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10 Questions for Claire Simeone

Dr. Claire Simeone’s normal habitat is at Sausalito’s Marine Mammal Center, where she is a conservation medicine veterinarian working at the intersection of marine mammal and human health. This April she will take a break from caring for the animals there to appear with 19 other change-makers from four continents at TED2018 in Vancouver. Simeone is the first veterinarian selected as a TED Fellow. We caught up with this Bay Area scientist before she headed north.

1. What’s something about our oceans you’ve recently learned? I’m constantly surprised by the many ways in which marine mammals serve as sentinels of the sea, providing us with insight into threats to ocean and human health. When we see animals like California sea lions with specific diseases or toxins in their body, we’re alerted to the dangers they face, which affect humans. Rescuing these animals can help raise the alarm and inspire public action on threats like pollutants, ocean trash, overfishing and global warming.

2. Any advice on how we can protect our oceans and its marine mammals? Pick one simple change that you can implement today, such as not using plastic drinking straws or switching to a reusable water bottle — and commit to that change.

3. What is your favorite TED talk? My favorite TED talk is Simon Sinek’s “Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Action.” We often focus on the “what” or “how” of our work but Simon’s inspiring talk reminds me to always think about the “why”: why is my work vital for conservation?

4. Which marine animal faces the greatest threat of extinction? Hawaiian monk seals are one of the most endangered marine mammals in the world. I’m proud that the Marine Mammal Center plays a key part in the conservation efforts for this species.

5. Who has been your most memorable patient at the Marine Mammal Center? California sea lion pup Laverne was rescued with a number of problems, including eye inflammation that turned into a cataract. We removed the cataract, but she needed medication to treat the infections and help with the swelling after surgery. As you can imagine, it’s difficult to give eye drops to a wild animal. Laverne’s case gave us a great opportunity to try a new treatment option that I’d been developing: a slow-release gel that retains drugs at the site of injection for up to a week. Since the gel only needs to be administered once a week, Laverne was less stressed and required less human interaction. The eye gel successfully treated Laverne’s injury.

6. Describe a typical day at work. A typical day can vary wildly. I might do clinical care of our animal patients or explore new medical treatments that could help animals heal more quickly. Later I might spend time working on research for a scientific paper or textbook chapter. Often I participate in calls with other scientists and government agencies to work on challenges such as unexplained mortality events in wild populations.

7. What first inspired you to become a scientist? My father was an environmentalist, and some of my earliest memories with him were watching David Attenborough and asking questions about nature. I credit my father with inspiring me to love science, wildlife and the environment.

8. Jacques Cousteau or Sylvia Earle? Sylvia Earle. She was a trailblazer at a time when women scientists were few and far between, and she continues to be a wise voice who is using her platform to inspire ocean conservation around the world.

9. What part of your job do you find the most challenging? Finding a balance in communicating the dire need for conservation efforts among marine mammal species while igniting positivity to inspire a change.

10. Favorite body of water in Marin? Rodeo Lagoon in the Marin Headlands. I’m lucky to live and work by its shores, and I love watching all of the wildlife that call this serene place home.

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