Microphone in hand, Carl Mayhugh paces the deck, explaining to tourists and ocean lovers how to spot whales spouting on the open ocean, from the deck of the Ocean Institute’s research vessel the Sea Explorer, as it rounds Dana Point, California on a sunny Saturday afternoon.
He has the ‘office job’ almost anyone would love: trolling the open ocean, looking for whales.
A Board Member of the American Cetacean Society, San Diego, formerly on the Board of Advisors for the San Diego Oceans Foundation and Certified Scientific Diver with the American Academy of Underwater Sciences, as well as a certified SCUBA Instructor, Carl is well-equipped for the job as a Marine Educator with the Ocean Institute of Dana Point.
The Ocean Institute has become nationally known for its hands-on marine science, environmental education and maritime history programs. More than 110,000 K-12 students and 6,000 teachers annually participate in the Institute’s 61 award-winning, immersion style programs which allow studenst to learn oceanography and science, they voyage onto the ocean to feel and taste the salty sea spray, sort through live specimens, observe migrating whales and collect scientific data
Q: Your life revolves around the ocean: how did that begin for you?
A: I grew up in Costa Mesa and went to the beach every chance I had. I remember wanting to see what was beneath the surface of the ocean, and I remember looking at the horizon and wondering what was just out of sight.
Q: You are on the board of directors of the American Cetacean Society. Do you feel a special connection with the higher marine mammals? What is your favorite marine mammal and why?
A: The larger whales like Blue whales and Fin whales are my favorites. Because of their size and where they live marine mammals are difficult to study, but of all the animals in the ocean they are the most like us. I appreciate all the life in the oceans, but when I look at a marine mammal I can see that they are looking back at me, I can tell that there is a connection.
Q : Until last year you were a member of the California Marine Life Protection Act Southcoast Regional Stakeholders Group. The MLPA is a complex issue that has spanned several years now. Can you boil down the essential issues involved–the important points you’d like people to understand?
A: The California Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) requires that Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are established to protect the biodiversity and health of our coasts. The process of deciding where to place these MPAs and how big the MPAs should be was very political. I entered into the MLPA process with the idea that what makes sense scientifically in the end will be the best result for our coastal environment and actually improve fishing. Unfortunately politics undermined the process and the resulting MPAs are not as effective as they should’ve been, but they are a step in the right direction.
Q: You are a teacher of marine science. What aspects of marine science are your favorite to teach and why?
A: My favorite field of study is behavioral biology. I like to try to figure out what drives animals to do what they do. To understand animal behavior you have to get out of the lab and into the field. That’s how you get to know the animal. My favorite part of teaching is watching a student’s eyes light up when they learn something new, or when they see a marine animal up close for the first time.
Q: Much as been said about the decline of the oceans in recent years, especially in light of the recent oil disaster in the Gulf. Are you optimistic or pessimistic?
A: I’m very concerned; the oceans are not as healthy as they were when I was a kid. People are appalled by commercial whaling, but most are unaware that bycatch of cetaceans by commercial fishing kills hundreds of thousands of whales and dolphins each year. Regarding the oil spill, I’m concerned that even after the obvious oil from the spill has been removed, toxins from the spill are going to be with us for a long time. Our oceans are in trouble and they are being attacked from all sides.
Q: What advice do you have for kids who might want to make the ocean their career?
A: There are many ways to have a career on the ocean. Kids can grow up to be boat captains, commercial divers, scientific divers, aquarists, mariculturists, oceanographers, biologists etc. There are a lot of options. Regardless of your career choice I would recommend becoming a certified scuba diver and learn boat handling. These skills will be valuable no matter what field a student goes into. To go into science make sure to get a good base in math and science, that’s essential. But remember that not all science happens in a lab or on a computer; science is just a way to describe what is happening outside.
Most importantly always remember to never stop asking: why?