Our journeys

Travis Horton's Journey

I’m a scientist, but I wasn’t born one. My mother is a teacher.  My father is an engineer. My grandparents were farmers and musicians. A remarkable cast of characters has guided my journey and I am grateful to every one of them for what they have taught me. Yet, I’m not so sure how many would have picked me to become a scientist. I really never was any good at chemistry.

Professor C. Page Chamberlain (Stanford Unviersity) helping students discover
the Wind River Mountains, WY.  Page has helped so many of us to find
our way through the journey of science.

Yet, the thing that really did it for me was the realization that science wasn’t just a collection of facts. This was perhaps the single-most important thing I learned at Dartmouth College: science is a dynamic process. Back in those days, the Earth Science Department at Dartmouth was certainly dynamic. Drake and Officer with their dinosaur-killing mega-volcano, Blum and Chamberlain with their dinosaur-killing meteorite.  And don’t even get me started on Bob Reynolds’s crusades with Ed Abbey, or Stoiber and Zantop’s adventures in the Americas. These were my rock stars, and they all had one important thing in common: a passion for the process of discovery.

Discovery, afterall, is what science is all about, right? Those vexing beguiling confounding moments when your data doesn’t turn out any of the myriad ways you had anticipated and it drops. Right. I need to turn left.

(Endangered) Leatherback turtle tracks.
Photo downloaded from: Aqua-Firma

These are the moments when vision and creativity are a scientist’s greatest assets - assets that achieve their greatest value when you have to stop and think. Einstein’s contemplations of the Bern clock tower (which ultimately fueled his theory of special relativity), and Darwin’s reflections on the beaks of Galapagos Finches (which ultimately inspired his theory on evolution) are but two of the countless examples. Point being - just like my rock stars taught me - science isn’t about studying what we think we already know, it’s about considering what’s possible.  Considering what's possible led me to humpback whales.

When it comes to researching humpback whales, the challenge to considering what’s possible is putting yourself in the position of the whale.  We don’t live in the vast blue world they live in. In fact, this simple point of distinction perhaps best captures the single-most important reason why I do what I do: by analysing a humpback’s movements I can help the larger community discover previously unknown patterns in whale behaviors. Turn left at...turn right when... By watching how, when, and where they move, I hope to provide robust information that will ultimately help humpbacks recover. By learning from their journeys, I hope to understand more about my own.

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