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Atypical and creative career path
What is it that drove this 30-year-old woman native of a Swiss German village, who had never before been on the water, to take a class on whales at a St. Lawrence research centre, and to become its director ten years later? Passionate motivation, relentless commitment, and a twist of fate.
It was in 1993 that Ursula Tscherter achieved her childhood dream of working with whales when she interned at the Ocean Research and Education Society (ORES). A summer that would forever change her: ORES founder passes on to her his passion and curiosity for whales, as well as his strong desire to raise awareness of them and study them using the least intrusive methods possible.
Having previously worked as carpenter/cabinetmaker, instructor of manual labour and forest naturalist, she returned to Les Bergeronnes the following summer to renovate a house slated to become a research station, and to learn the trade of whale researcher. She learned to operate a boat and to take photos. She even developed a system to categorize minke whales based on the gashes in their dorsal fins. As : Ned Lynas‘ assistant, she took over the reins of the organization after his death in 2002. She has also served as director of the Swiss foundation since 1997.
Her days are devoted to whales, particularly the minke whales that she finds so fascinating, for “just when you think you know them, their behaviour changes and evolves”. In summers she heads offshore, coaches student interns, gathers scientific data, takes photos, and shares her knowledge with the public, whale-watching boat operators and other research teams working in the region. Her studies of minke whales – which relate to their habitat, feeding and breathing behaviour, and sexing methods as well as the effects of human activities on the species – help generate essential data to learn more about this common yet still poorly known cetacean in certain aspects. In winter she returns to Switzerland to see family and friends as well as to raise awareness of ORES, its mission, and the minke whales of the St. Lawrence through presentations given in schools.
She undertook a master’s degree in 2012 in the feeding ecology of St. Lawrence minke whales at Scotland’s University of St. Andrews. Another step toward fulfilling her childhood dream!