SAMS news room

Marine acoustics expert coping with the sound of silence

Dr Denise Risch, who lives alone, has been isolating since March 12
Dr Denise Risch, who lives alone, has been isolating since March 12

Familiar with the concept of working from home and more introvert by nature, Dr Denise Risch of the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS) in Oban believes she can cope better than many with the enforced lockdown caused by the coronavirus outbreak.

But more than a month into living in isolation and working from her 2-bedroom cottage, the marine biologist is realising why she loves working as part of a team at SAMS.

Dr Risch was spending time with friends and former colleagues when news of the COVID-19 pandemic cut short her working holiday in North America last month.

Her return home on March 12 was the last time she had any human interaction, notwithstanding the daily video conferences from home, where she lives alone. Having spent more days in isolation than most, Dr Risch has had time to reflect on the enforced change to her working day. For someone used to studying the sounds of marine creatures, it is all a little too quiet!

“I’m naturally more of an introvert and I often work from home, so I’m used to my own company, but I’m starting to really miss things I hadn’t really thought about before, like the informal chats you have in the hallway at SAMS, or even within the cetaceans team.

“These unscheduled, spontaneous conversations can only happen when people are together in the same place and are often the spark for the more creative ideas.

“You really begin to appreciate things like that when they are taken away from you; it helps you realise what’s important.”

Dr Risch specialises in underwater sounds, particularly relating to marine mammals and is currently leading underwater acoustics work on the COMPASS project. The COVID-19 outbreak has already enforced the postponement of one deployment of long-term acoustic recorders and the retrieval of some already out in the Minch and the Sea of the Hebrides. 

However, there are some positives to take from this change in circumstances.

“As a small silver lining, the data that these recorders are currently collecting will be very interesting in that we will be able to investigate the change in underwater noise levels under these changed conditions and assess the benefits for marine species.”

“To not have conferences to attend, or fieldwork to conduct, also means I’ve had more time to look at long-term data, which I don’t normally get the chance to do, as much as I wish,” admits Dr Risch.

“Weirdly, I’m also exercising a bit more regularly. Because we’re only allowed one form of exercise outdoors each day, I make more of a point to go for long walks and I’m running every second day.

“Like everyone else, I’m having good and bad days, but one just needs to make the best of the situation and wait it out.”