Vanessa Pirotta is a conservation biologist and science communicator in the final stages of a PhD at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia. Her research is focused on identifying conservation threats for cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises). Vanessa completed her Master of Research (MRes) in 2014 where she investigated the effects of underwater construction and whale alarms upon migrating humpback whales off Sydney, Australia. She has a Bachelor of Science from the Australian National University where she majored in Zoology and Evolution and Ecology. Vanessa has conducted research in a variety of different locations around Australia, Tonga and most recently Antarctica.
Briefly describe your current work and your research.
My PhD is all about conserving cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises). As part of this, I have explored the use of emerging technologies for marine megafauna conservation. My collaboration with drone experts in industry has led to development of custom-built, waterproof drones for collecting whale snot (that visible plume of spray rising from a whale’s nose). Whale snot contains biological health information which we can collect to provide a check-up of whale health. Myself and a team targeted lung microbiota and described the different types of bacteria found in northward migrating humpback whales off Sydney. We also identified novel viruses.
Drones are a much safer way to collect whale snot in comparison to current methods, which require close vessel approaches to whales.
What do you love the most about your job?
I love being able to focus on something which I am passionate about. It is always exciting and I love learning new things.
How difficult was it to get where you are today?
I made sure to keep my options open and took every opportunity which has led me to my current position. Being open minded and making a pros and cons list definitely helps.
What was the biggest obstacle in your way before your career reached where it is today? How did you overcome it?
I would say my career is still developing and I am yet to reach my end goal. A PhD is the perfect platform for my career and I look forward to the next stage of my career. Be persistent!
What are you looking forward to the most in the future of marine science?
The use of technology to refine existing research methods. The use of drones for collecting whale snot is such a great example of this.
How do you think we can get more women involved within marine science?
We need to have marine science role models for girls in school and target those about to leave school and enter university. Women need to be aware of the types of marine careers available. These should include both academic and industry roles.
What one piece of advice would you give to aspiring female marine scientists?
Follow your passion and let that drive your career path.
In one sentence, why do you think a career within marine science is a great career option?
A career in marine science allows you to follow your passion and be part of something you care about.
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I would like to give a massive thank you to Vanessa Pirotta for participating in this interview. I cannot wait to share more of your stories and I hope that you find inspiration in learning of other journeys within marine science.
Are you a woman working within marine science? Would you like to share your story and inspire the next generation? Please get in contact with me at email@example.com if you would like to be involved with the Leading Women in Marine Science Interview Series.
Disclaimer: All responses to the interview questions belong to Vanessa Pirotta. The biography also belongs to Vanessa Pirotta and the photographs used in this article belong to Vanessa Pirotta also. The cover photo belongs to Joanna Stephen.