Posted by: orcaweb | June 28, 2016

Do you have what it takes to be a Wildlife Officer?

Our Wildlife Officer season is slowly coming to an end. We have one more week left to enjoy the life on board Pont-Aven and to find some more amazing animals. This week we have had a lot of fantastic sightings, even more than usual, because we have had some guests from the first I-Spy trip this season. Thanks to them we had not two, but six pairs of trained eyes and 26 guests looking out for whales and dolphins! Together, just in two days, we spotted almost 700 animals from 10 different species. The highlight of this trip was a sighting of Cuvier’s beaked whales. We saw a mother with her calf swimming slowly on the surface along the port side of our ferry. Just take a look at this photograph to see the whale mummy!

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However, this time we are not going to write about our sightings. We have recently heard, that some of you are thinking about volunteering for ORCA and even considering becoming ORCA Wildlife Officers next year. We would like to help you decide if this is a job for you! After reading all the posts published this season, you probably don’t need any more encouragement and assurance, that the work of Wildlife Officers is fun. However, living and working on the sea can also be hard work and you need a certain set of skills to enjoy it. In this post, we will tell you more about skills and qualities, which you should have as a Wildlife Officer. Some of them may be easy to guess, others may be a bit surprising. 🙂 Do you have what it takes to become one of us? 🙂

You are an ideal candidate for becoming a Wildlife Officer, if:

  • You are passionate about marine wildlife – Your passion for marine life and sound knowledge about it is really important. As a Wildlife Officer, you will talk to people about whales and dolphins every single day. Passengers also ask many questions relating to biology, ecology and conservation of marine mammals… but this is not all they ever ask! Quite often we get questions about sharks, birds, climate change, diving, ships or even submarines. Of course, it is not possible to know everything, but it is crucial to be willing to look for the answers and learn.

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  • You don’t mind waking up early in the morning – It may be surprising for some of you, but Wildlife Officers need to be able to wake up early in the morning. Let’s be honest… ridiculously early in the morning! Four days a week we are up as soon as the sun is up (currently at 5 am!). On the other hand, we have a chance to see beautiful sunrises and dolphins in the morning. We can also enjoy a calm and quiet atmosphere, so unique on a busy ship.

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  • You can resist cold During our deck watches it can be very cold, even if it looks sunny. Be prepared to wear many layers of clothes, hats, scarfs and gloves. However, at the same time remember to put sun cream on your face, as you may get sun-burned easily. Just to give you the idea… The picture below was taken shortly after leaving Cork harbour. In Cork we experienced typical summer weather. It was 25 degrees and very sunny. We walked around the city in sandals, shorts and T-shirts. We were convinced, that we could stay dressed like that on our deck watch. Why not? Only 15 minutes later, due to a cold wind, we had to put on so many layers, that we looked like we were heading into the Antarctic. 🙂

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  • You have a good eye for spotting wildlife – Good spotting skills are definitely an advantage in this work. All in all, if you want to show marine animals, you need to spot them first! If you are not confident about your spotting skills, you can practice them, not necessarily on dolphins. Go to the beach and try to find some crabs or recognise some birds; take a walk in a forest and find out, if you can see some deer, foxes or hedgehogs; visit a park in your city and try to spot squirrels. Of course, it is not the same as looking for dolphins, but you will learn to be patient and to pay attention to details.

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  • You are eager to educate others – Our main task on board is to engage with passengers and educate them about marine animals and their conservation. We regularly run educational presentations for people of all ages, from the youngest to… the most experienced passengers. We also organise games and activities for children. What is more, during our deck watches we always try to spot whales and dolphins and show them to as many people as possible. Once passengers see these amazing animals, they always have thousands of questions, so we simply try to answer all of them. In this way, we not only educate people, but also make their dreams about dolphins or whales encounters come true!

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  • You are dedicated to collect accurate scientific data – Every hour of our deck watches has to be documented. We collect data about environmental conditions and about sightings we have. We note GPS coordinates of places we see animals, species we see, the number of animals and what they do. We used to write it all on paper forms, but this year we have started to use electronic data collection system. We have a tablet with special software, which allows us to easily input all this information directly into our database. But regardless the system we use, it is important to pay attention to details and collect as accurate data as possible.

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  • You are patient – To survey the seas you need to be patient… sometimes extremely patient.  Whales and dolphins never wait for us with welcome banners. It is us, who need to wait for them and find them. There are days, when finding cetaceans is easy, but on the other hand, sometimes the animals are simply not there. Long hours without sightings can be frustrating and they may make you doubt your spotting skills. The only thing you can do is to be patient, keep calm, keep looking and never give up! Sooner or later you will find some fantastic animals.  No sightings is still very good data.

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  • You are not scared of public presentations – As Wildlife Officers we give public presentations on board our ferries. On the Pont-Aven presentations take place in the main bar, the most “public” place on the ship. We have access to a projector and a big screen on a stage. As the bar may be a bit noisy, we also use microphones to present. The number of people in the audience differs a lot. Sometimes we present for around 20 people, but other times we have over 70 people listening to our stories. Usually the audience is fantastic, easy to engage and really interested in marine life. However, sporadically we also present in a bar full of people rather interested in a football match on TV… Therefore, it is important, that you can somehow deal with such situations and deliver a great presentation.

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  • You have some experience with social media and fundraising – As you know, every week we write blog posts about our sea adventures. This is why Wildlife Officers should have some experience with using social media. It is easy to write about a week full of sightings, but what would you write about, if you saw almost nothing for the whole week? With a little practice it gets easier to come up with some ideas. Besides that, it is good to have some experience in fundraising. ORCA is a small charity and we rely on our supporters. Without their help ORCA would not be able to survey the seas. It is important then to let people know, that they can help and how they can do it.

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  • You are always positive and enthusiastic – Bringing good humour and enthusiasm on board our ferry is extremely important for many reasons. Firstly, you will have to work very closely with other Wildlife Officers. You will spend long hours together conducting deck watches, giving presentations, running activities for children, as well as talking and socialising. You will share many exciting and beautiful moments, but you will also have to support each other, if one or both of you feel sick, cold or exhausted. Secondly, Wildlife Officers are a part of the Entertainment Team, so our job is not only to educate, but also to entertain people. Good sense of humour is crucial to make people interested in our presentations. It fact, most of our passengers are here on holiday, so they are rather interested in listening to fun talks, than serious scientific lectures. Finally, Wildlife Officers live on board the ferry in a small community and this life is a lot better, if you have good relationships with all other members of staff. Being nice, polite and positive seem to be the key to having good relations.

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