“My footsteps have led into what is my greatest discovery, which is to have the compassion, determination, and motivation to reach my goals and have the ability to make new ones. I want to fully exceed my own expectations and achieve greatness. Most importantly, I want to show the world that one person can make a difference.”
Tell us something about yourself: what ́s your name, where are you from, what is your occupation?
Hello, my name is Jessica Benford. I am a Marine Mammal Scientist and my primary role is to research cetaceans (whales and dolphins), sea turtles, and endangered species for the Oil & Gas Industry. I am not your ordinary Biologist; I work on various seismic ships, oil rigs, and drill ships all over the world. I grew up in a very small town called Rockwood, Pennsylvania in the US.
Surprisingly, I lived five hours from the nearest saltwater environment. It is amazing of how one simple dream can ultimately change your life.
Where did you get the idea to become a Marine Biologist?
Like many other children growing up, I had ambitions to do something that I would absolutely love. From the time I walked on my first sandy beach and touched the cold, but riveting blue water I knew that I would explore this unique environment. I was only 4 years old. From there on, my primary passions were the ocean, traveling, and playing sports. As I approached my teenage years I educated myself on the saltwater ecosystem and everything that inhabited it. The realization that I could professionally become a successful and world- renown Marine Biologist occurred while I attended The Pennsylvania State University.
What do you like about your job the most?
I have to admit that I love every element of my job. From continent hopping around the world (currently working in my 59th country of Colombia and 5th continent of South America), learning new languages to communicate effectively with the ship personnel, gazing at sunrises and sunsets with unobstructed views, acoustically listening to marine mammals in their natural environment, checking off my bucket list of species sighted in the region, and interacting with different nationalities and hearing about their families, views on life, and travel experiences.
All of these make my career more interesting and gives purpose to why I have chosen this path as a Marine Biologist. If there is absolutely one perk to this offshore lifestyle, it is partaking in numerous sea survival courses and arriving to work (i.e. on the ship) by helicopter. I do not know many careers that require you to take a helicopter to work!
What was your most favorite project?
The ultimate project that has included unique marine mammals, beautiful sunsets, best martial art sessions onboard, absorption of 3 new languages, and an incredible region to sail through was my project on the Geo Celtic in Kenya, Africa. As I mentioned earlier, I love this unique, but sometimes crazy lifestyle, and this includes all the projects that I have worked and all of the crews that I have interacted with during my time onboard.
The reason Kenya stood out for me the most was due to a rare sighting of Pygmy blue whales. The vibrant sunrises & sunsets, jiu-jitsu training onboard, and the ability to learn Swahili, Norwegian, and Polish also help formulate my best experience offshore. In result, I spent 5 weeks traveling southeast Kenya and Zanzibar, Tanzania after my “favorite” project was finished. This particular trip engaged the Swahili skills that I had taught myself on the ship, perfected my diving tactics, and brought forth my inner backpacker, and opened my eyes to the vastness of Kenya’s beauty.
What are the most interesting places you have visited during your projects?
The most interesting places that I have visited during my projects range between the continents of Africa, Europe, and South America. My work included locations such as Angola, Colombia, Comoros, Equatorial Guinea, French Guiana, Gabon, Guinea, Kenya, Mozambique, Madagascar, Namibia, Suriname, and Tanzania. The cetaceans in the area are different throughout each region, along with the nationalities that I work with, and cultures that I interact with while traveling.
I have seen on your profile that you have visited all the countries in the US accept for Alaska and Hawaii. How did you manage to see them all?
I have visited all the states, but Hawaii and Alaska. I should mention that I do plan crossing these off my list next year during my jeep adventure of “The Voyage of Discovery.’ As soon as I hit dry land, I maximize every minute traveling full-time again for several weeks before the next project. I have always dedicated my time to drive my 2010 Jeep Wrangler (nicknamed Oakley) while I am at home. During this period, I plan week-filled trips around the US trekking to new locations that I have not been to. I have managed to travel and explore each of the 48 states, and spend time adventuring around 50 US National Parks. One of my recent winter holidays, I spent 8 weeks traveling east to the west coast with my Jeep Wrangler and hiked within 30 US National Parks, including those of Grand Canyon, Yosemite, Yellowstone, Death Valley, Voyageurs, etc.
