Being a whale scientist – 4 misconceptions

Being a whale scientist is pretty cool and can be perceived as a “sexy job”. However, a lot of clichés and misconceptions exist about whale scientists. 

1 – “I want to be a whale scientist, because whales are fun”

Maybe you watched wonderful dolphin movies (free willy, etc.) when you were a kid and you think whales/dolphins are cool so you want to work on them. It is a good way to become passionate about something. However, it won’t get you anywhere if you do not put all your efforts into your passion. You will have to work hard.

2 – “I want to be a whale scientist because I want to be rich”

Scientists do NOT make a ton of money. The sad reality is, we go to school for so long, yet we are underpaid for the work we do. A manager in a fast-food restaurant probably makes more money than a lot of scientists. You will be a marine mammalogist to live your passion and contribute to science, not to become the next millionaire, unfortunately.

3 – “Marine mammalogists spend their whole time on a boat”

This is just not true. First, because in order to study the species you want you need your species to be around, AND good weather conditions: a good sea state, good visibility, and no rain. There are some areas where the weather is pretty much perfect throughout the year, the waters are calm and crystal clear and some species live there year-round. However … you have to understand that field time is only useful to collect data. Whether you want behaviour data, distribution data, blubber samples, etc.

After you get data (or samples), you NEED to process them in the lab or at your office. And it includes countless hours of data treatment and analysis. If you bring back samples, you have to store them properly and then process them. Once you get good results, you might have to publish them. A researcher’s reputation depends on the articles they publish. So you will have to put a lot of time into it to make sure it is good and brings attention to your work. You also have to apply for grants because research is expensive and needs fundings. With all these extra tasks, you can easily understand how it is impossible to spend your entire year on a boat … 

4 – “Oh you study whales? Wow it must be so cool to swim with them!”

It is usually a little awkward to explain that you can’t really swim with them because it’s illegal in most areas and has a negative impact on their behavior. You will not make friends with the animals you study. Plus, you will be too busy with data analysis and too poor to go hang out with whales all day, ha!

Now it is your turn!

Are you a whale scientist? Do you know one? Let us know if you have any expectation/reality facts on whale scientists!

Make sure to come read our Whale Scientists Stories to know more about marine mammalogists.
You can also come ask your questions here.

Anaïs is the founder of Whale Scientists. She is a PhD student at McGill University working on killer whale ecology and pollution. You can read more about her here.

1 thought on “Being a whale scientist – 4 misconceptions”

  1. Can whales be saved from global warming, or no, I’ve been interested in whales since I was a little kid, and with the way that CO2 is entering our atmosphere are the whales going to slowly die off?

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