I’m a conservation genetic scientist, science presenter and documentary film maker with a strong passion for exploring new genetic techniques to assist in the monitoring of rare and elusive species as well as developing holistic and community-driven solutions to conservation.
Through my PhD with the Australian Antarctic Division and involvement in projects on endangered species, I have conducted international collaborative research which has improved, and will continue to improve, our understanding of population structure, animal movement and behaviour by providing scientific advice to inform Australia’s policy position at the International Whaling Commission (IWC). My work is also assisting in the conservation of Australia’s endangered marsupials.
As an international science presenter and documentary film maker with Discovery Channel and National Geographic, I have worked in developing countries and have seen the close relationship between poverty and unsustainable practices which have greatly impacted species biodiversity.
By empowering people in the right way we can achieve amazing things in conservation.
My passion is also in combining art with conservation science to educate and inspire people on the interconnectedness of all things and the importance of conservation work.
I’m currently gathering funding for a project which is set to revolutionise the monitoring of endangered species in the field and through illegal trade.
Senior geneticist, Biopsier, Photo-ID and Observer: Australian Antarctic Division
January 2015 – March 2015 (3 months) The Ross Sea in the Southern Ocean and Antarctic waters
New Zealand – Australia Antarctic Ecosystems voyage to undertake ecological studies of Ross Sea marine foodwebs of importance to top predators. The work was centred on the feeding areas of cetaceans (primarily blue whales and humpback whales), and in the Ross Sea slope area where there is highest fishing intensity for toothfish.
Whales were located using passive acoustics and visual observations with behavioural, photo-ID and genetic data obtained to assess population abundance, individual movement and population structure.
Field biologist: Blue Planet Marine
January 2014 – March 2014 (3 months) Enderby Island, Auckland Islands
Employed by Blue Planet Marine and NZ Department of Conservation to assist in the monitoring of NZ sea-lions on Enderby Island, Dundas Island and Figure of Eight Island in the Auckland Islands group. Responsibilities included tagging and micro-chipping pups and resighting tagged and chipped adults, sub-adults and juveniles. Attaching and retrieving radio trackers from Yellow-eyed penguins was also undertaken.
Whale population geneticist for Australian led court case against Japan for scientific whaling: Australian Marine Mammal Centre
April 2013 – July 2013 (4 months)
Large scale literature review of cetacean population genetic papers for the Australian-led court case against Japan on scientific whaling in the Southern Ocean sanctuary.
Geneticist, biopsier and photo ID expeditioner on Antarctic blue whale voyage: The Australian Marine Mammal Centre
January 2013 – March 2013 (3 months) The Southern Ocean south of eastern Australia and New Zealand
This voyage involved using acoustic methods to locate and track Antarctic blue whales in the Southern Ocean. My role on this voyage was in biopsying (collecting small skin samples for DNA analysis), managing and processing the skin samples for analysis and collecting identification photographs of the whales. A lot of the work was from small ridged-hulled inflatable vessels.
Humpback whale aerial survey observer: Murdoch University
August 2012 – October 2012 (3 months)The Great Barrier Reef
My role was as an observer in aerial surveys to look at the abundance of humpback whales along the Great Barrier Reef.
PhD student in humpback whale genetics: The Australian National University and Australian Antarctic Division
February 2008 – October 2012 (4 years 9 months) Hobart, Tasmania
My thesis is titled “Patterns of population genetic structure among Australian and South Pacific humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae)”. The project involved biopsy field work along the east and west coast of Australia, parts of the South Pacific and in the Southern Ocean near Antarctica.
Observer and biopsier for Pygmy Blue whale acoustic trials off Victoria: Australian Marine Mammal Centre
January 2012 – February 2012 (2 months) Off Portland, Victoria
In preparation for the Antarctic blue whale voyage in 2013, this voyage tested the acoustic methods for locating blue whales, on pygmy blue whales. My role on the voyage was as observer and biopsier.
Photographer and data collector on humpback whale Antarctic Whale Expedition:The Australian Marine Mammal Centre
January 2010 – March 2010 (3 months) The Southern Ocean south of eastern Australia and New Zealand
This voyage focused on the non-lethal research of humpback whales in the Southern Ocean and was part of my PhD field work. My focus was on the mixing of humpback whale breeding populations in Australia and the South Pacific on their feeding grounds near Antarctica.
Documentary film maker and presenter – “Devils in Danger”: Storyteller Media
September 2005 – December 2006 (1 year 4 months) Tasmania, Australia
This documentary involved trudging around the Tasmanian wilderness and filming Devils in their natural habitat using camera traps and a number of handheld large and small cameras. This was primarily a documentary about the Devil Facial Tumour disease and the people that are going to great efforts to save the largest living marsupial carnivors. My role was both behind the small cameras and in front of the camera as the scientific investigator.