You recently revealed to your fans that you are going to make a world trip called “The Voyage of Discovery.” Could you tell us more about it? “
“The Voyage of Discovery” was an idea that I had created in 2007. I am proud to say that in the next three months I will be turning this travel idea into the ultimate globetrotting adventure. Within this incredible journey, I will be trekking to 207 countries, driving my Jeep Wrangler “Oakley” to 150 countries and 6, if not 7 continents, and documenting the trip through 7 different mediums (i.e. GoPro, Sony video camera, Canon DSLR, etc.).
The timeframe for this trip will take me roughly 6-8 years. I plan on heading offshore to work for gaps of time, and then when I hit dry land continue my journey around the world. My main focus for this voyage are adrenaline, conservation, and education. In which, I will be bungee jumping, abseiling, repelling, skydiving, etc in every country that I visit. I will also be putting my research skills into good use and participating in various conservation projects around the world. In addition, I will be visiting local schools and orphanages to talk with the children, take a better look at how they view the world, and see firsthand, how they are helping preserve their environment. I will be fundraising for this trip through my website.
Part of the proceeds will go to conservation projects that I participate in during this voyage, supplies will be bought for the education programs that I visit, and the remaining will go to my trip expenses. I, along with my videographer brother Josh, will bring you travel stories, photographs, videos, and “behind the scenes” look as the adventure unfolds.
I invite you all to come along for the ride; I trust you will not be disappointed! Also, if you want to be part of the journey, there will be an assortment of merchandise from my travels and gear made for this adventure on my website.
If I am traveling in your area and you would like to meet, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or send me a Facebook message!
YouTube Channel: travelingmarinebiologist
Website – www.travelingmarinebiologist.com
You mention adrenaline as one of your main focuses of “The Voyage of Discovery,” what are some recent thrill-seekers that you have participated in?
One of my ultimate adventure holidays occurred in South Africa, I bungee jumped off the world’s largest commercial bridge of 216m, abseiled down waterfalls, cage dove with both Great white sharks and Nile crocodiles, skydived over Seal Island and the Atlantic Ocean, zip lined through the canopies of the Drakensburg Mountains, and jumped into the world’s only urban adrenaline swing in Durban’s FIFA 2010 Futbol World Cup stadium, Moses Mabhida.
I seek to find the greatest and most unique thrill-seeking activities that humans can indulge them in. The most exhilarating and marine-related submarine expedition happened in the Bay Islands of Honduras, Central America. I, along with the deep-sea explorer and submarine Idabel’s creator descended 1,950 ft to the bottom of the ocean in search of a school of blunt nose six-gill sharks. These particular specimens are known to live in complete darkness. Due to this reason, information about these particular sharks is scarce.
The element that made this experience unique was that I had to wait for them to make our acquaintance for a few hours in darkness on the bottom of the ocean floor. Finally our submarine started shifting, we turned the submarine lights on, and there 5m in front of the glass was the revelation of a female 13ft pregnant female staring back at me. Her beauty and size was astounding, it left me speechless.
Do you think you will ever have a “normal life” or you will be forever “married to the ocean”?
This is a good question and one that I get asked quite often. I actually do not know what “normal” means; everyone has a different lifestyle whether that involves children, marriage, a relationship, or any other elements that make you happy. My life will never be normal, and my passion for the ocean and traveling has not changed since I visited my first beach and sunk my toes in the sand when I was 4 years old. I believe that our world is full of mystery and isolated destinations waiting to be explored. I will continue to discover the world, and everything that inhabits this.
No matter what I am doing or where I am in the world, the one factor that I am sure is that my devotion to the conservation of whales, dolphins, sea turtles, and other marine life will never go away. I foresee myself owning a hostel after I finish my “Voyage of Discovery.” Feel free to stop by and share your travel experiences, conservation strategies, and thrill seeking activities that you have indulged yourself in. Most importantly, I welcome all ages and cultures and I personally will be delighted to meet your acquaintance!