8 May 2019: My time as an intern at NAMMCO
To find out more about how to apply to the NAMMCO Internship Programme, click the link here.
My name is Sam Smith and I’m a marine biology masters graduate from the UK. I have been on the NAMMCO internship programme at the Secretariat here in Tromsø for the last eight months.
My first contact with NAMMCO had actually occurred a few years ago when I was wanting to read more about the pilot-whale drive hunt, the Grind, in the Faroe Islands. Being from the UK, most of the information we receive about the hunt comes through rather sensationalist reports of the events. I grew up in the countryside and have always been familiar with the interaction between humans, the land and the food we eat; I thought there would be more sides to this story. My search lead me to a document presented to a NAMMCO workshop on hunting methods which discussed various aspects of the hunt, including population abundance and improvements made towards greater efficiency. It certainly made me appreciate the issues facing communities with limited available resources – except for those that exist in the oceans in abundance. While I was not in principle opposed to the use of marine mammals as food, it was important to me to see that it could be done sustainably and with awareness for animal welfare issues.
Some years after this, I was completing my master’s degree at Bangor University where I looked at fish population assessment and management issues. I wished to continue with the theme of my research and further explore sustainable resource utilisation and conservation. I was therefore looking for internships or volunteer positions where I could gain experience for a future career in marine science. I had lived in Norway for a year for my degree and had an interest in returning to explore my options living and working there. When looking at job vacancies, I noticed one listed with NAMMCO. I went to the website to read more, where I found out about the internship programme that they offered. I had experience with issues around marine living resources and an interest in marine mammals; it seemed like a fantastic opportunity!
About my NAMMCO internship:
I began work at the Secretariat in September 2018 and I have since had several key tasks to perform during my internship, with a major one being conducting review of animal welfare assessment in hunts. This work was reported to the Committee on Hunting Methods and aimed to find comparative studies exploring welfare issue in hunts of both marine and terrestrial mammals.
During my time at NAMMCO, I have also attended the 2018 Walrus Working Group, the Joint IMR/NAMMCO Workshop on the Status of Harbour Porpoise in the North Atlantic, and the 25th meeting of the Scientific Committee. For these meetings, I helped as a rapporteur and in general support of the Secretariat staff. Attending such meetings has been a fantastic experience and has allowed me to experience the process by which scientific research becomes policy advice.
Along with another member of the Secretariat I organised the first Marine Mammal Student Symposium held at the University in Tromsø. Students working on marine mammals at the various institutes in Tromsø were invited to come together and share their work through presentations and discussion. The event was also open to the public and helped to promote outreach and collaboration.
What I enjoyed about my internship experience:
It has been a great insight into the work that goes into running an intergovernmental organisation. Being able to attend meetings and make an active contribution within the first weeks of arriving has been really fulfilling. There have been great opportunities to meet scientists and experts in different fields of marine mammal research, and to learn about their work directly. I have been present at interesting discussions between mathematical modellers, geneticists, veterinarians, and stakeholders – all with a view to promote the study, management and conservation of marine mammals.
Further, from the beginning I was certainly made to feel like a valued member of the secretariat and was trusted with important tasks such as report writing and helping manage the website. I have also been very grateful for the degree of independence given to pursue the projects on which I have worked.
What were the challenges that I met during my internship?
I met many challenges when working at NAMMCO, most notably growing accustomed to the feeling of responsibility for performing the tasks given to me with skill and professionalism. The information discussed at meetings must be clearly communicated via meeting reports, and in writing these reports, you often had to describe topics with which you have no prior experience. Nevertheless, participants and staff are always ready to clarify and help when needed – and you learn a lot along the way!
Writing about welfare issues in hunts was also a challenge, given that I had not dealt with the topic before. Beginning the research certainly presented a learning curve, but the process of reviewing and evaluating scientific literature was something that I was familiar with. The Secretariat had organised for a veterinary scientist, Kathrine Ryeng, a member of several committees representing Norway, to act as a supervisor and so I had plenty of great input. The resulting review was presented to the Committee on Hunting Methods, as well as presented by myself at the NAMMCO Student Symposium. The Secretariat is now helping me to publish my findings in a relevant journal, which would be incredibly useful to further my career.
So, although there have been challenges there has always been an open door if help was needed and meeting those challenges and succeeding has been incredibly fulfilling.
What I have learnt from my internship
As already mentioned, I have learnt a lot while undertaking my internship at the NAMMCO Secretariat. I have been able to experience many aspects of how this intergovernmental organisation operates and it has been incredibly rewarding. The process by which research transforms into management recommendations and then gets implemented into policy has been fascinating to see; it’s like watching everything come full-circle. I have also learnt a lot about my own ideas and my own values regarding sustainable resource use. Of course has been very helpful for me planning a career path and what steps I should take next, but also it has helped me with practical understanding of working in a professional environment. Overall it has been an incredibly valuable experience and I hope to remain in contact with the colleagues and people that I have met throughout my time here.
Tromsø itself is also a fantastic place to live. The ‘Gateway to the Arctic’ is a thriving city with lots to do, and the surroundings are spectacular. In the winter I’ve learned to cross-country ski (even using it to commute to work which is a strange experience!). Now I’m looking forward to the midnight sun which is only a few weeks away – I hope to take advantage of the long days and warming weather to get out into the mountains.