Listening to whales

By Chris Zadra, robotics manager

Six months ago I was sitting in a hotel room in Des Moines, Iowa, with a very unglamorous field test engineering job, when I got a message on LinkedIn about an interesting new job opportunity. Never before then would I have imagined I would now be sitting at a desk looking out over the ocean in Gloucester, MA, writing about my first SnotBot expedition to Gabon.

I didn’t quite know what to expect, but at least I wasn’t the only one feeling that way, since the team was headed to a brand new SnotBot location. It was certainly a trip of extremes. Every day presented us with a new challenge to overcome, be it wind, rain, equipment failures, wet boat, lack of cash or speaking French. Yet no matter the challenge we tackled every obstacle that came our way and ended with the most successful SnotBot sample collection size to date. I think that says a lot about the quality of our team at Ocean Alliance. And to note, that team is much larger than the four of us that went to Gabon. No trip would be successful without all the logistics, preparation and support that goes on at Ocean Alliance HQ by Britta, Mark, Ann, and of course none of it would be possible without our amazing donors. As Gordon Buchanan of the BBC said, we’re “a team of consummate professionals.” His words not ours. I’m honored to now be a part of this team and excited for the future.

One of my favorite experiences while in Gabon was listening to whales singing live using our hydrophone and a pair of headphones. I even was at one point flying a drone over our boat while simultaneously listening to the most incredible whale sounds. (The whales were in fact so close that you could feel their sounds echoing through our boat.) It was a pretty surreal moment to be looking down at this muddy water from 400 feet up where I could see nothing but our little boat floating on top – and Andy swimming around at the surface – but at the same time I was listening to the sounds of the majestic and mysterious life underwater. It just makes you realize how attached many of us are to land and how much we take our ocean for granted. As Iain has said before, it’s easy to see when changes happen on land, but the oceans always seem unchanged to us. Hopefully, with the continued success of SnotBot and our future ventures here at Ocean Alliance, we can help change perspectives about our ocean and make a lasting impact.