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Minke Girl
– the career of a former Diversion

photo by Ross Miller: Susan at workIt sounds a bit like a fairytale, but this one is true:

Susan Sobtzick from Berlin, a former client of Diversion Dive Travel, now lives in Townsville, where she has finished her PhD about Minke Whales. Here in Australia many people call her “Susan, the Minke Girl”.   

It was the dream of Susan’s dad, to dive on the Great Barrier Reef. In 2000 the whole family wanted to travel together and Susan was the one who started to organise the trip. She found or website on the Internet and contacted us. We recommended her and excursions with the Undersea Explorer because we love their approach to combine tourism with research. At the time we did not know, that Susan had an interested in marine biology and that this trip would be very important for her future career.

Susan at workIn 2004 Dirk and I did our first Minke Whale trip with the Undersea Explorer (UE) and Susan was on board! She then worked at her thesis. Susan was always the first one in and last one out of the water. With her video camera, she spend hours in the water, when everybody else on board warmed up already with cup of tea, she was still in there. She did all this work to document the exact size of Minke Whales for her theses.

In 2006 when Dirk and I did our second Minke Whale trip, she was on board again. This time we met her together with her supervisor and team leader of the Minke Whale Research Project, Dr Alastair Birtles, who supported her in the water and together they worked till ‘late night at the Computer enter to enter and sort the data, which they collected during the day.
Seeing Susan in action, I got the idea to capture the story of her career and do an interview with her, which she agreed to.

Mine Whale Photo by: Claudia LutropC (Claudia): When you booked your first trip on Undersea Explorer with us, we did not know, that you where tossing the idea to specialise your studies in marine biology. Was that planned all along or did you get the idea during the excursion?

S (Susan): At the time I was still undecided between microbiology and marine biology. I studied at the university of Rostock/Germany because they offered marine biology as a major field of study. However I enjoyed both micro and marine biology and was undecided. I thought to do a trip with the UE is a good idea, as I can see in “real life”, how marine biologists work.

C: Susan, do you remember the research themes of the first trips you and your family did with UE, in 2000?

S: Yes, the first trip was an Osprey Reef Shark Research excursion. The second one was, “Cephalopod research”, with Mark Norman on board. It was very exciting, as he discovered a new species of octopus on this trip!

C: What fascinated you so much, that you decided to study marine biology at the end?

S: I was never in contact with marine biologist before and suddenly I saw all those exciting things happening while I was there, which I only knew from TV.
The researchers where very charismatic people, these 2 excursions with the UE showed me that marine biology is not only about counting herring and measuring nutrient gradients in the Baltic Sea, but really exciting stuff!

C: How did you go on from there?

S: I finished my basic studies and took a year time out to go to Australia. I travelled and worked for a few companies, amongst the Undersea Explorer. They offered me a job as videographer to film the Minke Whales. I enjoyed this job big time! In the following years I went regularly back for the season and worked on UE. In 2004/5 I worked on my thesis, which had the title:’ Underwater Videogrammetry and its Application to Estimate Body Lengths of Dwarf Minke Whales in Great Barrier Reef Waters’

C: Have you been interested in whales before you had seen them, or did this interest awaken during your trips as videographer?

S:I never wanted to major in marine mammals, I wanted to follow my fathers’ interests, which are sharks and rays. However, when I saw my first whale under water, it blew me away! It was love at first sight.

C: How did you get to stay in the project?

 Dr Alastair Birtles and Susan on board of UES: I was very keen to continue to work in the project, so I applied for a scholarship and got it. I now live in Townsville and work at my PhD, which is about ‘Dwarf Minke Whale Biology and Implications for Tourism Management.” My supervisors are Dr Alastair Birtles and Prof Helene Marsh. It is amazing, what started as a holiday gave me undreamed-of possibilities changed my live completely!

C: Thank you very much, Susan! We are happy to be part of your story. We wish you and the Minke Whales a good future!

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