Development & Alumni Relations Office 



TRAVELLING THE WORLD LOOKING FOR WHALES AND DOLPHINS 

09 April 2018

The academic qualifications earned by Queen’s graduate Dr Sharon Doake – BSc Zoology (2006), PhD Behavioural Ecology (2010) – have taken her to Australia, New Zealand, South America and South Africa, in what must be one of the most unusual jobs in the world – that of listening and looking out for whales and dolphins!

 

Currently Senior Marine Wildlife Observer at Gardline Environmental Ltd where she has worked since leaving Queen’s, Dr Doake provides ‘mitigation for marine animals during seismic surveys and piling jobs’, making sure that the impact of noisy equipment being used to search the seabed for oil doesn’t affect marine life that may be passing through or feeding in the area.

 

The former student Sub-aqua Club Treasurer, who comes originally from Gilford in County Down, spent several months as a Marine Research Assistant and Marine Mammal Observer in Portaferry while studying at Queen’s.

 

During her time there she recorded the behaviour of marine mammals and was trained on, and operated, an active sonar system to monitor marine mammal movements underwater around the SeaGen tidal turbine in Strangford Lough.  

 

At sea often for lengthy spells, Dr Doake spends her time offshore looking and listening for dolphins and whales. Speaking this week to Amy Stewart from BBC News NI she said: "Sound to them (whales and dolphins) is like eyesight to us – if it's damaged it can be disastrous for them.

 

"It can physically damage them or it can scare them off coming to the area which, if it's a feeding ground, is a problem.

 

“Animals like whales and dolphins are most affected but there's evidence and research that it may be worse for whales as the sounds they make are low pitched, like the sound created by the equipment.

 

"It's not bad to use this equipment but it's just that we need to mitigate any effect it can have," she added.

 

Often the only woman on a ship of up to 50 men – which can present its own challenges – Dr Doake locates marine life by scanning the surface (in the case of dolphins) and by using a water-based microphone system known as Passive Acoustic Monitoring Systems (PAMS), which visualises the sound of the calls of whales.

 

The experienced marine mammal observer also undertakes seabird surveys as part of environmental impact assessments for wind farms, using approved ESAS (European Seabirds at Sea) methods. And, depending on where she is working, Dr Doake may have to shut down operations if she locates large mammals who may be at risk.

 

"Asking a company to shut down operations is such a big judgement call, as every time you do it, it costs them a lot of money, so it's quite a big decision to make," she told Amy Stewart.

In her hugely varied – not to mention rare – role as a marine wildlife observer, Dr Doake is helping to minimise excessive noise in marine locations around the world and, ultimately, reducing the impact that the oil, gas and renewable energy industries have on the environment.

For further information on studying Zoology at Queen’s University Belfast, please visit our website.

General enquiries to Gerry Power, Communications Officer, Development and Alumni Relations Office, tel: +44 (0)28 9097 5321.

Photo credit (inset): Dr Sharon Doake/BBC NI

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