Getting To Know A… MARINE BIOLOGIST! MaryBeth Perrin

Inspired by and drawn from just a fragment of the dynamic people in my life “Getting to Know A…” is my way of introducing you to a variety of professionals who are excelling in their various fields.  Some follow a traditional path after finding their inspiration in unexpected places. Others carved out their own non-traditional careers. What they have in common is they are all incredibly passionate about what they do. My hope is something in these inspires you, the readers, as well.

Since the subjects of these pieces live far and wide I had initially sent each of them a personalized questionnaire with the intention of drafting them into articles. Their answers were just so dang good there was no way I wanted to change them. I decided, with permission to leave them as is.

Lucas with a Cyanea capillata- photo by Conor McCracken

Tell me first what you do. The title and what is it you actually do. 

I’m a marine biologist. I study jellyfish and their predators – which includes humans.

 Wait, people eat jellyfish?

Yep, lots of ‘em. In fact, the weight of all the jellyfish that are caught for food each year is more than that for lobster.

 Wow. How does jellyfish taste?

 Any flavor comes from added sauces, but the jellyfish have a very interesting texture. It’s somewhere between crunchy and chewy – kind of like al dente pasta.

 That doesn’t sound very appetizing.

Millions of people in Asia would disagree with you. Also, fish populations are going down and jellyfish populations are going up, so you might have to get used to seeing jellyfish on the menu if we don’t start treating our oceans better.

 What drew you to a career in Oceanography?

As a kid, I always wanted to be an astronaut and go to outer space. I went to space camp and eventually went on to get a degree in astrophysics. But at some point I realized that I probably wasn’t going to space anytime soon. Then I began to notice that the underwater world is exactly the same kind of place – an unexplored, unknown realm. No air, no light, no direction, no gravity!

 So you became an aquanaut instead of astronaut?

 Exactly! Who needs to go to outer space when you can go to inner space? It’s a shorter trip and the aliens are guaranteed!

Who were your biggest mentors/influences in your career?

I have the incredible privilege of working with one my personal heroes – fisheries ecologist Dr. Daniel Pauly. He’s the guy who coined terms like ‘shifting baselines’ and ‘fishing down the food web.’ If you’ve never heard those terms, you should ask the Internet about them. Or start by watching the cartoon ‘Losing Nemo’.

What’s a pretty cool thing you get to do regularly that someone who ISN’T an Marine Biologist would get to do?

’I’M ON A BOAT!” ‘Field’ research is definitely the coolest part of my job.

From a personal perspective, how does your work inform your life outside the ‘office’?

 I’m constantly reminded of how much we take our planet for granted. Our air, our water, our food… The world provides renewable sources of things that our very lives depend on, and yet we don’t protect and steward them. Instead, we exhaust and contaminate our free supply. My job teaches me to be more mindful of all the decisions I make, and how they affect the environment around me. We don’t have a planet B.

 What is a personal career highlight so far?

I’ve gotten to do lots of cool things, like boating and SCUBA diving in remote locations. But the biggest highlight so far was being invited to collaborate with other jellyfish scientists from around the world. It may not sound like a big deal, but it’s a huge honor, and getting to travel to other countries is cool too.

 Does your life outside the ‘office’ inform your work? If so, how?

Yup. Through a crazy set of circumstances I’ve had the opportunity to live on a tiny island just outside Vancouver for the past 11 years. I’m on the water everyday, commuting by boat, kayaking, or stand-up paddle boarding. I even get to SCUBA dive off my dock. I’m always observing the sea life around me and coming up with new ideas or things I’d like to research.

 Creatively and personally, what are the major benefits of your career?

I absolutely love my job, and I find a great sense of meaning and fulfillment in it, which are ingredients in the recipe for happiness. A lot of my work is also highly applied, so it’s very satisfying to feel like I’m making a difference, even if it’s just a small contribution.

 What are the drawbacks, if any?

It can be a very depressing job at times. Humans impact the marine environment in dramatic and brutal ways, and it can be disheartening to observe the consequences of our actions and our apathy towards them on a daily basis. But, thankfully nature has a way of continually surprising you and giving you hope, so you keep pushing.

 What advice would you give someone considering this as a career?

Try to evolve the ability to breathe underwater. If you’re unsuccessful at that, just learn as much as you can about what you’re interested in. There is so much amazing knowledge at our fingertips these days – the interwebs, books, documentaries. If you keep asking questions, you’ll nurture a passion for learning and a career will follow. Getting paid to do something you love should be everyone’s goal.

You can help out scientists like Lucas with their research. If you see a jellyfish in the wild, enter your sighting at www.jellywatch.org.

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  1. You can learn more about Lucas’ work at http://fisheries.ubc.ca/students/lucas-brotz

  2. One of my career ambitions was to become a marine biologist. Unfortunately, I have hydrocephalus and the pressure under water would cause shunt malfunction. Anyway, I have always considered this profession fascinating and I applaud Lucas for advocating marine environment protection.

    • “Hi Jam,
      Thanks for your comment. Contrary to popular belief, many marine biologists don’t actually do any SCUBA diving, and it’s certainly not a requirement for a career in marine science. Many of my colleagues work with animals in the lab or do research from ships, and some never leave their desks (which is where we all spend the majority of our time anyway)! You can have a productive and fulfilling career just using a computer these days, so don’t let any inability to dive discourage you. Even if you’re on a different career path there are lots of great conservation organizations out there that need volunteers.
      Keep fostering your curiosity!
      -Lucas”

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