An Interview with WiseOceans… Monica Pepe from Whale & Dolphin Conservation (WDC)
This week we’re with Monica Pepe from Whale and Dolphin Conservation. After graduation, she worked hard as an intern to get where she is today. Her advice is to take advantage of the opportunities available to you and get involved!
Name: Monica Pepe
Job Title: Policy Manager – Conservation & Education
Organisation: Whale & Dolphin Conservation (WDC)
- What inspired you to pursue a career in marine conservation?
I grew up not far from the Atlantic ocean and always had an affinity for animals, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a long time. The pieces of the puzzle came together for me in high school when I was on a family vacation in Mexico. We swam with dolphins, and although I now feel very strongly that holding dolphins in captivity is unethical, that experience was incredible for me and sparked my interest in marine mammals.
- What steps did you take/are you taking to achieve your career goals?
I selected marine science for my bachelor’s degree and enrolled in courses with a concentration in marine biology. During my four years of undergrad I applied for a few internships through Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU). Although unsuccessful (it is a very competitive program) initially I applied for an internship with Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (as it was called then) shortly after graduation and was accepted.
- How did you land your current job/position?
The internship changed my life since I am now employed with them full time. My employment did not happen right away though; it took a few years of volunteering my time, gaining invaluable experience before I was offered a position, which initially was part time administrative work. Over the past 6 years I’ve transitioned into my current position with WDC.
- Which part of your job do you enjoy the most?
Because I spend so much time writing and editing documents, developing materials, and emailing colleagues, I always enjoy working with our sightings data. It’s refreshing to get back to what I started out doing during my internship.
- Are there aspects of your position which make you feel that you are really ‘making a difference’?
Absolutely. There are many aspects that make me feel I’m making a difference, but one of the more consistent ones is running our internship program. Each year I play a role in helping 7-10 up and coming students/scientists figure out what they want to do in life. It’s a lot of pressure to make sure they have a positive experience, but it is very rewarding when they do.
- What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were starting out?
I wish I knew how important it is to be an effective communicator. I thought “I’m getting into a field working with animals; I don’t need to worry much about public speaking”. Boy, was I wrong! Especially in a non-profit organization, communicating effectively is about 80% of the job. Between maintaining current supporters, recruiting new supporters, sharing conservation messaging and reporting on the work we accomplish, I spend a lot of my time communicating through both verbal and written mediums.
- Are there any skills you never thought you would need but did?
Same as above – public speaking!
- What advice would you give to budding marine conservationists?
My advice is to always get involved early on and try different things to figure out what you enjoy. In hindsight, I could’ve taken advantage of more opportunities when I was in both high school and college. I didn’t take the time to seek out opportunities, and I’m sure it would’ve benefitted me in the long run if I had.
- What is your favourite marine creature and why?
My favorite is the humpback whale. I’ve spent a lot of time with them during my career so I’ve gotten to know specific individuals and witness some really awesome behaviors. These whales have individual differences and personalities, and they make my work feel more like fun than work whenever I get to see them.
- What is your most unforgettable moment in the sea?
It’s hard to pick just one, but I think the one that I’ll remember the longest was one day last year I saw a fin whale breach multiple times. In case you’re not familiar, fin whales are the second largest creatures on the planet and almost never breach. We were fortunate to see it happen multiple times, which also lead to some pretty incredible pictures and video!
Thanks Monica, it is great to hear that you are working toward inspiring others to conserve our oceans. And wow to that fin whale breach!! Lucky you!
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