Whale research broadens Sarita’s horizons

Published 02 November 2010

saritaSarita Perston (pictured here), an undergraduate student at the University of New England, jumped at the opportunity to join The Oceania Project’s humpback whale research expedition in Hervey Bay as an intern.

“I know it’s important to keep your horizons broad,” Ms Perston said.  “So when I heard about The Oceania Project’s internship program, I knew it was something I wanted to experience.”

The Oceania Project was founded more than two decades ago as a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to the conservation of whales, dolphins and oceans.  Each year, as humpback whales linger in Hervey Bay on their migration south, the Project runs a popular fee-paying internship program in conjunction with its research expeditions.

With financial backing from UNE, Ms Perston – who is in the second year of a combined Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Science degree program – was able to accept a six-day internship on the Project’s research catamaran.

“The experience was, quite simply, amazing,” she said. “Each day, I contributed to the ongoing research efforts by taking notes on the behaviour and social interactions of the pods of humpback whales swimming under and around the boat. Nothing can quite compare with seeing the head of a fifteen-metre humpback rise beside you, to see its eye in its barnacled skin, and to have it look right at you. Apart from – that is – lying awake at night as the boat rocks gently, and a singing whale’s sonorous notes ripple through the water.”

Ms Perston is pleased, too, that the experience contributed directly to her degree program, as the internship met the criteria for a work-experience unit she is undertaking.

She said that – for her – the key to successful learning was enjoying her studies by following her passions. “A combined degree is letting me do that,” she said, “and it’s one of the reasons I chose UNE. Although it’s sometimes challenging juggling my two majors – writing and chemistry – it’s an exciting challenge. And, while I’m still deciding what the next step after university is for me, I know the door is open and I’ll continue to pursue whatever most interests me, whether it’s whales or words.”