Marine Biologist Missing At Sea off the Coast of Peru

By September 22, 2015 Speak Up For Blue Podcast


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Marine Biologist, Keith Davis (41), was reported missing at sea from the vessel in which he was working off the coast of Peru. The fishing vessel was 500 miles offshore when Keith went missing. Keith was working as a Fisheries Observer aboard the vessel. The purpose of his position is to ensure the fishing crew are following international fishing guidelines by recording the catch of the crew. A fisheries observer’s reports go to the authorities after thorough review.

Fisheries observers represent the government authorities on the vessel, so it’s not a real surprise if the crew is not happy that the observer is placed on their ship. It means they can’t get away with illegal fishing, which is why observers like Keith are placed on the ship.

It doesn’t mean that there is foul play at hand for this tragic event; although, the FBI and US Coast Guard will be investigating the situation further. Many things can happen when you are 500 miles offshore. However, the family and friends of Davis feel there is more to the story then just “falling off the ship.” According to reports, Keith sent an email to his father telling him that he didn’t feel comfortable on the ship. Again, this could mean many things. I’ve been on horrible ships where the facilities sucked, but the crew we very nice.

Regardless off what happened, I hope that Keith is found safe and sound; however, he disappeared on September 10th and local authorities stopped their search efforts after 72 hours.

I hate telling this story and it is not what I originally planned, but I felt that I needed to share this story with you because I wanted you to know that some jobs of Marine Scientists/Conservations are not all jumping dolphins and swim calls. Those happen, but there are many safety issues that can occur while in the field. It is crucial that all Marine Scientists/Conservationists who are in the field undergo the proper safety training before entering the field.

Safety training in the Ocean Conservation industry is fairly common place as we have to deal with the Ocean, which can be very rough and unsafe, as well as heavy and dangerous instrumentation that could pose a risk to injury. The situation can be quite concerning if someone hurts themselves and they are on a ship.

One story comes to mind during my experience as a marine technician in the Gulf of Mexico. The ship I worked on would take researchers our into the Gulf to conduct their field studies as part of their research. We would operate all of our oceanographic instrumentation for the researchers and they would tell us where to measure. It was one of the best jobs, ever! On one particular trip, the research team was retrieving a mooring (a set of instruments floating in the water column) to download the data. on our way to the mooring location, I was going down to the engine room to do some routine maintenance on some of our instruments. I opened the door to the engine room only to find a huge puff of smoke coming right at my face. I closed the door immediately, took a breathe and sounded the fire alarm. Everyone got to their muster stations and the crew got their fire fighting gear on ready to fight the fire.

You have to remember that the ship was in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico with no shore in sight and we were floating above 2000 feet plus of depth. IT’s pretty scary stuff when you think of it. However, I reacted the way I should have because I was well prepared due to training and running regular drills with the crew and the research team.

Luckily, there was no fire and it was just smoke from an oil line breaking and oil spurting on the hot engine. Our engineer was able to fix the problem and everything worked out well. No one got hurt and there was very little damage, which is the result you want.

The key to the story is that I was well prepared and I didn’t panic.

I am recounting this story because there are many young, new marine biologists/conservationists out there who are not well trained in safety either because their employer doesn’t feel it’s necessary or the person thinks they are “too cool” and can handle anything if something were to occur. To those people, I say get trained in safety. Yes, it’s expensive, but it could save your life.

I also feel that parents whose daughters or sons have just graduated or want to go into marine biology/conservation should be aware of the risks at hand and should stress safety training as a necessity.

Fisheries Observers and Marine Mammal Observers are very exciting positions that are available to many recent graduates. It’s appealing to the younger generation as their is a ton of travelling around the world, great pay, and great work and life experiences. However, they will be working on ships with heavy and potentially dangerous equipment and safety training should be provided by the employer or the company. My suggestion to any parent whose child is going to do field work is to get them safety trained before they start their job or trip to ensure they are aware of the potential risks on the ships. Most of the time, the companies will arrange and pay for training, but in case they don’t, safety training should still be conducted by the individual. It’s just common sense.

Like I said, we don’t know what happened to Keith Davis. Accidents happen on ships all of the time. Keith was a seasoned fisheries observer and probably had safety training. I just hope he is found.

I found it interesting in the one of the reports on Keith’s disappearance that he recorded a video where he played a song tribute to 3 more fisheries observers who also disappeared at sea. There are definitely some questions that are raised as Keith becomes the 4th person to disappear in the same area.

Be safe out there!

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