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Representing the whales and dolphins of the South Pacific

Posted on behalf of Samanunu Simpson

What’s next?! Were the thoughts lingering in my head when I had finished my Bachelor of Marine Science degree in the year 2010. It’s quite difficult getting your dream job when you’re in a place where work opportunities are limited and you don’t have much experience to get you started. Inspite of the challenges faced I still had hope and believed that something greater was coming my way.

I got to meet Dr Cara Miller and learned more about her work with WDC in the Pacific region during the Fiji Humpback Whale Survey in 2011. Dr Cara Miller’s talks on whales and dolphin really inspired me as a young scientist to learn more about these amazing creatures, their cultural importance to the land/ocean and the significance of their conservation. Weeks after the whale survey projects, I wrote to Dr Miller stating that I was interested in her ongoing spinner dolphin project at Moon Reef Tailevu, Fiji.  A couple of weeks later, I received a response to that email with the subject “MASTER’S RESEARCH”. Honestly, I was at shock because never in my wildest dream I thought I’d pursue a master’s degree in marine science. I went over to meet Dr Cara a few days later; we spoke about the spinner dolphin research at Moon Reef and she advised that I’d be carrying out studies on the acoustic communication patterns of the resident pod of spinners that visit Moon Reef daily.

Research at Moon Reef has been great, I began my Masters research in October, 2012 and I’m now on my last phase which is the thesis write up. I was informed early this year that I was the first recipient of the WDC Bharathi Viswanathan Award for Innovative and Non Invasive Research, winning an award like this is such an honor. None of this would have been made possible without the help of this award, I hope to inspire and encourage young researchers to be agents of change in their individual fields of study.  

I guess the icing on the cake for me was being asked by Dr Cara to attend and present my research poster at the 20th Biennial Conference on the biology of marine mammals. The experience here in Dunedin is incredible, this has been an eye opening experience, one that I will never forget and I’d like to thanks WDC and the rest of my sponsors for this great opportunity. Just networking with the other young and old scientists, getting to know more about acoustic monitoring, sharing and learning from each other’s experiences, is enough to grasp.

This is my first international conference and it’s a privilege to be the only representative from the South Pacific. I will surely take with me all that I’ve learnt from this conference and share it with my fellow researchers back at home. Professor Mark Orams, mentioned something very powerful in one of his talks yesterday that really struck me and I truly believe it to be a take home message for me, “Remember what attracted you to this field, it is that passion that has brought you this far, avoid arrogance, the more you give the more you will receive, you are the future of marine mammal science, so keep that passion for marine mammals alive”. Being a representative from the South Pacific I believe that this message needs to be heard and I want to be that voice.

Vinaka Vakalevu,

Samanunu Simpson