Vanessa Pirotta looks into the world of the whale

Cosmos Magazine


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By Cosmos

Dr Vanessa Pirotta is a wildlife scientist specialising in marine mammals. Her research uses innovative technologies for wildlife conservation. New at Cosmos Weekly.

It’s hard to explain the effect that whales have on me.

As a young girl I never imagined myself being a scientist. My main aim in life was to become a dolphin trainer, which might sound unusual for someone growing up on a farm outside of Canberra. But I had seen the movie Free Willy, and I was besotted, and I connected with that movie. It showed killer whales in their natural environment, and a boy, and a dolphin trainer, and I knew then that this was exactly what I wanted to do.

The intersection of wildlife conservation and technology

(It’s) the next big thing in my field: how can we harness the power of technology and apply it to different environments?

Well, we’re already using drones to access humpback whales in new ways that is less invasive for them. We use drones to measure body size, collect lung bacteria, even collect their snot without them even knowing about it. We listen to their sounds and songs through hydrophones. We collect their poo without them knowing – we even sometimes collect skin samples. And then there’s other work that is minimally invasive, such as putting tags on them to discover where they’re going underwater, in an effort to learn more about the secret lives of these animals.

Why should we even care about whales?

Is it just because I’m incredibly biased and love them? It’s much more than that. Whales are the ecosystem engineers of the ocean. They feed from one area to another, and fertilise the lower levels of the ocean. They’re incredibly important for the health of the ocean, and therefore our own health…

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