enjoyed the performances, so when I said that in fact they were suffering, I was mostly ignored or mocked or even attacked for my views, especially among my scientific colleagues. But over time, the science and ethics of this issue have changed - now more and more people and scientists are realizing I was right all along and whales and dolphins don't belong in captivity. They do not thrive there. So my patience and my perseverance have been rewarded and I believe some day soon whales and dolphins will no longer suffer in concrete tanks. I was very discouraged a few times over the years, but I never gave up!
Who is your most influential mentor and how did they help you get to where you are today?
I have had many influential mentors, actually - several of my college professors were really helpful in keeping me focused on my goals. However, once I started my career in marine mammal protection (after graduate school), my most influential mentor was a man named Ben White. He passed away a few years ago from cancer, but in my early years as a marine mammal advocate, Ben's humor, humility, strength and wisdom really made a difference in how I approached my work. One of my earliest work memories is from 20 years ago, when I traveled to Mexico with Ben - and he told me a story about one of his campaigns that made me realize you can work on really difficult and even sad and scary issues, but as long as you keep your sense of humor and never take yourself too seriously, you can keep fighting without becoming depressed or burning out. I really miss Ben.
How do you feel you are making a positive difference in the world?
I am working to slow down the damage human activities do to the marine environment. I am working to protect the marine mammals that live in the world's oceans. I am working to educate people about what they can do to help the world's marine mammals. I am working to end animal suffering. All of these things are making a positive difference in the world - this means a great deal to me.