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Seaweek 2011: Spotlight on Marine Science

Marine Scientist Profile:

Who am I?
Hi, my name is Michelle Blewitt and I am a marine mammalogist or cetalogist which means I study the biology of whales and dolphins, in particular bottlenose dolphins.

I work for and my work / research involves:
My research interest is marine mammal biology and acoustics and the effects of human-induced disturbance on cetaceans. I have been working with marine mammals since 1990 and have over 20,000 hours of field research experience. I completed my Bachelor of Science (Honours) degree at Flinders University in South Australia in 1995 and then my PhD from Macquarie University in Sydney in 2006 (“Acoustic Behaviour of Bottlenose Dolphins in Southeastern Australia and the Effects of Anthropogenic Disturbance”).

Internationally, field research has taken me to Hawai’i, Bahamas, the Pacific North West and Canada. Currently, I am the Principal Researcher of Marine Mammal Research. Com ( which is a small research group that focuses on marine biology and acoustics, species biodiversity and abundance and the effects of human-induced disturbance on the vocal and non-vocal behaviour of cetaceans. I am also an Associate Lecturer at The University Sydney, assisting in the teaching of 2nd and 3rd year Marine Biology students. In addition, I am a part time Education Guide at the Bondi Marine Discovery Centre.

How does my work relate to marine conservation?
The focus of my research is towards conservation and management of cetaceans. Dolphins and whales inhabiting coastal areas are undoubtedly influenced by human activities. My research has demonstrated that a single anthropogenic event can cause a short-term disruption in dolphin behaviour, and it is possible that an accumulation of these effects may lead ultimately to long-term changes. It is therefore, important to establish baseline information on in order to assess changes in delphinid behaviour and long-term impacts from human induced activities for the long-term sustainability of coastal marine mammals.

Things I like about my job:
Having the opportunity to work with ‘charismatic megafauna’, with a mammalian species that is deemed ‘more intelligent’ than many other species, is what I find the most satisfying part of my chosen profession. During my PhD I was fortunate enough to research the acoustics of dolphins – so to be able to sit in a boat and not only observe these animals from the surface – watching them forage or socialise - but also have the opportunity to listen to the sounds that they make and they interact with each other – it is amazing!

However, there is also the fact that you are often working in very harsh conditions, cold and wet. And you are working with a species that spends the majority of time underwater, so there is the difficulty of collecting sound scientific data and being able to obtain a large enough sample size to reach statistical significance. But I wouldn’t change it for the world!

What inspired you to consider a career in marine science?
Where do I begin? My parents took me to the marine park in Adelaide (which is no longer there) where supposably I walked towards the dolphin pool and a dolphin threw out a ball to me – which I quickly picked up and threw back! This went for a short period of time and from then on, all I wanted to be a ‘marine biologist’! After telling this story many times over the years, I have learnt that many people often have this ‘experience’ when they are young and often want to become a ‘marine biologist’ but have chosen to not take this path.

I was very determined and motivated to continue in my dream career and I, unlike many, did follow my dream and become a marine scientist. I would encourage anyone today that if you have a dream, follow it – you can achieve anything you put your mind to!

Do you have a favourite marine creature (if so why)?
Obviously, because of my chosen profession - it is dolphins and whales – the ‘charismatic megafauna’!



Michelle Blewitt





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