Scientist in an aquarium

What does ‘whale snot’ tell us about whales and the ocean?

Written By
Cloé Karagozlu
Cultural Management and Content Creator

Dr. Vanessa Pirotta is finding out.

We’re excited about our speaker line up for our June event, Limitless: The Other Side of Impossible. We want to get our community excited too! So we’re profiling each of our speakers in the lead up. First up, is Dr. Vanessa Pirotta, whose love for Free Willy as a child led to a lifelong passion for marine life.

We bet you’ve heard before that almost three quarters of the Earth’s surface is water-covered. But more recently the conversation has focused on ocean health. Each year 8 million tonnes of plastic gets thrown into the ocean, with devastating effects to wildlife. The race is on for solutions.

So how does ‘whale snot’ enter this equation and how can it potentially give us information about our ocean’s health?

Vanessa, a marine biologist and science communicator, is pioneering the use of emerging technologies for whale conservation. She’s certainly equipped to do so! After all she has a BA in Science, a Masters of Research and a PhD focusing on cetacean (whale, dolphin and porpoise conservation). Her TEDxMelbourne talk will ask the question; how do you tell if the ocean environment is doing ok? It‘s hard to examine something that covers 7/10ths of the Earth and whales don’t exactly pop into the vet on their way through to tell you they’re sick. But what if we could go to them? Using drones in unique and creative ways, we can assess whale health as they move through the environment in a non invasive way. This gives us unprecedented insight into marine health in ways we never imagined.

Vanessa is revolutionising the way sea-life data is being collected.  Dramatically shifting away from previous methods, where, inevitably, there was risk of danger for either animals or humans (imagine having to get samples from whales that can weigh as much as 80 tonnes!).

But wait, what does ‘whale snot’ even mean? In Vanessa’s own words, it’s the ‘visible plume of spray rising from a whale’s blowhole. It looks like water but it contains biological information such as DNA, hormones and bacteria’. These drones are designed for the whales. Waterproof, and with petri dishes attached to them, the substance they collect is later analysed in a lab. They allow Vanessa and her team to better comprehend how that ecosystem actually works and what we could do to increase awareness and make  change.

This researcher from Macquarie University didn’t grow up anywhere near the ocean (she’s from a farm outside of Canberra). But that didn’t stop her from pursuing a career dedicated to her passion, the ocean and marine life. And what’s more, she’s an advocate of science communication, making complex, scientific theories something that we can all understand and relate to. So, what better place than the TEDxMelbourne stage to tell her story and mission?

`’I’ve always loved the TED community and the opportunity to speak at TEDxMelbourne was a great way to give back and be a part of it. My research also worked well with the theme as the ocean environment is an exciting place for limitless uses of technology.’

Don’t miss the opportunity and buy your tickets for this amazing event. We’re pushing the frontiers and moving towards what we used to believe was unreachable. But we have the power to decide what kind of impact we want to make. Vanessa’s work is proving invaluable in taking care of whales’ health, what else will we discover?

Over the next few weeks we’ll be profiling each of our amazing speakers. To stay in the loop for announcements, follow us on Insta and Facebook.

See the drone in action!

Reach out, listen, ask and get inspired.

2020
Adventure
Environment
Image of Cloe. TEDx Writer
Written By
Cloé Karagozlu
Cultural Management and Content Creator

Cultural management professional based in Buenos Aires. Writes about culture and all things that are related with social wellbeing and emotional expression. Connect with her here.

Image of Cloe. TEDx Writer
Written By
Cloé Karagozlu
Cultural Management and Content Creator

Cultural management professional based in Buenos Aires. Writes about culture and all things that are related with social wellbeing and emotional expression. Connect with her here.