ExplorersBio

Isabelle Charrier

Biologist

Committee for Research and Exploration Grantee

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Photo: Isabelle Charrier

Photograph courtesy Isabelle Charrier

Birthplace: Beaumont, France

Current City: Orsay, France

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

I wanted to be a vet, but not only to treat them but mostly to understand their behaviour. I realised later that I could study animal behaviour at the university, and then I wanted to be a researcher in ethology.

How did you get started in your field of work?

I studied animal acoustic communication since my master degree. This was not my primary choice since I did not know much about vocal communication! I had the chance to meet great researchers that gave me the opportunity to discover the world of bioacoustics, and the joy of doing fieldwork. These "mentors" are now my colleagues and collaborators. Since 1999, I have studied the vocal communication in pinnipeds by investigating the processes of mother-pup vocal recognition and also the different strategies of male territorial defense.

What inspires you to dedicate your life to the environment?

There is so much to learn about our environment and our wildlife. Studying vocal communication using different models allows us to better understand the different strategies developed by species to communicate within but also between species. Learning more about animal communication systems is not only important for our general knowledge, but also an essential approach and a powerful tool to protect some species and their environment.

What's a normal day like for you?

I have two types of normal days. In the field, my time is 100 percent dedicated to the fieldwork mostly done in remote areas (walrus and bearded seals in the Arctic, Australian sea lions in Australian islands, Subantarctic fur seals on Southern Islands, but also harbour seals in Quebec and northern elephant seals in California). I work quite close to the animals, I record them during social interactions, and I test them using playback experiments. Studying animals in their natural environments is a real chance for a biologist, but it can also be challenging.

Back from the field, I analyse the data collected, write papers and talks for conferences, review papers for scientific journals, write grants, and organise the next field trips. But I have also a family that keeps me also busy after work!

Do you have a hero?

I think that everybody can be a hero once in his/her life by accomplishing something special for someone, fighting for an idea or a cause, helping people in need, protecting the environment or wildlife—whether this is a one-time or a long-term act, this is better than nothing.

What has been your favorite experience in the field? The most challenging?

My favourite field experience was when I did my Ph.D.: I stayed nearly nine months on Amsterdam Island (French Subantarctic island) to study Subantarctic fur seals. This was so great to study mother-pup vocal recognition from birth until weaning. You can really develop special interactions with the animals by being on the colony for hours every day. A great experience that I will never forget.

The most challenging experience has been my work in the Arctic to study walruses, an emblematic species of the north. You fight every day with the weather and sea conditions, they are quite difficult to find and approach, so it results in a great amount of frustration but walruses are amazing to study.

What are your other passions?

I like watching movies and taking photographs, and as "typical" French, I like food and wine, so I enjoy cooking for family and friends.

What do you do in your free time?

I like to spend my time with my family, go for a walk and observe the nature's wonders with my four-year-old son. I like to travel and discover new cultures and landscapes.

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In Their Words

Learning more about animal communication systems is not only important for our general knowledge, but also an essential approach and a powerful tool to protect some species and their environment.

—Isabelle Charrier

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