6 December, 2003
As our field season winds down, and our days are spent catching up on odds and ends, this is a perfect time for one last team member biographical sketch. Bob Garrott is co-PI for the Weddell Seal Project and has been in camp since mid-November. The following is a brief biography he gave me.
I was born in Bermuda while my father was in the Air Force and grew up in a small industrial city in central Pennsylvania. My father died when I was young after being disabled in the Korean War and throughout my childhood my mother struggled to raise 3 children on the poverty wages of a factory job. Somehow she pulled it off and instilled in me the value of an education that she never received. While I was not a sterling student in high school there was never a question that I would try to go to college. I got interested in the natural world by playing in a large cemetery near our home and walking to a park at the edge of town. A limestone stream flowed through the park and it was there that I got hooked on fishing and peering into the clear waters to learn the ways of the trout I was pursuing. This started my life-long passion of observing nature and learning that has only intensified as I have gain more education, knowledge, and experience. As I matured physically and was given permission to wander further afield I was soon hiking several miles up the railroad tracks that followed that little limestone stream into the rural countryside. This eventually lead to an expansion of my sporting interests and by high school I was spending all my spare time fishing, hunting, trapping muskrats, and falconry. In high school I found I really enjoyed biology and the nature programs on television influenced me greatly. National Geographic specials of the Craighead brothers' adventures in the northern Rockies, the Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom, and the Cousteau specials inspired me to become a biologist, to travel the world, and have adventures. On graduating from high school I left home for college in Montana, majoring in wildlife biology, and never looked back.
Discovering the wildlands of the northern Rockies in Montana took me all of a week and I was soon hitchhiking to trailheads nearly every weekend to backpack into the mountains. I was a marginal student for my first few years in college because I spent too much time whitewater boating, backpacking, and hitchhiking to explore new country. But as I moved into my upper division science classes and was exposed to professors and graduate students that were conducting wildlife research I became much more serious about my education and career. I volunteered on an elk telemetry project when I was a junior in college and this experience really opened up my eyes. Every other weekend throughout the winter I snowshoed to a wall tent buried in 4 feet of snow on the top of a ridge and radio-tracked elk all night, exploring the wintery forest all day. This was a blend of field science, outdoor activities, and wild places that made me realize what sort of career I could have it I applied myself and I became a very serious student.
When not in classes I worked hard at finding opportunities for more field research experiences and adventures in remote areas. My first real job came as a technician helping a graduate student study arctic foxes in northern Alaska. This lead to a 6-year commitment to arctic fox research. During this time the lady that was to become my wife and I became an independent research team living in a remote camp for 3-4 months each year. I eventually used some of this research to complete a M.S. degree at Penna. State Univ. and just as the arctic fox research was coming to an end I landed a job studying a large migratory mule deer herd in a remote part of western Colorado. My wife and I spent another 6 years working as a team on this project and it was here that I matured from a field technician interested in the natural history of animals to a field scientist trying to understand the patterns and processes that make ecosystems work. After the Colorado research I entered a Ph.D. graduate program at the Univ. of Minnesota under an outstanding mentor who gave me lots of freedom to develop my own research and opportunities to expand my experiences. While my own research was focused on understanding the population dynamics of wild horses throughout the western United States, I also took off for months at a time on several marine mammal studies that included work on sea otters in California and Alaska and my first trip to Antarctica to study Weddell seals. All of a sudden it seemed my romantic high school fantasies of leading the life of a field ecologist, studying animals in wild and remote places had become a reality.
Today I am a professor at Montana State University specializing in large mammal research. Besides the Weddell seal project that you have learned so much about from Suzy I also run a research program in Yellowstone National Park which focuses on elk, bison, and wolves and all the ecological processes that influence these animals and the landscape they occupy. I have found that I am more excited every year with my job and learning. Science is a never ending process, as you learn, you want to learn more. With more knowledge you understand just how much you don't know and entirely new areas of inquiry open up to you. It's a bit crazy just how passionate one can get about science. Not a day goes by that I am not thinking about how I can improve my research and learn more. No matter what I learn and accomplish I am always challenged and humbled by what I don't know. But this just fosters my passion for science and life in general. I can't imagine a better and more rewarding life and plan to keep at it as long as I am physically and mentally able - asking questions and seeking answers.
Arctic fox mule deer
Wolves and elk in Yellowstone
Weddell Seals on ice
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