Wibke is a Marine Biologist with a Passion for animal welfare and conservation with a special interest in sharks. She is proud to be the Displays Curator at the Bear Grylls Adventure where they educate their visitors about their amazing animals by giving them a very close up experience.
What was the path that lead you to today?
Growing up, I was always fascinated by and drawn to the ocean. During and after my Bachelor in Biology, I worked in different aquariums in Germany and the United States, and then decided to get my Master in Marine Biology in Australia. From there, I was lucky enough to be part of a project in the Philippines where we monitored the Manta Ray Fisheries. All these different experiences only increased my passion for marine life and its conservation. I started working for Merlin Entertainments at Sea Life Munich. While Merlin is most well-known as a provider of entertainment attractions, the company actually does a lot to bring people closer to the ocean and educate them while conducting several conservation projects and support local communities in countries like the Philippines etc. When the position at The Bear Grylls Adventure came up, it was a new opportunity to build something incredible with an even stronger focus on the animals, their welfare and conservation and the education of the public.
Who inspired you to do what you do?
I would not be able to name a single person who inspires me. There are many that still do, like Sir David Attenborough, Ocean Ramsey, Dr. Silvia Earle and, on a more personal level, my sister. All of these people follow their passion and make the most of life.
My other inspiration is nature itself. The beauty of the ocean, the calm I experience on a quiet beach or diving, but also the lack of knowledge and understanding for the oceans. This is why my goal is to increase my own knowledge constantly and share as much as possible with everyone, to ensure people stop thinking of sharks as the mindless monsters, for example.
What have been the biggest obstacles you have encountered?
My lifestyle is not what most people consider "normal". One of the biggest challenges for me is that I often feel like I need to defend my lifestyle, and especially moving around so much. I've moved cities and countries more often in the last 10 years than most other do their entire life. Of course, it always takes time to adjust and to feel at home, but I love learning about new cultures and experiencing different places. However, not everyone understands that and I often hear things like "when are you going to settle down?" from friends and family.
I think my biggest triumph is my career itself. How many people are honestly able to say they work in a field they love and are passionate about. Starting as a volunteer, growing my knowledge and understanding, building the aquarium at The Bear Grylls Adventure to now being the manager of the animal care team, is a big triumph for me.
Another big achievement for me is to gain gain the trust of our animals and build close relationships with them. Among other things, this enabled me to create a behavioural welfare assessment for our sharks, which allows the best possible understanding and welfare for every individual.
I also love that I travelled the world and learnt so much from other people's lives and cultures and was always able to adjust and adapt as needed.
What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
The more people understand nature, the more they are willing to protect it. Once you can show people that ALL animals (including fish) are capable of close relationships with each other, but also with humans, people's appreciation of these animals changes.
Why is getting outdoors so important in modern life?
I've travelled so much in my life and have seen so many different cities, but the most precious memories are from being in nature. Beautiful beaches, walks and hikes. Nature is calming in many ways and allows people to focus on what is important. When I go diving and my head goes under water, the world goes quiet. There is nothing else to take the focus away from me, my body and the nature and beauty I'm surrounded by. I believe everyone who is able to experience nature (land or oceans) is more willing to focus on its protection and understands the importance of the different environments and ecosystems.
Amongst all the endeavours you have been involved with, which is the most unforgettable and why?
Working in the Philippines in the Manta Ray Fisheries was a real eyeopener about culture and conservation. In a country where everyone is just looking to survive and it is less about luxury items, the approach to conservation has to be completely different than in European countries. Living in a remote little village where, for many people and especially kids, I was the first white, blonde woman they have ever seen, I could not have gone in and try to lecture the people living there. We first had to understand their ways. Therefore, we studied the fisheries and its impact on the village before we started making attempts to change people's thoughts about overfishing, species protection and also plastic pollution. After months, we could see small changes in behaviour and conversations and it was the most rewarding achievement.
Why is this particular project so important to you?
The Bear Grylls Adventure is the opportunity to show everyday people the beauty of our oceans and its residents. People can come to us and dive with sharks, rays and all different kinds of tropical fish. They learn about the species and get to experience them much closer than they ever would otherwise. This gives us an opportunity to talk to them about the protection of these species (especially sharks, since we are working very closely with the Shark Trust). A first study has shown that people are more likely to get involved in conservation efforts when they had this experience. Our animals are very carefully selected to ensure they are comfortable with this activity, and they are receiving the best care by my incredible team. I consider myself lucky to be part of such a great project that will hopefully help to increase the understanding of sharks and other species and build more conservation efforts in the future.
Who has been an unsung hero in your life?
They are the police of the oceans, taking out the weak and sick animals while leaving a healthy and strong population of fish, so that the species can thrive. They are the most misunderstood animal on the planet and need our protection the most. Humans are unable to replace sharks because we are not only taking out the weak and sick individuals but the entire school of fish. Sharks are so important for our ecosystem, not only in the oceans but for the entire planet. I wish more people would be open and able to learn more about them and experience the amazing beauty and majestic animals and build a sense of their worth.
Do you have a motto you live by?
Follow your passion.