Presenter and Scientific Investigator on “Animal X” TV Series: Storyteller Media and Animal Planet (USA)
June 2004 – August 2005 (1 year 3 months) Worldwide
This 10 part documentary series for US Animal Planet and Discovery Channel involving travelling worldwide, looking at the feasibility of various animal mysteries such as Big Foot and El Chupacabra. My role was presenter and scientific investigator.
Scientist and presenter: Storyteller Media
February 2004 – April 2004 (3 months) Mergui Archipelago, Myanmar
My role was as one of only two scientists to conduct a biological survey of a small island in the Mergui Archipelago and train Myanmar forestry officials. The survey was filmed as a documentary.
Project Manager: University of Western Australia
January 1998 – December 2001 (4 years) University of Western Australia, Perth WA
My role was as manager for three ongoing projects: the first involved training predator recognition and coping skills in medium-sized wallabies, the second looked at behavioural development in quokkas (Setonix brachyurus) raised in different environments and the third involved 3 months of field research on the copulatory behaviour of the quokka on Rottnest Island, Western Australia.
Link To Articles:
From Whales To Snow Leopards – Genetic Sampling Two Rare Species
Saving Snow Leopards Report. (July 2014)
The use of non-invasive genetic sampling has become particularly appealing to wildlife biologists studying rare and elusive species as they are able to obtain critical data without capturing, handling or even observing an animal. Using hair, faeces or skin samples and the DNA that can easily be extracted from them, this method has the power to assess genetic diversity, population structure and social structure, estimate abundance, track an animal’s movement, identify where populations are mixing, determine sex and today we are very close to being able to estimate age. And these are not the limit of the applications! Given the endless utility of noninvasive genetic sampling, I jumped at the opportunity to study these methods through a PhD with the Australian Antarctic Division, using the humpback whale as my model species; a highly mobile, migratory animal that is largely inaccessible, is wide-ranging and their populations are not easily distinguishable.
Whales Wails To Guide Canberra Pair On Southern Ocean Voyage
The Canberra Times. (January 2015)
The latest international voyage to learn about the planet’s biggest mammals departed from New Zealand this week with a distinct Canberra flavour on board. The 21 scientists tracking the travels and feeding habits of humpback and blue whales across the Southern Ocean for the next six weeks included Mike Double and his Australian Antarctic Division colleague Nat Schmitt.High-tech sonobuoys deployed from the New Zealand research ship will help the diverse team track the whales through their low-frequency songs.
A Voyage To Save A Species:
ANU Reporter (Winter 2015)
Deep beneath the freezing Antarctic waters of the Southern Ocean, the world’s largest mammal glides gracefully through the lightless ocean depths. Her song can be heard up to 1,000 miles away. She is one of the world’s most majestic creatures, enormous and mysterious and one that humans took to the brink of extinction. As the largest creature to have ever lived on Earth, blue whales have brought wonder to humans for centuries. But industrial whaling killed nearly 1.3 million blue, fin and humpback (large ballen) whales during the twentieth century. In 1964, with several species close to extinction, the International Whaling Commission banned their exploitation.
Endangered NZ Sea Lion Pup Count Worryingly Low
New Zealand Herald. (March 2014)
The Green Party has called for a moratorium on the use of trawl nets around the Auckland Islands, following the Government’s announcement this morning of a new threat management plan for the endangered New Zealand sea lion. Conservation Minister Nick Smith’s order to fast-track the plan was prompted by a worryingly low pup count at the Auckland Islands, their biggest breeding ground. New numbers show that 1575 pups were counted on the subantarctic Auckland Islands this year – down 18 per cent on last year.Dr Smith, who is on board the HMNZS Wellington visiting the Auckland Islands, today described the low count as “cause for concern”. It is the third lowest since monitoring began in the mid-1990s and shows an on-going trend of decline over the last decade of the world’s rarest sea lion, and New Zealand’s only endemic seal.
Australia Wins Whaling Case Against Japan In The Hague
News.Com.Au. (April 2014)
AUSTRALIA has won an international lawsuit against Japan’s whaling program in the Southern Ocean, but Tokyo appears set to continue with its hunt in the North Pacific.The International Court of Justice has backed Australia’s landmark case and demanded Japan stop its whaling program in the Antarctic “with immediate effect”. But the country’s hunt in the North Pacific wasn’t part of the case, meaning it will be allowed to continue. And Nori Shikata, a spokesman for the Japanese Delegation at The Hague, has suggested it will.
