She’s been a whale watcher for over four years now. More properly known as a “marine mammal observer,” marine biologist and nail tech Megan McManus looks out for marine life on surface seismic ships and rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. “Half the year I sail around the ocean on boats that are surveying for oil, while the other half of the year I attend as many nail classes and trade shows as possible,” she says. “I tend to work five weeks on land, and then five weeks out to sea. We’re allowed to bring 30 pounds of luggage out with us each time — including hard hat, steel toes, and toiletries to last over a month. Life on board the ship is simple — buffet-style meals in a galley, shared cabins, and a small gym.”
The first two years of McManus’s career were spent on the bridge of the boat physically watching the water for signs of whales, dolphins, or sea turtles. “A typical day started 15 minutes before sunrise and ended 15 minutes after sunset. I’ve been through hurricanes and even a helicopter crash during the one trip where they sent me outside of the Gulf of Mexico to Nigeria,” she says.
“Whale watching sounds pretty amazing, but in all honesty it is a lot of waiting. You learn to fill your spare time by photographing birds and sunsets and identifying fish and bugs. The sightings of whales and dolphins may be few and far between, but when they do happen, they’re fantastic. Sometimes the animals are so close to the boat it feels as if you can touch them. It’s truly a magical experience.”
McManus has spent the last two years acoustically monitoring the water via hydrophones during the night. “Although I miss physically getting to watch the mammals, it is really awesome to be able to listen to them,” she says.