Jean-Michel Cousteau: Ocean Adventures

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Meet the Expedition Team

Carrie Newell, Marine Biologist

Carrie Newell
Photo credit: Matt Ferraro

As someone who knows every one of Oregon's 33 named gray whales, Carrie Newell had much expertise to bring to the Cousteau expedition team. Carrie earned her master's degree in biological science/aquatic zoology from Northern Arizona University and is currently working on her Ph.D. in biological oceanography at Oregon State University. She has been sharing her knowledge of marine mammals for more than two decades as a college professor in both Arizona and Oregon. Other teaching experience includes her positions as a state park naturalist, an Elderhostel instructor and an environmental education teacher at elementary and junior high schools in Verde Valley, Arizona.

In addition to a plethora of research experience, including her work with the Center for Whale Research, where she learned about and helped to document orcas, Carrie began her own whale-watching business. She derives much pleasure from taking people out on the waters off the central Oregon coast and teaching them about the ocean's many inhabitants, particularly about the resident gray whales and their food sources. In 2005, Carrie published A Guide to Resident Gray Whales Along the Oregon Coast, a book that identifies and details the behavior, personalities and food sources of Oregon's gray whales.

Interview with Carrie Newell

Tell us about your journey to becoming a marine biologist.

Marine biology has always been my passion, and to become knowledgeable in the field, I took every course that was offered. I excelled in areas concerning the marine environment. I passed on my love for and expertise in the field to my daughters, and both can easily converse in any marine biology jargon. My daughter Ariel became a certified scuba diver at the age of 10, and Amber, my older daughter, was certified at the age of 15. I am now both teaching and doing research. It is so rewarding to see many of my students working in the marine biology field. It took many years to achieve my goal of becoming a marine biologist, but now I have achieved that goal -- and my advice to anyone, especially young women, is to determine what your passion is and go for it!

What is the most rewarding part of your job?

The most rewarding part of this job is sharing anything I learn with people who want to know it. I love to teach and share new information! I began a whale-watching business, and it is so exciting to have people tell me that this is a life-changing experience for them after they have gone on the boat and seen the whales. I also have had many children tell me that they now want to become a marine biologist. I try to show every person how everything is interconnected. On the ocean, I like not only to teach the people the individual names of the gray whales and why I gave them that specific name, but also to teach them about seabirds, seals, sea lions and, of course, the mysid shrimp, plus some geology, oceanography and so on.

In addition, to share my gray whale and mysid shrimp knowledge, I published a book titled A Guide to Resident Gray Whales Along the Oregon Coast. Each page of this book is loaded with color photographs showing Oregon's 33 individually named gray whales with write-ups on their personalities, the behaviors of gray whales, the food of whales, descriptions and photos of how whales feed, and problems that the gray whales have encountered.

Has anything about working with the Cousteau team surprised you?

Carrie Newell
Turned upside down, this gray whale image shows the killer whale rakes that seem to spell: NIFE. Photo credit: Carrie Newell
This work has been part of my Ph.D. research at Oregon State University. It has been fulfilling in many ways, but especially because I never knew I could identify individual whales and learn something about them personally. One of many amazing stories is that of Matrix Slasher and her calf Nifer. When the Cousteau team first filmed Matrix Slasher in 2004, we noticed she had a calf. For years Matrix had been returning to Depoe Bay, but we never knew she was a female until 2004. I noticed that the calf had killer whale tooth rakes on the right side of its head. By looking at my pictures, I found out that if you turn the tooth rakes upside down, they spell "N-I-F-E," so I named the calf Nifer. Nifer was probably born in one of the lagoons in Mexico, and the calf was most likely attacked by killer whales when mom and calf were traveling up to Oregon. Mom probably protected and saved Nifer from almost certain death. They arrived in Oregon in mid-July and stayed until September. During that time, Nifer would approach the boats and breach right next to them. An incredible calf and mom!