General Career Information…
What is your educational background?
I have a BA in International Relations from Georgetown University (Biology minor) and an MS in Marine Environmental Science from SUNY Stony Brook.
How did you end up in the field you are in today?
I had an epiphany. After completing my undergraduate degree I thought about what I really wanted to do in my life and made a list of things that I was passionate about. Marine biology was at the top of my list. Given that I had my whole life ahead of me I decided to try to make my dream of exploring the mysteries of the ocean a reality. So I went back for another year of undergraduate work to fill the gaps in my science education and applied to graduate school. After that I kept my mind open, worked hard, and continued to look for and create opportunities to pursue my dream.
What are some of the different career opportunities associated with the work you do?
While I was concerned about career opportunities before I made the decision to pursue my passion, I’ve found that those opportunities tended to present themselves if I was willing to work hard, be open-minded, and stay committed to my passion. While in graduate school I accepted a job as a field project manager for the USAID in Belize. I lived on a tropical island for almost three years and ran a basic and applied science program that involved a lot of SCUBA diving and other field work. It was there that I had another realization…that science doesn’t exist in a vacuum and that communication and conservation are important objectives in research. I decided to make my first film about the environmental and conservation objectives we were addressing in the project. Since then my career has focused on science, education, and conservation, with media (predominantly film) as the tool to achieve the latter objectives.
What advice would you give to kids who are interested in studying science?
Pursue your dream. There are lots of exciting things to discover and study in the world around us. Follow your passion and live a life that’s most meaningful to you.
How and where do you conduct your work?
I work with other scientists who are experts in their fields to study animals that are hard to observe using conventional methods. As a team we go to the ends of the earth and to some of the most remote places imaginable in search of answers.
What tools and/or technologies do you use in your work?
I invented “Crittercam,” an animal-borne imaging tool I use in collaboration with researchers to study the behavior and ecology of animals we can’t easily observe in their natural habitats. Over the years my team and I have developed a variety of these systems (for marine and terrestrial species) as well as many other related tools that are necessary for the successful deployment and recovery of Crittercams (including specialized components like harnesses, poles, suction cups, light sources, environmental sensor packages, releases, tracking systems, etc.).
What research projects related to Arctic marine mammals have you worked on in the past or are you currently working on?
I’m currently working on a polar bear project that focuses on the challenges polar bears face in an era of climate change and shrinking ice habitat. My team and I have also worked with ringed seals, bearded seals, narwhals, and bowhead whales in the Arctic. Each of these projects looks at aspects of the behavioral ecology of these species that can only be addressed using direct observation via Crittercam in otherwise inaccessible habitats.
What have you learned so far from your research?
The one thing we always learn when we do Crittercam deployments is that there is so much more to learn. Almost every deployment reveals an aspect of behavior or ecology that we hadn’t imagined and that inspires us to dig deeper and work harder to understand how these animals function in their environment.
On the Arctic...
In what ways do you feel that humans affect the Arctic environment (positively and/or negatively)?
Clearly the most significant impact we’re having is global warming. Loss of ice is a huge threat to the entire ecosystem.
What are the most common misconceptions people have about living or working in the Arctic?
The most common misconception is that it’s miserably cold. It is cold, but with proper preparation (clothing, etc.) it’s one of the most pleasant (to say nothing of extraordinary) places to work.
What do you like the best about doing work in the Arctic?
It’s hard to beat the sense of working in a truly unique and captivating place when I’m in the Arctic. It’s a place that relatively few people experience and that is still what we expect when we think of “wilderness.” Vast and beautiful land/seascapes, unforgiving conditions, extraordinary species…this is the stuff of true adventure.
What do you like the least about doing work in the Arctic?
It’s difficult to get there. (Of course, hat’s also why it’s still so special!)
What advice would you give to kids who are interested in protecting the Arctic?
You can make a difference. Ask questions, study, learn… and then talk to your friends and family about how each of us makes a difference in the decisions we make every day at home, school, and work.
On Being a Kid…
What kinds of books did you like to read when you were a kid?
I loved adventure and science fiction books (and I have to admit I loved the National Geographic magazine!).
What was your favorite subject when you were in middle school?
Science… there was always something new and exciting to explore.
What did you think you were going to be when you grew up?
I was interested in a lot of things (and still am), but in high school and college I thought I’d be in the foreign service or doing international law. (I’d grown up abroad as a kid, and my dad was a lawyer.)
What advice do you wish that someone had given you when you were a kid?
Follow your dreams and prepare to succeed.
On the Rest of Life…
What do you like to do for fun?
Besides the fact that I love my career so my work is fun, I’m a father of two great kids…and that’s about the most fun you can have! I also am a pilot, a diver, an athlete of sorts (running, soccer, skiing, climbing, biking, etc.), a builder and, oh yes… a husband! How much more fun can you have than that?
Do you have any final thoughts or words of advice you would like to share?
Life is precious…live fully.