Sunday, November 23, 2014

Marine Science @ Otago – Will Rayment

Will Rayment is a lecturer in the Marine Science Department at Otago University.  He was recently interviewed about his work.

What is your job?
I am a lecturer in the Marine Science Department. My job is to do research on marine science and teach our undergraduate and postgraduate students. My field of research is marine mammal biology and conservation - the species I work on most are southern right whales, sperm whales and Hector's dolphins.

Do you like being a marine biologist, and why?
I love being a marine biologist. I love being out on the ocean, in boats, diving and snorkelling. I get the opportunity to go to amazing places, see heaps of cool stuff and meet some really interesting and passionate people. I am driven by the desire to try and conserve our marine life so future generations will be able to appreciate it as well.

What is the best place in New Zealand to see marine life?
That depends on what you think is "best". Marine Reserves probably offer the best opportunity to see the marine environment in a natural state, i.e. not influenced by fishing and disturbance by humans. The first marine reserve in NZ was designated at Leigh, just north of Auckland, in 1977. In that time, the populations of seaweed, fish and crayfish have recovered to natural levels. It's a fantastic place to go for a snorkel.

My favourite place to explore is the Auckland Islands in the sub-Antarctic, 450 km south of mainland New Zealand. In the winter it is the breeding area for hundreds of southern right whales. There are so many that you have to drive your boat very slowly to avoid bumping into them. They can be very curious and will sometimes approach very close.

What inspired you to become a marine biologist?
I was inspired to become a marine biologist because I was fascinated by life in the oceans. I grew up near the sea and loved going out in boats and getting under the water. Marine biology seemed like a super exciting career, that would take me to some beautiful places and meet some amazing people.

How much money do you earn?
 How much you earn depends on what kind of job you do. A marine biologist working in practical conservation might earn about $30,000 a year when they start off their career. A professor at a university could eventually earn $150,000 a year. The main thing is that most marine biologists don't do the job because they are interested in earning a big salary. They do it because they love the job, and they want to make some kind of positive difference to the world.

How long did it take you to become a marine biologist?
I started my career path by studying biology at university. Then I did a Masters degree in conservation, and a PhD in marine science. That was 8 years of study for me in total. However, I got my first marine biology job straight after my first degree. There is no set, rigid path to becoming a marine biologist. No matter how old you are, or how much study you have done, if you are learning about biology in the oceans, you can call yourself a marine biologist.

What type of equipment do you use in marine research?
For my research on whales and dolphins, the most important pieces of equipment are a good camera, a GPS and a sturdy boat. Much of what I do involves photographing and identifying unique individual whales and dolphins. That enables me to learn about their populations: how many there are, how long they live and how they move around. These questions are really important in figuring out how to protect endangered species.

Where did you study to become a marine biologist?
I was born in England, so I did much of my study there. I went to Oxford University for my Bachelors degree and then did a Masters degree at University College London. I came to New Zealand in 1999 because the opportunites for marine biology are so amazing here. I did my PhD at the University of Otago in Dunedin, which is where I am lucky enough to have a job now. Otago University offers lots of options for starting your studies in Marine Science. There are courses here in marine biology, oceanography and fisheries science. If you want to learn more about studying marine science at the University of Otago, take a look at the website: