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Meet Dr Olaf – Our Marine Biologist Program Leader!

If you travel within Australia on one of our ocean-focused programs, you may be lucky enough to meet (or even have your program led by) our favourite marine biologist – Dr. Olaf Meynecke.

Olaf is originally from Germany, and he has been living in Australia and specialising in Australia’s marine life for nearly 15 years, with a particular focus on conservation of humpback whales. Far from the stereotypical, serious scientist who can always be found in the lab, Olaf has a strong sense of adventure, a fun-loving nature, a contagious passion for the ocean and an infectious giggle that makes him an immediate favourite with our students.

We asked Olaf a few questions to help you get to know him:

What do you love about leading marine biology programs for Rustic Pathways?

“For me, the highlight of the program-leading experience is sharing the ocean with like-minded people. We get to see some really amazing things in the ocean and sharing the excitement and the passion for protecting what we’ve seen is what I love about leading the RP marine biology programs.”

How did you get involved with marine biology? Did you ever have an “aha!” moment that aimed you down this path?

“My focus on marine biology was more of a natural evolution than something that started with an ‘aha!’ moment. It all began with a deep love for the ocean. I first started getting involved in Marine Biology when I moved from Germany to Australia. I began a PhD in marine ecology looking into coastal fish species and how they depend on certain habitat types. Some of my work included sharks and then after my PhD I shifted my focus to whales and dolphins. Over the years I’ve always tried to spend as much time as possible in the ocean, at the minimum going for a swim and surf every day. I realised a long time ago that the ocean is where I feel the most comfortable and that there is a deep connection that always draws me back to the water. Now, when I end up in a landlocked place, even for just a short time, I feel lost and the need to return to the sea.”

Out of all the amazing experiences you’ve had in the ocean, what has been the most memorable?

“I have had so many encounters that I will never forget and it would be so difficult to choose just one! They all are somehow connected, just like the ocean connects us all. The moment when a humpback whale calf dove under our boat to blow bubbles and then appeared on the other side just to look at us, or the minke whale that took a breath just meters away from my head while snorkelling or being inspected by young fur seals who looked at me closely with their big eyes while free diving. There are so many unique marine creatures and I hope I get to share as many moments as possible with them.”

What are your main focuses within marine biology?

“Currently we are working on an international project investigating the impact of climate change on humpback whales. I also work on a health check for humpback whales using a set of techniques including mucous samples, skin, and blubber samples.”

What would you love to see the youth of Australia do to have a positive impact on the oceans?

“I would love to see young people taking initiative. We need more leaders, and more followers, who are willing to volunteer their time to make a difference. We can’t wait for our politicians or government to solve our problems. I encourage everyone to participate in beach clean-ups, to reduce their plastic use and carbon footprint, to reduce consumption of fish or only eat fish species that are fast-growing, to support marine research projects and to tell everyone how important the ocean is.”

What is one fact you wish everyone knew about the ocean/ whales?

“The ocean is our lifeline. It determines the weather, shapes continents and holds the key to the survival of our species. The ocean produces 70% of the worlds oxygen. We literally can’t breathe without a healthy ocean.”

Check out this quick video that gives a tiny sneak peek into one of our Great Barrier Reef Dive Expeditions led by Olaf:

Diving the GBR on my Rustic Pathways Diving Expedition from Dr Olaf on Vimeo.

If you want to organise a marine biology-focused program with Olaf as one of the program leaders, let us know!