An Interview with WiseOceans… Krista Hupman from NIWA New Zealand 

This week we’ve had a lovely chat with Krista in New Zealand. Krista’s love and fascination with whales and dolphins combined with volunteering has lead to her getting her dream job. Have a read, this could be you too!

Name: Krista Hupman

Job Title: Cetacean Biologist

Organisation: NIWA New Zealand

  • What inspired you to pursue a career in marine conservation?

Since a child I was always fascinated with whales and dolphins. I found myself requesting cetacean id guides and hydrophones each Christmas and looking back now I realise how long I have wanted to work with these animals. In particular, I saw a documentary called The Last Whale which showed the whaling industry and I knew I had to do something to benefit the conservation of these magnificent animals.

  • What steps did you take/are you taking to achieve your career goals?

I started volunteering when I was 13 at various agencies involved in marine mammal conservation. I then enrolled in a Bachelor of Science majoring in Marine Science, and while this taught me the basics of biology and ecology, I still didn’t get to focus on cetaceans. Therefore I decided to do my honours and later my PhD so I could conduct my own research.

  • How did you land your current job/position? 

I have worked for environmental consultancies, government agencies and research institutes and this helped build skills in a variety of areas which are applicable to my current position. Also having a PhD in cetacean biology was essential to the role. Volunteering on multiple projects for many years also is helpful to show you are willing to learn and not always be paid to do so!

  • Which part of your job do you enjoy the most?  

I am new to this role but I enjoy being able to complete research in a working environment. It is also nice working with a bunch of scientists in multiple disciplines as it allows you to think about other ways of doing your research.

  • Are there aspects of your position which make you feel that you are really ‘making a difference’? 

Working on species distribution and abundance of cetaceans is key to managing populations. By finding out baseline information on many relatively unstudied populations of whales and dolphins in New Zealand I can positively affect their management and bring to light some of the anthropogenic effects which threaten their populations. This is where I feel I can make a difference.

  • What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were starting out?  

That it will take many years of study and determination to get a job in the marine mammal world! Shortcuts (like trying to get around multiple degrees) do not help and you are better off investing your time and energy to follow the right path to get you as quick as possible to the destination. Speak to people who have already reached the final destination and learn from them how you can get there also. Surround yourself with a good group of people (for instance a university lab) who are working on the same initiatives as you so you can all learn and grow from one another, Also to never underestimate other skills outside academia…. For instance, you may not have as many degrees or publications as somebody else, but having good networks, communication skills and being able to work well within a team can be just as important!

  • Are there any skills you never thoughts you would  need but did?

I am slowly entering the world of computer science to deal with automatic recognition of cetacean individuals. It is something I never thought I would be involved in but I have realised how behind the times marine conservation is compared to other disciplines and how much we can improve our workflow from computer vision. 

  • What advice would you give to budding marine conservationists?  

Volunteer, volunteer, volunteer! And when you do, never underestimate what a good reference can do for you. Even if you aren’t doing the most glamorous volunteer work, remember that the reference you get from your time is what will count towards your next opportunity, which could be something amazing. If you do enrol in a post graduate university program I would recommend you do your homework on potential supervisors. Their support and guidance is needed to get you to the end, so you need to make sure you share the same work ethics and that you have a good working relationship. Try and think of where you would ideally like to be one day, and then work backwards to see how to get there. Talk to people who have reached this goal and ask them for their advice. And finally… don’t be afraid of hard work. Marine conservation can be a hard field to get into but when you have a job you love, you never work a day in your life.

  • What is your favourite marine creature and why?  

Cliché answer…but orca. They are amazing predators, have complex social systems and are incredibly intelligent.

  • What is your most unforgettable moment in the sea?  

Seeing a male orca approach my boat in Auckland New Zealand and spend 30 minutes right next to our research vessel. The orca was showing mimicking the noises we were making, spy hopping up to our eye height and rolling in circles right next to the boat. It was an incredible sight to see a wild apex predator so inquisitive and on its own terms.


Thanks Krista, some really fantastic advice there. We would certainly agree how important it is to volunteer and to never underestimate what a good reference can do for you.

Don’t forget to sign up to our weekly job alert emails and keep an eye on our Wise Work pages so you don’t miss your dream opportunity in more marine conservation.