One woman whale show!

(Blog written by Jenny Hampson)

To mark the end of orientation week on the Marine Mammal Science MSc, students met with the inspirational and charismatic cetacean scientist, Dr Asha de Vos. As a St Andrew’s alumni herself, Asha proved to the excited and awe-stricken students that the sky is no longer the limit!

She spoke animatedly to a captive audience about the struggles that she overcame in reaching her goal of becoming a marine biologist. Namely, staying in a tent for 6 months to work on a conservation project in New Zealand, working in potato fields to save money to fund her volunteering, and cleaning toilets on a research vessel to get a foot in the door!  Her passion and drive to let nothing stop her in her mission to contribute to the protection and conservation of Sri Lanka’s marine mammals was clear, and a perfect tone with which we could start the course.

Asha founded and directs the NGO Oceanswell which aims to educate the next generation of students from under-represented nations in marine conservation research. Her discussion of this project and its ability to have long term impacts was particularly inspiring. It encouraged us to think about the long-term implications of research, and about the areas of research we want to contribute to. Her focus on the quality of the science using cheaper and more basic techniques (for example, using a tea strainer to collect samples of blue whale poo) really underpinned her desire to shake up the diversity and opportunities in marine mammal science. She emphasised that the quality of the science doesn’t come from the big grant. This was particularly encouraging to hear as we begin our careers as researchers.

Finally, after answering questions from around the table, she encouraged us to help make a change in the way conservation is undertaken globally, less centred on industrialised countries and the most high-tech methods. There needs to be more diversity in the scientific community and a wider spread of research areas that implement conservation and communicate its importance to more widespread communities on a local scale.  After all, Asha herself said “You want to be respected in your home. Why can we not respect animals in theirs?”.

Wide-eyed and invigorated, we left discussing how we could attempt to achieve some of these successes and which paths we may follow upon completing the Marine Mammal Science MSc.

“It was so refreshing to hear from a fellow female scientist who is confident in her abilities. Listening to Asha talk about overcoming her own trials and tribulations was definitely motivating; I only wish I could have recorded our session for motivation later in the semester!” – Lauren S

 “Listening to Asha speak about her work and her experiences was such an inspirational moment. She is not afraid to challenge conventions and represents such a unique voice in the field of conservation.” – Isha

Asha showed us all how important it is to be persistent and never give up on reaching our goals. Meeting such an inspiring scientist as we started our Masters programme was the perfect beginning to a great year!”  – Maeva


Master’s students at the School of Biology kick-started Orientation week with a visit to the Scottish Fisheries Museum in Anstruther. Following a short bus ride past the beautiful Scottish landscape, we were ushered in for a small introductory talk by one of the staff members of the Museum. We were given a brief overview of the exhibits and the various themes that were integrated

Trying our hand at net-making!

throughout the galleries – beginning from prehistoric fishing equipment to the gradual changes in the fishing industry of Scotland while exploring the effects of economic, political and social factors on the development of the Industry.

We were then left to explore the (deceptively large) Museum. The next hour was spent looking over amazing models and reconstructions of boats, sails, navigation equipment and poring over beautiful photographs and paintings depicting the lives of the fisherfolk. A highlight of the galleries were the numerous interactive exhibits encouraging us to weave nets, tie knots and stand aboard an original wheelhouse – complete with the thrumming of engines!

‘Harvest’ – ceramic sculptures highlighting pollution

The Museum also had on display, Mella Shaw’s sculptures titled ‘Harvest’ that were thought-provoking ceramic pieces depicting the urgent issue of marine plastic pollution.

Towards the end of the visit were the reconstructed deck and cabin of the Research LK62 and various models explaining her history and significance and the much anticipated whaling exhibit with various models depicting the changes in the whaling industry over time. The trip ended on a sweet note with some delicious tea and cakes in the lovely café of the museum.

The exhibits beautifully encapsulated the history of Scottish fishing over time and conveyed the story of how boats, fish and folk were all interweaved together.

Isha Shyam

It really is bigger than you think!