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Orkney Science Festival, Ashleigh Kitchiner

I work as a Senior Marine Mammal Consultant by day and volunteer as a STEM Ambassador by night! What that means is that I research, write about and survey for whales, dolphins, and porpoises during operations at-sea. Whales, dolphins, and porpoises are sensitive to sound, it is how they communicate, navigate and forage in the ocean, this means that some operations may harm or disturb these intelligent animals. That’s where I come in, designing surveys, creating mitigation and following strict guidelines and protocols I can visually or acoustically detect animals that may be in range of oncoming sounds. If they are nearby I would advise to delay operations until these majestic creatures are at a safe distance. Offshore operations happen globally, and I have been able to travel the world in this profession and see awe-inspiring wildlife.

But when I’m at home, I like to visit schools, science festivals and deliver engaging content online. I talk about marine mammals, my jobs and what other careers there are in the marine sector. I have just been part of the Orkney International Science Festival and I have been able to visit some schools talking about my favourite subject, marine mammals. I boarded an early ferry and visited a community school where we spent nearly an hour and a half talking about my job. Firstly, I started off with a presentation so they could learn a little more about these animals, this was followed by a Q+A. The Q+A in-person was so different to a virtual Q+A, I was asked questions I have never been asked before and the learners really bounced off one another and ideas were flowing.

I then showed them some footage from my recent trips and wanted to demonstrate how we would survey for these animals at sea. So, we did a ‘virtual survey’, this a presentation where we have the background as the sea and different species of dolphins fly in and out for a few minutes and the children have to guess the species and tell me how many there were. This helps embed any kind of ecological or nature survey then may wish to do in the future.

Overall, I had a fantastic time delivering these kind of sessions to the community schools as part of the science festival. I would not hesitate to get involved with a science festival and look forward to 2023!


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