image of Tamara

Tamara McGuire

Why did you become a wildlife biologist?

I became a wildlife biologist because I love animals. Many different professions are available to people who love animals and want to work with them. Some examples are being a veterinarian, a worker at an animal shelter, a wildlife photographer, or a zookeeper. I chose to be a wildlife- biologist because I love to watch and study animals in their natural habitats.

Also, I know that many wild animals are in trouble because they do not have much natural habitat left. I want to learn more about wild animals and the problems they are facing. If we understand the animals and their problems, we can try to help them.

Who have been role models and/or mentors for you?

I have been lucky to have many role models in my life. My family has always taught me that I can be anything that I want to be, but that I have to be willing to work hard enough to get it. My parents both went back to school after they were married and had children, and by their example they have shown me that an education is very important, and is worth sacrificing for.

As a young girl I loved reading about Dr. Marie Curie, who was a famous chemist. She had to work hard to complete her education, but she always loved her work and the discoveries that she made.

Jacques Cousteau inspired me to learn more about the aquatic environment, and first got me interested in dolphins. Jane Goodall, who studies chimpanzees in Africa, first showed me that people can make careers out of watching animals, and also that years of quiet, patient observation can often lead to very important discoveries. An favorite elementary school teacher, Ms. Anne Wills, taught me that the world is not fair, but we must do what we can to make things better. Dr. Mary Silver, a professor of Oceanography at the University of California at Santa Cruz, showed me that a woman can be a University professor and an excellent scientist, while still being passionate and emotional about her work.

The volunteers with the Oceanic Society have shown me that there are many people in the world who are full of curiosity and who want to discover more about the world and want to help study river dolphins. My older Oceanic Society volunteers have been great examples that people are never too old (or too young) to keep exploring and learning about the world.

What skills does it take to be a wildlife biologist?

Some skills that it takes to be a be a wildlife biologist are patience, a good sense of observation, curiosity, paying attention to detail, good basic math skills, and good writing skills. These days, most wildlife biologists also need computer skills, although many biologist in other countries don't have computers and are still excellent biologists.

Sometimes you also have to be stubborn and determined, because it is not always an easy life, although it is always worthwhile. You will never be rich if you are a wildlife biologist, and you will often be away from your family and friends. The insects in the Amazon can make life very uncomfortable, and sometimes the days seem very hot and long. You can't just go to the movies or order a pizza when you want a break.

Sometimes I am sad when I see that Peruvian friends are sick and that there is no doctor to help them or their families. On the other hand, you will get to experience things in nature that you can't see on TV, and you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you are trying to make a difference in the world.

In my particular specialty, I also need to know how to speak Spanish, how to work with people, how to use a camera, how to drive a small boat, and how to repair my own equipment. It is also a good idea to know first aid if you are going to be working in remote areas.

What level of education is required?

At a minimum, a wildlife biologist needs to have a bachelor's degree in wildlife biology, ecology, or biology. To do independent research, a wildlife biologist should have a master's degree in wildlife biology. The highest degree is a Ph.D., which is also called a doctorate. I am studying for my Ph.D. so I can learn all that I can about river dolphins, and also to be able to be the leader of a research team and to design my own investigations.

What interested you in studying river dolphins?

I am interested in studying river dolphins for many reasons. I have always been interested in dolphins, whether they live in the oceans or rivers. They are mammals like us, yet live in an aquatic environment that is so different from our land environment. Imagine living your entire life in the water!

They are so different from us in the ways that they move, communicate, see, eat, hear, and sleep, yet they are like us in so many ways. For example, dolphins are warm blooded, communicate with one another, and the mothers nurse their young. They are very intelligent.

River dolphins are especially interesting to me, because they are such unusual and mysterious animals. They are only found in a few places in the world, and most people don't think of river dolphins when they think of dolphins. Some people think river dolphins are ugly, but I like them because they are different looking and unique.

River dolphins are also in trouble in some parts of the world. We really don't know much about river dolphins, and I think it is important to learn all that we can about them, before it is too late.

What new knowledge do you hope to gain from the expedition?

With every expedition I learn more about the dolphins. I want to know where they are, if their numbers have changed since the last expedition, when they are having their babies, how their habitat has changed , and which of the individual dolphins I can recognize from previous trips. I also want to know how people and dolphins are interacting. Some of these questions can only be answered little by little, and I want to compare the data from each expedition with all of the data from pervious expeditions to be able to see if there are any patterns. Each individual expedition is important, because I learn something new about the dolphins and their habitat every time, but it is also important to be patient and look at the information from all of the expeditions together.

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