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Humpback Whale

Submit Your Questions
Paid subscribers only. Deadline April 10, 1998

Ask the Expert

Meet the Whale Expert, Anne Smrcina

1) Any childhood memory that was important in guiding you into your occupation?; how did you become interested in this Field?

I grew up in New York City where my ocean contact was mostly limited to visits to Coney Island and trips on the Staten Island Ferry (between Manhattan and Staten Island across New York Harbor). Although I didn't do a lot of actual hands-on work with ocean creatures, I was always fascinated by them, as well as their habitat. I remember that I did a major 5th grade report on ocean currents and sea floor geography/geology (trenches, mid-ocean ridges, abyssalplains, etc.).

In my elementary school graduation (6th grade) autograph book, I wrote, under the future career entry, that I wanted to work for a major marine research institution like Scripps Institute of Oceanography.

2) Any person, role model or leading authority that greatly influenced you?( a parent, 6th grade teacher, scientist etc...)

I was always entertained and enlightened by the work of Jacques Ives Cousteau. His articles, books, and TV shows brought the wonder of the seas to all of us landlubbers.

3) Your background:(job title, profession, education/training etc...)

I majored in Biology (Ecology concentration) at Cornell University where I also took an unofficial double major in Communication Arts. When I first went to college I was considering a career in medicine, but decided after my sophomore year that that field wasn't for me. I liked biology and other sciences, but didn't want to work in a laboratory.

I wasn't sure what I wanted to be until I took a journalism course. I found that I loved the opportunity to experience many science fields and learn constantly (you have to have a basic understanding of the science if you are going to write about it correctly). I continued with my training by obtaining a Master's degree in Science Journalism from Boston University, and later obtained a Master's in Education from the University of Massachusetts (I have an elementary school teacher certification).

My work experiences have included several years as a marketing and technical writers for several technology companies at the start of my career (you have to start somewhere) -- and then on to the good stuff. I've worked at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution as a public information officer (my prediction in my grade school book did actually come true), for the Massachusetts Coastal Zone Management Office as a public information and education specialist, and now for the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary as the education coordinator (my absolutely favorite job).

4) Favorite work story or experience: (What was ne of your most exciting, memorable, or exhilarating experiences in the Field?)

One of my most exciting experiences (actually some two weeks of excitement) was working at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution during the two TITANIC expeditions in 1985 and 1986. Although the public information staff was based in Woods Hole, we were the ones getting the day-by-day information from Dr. Ballard and his crew out in the North Atlantic. We in turn would relay the information on to the assembled media, as well as news reporters from around the world by phone. I spoke to newspaper reporters from the Soviet Union, Japan, England and Australia, among many spots. It was great being on the front lines of a front page story.

5) What advice can you provide to a student who might be interested in working in your occupation some day?

My advice to anyone considering a career in marine science or science journalism is to get as well rounded an education as possible, especially in all the sciences. Students should take all the science and math they can possibly take in high school (biology, chemistry, physics, advanced placement courses, trigonometry, calculus, etc.). Once in college, again take a broad range of subjects and don't specialize too soon. Most science fields (research areas in particular) now require a technical expertise not imagined years ago (biologists are studying effects of chemicals on species, physical oceanographers are helping decifer movements of zooplankton, studies of whale populations requires an understanding of statistics and other math specialties).

If you would like to get into science journalism, the same applies. A good sound science background is a first step -- or a good sound English background with many science electives. In either case, you should try to get summer jobs, internships (paid or unpaid), volunteer experience in the field of your choice. It's usually this hands-on experience that helps most when you start to go out looking for jobs.

6) Any family members, including pets?

I'm married to a fellow who worked in the Navy (first in the submarine service and then with the Office of Naval Research). Kurt retired from the Navy and now works for a small company on Cape Cod that develops deep ocean search and survey technology. I have two girls, ages 10 and 5 (6 in April). We have a hamster (Stormy) and two guinea pigs (Tribble and Snickers), and lots of fish in a freshwater tank (salt water tanks are a bit too much work to maintain).

7) Favorite book(s), Favorite food(s), Any hobbies?

I love to read mystery novels, including Sherlock Holmes and Lord Peter Whimsey. I also found the recent novel "The Perfect Storm" to be one of those "can't put down until it's done" type of books. Another book I have enjoyed is The Sea Around Us by Rachel Carson. My favorite foods include: pizza, Thai noodles, egg rolls, lamb chops, roast beef, chocolate chip cookies and chocolate chip ice cream. I don't really like fish or seafood all that much. My hobbies include: photography, art, playing volleyball (I'm a setter), and coaching my children's soccer teams.

8) Other comments?

I love to travel and my jobs have allowed me to get to some interesting places. I want to encourage all students to try to do your best at school and strive for your dreams. Don't settle for second best. If you work hard in school, it may pay off in an exciting profession that will make each work day exciting and worthwhile. Good luck in all your future endeavors.