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SCB Marine Member Profile

Jo Marie (Jom) Acebes

One of our 2016-17 Grantees, Jom Acebes, took some time to tell us a little bit about herself. Jom's project "I search of the big blue: assessing the occurrence of blue whales in the Bohol Sea, Philippines" is coming to a close, and we're looking forward to hearing about the results - but we also think it's worth knowing what drives and inspires marine conservation practitioners around the world.


When you're not working to conserve the oceans, what are you doing?

I am also a veterinarian. I take care of pets – my cats mainly! I love history and I do marine environmental history research too.

And of course, I have to ask you the most important marine question first: if you could be any marine animal, what would you be, and why?

I would be a humpback whale because I can travel great distances, to Alaska and Russia in the North (places I’ve always wanted to visit) and then to Hawaii, Japan and back to the Philippines. Other cetaceans like to hang around with them – I think just for fun. Like melon-headed whales and rough-toothed dolphins. They can sing too (something I can't do as a human!)

It's a common theme with marine biologists - we do love to travel! Maybe that explains our connection to the sea.... can you tell me about the first time you experienced the ocean?

My first experience of the sea (it wasn’t really the ocean) that I can remember was travelling to the island of Bohol with my family when I was about 5 years old. We were on a ship and we traveled for almost 24hrs. I remember seeing the sea at night and how it was scary and mysterious at the same time. Our Philippine seas are just teeming with marine wildlife especially marine megafauna like cetaceans. The diversity of cetaceans in Philippine waters is just amazing.

I'm just looking at images of Bohol Island and Bohol Sea and I have somewhere new for the bucket list! It looks like paradise.

My favorite photos are from the Bohol Sea, where I'm doing my project study. This one is my favorite sunset photo - the colors are so intense and compared to my other research site in the northern Philippines, this view shows how vast the Bohol Sea is.

 And this one is my closest encounter with a blue whale. It was that moment I realized how big it really was and how fast it could swim away from us!

And that was the inspiration for this project?

Yes. I have been wanting to do this project since 2010 when we first encountered that blue whale here in the Philippines, but due to lack of funding I was not able to do it until now. Very few people in the Philippines are aware that we have blue whales, let alone, any whale. It amazes me how at this day and age we are still discovering new things about our marine environment and knowing that we have the largest animal on earth occurring in our waters is just incredible. This opportunity given to me by SCB Marine is truly amazing. I am hoping this will serve as the beginning of a longer-term project so that we can continue to learn about this marine megafauna and contribute to its conservation.

How's the project coming along?

Our boat surveys just ended and although we did not encounter a blue whale we were able to document encounters with other cetacean species. The findings of this project will contribute to our database of cetaceans in the Bohol Sea. We had several interesting encounters with Risso’s dolphins doing head stands or sailing and Melon-headed whales bowriding. One animal was playing with a plastic wrapper on its pectoral fin! We are also preparing a paper on blue whales in the Philippines and we hope to get it published by the end of the year or early next year.

Agh that must have been so frustrating - wily whales! :( I sometimes think that if you need skill as a marine biologist, a marine mammal biologist needs an extra one - the patience of a saint! What other skills do you have that serve you particularly well?

I think I’m good at spotting for whales out at sea - if they're there! And taking great photos.

One of the things I love about connecting with other scientists is their willingness to share info that's been particularly useful or inspiring. Have you ever read a journal article / science story that changed your whole perspective?

Yes. It was Michael Fabinyi’s “Fishing for Fairness: Poverty, Morality and Marine Resource Regulation in the Philippines”. It validated, changed and shaped my perspective of marine conservation especially in the Philippines. It influenced the framing of my PhD dissertation.

And if you had a request for other marine conservation practitioners, what would it be?

When working in another country, please respect local researchers and the work they have done! Collaborate with them and give them credit they deserve.

How about for the general public who are interested in marine conservation?

Again, respect and consider the local communities. Know their perspectives and understand the context of the issue.

That's great advice, and came up at IMCC4 a lot. Hopefully we'll hear more about this at IMCC5 next year, as well. It would be terrific to see you there!

I’m hoping to be at the IMCC5. Saving up my pesos as early as now. I’m so happy that it’s going to be in neighboring Malaysia because there’s a higher chance that I can go.


Jo Marie works for a small, non-profit organization called BALYENA.ORG, which she founded together with friends and colleagues back in 2009. Their website is http://www.balyena.org.ph/main.php. You can also follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

To contact Jo Marie, email jacebes@balyena.org.ph