Let’s meet our new PhD Candidate, Megan Slack, from the United States

Sea Search hosts several interns, volunteers and students (Hons, MSc, PhD). This month we welcomed a young lady,  Megan Slack, who will be doing her Phd research with Sea Search. We are very happy as each newcomer brings a new breath to the team, we can’t wait to get to know her. Here is some background information about Megan.

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Megan Slack

Where do you come from?

I’m originally from a suburb of Baltimore, Maryland in the US. I moved to San Diego, California about 3 years ago to work on my Master’s in Marine Science at the University of San Diego, and just moved to South Africa to start my PhD with Sea Search through the University of Pretoria.

-What is your PhD about?

My PhD project is part of a larger project looking at the effects of climate change on cetaceans. Specifically, I will be looking at temporal patterns of distributions of dolphins in False Bay. I will be using acoustic data from underwater hydrophones around the bay to determine what species are present there, their abundances, and changes in their distributions over time- all through acoustics! By describing their distributions, we can track changes over time to determine if climate change is impacting their ranges.

You worked with SeaWorld….can you tell us about your experience? How was it, what did you learn, did you appreciate it?

I worked with SeaWorld in two capacities: in 2011, I spent the summer as an educator at their Orlando park, teaching guests about the animals living there and how to protect them. I also worked at their San Diego park in 2014 as an aviculturist, so I cared for various bird species including flamingos, parrots, and endangered clapper rails. I learned an immense amount about teaching and engaging the public in conservation issues, which is a critical aspect of turning scientific research into tangible impacts.

How can Sea Search best meet your expectations?

When I first heard about Sea Search, they struck me as a great organization doing innovative research in an area with unique oceanography. Dr. Elwen and Dr. Gridley are both experts in this field, so I expect this to be a wonderful opportunity to learn from them. I hope Sea Search will enable me to hone my skills as a field researcher and scientific writer, as well as introducing me to researchers around the world doing similar work.

Okay, let’s get to know more about you

Why did you choose to be a marine scientist?

I think it’s more accurate to say that marine science chose me! I have never seriously considered another profession. I knew since I was 6 that I wanted to work with animals, and over time, my interest shifted more toward marine mammals. Once I realized that there were so many unanswered questions about these animals that I could make a living trying to answer, I was certain of my direction in life. I’m especially fascinated by the way marine mammals communicate and how little is known about it, so studying bioacoustics was an obvious choice.

What are your expectations?

I expect for this to be the hardest experience of my life and to be full of many small failures along the way. It’s very intimidating to undertake a project that will require several years of sea time, expensive recording equipment, complicated statistical analyses, and LOTS of writing. It’s also extremely exciting, though, and will shape me into a true scientist. I’m looking forward to meeting plenty of amazing people along the way as well (in addition to the people at Sea Search who have already been wonderful!)

Is it your first time working abroad?

Yes, it is! Not only is it my first time working abroad, but I’ve never even traveled outside of North America, and rarely outside of the US! It was scary to make the decision to leave the people and culture that I knew, but I want to see the world and experience everything I possibly can while I’m on this earth, so moving to South Africa alone seemed like a perfect way to jump in headfirst.

What about your hobbies?

I like to be outdoors, so I do a lot of camping and hiking when I can, as well as skateboarding. I also love sports, so I play soccer, ice hockey, baseball, pretty much anything! I enjoy scuba diving (no surprise there!) and like to play the guitar.

Thank you Megan for your time, we trust you’ll enjoy your work with Sea Search and have a great stay in South Africa.

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About seasearchafrica

The Sea Search group is a collective of scientists and students with a strong academic background in the area of marine mammal science. Our primary focus is the production of peer-reviewed scientific research and student training. We also provide specialist consultancy services and work with industry and government to promote conservation through effective management.

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