Inspiring Children to Live their Dream by Discussing Marine Mammal Research

Friday 14 February 2020

Claire Lacey has been participating in public engagement for several years. Recently Claire’s public engagement projects have taken off with the help of the Public Engagement with Research team, and the Public Engagement Portfolio (PEP), a training portfolio supported by CAPOD.

Claire’s research involves surveying marine mammals -particularly whales and dolphins – throughout the Atlantic and North Sea. Her blog, Adventures in Whale Counting, documents some of the highs and lows of the logistics of carrying out this research, as well as shining a light on some of the operational aspects often not considered. This work was something Claire has always wanted to do. Since being a young child all she wanted to do was sit on a boat watching dolphins. Having been told that this ‘wasn’t a real job’, as an adult Claire is now fulfilling her childhood dreams – as she gets to voyage out to sea to watch and count not just dolphins, but all sorts of marine mammals. Consequently, Claire is passionate about inspiring young children, particularly girls, into science careers.

In January 2019, Claire started a project called “Working with Whales”. The project was initiated by a link-up with three schools, in which pupils could submit their questions via email. Claire received over 200 questions from the classes covering a range of topics from Antarctic wildlife, to working remotely, to having a career in science. You can see examples of Claire’s answers to children’s science questions by her two publications; “Curious Kids: when fish get thirsty do they drink sea water?” and “Curious Kids: how do creatures living in the deep sea stay alive given the pressure?”

Since March 2019, Claire has been invited into school classes and assemblies to discuss Antarctic wildlife, maths activities involving measuring the length of whales, and estimating the volume of the mouth of a blue whale. Claire also brought in a “prey tray” which involves activities on whale feeding and the differences between toothed whales and baleen whales, what the eat, what their prey looks like and the dangers of marine plastics to wildlife. The children have thoroughly enjoyed these activities as it showed a more active way of learning maths and science, which sometimes involved standing in a one tonne skip bag. In total Claire visited a total of 12 classes and 5 assemblies across fife and skyped one class in Texas, which totals at speaking to more than 450 children.

Claire’s public engagement achievements have not gone unnoticed as not only was she one of our first PEP graduates, but she also won the Newcomer Award for her “Working with Whales” project. Claire received both her award and PEP graduation at our Public Engagement Awards ceremony which was held on the 30th October. Claire says that completing the PEP helped her public engagement projects as it was a good way to try new skills in a fun environment.

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