A few questions for our latest campaigner, Sharon Livermore

Our internal editorial team took a few minutes to welcome Sharon Livermore, our latest campaign hire, with a few questions about her and her background. -- ED

Sharon Livermore enjoying one of her favorite hobbies...What’s your specialty at IFAW?

As the marine campaigner, I’m working with the IFAW campaign team to help protect whales and dolphins in the Oceania region. In particular, I focus on major threats to whale and dolphins My research background in dolphin behaviour is helpful in identifying critically important habitats and in working to find solutions to ship strike issues and ocean noise pollution, such as that created by the oil and gas industry.

What would you like to achieve during your time at IFAW?

I am excited to be working with an organisation that has had such a positive impact on reducing threats to animal welfare and conservation.

I am optimistic that our work current work will make Government and industry think!Ultimately, we want to make a real and significant change to the legislative processes surrounding oil and gas exploration and other development in Australian waters. It is so important to protect these vulnerable whale and dolphin populations. I’m up for the challenge.

What influenced you to join IFAW and come to Australia?

For as long as I can remember I have had a passion for conservation and all things marine. I became very interested in cetacean behaviour and acoustics during my Masters course and had a great opportunity to study bottlenose dolphin echolocation behaviour in west Wales as part of my studies.

As I began to understand more about the threats to whale and dolphin populations worldwide, I knew I had found my career path. Moving to Australia has always been a fantasy of mine, and so to be living here and working on whale and dolphin issues with IFAW is really a dream come true!

Where did your passion for the ocean spring from?

That’s a difficult one – I’ve always loved spending time in and near the ocean.  Marine life and the underwater world have always fascinated me, especially how little is known.  

Then 12 years ago, I started surfing, which made me feel even more connected to the ocean and it then became a foregone conclusion that I would focus on a career in marine conservation.

What is the most pressing animal issue we’re currently facing? What you’d like to see done to try and solve it.

We are so fortunate in Australia to have some of the world’s most unique wildlife and pristine environments, both on land and in the ocean, but I think that rampant industrial development is the biggest threat to conserving this amazing biodiversity.

A big part of the challenge is that money talks, and a good example is with the oil and gas giants, who are rapidly expanding exploration in offshore regions where little is known about the marine life that exists there. Seismic surveying presents an enormous threat to whale and dolphin populations and we have a huge challenge ahead of ourselves to bring about change. In the long run, I would like to see better protection and a greater appreciation and understanding of species and habitat importance embedded? into Governmental policy. In my opinion, there are some areas that are just too special to be put at risk and need to be protected from industrial activities that are known to threaten many marine species.

What is seismic testing and explain its importance?

Seismic testing is used by the oil and gas industry to help locate energy reserves below the sea floor.  A seismic testing ship will trail an array of air guns and streamers spread out up to 10,000m behind the ship, with up to 20 airguns firing simultaneously, emitting a series of intense blasts, directing acoustical energy pulses through the water column to penetrate the sea floor. Ships normally run seismic surveys for up to 60 days at a time, 24-7.

Unfortunately, while these blasts are not audible to humans, they are in the same frequency range used by many whale and dolphin species and very powerful.  Additionally, many offshore gas and oil reserves are located in areas where there is a high level of productivity and thus a wide variety of marine life, including endangered Blue Whales use these essential areas to feed.

Given that whales and dolphins live in an acoustic environment, creating increased ocean noise can have devastating effects.  It’s difficult to imagine how essential sound is to a marine mammal, but whales and dolphins have evolved to use sound in so many ways that are essential to their survival – to navigate, communicate, locate prey, find mates and avoid predators. Seismic testing can interfere with all of these activities and this could have far-reaching consequences for population survival.

Any pets of your own?

Unfortunately not L I grew up with a beautiful border collie and would love to have a dog of my own one day – just need to find an understanding landlord!

Most rewarding animal moment?

Too many to count! Diving with thresher sharks in the Philippines was one of the most exciting animal moments I’ve ever had and also watching wild orangutans build a nest in the Bornean rainforest will stay with me for my lifetime. Since moving to Australia I’ve had fabulous animal moments nearly every week – seeing wombats, echidnas, koalas and all kinds of possum when I’m out hiking and camping.

What do you do in your spare time?

Depending on where I am, I love hiking, mountain biking, skiing and surfing (or attempting to surf!). I enjoy spending as much of my spare time as possible outdoors and hopefully somewhere naturally beautiful.

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Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
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