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The Making of a Marine Naturalist: Meet Sarah Bonneson

Australia

Category Header_My Life as a Marine Naturalist

A few weeks ago we introduced you to one of our Marine Naturalists at Pacific Whale Foundation, Erin Hord. We’re back again and excited to introduce you to another crew member, the charismatic Sarah Bonneson. Let’s dive deeper into her passion for the ocean, and find out what brought her on this journey towards working with our team in research, education, and conservation. Make sure to stay tuned for our next crew interview!


Hey Sarah! Where did you originally call home? 
I’m originally from a small town in Southern Maine. Growing up so close to the ocean and being immersed in Maine’s rugged beauty no doubt helped form my immense passion for the environment.
What about the ocean most captivates you?
The ocean is liquid outer-space. It is home to some of the most bizarre organisms on the planet and caters to some of the most mind-boggling adaptations of life. I love the mystery that the ocean holds and the endless questions that it prods from us.
What do you enjoy most about working for Pacific Whale Foundation?
I love the platform PWF creates to reach people and tug on their heart strings. For many of us, being able to connect a feeling with an experience can be life changing and I think that is the ultimate goal of Pacific Whale Foundation: to enact change through education and use our trips as an avenue to empower our passengers to be advocates for the ocean.
What experiences and education were most influential on your path to becoming a Marine Naturalist?
I went on my first whale watch out of Plymouth, Massachusetts and completely fell in love with humpback whales as one swam under the boat, showing its colossal size paired with an elegance and awareness that cemented my ties with the ocean indefinitely. From that moment on I was hooked.
What does the world need to know about conservation?
You do not have to be a scientist to make a difference. It can be as simple as eliminating one plastic item off of your shopping list, remembering to bring your reusable bags or forgoing that plastic straw at the bar. You will soon find that these small changes begin to bleed into your everyday decisions and now you are creating a ripple effect. Your friends, family, your children see you taking the extra time to be environmentally conscious and it will empower them to do the same. Start today, let your actions speak volumes for the ocean!

What is your favorite humpback whale behaviour to see and interpret for guests on board a whalewatch?
This is a hard one. I have to say one of my all time favorites would have to be an Inverted Pectoral Slap. A repetitive behavior thought to be used for communication. The whale looks like its “lollygagging” at the ocean’s surface and doing the backstroke. Honestly though, I really love when I see a whale doing a behavior that I have no idea how to interpret. I think it humbles my whale watches and reminds me of how little we truly know about these magnificent creatures and how much more we have to learn.
Why do you feel whalewatching is an amazing way to connect people with the marine environment?
I think connecting a powerful emotion with an experience is what brings about change and this is exactly what these gentle giants are best at. Most of the time on whale watches the whales speak for themselves, creating an intimate connection with every person onboard. Being able to view these animals for yourself and see them leap out of the water, take an interest in the boat or just enjoying their natural habitat is incredibly moving.
How do you stay motivated while working in the field of marine biology and conservation?
Most of my favorite memories are connected to the ocean in some way or form. Its taught me a lot about patience, trust and respect. From meeting eyes with a humpback whale to flying with manta rays or just bobbing with turtles, these animals have been some of the most wonderful hosts I have ever met as they share with me their world. I want everyone to have these connections as it becomes so incredibly paramount that we must protect their home and in turn our own.
And lastly…what is your oceanic spirit animal?
I think I would want to combine a few different ocean animals but I’ll go with an octopus. I am by no means as intelligent as these underwater aliens but their ability to make the best of whatever backdrop they are given and learn from their surroundings reminds me of my own nomadic lifestyle.


There you have it! Sarah brings an incredible energy to the team and to each and every one of her whalewatches; it’s a true delight to have her onboard Ocean Defender as a Marine Naturalist. Come visit us in Hervey Bay and experience the powerful message of ocean conservation and whale research that Sarah shares every day.
Stay tuned for our next interview!