What is it ACTUALLY like to be a sea turtle biologist?


Did you know Sea Turtle Biologist is a real job?

Love Sea Turtles? Think you might want to be a sea turtle biologist? Just now finding out Sea Turtle Biologist is a real job?

Here are the unapologetic best and worst parts about being a sea turtle biologist! Straight from our source, Dr. Joe Pfaller.

So, what is it like being a Sea Turtle Biologist?

One morning, Dr. Joe Pfaller was at a seaside diner in Florida having breakfast. He looked over, and saw a fisherman on the dock had hooked a sea turtle! So naturally, he ran out to help.

He made it over to the fisherman and said “It’s ok! I’m a Sea Turtle Biologist!”

The fisherman was, skeptical… But, Dr. Pfaller was enthusiastic and there to help. They got the turtle unhooked. Reflecting back on the incident, he started to wonder what people actually think a Sea Turtle Biologist does.

First step, knowing Sea Turtle Biologist is not a mythical job!

If someone knows being a Sea Turtle Biologist is in fact a job, they likely imagine someone swimming along side a turtle in tranquil blue waters. Or, someone at Sea World at a tank with a bunch of plump sea turtles.

The Reality of Being a Sea Turtle Biologist

Check out min 1:00 in the video for a personal look!

The Field for a Sea Turtle Biologist

The field is wherever a scientist goes to study plants or animals in the wild. This is probably where most people thing a Sea Turtle Biologist tends to hang out. For a Sea Turtle Biologist, the field might be a pristine beach, coral reef, sea grass meadow, or the open ocean. Basically, anywhere that’s pristine, beautiful, and not too cold. You’re right, Dr. Pfaller spends a lot of time in beautiful places.

You’re probably thinking, sign me up!!

The Great Parts of being a Sea Turtle Biologist

1) Being in beautiful places
As a Sea Turtle Biologist Dr. Pfaller gets to live in the forest and work on the beach. Watch every sunrise and sunset. Patrol the beach under the moon and stars at night.

2) The Sea Turtles!
He gets to watch sea turtles that might be 50 or 60 years old emerge from the ocean onto the beach to lay their eggs. You can see their contractions, hear their breaths.

A few months later, he gets to watch hatchling turtles boil up out of the sand and race to the ocean. These are ancient, awe inspiring, rituals in biology that he gets to see multiple times a year. Some people never get to see them in their lifetime! Not only that, it’s his job.

3) A sense of purpose
Whether at his desk, in the lab, or in the field, Dr. Pfaller has a real sense of purpose. He gets to help sea turtles survive. Whether it’s writing a research paper to inform a course of action, or talking to a group of high school students about plastic pollution – he’s inspired by the fact that what he’s doing is making a difference.

4) Sharing Sea Turtles and Science with Others
Like a lot of projects around the world, Dr. Pfaller’s projects involve a lot of volunteers. They come to see the turtles and help with the research. To be able to go on the beach and look for a nesting and show it to people, or see a group of hatchlings to to the water, is a unique privilege.

He also teaches people how to collect data, and how science works. Foster an appreciation for the value of science, not just in sea turtle conservation but in all aspects of human life.

The less desirable aspects of sea turtle biology…

Here are a few things you might want to know… It’s not all rainbows and butterflies. More like coffee binges and bot flies…

1) Time spent away from Sea Turtles
Dr. Pfaller actually spends a lot of time away from sea turtles, and instead at his computer. Analyzing data, writing scientific papers, preparing figures for conferences, writing reports… He even writing computer code in the terminal window. You know in Jurassic Park when Samuel L. Jackson tries to crack Newman’s computer virus? No? Something like that…

A ginormous part of sea turtle conservation, and science in general, is spent ticking away at computers. This part of being a Sea Turtle Biologist is not for the uncommitted.

He also spends a lot of time in another fluorescent cave, the lab! Analyzing samples, running experiments, building contraptions you might use in the field, mixing chemicals, pipetting… Lab work is definitely tedious, but it’s what turns those hard earned field samples into actual data. Woohoo!

2) A lot of time is spent on nesting beaches
Mama turtles like to lay their eggs at night, and in the summer. So, you’ll stay up all night (sometimes until 7am!) and then sleep during the day in the sweltering heat… and there’s NO air conditioning in the field. Intense sleep deprivation + the heat can be really rough.

Plus, these coastal areas where sea turtles like to nest can be GREAT breeding areas for biting insects… Mosquitos, flys, sand gnats, ticks. Dr. Pfaller has had nights in the nesting beach where the bugs were so bad he’s second guessed a few life choices… And he doesn’t even work in the tropics where scientists risk malaria, dinghy fever, yellow fever, you name it! Sea Turtle Biologists sometimes have to get used to the idea that they’ll occasionally be a blood donor or parasitic host.

3) Other dangers…
A quick list, biting plants, scorpions, spiders, snakes, crocodilians, jaguars, and guerillas…

4) The gross / vomit inducing part of the job...
It’s actually pretty normal for a Sea Turtle Biologist to take up a knife and necropsy turtles that are found dead in the study area. A turtle that has been floating in the ocean for a couple days gets pretty nasty pretty quickly. It can test even some of the strongest stomachs. The same goes for nest inventories and unhatched eggs that have been underground several weeks. On Dr. Pfaller’s projects they call them “vomitoriums”. Testing your vomit reflex is just part of the Sea Turtle Biologist game.

So, being a Sea Turtle Biologist can be difficult, grueling, blood draining, and gross.

But, don’t forget it can also be supremely rewarding! (Remember the sea turtles? Beautiful places to work? Sense of purpose? Fun with science?😊)

Still considering Sea Turtle Biology?

To Mr. Fisherman (from the story), and you budding Sea Turtle Biologist, we hope you have a better idea what it’s actually like to be a Sea Turtle Biologist.

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