A day on board with a marine biologist

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I’ve always been fascinated by natural life, but especially by life underwater. My mother has always been amazed by the sea, and throughout my childhood she told me how unbelievable it is, constantly renewing its strength no matter what. With this in mind I progressed through a Bachelors and Masters then started my current PhD studying marine life.

When I received the call to be here, I thought that it would be an incredible opportunity to be out at sea for three weeks, looking for fish and gaining experience in doing so. So, here I am, on board the Pacific Marlin in the middle of the Indian Ocean, using cameras to monitor mid-water fish. I have a lot of things to do and to remember and it’s harder than I thought it would be. However, after four days of doing the same thing every day, I finally have a routine and things are going well.

Basically, I wake up at 6:30am and start to check things like the fish we use as bait, cameras, GPS, notes, sunglasses, hat and sunblock (this is fundamental in a hot place like this). At 7:30am my awesome team and I (it is tough work and I need help to do it) are ready in the back deck just waiting for the captain’s orders to start the deployments. Two hours later, we are ready to recover the cameras and prepare for the next round in the afternoon. We do it twice a day, every day. It’s tiring work but scientifically speaking it is the ideal range of samples.

Chagos Team

After all day at work, Chris and I start to process the videos of the day which includes 40 videos with at least 2 hours of footage each. At the same time the cameras and GPS are charging for the next day. Back at the University of Western Australia, I’ve been processing videos over the last two months from Palau and Rapa (from when I started my PhD). When reviewing footage, I spend most of the time just watching the blue sea with a few juvenile fish. So, when I saw my first tiger shark (after a month and a half of processing) I felt amazed with this work and realized how important it is.

Back on board the ship, late into the evening of the third night, we were processing videos from the last afternoon. I was reviewing my last video before going to bed and suddenly I saw something huge with blue and white dots approaching the camera. It was like a dream coming true; seeing such a magnificent creature made my night feel magical. I was so excited about it that I called all the scientists on board to see. A beautiful whale shark, probably a juvenile, appeared for the first time on our cameras. Whale sharks are filter-feeders but surprisingly this one was filtering the plume formed by our bait. Even more exciting to watch was how she spent five minutes pushing the bait and swimming around it.

Whale Shark

Once more, I found myself appreciating that the work I’ve been doing here has a bigger goal; to protect and conserve these marine animals, especially sharks. It’s really nice to see that they are in the ocean and to know that all the effort that has been made to keep the area protected is worthwhile. This also shows how my work is important and reaffirms that by using mid-water BRUVs (baited remote underwater videography) we can effectively monitor marine protected areas and marine life.

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