Australia’s Successful Antarctic Blue Whale Voyage
Australian Government. Department Of The Environment. Australian Antarctic Division. (March 2013)
In a world first, acoustic technology has been used to successfully find, track and study the biggest creature on Earth, the Antarctic blue whale. Blue whales are very rarely seen in the Southern Ocean and yet by using this technology scientists on a seven-week voyage to the Southern Ocean were able to collect 57 photo identifications, 23 biopsy samples and attach satellite tags to two of these colossal whales. Environment Minister Tony Burke said the researchers, working from small boats in freezing Antarctic conditions, were entertained and captivated by the remarkable behaviour of the blue whales they encountered.
Shepherd’s Beaked Whale: Extremely Rare Whale Caught for First Time on Film
ABC News & International Business Times. (November 2012)
In a lucky encounter, the Australian Antarctic Division research team spotted a group of extremely rare Shepherd’s beaked whales off the coast of Australia. The rare whales have been caught on film for the first time in history. The team was tracking blue whales off the coast of Victoria last month when they spotted the rare species with dolphin-like beaks. The black and cream-colored whales were first discovered in 1937, but they have only been seen a few times in history.To encounter this group was amazing but the fact that they remained at the surface for so long that we could get many minutes of footage is unique, voyage leader Michael Double told Australian ABC News.
2] Olson, P.A., Schmitt, N., Ensor, P., Collins, K., Donnelly, D., Leaper, R., Calderan, S., Miller, B.S., Goetz, K. and Double, M.C. 2015. Photo-identification of Antarctic blue whales during the New Zealand-Australia Antarctic Ecosystems Voyage 2015. International Whaling Commission report.
3] Olson, P.A., Ensor, P., Olavarria, C., Bott, N., Constantine, R., Weir, J., Childerhouse, S., van der Linde, M., Schmitt, N.T., Miller, B.S. and Double, M.C. 2015. New Zealand blue whales: information on residency, morphology, and feeding behaviour of a little-known population. Pacific Science 69(4):477-485.
4] Schmitt, N.T., Double, M.C., Baker, C.S., Gales, N., Childerhouse, S., Polanowski, A.M., Steel, D., Albertson, R., Olavarria, C., Garrigue, C., Poole, M., Hauser, N., Constantine, R., Paton, D., Jenner, C.S., Jarman, S.N. and Peakall, R. 2014. Mixed-stock analysis of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) on Antarctic feeding grounds. Journal of Cetacean Research and Management.14(1): 141–157.
5] Miller, B.S., Barlow, J., Calderan, S., Collins, K., Leaper, R., Olson, P., Ensor, P., Peel, D., Donnelly, D., Andrews-Goff, V., Olavarria, C., Owen, K., Rekdahl, M., Schmitt, N.T., Wadley, V., Gedamke, J., Gales, N. and Double, M.C. 2015. Validating the reliability of passive acoustic localisation: a novel method for encountering rare and remote Antarctic blue whales. Endangered Species Research 26: 257-269.
6] Schmitt, N.T., M.C. Double, S.N. Jarman, N. Gales, D. Paton, K.C.S. Jenner, M.-N.M. Jenner, C.S. Baker, D. Steel, R. Gales, J.R. Marthick, A.M. Polanowski and R. Peakall. 2014. Low levels of genetic differentiation characterize Australian humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) populations. Marine Mammal Science 30 (1): 221-241.
7] Constantine, R., Steel, D., Allen, J., Anderson, M., Andrews, O., Baker, C.S., Beeman, P., Burns, D., Charrassin, J-B., Childerhouse, S., Double, M., Ensor, P., Franklin, T., Franklin, W., Gales, N., Garrigue, C., Gibbs, N., Harrison, P., Hauser, N., Hutsel, A., Jenner, C., Jenner, M-N., Kaufman, G., Macie, A., Mattila, D., Olavarria, C., Oosterman, A., Paton, D., Poole, M., Robbins, J., Schmitt, N.T., Stevick, P., Tagarino, A., Thompson, K. and Ward, J. 2014. Remote Antarctic feeding ground important for east Australian humpback whales. Marine Biology. DOI 10.1007/s00227-014-2401-2.
8] Double, M., J. Barlow, B. Miller, P. Olson, V. Andrews-Goff, R. Leaper, P. Ensor, N. Kelly, M. Lindsay, D. Peel, S. Calderan, K. Collins, M. Davidson, C. Deacon, D. Donnelly, C. Olavarria, K. Owen, M. Rekdahl, N. Schmitt, V. Wadley, and N. Gales. 2013. Cruise report of the 2013 Antarctic blue whale voyage of the Southern Ocean Research Partnership. Report SC65a/SH/21 submitted to the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission. Jeju Island, Republic of Korea.
