magazine interview

From: Phil Clapham (
Date: Thu Oct 14 2004 - 15:38:53 EDT

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    > Why did you decide to be a marine scientist?
    It was pure accident, actually. I have always loved the sea, but I
    happened to be in a place (Cape Cod) in 1980 where there were whales. I
    volunteered for an organization studying them and fell in love with the

    > What was your first job related to this career, and where do you work
    > now?
    I started work as a Research Assistant at the Center for Coastal Studies
    ( in Massachusetts, in 1980. I now direct the
    Large Whale Biology Program for the Northeast Fisheries Science Center in
    Woods Hole, Massachusetts.

    > What kinds of animals do you work with?
    Large whales. Mostly humpback, fin and right whales, though I've worked
    with most big whales at one time or another.

    > What is the most interesting thing you've learned from those animals?
    That they travel huge distances across the ocean (up to 5000 miles) but
    return to the same place each year to feed; how they find their way isn't

    > What is your favorite marine animal, and why?
    the humpback whale. It's a really fun animal to work with... interesting,
    often curious about humans (they come over to boats a lot), and they also
    engage in some great behaviors like breaching (jumping out of the water,
    which is spectacular in a 40-ton animal!) Also, the males fight quite
    aggressively over females in the winter, which is fun to watch.

    > Do you ever dive in the ocean during your work, and if so, what animals
    > do you study?
    I don't dive but I do snorkel and I've been in the water with humpback
    whales in the Caribbean, which is very cool.

    > What are the unique challenges of working with sea animals?
    They are difficult to see (they spend most of their lives underwater),
    they live in an environment that is often dangerous to work in (the
    ocean), and they travel huge distances. Often it's just not possible to
    follow whales for very long, or see what they're really doing.

    > What type of dolphin interests you the most and why?
    Well, the killer whale is actually a large dolphin,and for me they're
    fascinating. They're smart and they live in groups that stay together for
    life, and they have a very complex communication system of calls, some of
    which are specific to their group. They're also very clever hunters.

    > How quickly do dolphins learn to communicate with humans?
    Depends on what you mena by communicate. They can be taught quite complex
    things, and some scientists have taught dolphins to recognize many
    gestures, and also to understand grammar and other linguistic things.

    > What advice can you give to kids who might be interested in this kind of
    > work?
    Go to which will tell you all about
    careers with marine mammals. It's a wonderful field, and lots of fun.
    the money is not great until you're really established in the field, but
    that doens't matter. You get to work in some wonderful places with
    fascinating animals and some really fun people.

    Best wishes,

    Phil Clapham

    > Thank you very much for your time.
    > Q Barker

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