#5 Meet a Researcher: Jessica Taylor

Marine science has always been a completely fascinating field to me. Growing up, I was impressed by everything to do with the ocean, from mysterious pictures of deep-water fish with strange biolumiscent fishing lures, to the sheer size of the great whales. Aboard a whale watch off the coast of Maine, I saw a humpback named Colt, staring up at the passengers onboard with his inquisitive eye, blurring the boundaries between people watching and whale watching. (See an example of this for yourself by watching this video)

I immersed myself in volunteer projects ranging from; scrubbing algae off seal rehabilitation enclosures in Cornwall, UK, to traipsing a beach in Crete, Greece reading tracks in the sand to locate loggerhead nests. Immediately after completing my Bachelors degree I started work as an intern for an expedition company in London, following which I attended a two-month long, marine impact assessment scuba survey in Fiji. The coral cays of the Mamanuca island chain were a world apart from where I learnt to dive in Cornwall. We performed a dive census twice daily, recording every species of fish, invertebrate, coral and algae that we encountered along a 10 metre transect. That was in 2003, and there have been many stepping stones along the way between there and where I am today.

Throughout my travels I have always been drawn to finding work in my field. I found myself diving to clean a shark tank at work in an aquarium of New Zealand's south island, and in Akaroa, NZ, I worked with a PhD student studying Hector's dolphins (pictured). The buffet lifestyle of a marine biologist can take you to some of the world's most breathtaking locations.

Whilst working with researchers studying humpbacks off Western Australia one summer, an opportunity arose to fly aerial surveys for them, and I was familiar with flying in twin engine Skymaster Cessna aircrafts from right whale surveys. Over the next few days I must have seen some of the most remote, awe-inspiring scenery that exists on earth (pictured).

On the return flight over the Kimberly region in the north of Western Australia, we flew over Mitchell Falls, a stunning multi-tiered waterfall.

I have been involved in such a diverse myriad of projects, that it is great to have the consistency of returning to right whale research for my fifth year. Over the years that I have been flying aerial surveys with the New England Aquarium, I have seen a white shark scavenging on a carcass, a right whale surfacing head first repeatedly in between the outstretched flippers of a shocked loggerhead turtle, and even been lucky enough to witness a live birth of a right whale calf.

Work is completely all-consuming in this field, seasons are short, but intense. Survey days are long; the coordination of field work, including data collection and processing is laborious. However, all the hard work and dedication pays off for those moments when you have your breath taken away by the stunning beauty, and intriguing mystery of nature.



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