9] Steel, D., N.T. Schmitt, M. Anderson, D. Burns, R. Constantine, W. Franklin, T. Franklin, C. Garrigue, N. Gibb, N. Hauser, D. Mattila, C. Olavarria, D. Paton, M. Poole, J. Robbins, J. Ward, P. Harrison, P. Baverstock, M.C. Double and C.S. Baker. 2011. Genotype matching of humpback whales from the 2010 Australia/New Zealand Antarctic Whale Expedition (Area V) to the South Pacific. International Whaling Commission report.
10] Polanowski A.M., Schmitt N.T., Double M.C., Gales N.J., Jarman S.N. (2011) TaqMan assays for genotyping 45 single nucleotide polymorphisms in the humpback whale nuclear genome. Conservation Genetics Resources DOI: 10.1007/s12686-011-9424-5.
11] Constantine, R., J. Allen, P. Beeman, D. Burns, S. Childerhouse, M.C. Double, P. Ensor, T. Franklin, W. Franklin, N. Gales, C. Garrigue, E. Gates, N. Gibbs, A. Hutsel, C. Jenner, M. Jenner, G. Kaufman, A. Macie, D. Mattila, A. Oosterman, D. Paton, J. Robbins, P. Stevick, N.T. Schmitt, A. Tagarino and K. Thompson. 2011. Comprehensive photo-identification matching of Antarctic Area V humpback whales. International Whaling Commission report.
12] McLean, I.G., Cameron, E.Z., Linklater, W., Schmitt, N.T., Pulskamp, K. 2008. Partnerships in the mating system of a small macropod marsupial, the quokka (Setonix brachyurus). Behaviour 146: 89-112.
Abstracts For Presentations
Bury, S.J., Schwarz, J., Williams, M., Pinkerton, M., Forschen, A., Graham, B., Torres, L., Gall, M., Brown, J., Kilimnik, A., Elliott, F., Sagar, P., Gauthier, S., Double, M., Schmitt, N., Donnelly, D., Childerhouse, S., O’Driscoll, R., St John Glew, K., Constantine, R., Gales, N. Latitudinal isotopic variability in phytoplankton signatures from New Zealand to Ross Sea informs trophic ecology and movements of humpback whales. SINNZ Conference. Dunedin, New Zealand, 2015.
Schmitt, N.T., Double, M.C., Baker, C.S., Gales, N., Childerhouse, S., Polanowski, A.M., Steel. D., Albertson, R., Olavarria, C., Garrigue, C., Poole, M., Hauser, N., Constantine, R., Paton, D., Jenner, C., Jarman, S., Charrassin, J-B., Peakall, R. 2013. Mixed-stock analysis of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) on Antarctic feeding grounds. 20th Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals. Dunedin, New Zealand, 2013.
Schmitt, N.T., Double, M.C., Baker, C.S., Gales, N., Childerhouse, S., Polanowski, A.M., Steel. D., Albertson, R., Olavarria, C., Garrigue, C., Poole, M., Hauser, N., Constantine, R., Paton, D., Jenner, C., Jarman, S., Charrassin, J-B., Peakall, R. 2013. Mixed-stock analysis of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) on Antarctic feeding grounds. Australian Marine Science Association (AMSA) annual conference, Gold Coast, Queensland.
Donnelly, D.M., Ensor, P. and Schmitt, N.T. 2012. The First Confirmed At-Sea Sightings and New Diagnostic Descriptions of Shepherd’s Beaked Whale (Tasmacetus shepherdi). Australian Marine Science Association (AMSA) annual conference, Hobart, Tasmania.
Schmitt, N.T., Polanowski, A.M., Double, M.C., Gales, N., Baker, C.S., Steel, D., Peakall, R. and Jarman, S.N. 2011, 2012. Small numbers of single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) markers can detect population structure in the humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae). 19th Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals, Tampa, Florida and The Living Whales Symposium (Southern Ocean Research Partnership), Puerto Montt, Chile.
Schmitt, N.T. 2006. Application of Stills and Video Camera Traps in Behavioural and Ecological Research. Australiasian Society for the Study of Animal Behaviour conference, Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW.
McLean, I.G, Schmitt, N.T and Wynne, C.D.L. 2000. Learning about predators: an update. Australasian Society for the Study of Animal Behaviour conference, Macquarie University, Sydney, NSW.
Schmitt, N.T., McLean, I.G., and Wynne, C.D.L. 1997. Teaching a captive-reared wallaby to recognize predators. Behaviour and Conservation Symposium, London.
Australia Wins Whaling Case Against Japan In The Hague
Australia’s Successful Antarctic Blue Whale Voyage
Shepherd’s Beaked Whale: Extremely Rare Whale Caught for First Time on Film
Hunting The Ice Whales
Link To Full Documentary:
Devils In Danger
Natalie Schmitt – Professional Showreel (1)
Natalie Schmitt – Professional Showreel (2)
Secret Island Promo