I am a Sri Lankan marine biologist, ocean educator and pioneer of blue whale research within the Northern Indian Ocean. My journey started when I was just six years old and I have never looked back. Of course, I have encountered many challenges along the way, but I never gave up on my dreams and over time, I have learnt how to turn negatives into positives and how to make them work for me rather than against me. If I had to live my life over, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Because of the lack of Marine Biology degree programs in my island home (ironically! to hear more about this listen to my TEDxMonterey talk or my TEDxVictoria talk), did my BSc (Hons) in Marine and Environmental Biology at the University of St. Andrews, UK, my MSc in Integrative Biosciences at the University of Oxford, UK and my PhD at the University of Western Australia. Throughout these adventures, I kept going back and working in Sri Lanka, eventually setting up The Sri Lankan Blue Whale Project in 2008 (although, I first started writing proposals and working on research ideas back in 2002 after an encounter with some whale poop ~ true story!). Before I started my PhD I was a full blown marine biologist – I was curious about animal behavior. After I met The Unorthodox Whales, I realized that in order to understand their behavior, I had to understand how the environment influenced them, so I decided to do my PhD in an oceanography lab. Definite steep learning curve but so very valuable. At the end of it all, I was able to publish some interesting research that straddles both the physical and biological sides of my interest that also brought me closer to my ultimate question – what influences blue whales to aggregate off southern Sri Lanka throughout the year, particularly given that it is a high-risk area thanks to the ship traffic that passes through. The other exciting outcome of my PhD is that it makes me the first (and only!) Sri Lankan to have a PhD in marine mammal related research! WOO HOO! But most importantly I hope it shows other Sri Lankans and people from my part of the world that ANYTHING is possible as long as you dream BIG!
SO, here is my more formal bio:
Dr. Asha de Vos is a Sri Lankan marine biologist and educator with a BSc (Hons) in Marine and Environmental Biology from the University of St. Andrews, UK, a MSc in Integrative Biosciences from the University of Oxford, UK and a PhD from the University of Western Australia. Her PhD focused on the ‘Factors influencing blue whale distribution off southern Sri Lanka’ specifically as this area overlaps with one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. This represents a part of the research she has been conducting on this population since 2008. Her project ‘The Sri Lankan Blue Whale Project’ forms the first long term study on blue whales within the Northern Indian Ocean. She has published several key research publications on Sri Lankan blue whales, which have led to this population being designated as a species in urgent need of conservation research by the International Whaling Commission (IWC). The IWC has since invited key Sri Lankan government personnel to participate in whale ship-strike related meetings to gain a broader understanding of the problem. Asha is also an invited member of the IUCN Species Survival Commission’s Cetacean Specialist Group. Her efforts to bring attention to the unusual Sri Lankan blue whales and the threats they face have been showcased internationally by Channel 7 Australia (2010), the BBC (2010), the New York Times (2012), CNN (2012), WIRED UK (2014), the New Scientist (2014) and TED (2015). She is also a guest blogger for National Geographic. Asha is a TED Senior Fellow, a Duke University Global Fellow in Marine Conservation and was recently selected as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum. She is currently a post-doctoral scholar at the University of California Santa Cruz, where she is working specifically on reducing the problem of ship-strike of blue whales in Sri Lankan waters.