• Real-World Geography: John Calambokidis

    Real-World Geography: How people use geography and the geographic perspective in their everyday lives and real-world careers.

    Illustration by Mary Crooks

    By Stuart Thornton

    Sunday, January 16, 2011

    John is a marine biologist who studies marine mammals. He is also the founder of Cascadia Research, a nonprofit organization that studies marine mammals. Cascadia Research is based in Olympia, Washington.


    In junior high school and high school, Calambokidis started one of the first recycling programs in his neighborhood outside Washington, D.C.

    His father was an Olympic sailor, which helped instill an interest in the water and its organisms. “Even though he died when I was young, there was a bit of a maritime tradition there,” Calambokidis says.

    After high school, Calambokidis traveled around Europe and Africa, mostly on bike. While in Africa, he visited some wild game parks that “crystallized an interest in taking action to protect the environment and to get more actively involved in conservation.”


    “Identifying questions that no one knows the answer to and the process of discovering something no one else knows.”


    Securing funding and support for research projects.


    “To me, geography is all about how all the different parts of the Earth, from animals to plants, relate to geographic places.”


    Calambokidis believes all the research he does on marine mammals, including blue whales, is tied heavily to geographic issues.

    Calambokidis studies what animals are doing in certain areas and what might be critical habitat for them. He tries to identify areas where different animals would be affected by the same environmental changes, and tries to track animal “movements between areas or migrations across geographic regions.”

    Calambokidis also discovers what area makes up an animal’s feeding and breeding grounds and what impacts on those regions would affect an animal's ability to survive. He says geography plays an important role in conserving and managing species.

    Calambokidis says all the information he gathers is geographically coded so he can determine an organism’s relationship to specific environments.


    “The most important thing in general is to pursue what interests and excites you to bring out your passion and your motivation.”

    Calambokidis recommends those who want to enter the field of biology to develop skills in quantitative sciences such as statistics, because these backgrounds are highly sought-after in the profession. Also, he suggests focusing on improving writing skills for writing grants and science reports.


    Think locally. “It’s important to get passionate and interested and research those things that are accessible to you.”

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    biology Noun

    study of living things.

    blue whale Noun

    species of marine mammal that is the largest animal to have ever lived.

    breeding ground Noun

    place where animals mate, give birth, and sometimes raise young.

    code Verb

    to arrange information into a system for communication.

    compromise Verb

    to put in danger.

    conservation Noun

    management of a natural resource to prevent exploitation, destruction, or neglect.

    Encyclopedic Entry: conservation
    crystallize Verb

    to become clear or definite.

    discrete Adjective

    individual or distinct.

    Earth Noun

    our planet, the third from the Sun. The Earth is the only place in the known universe that supports life.

    Encyclopedic Entry: Earth
    funding Noun

    money or finances.

    game reserve Noun

    area of land filled with wildlife and preserved for hunting or tourism.

    grant Noun

    money given to a person or group of people to carry out a specific project or program.

    habitat Noun

    environment where an organism lives throughout the year or for shorter periods of time.

    Encyclopedic Entry: habitat
    hone Verb

    to improve.

    marine biologist Noun

    scientist who studies ocean life.

    marine mammal Noun

    an animal that lives most of its life in the ocean but breathes air and gives birth to live young, such as whales and seals.

    maritime Adjective

    having to do with the ocean.

    migration Noun

    movement of a group of people or animals from one place to another.

    neighborhood Noun

    an area within a larger city or town where people live and interact with one another.

    Encyclopedic Entry: neighborhood
    nonprofit organization Noun

    business that uses surplus funds to pursue its goals, not to make money.

    quantitative science Noun

    branch of study that concerns measurement and numbers, such as mathematics, statistics, and information systems technology.

    recycle Verb

    to clean or process in order to make suitable for reuse.

    secure Verb

    to guarantee, or make safe and certain.

    statistics Noun

    the collection and analysis of sets of numbers.

    tradition Noun

    beliefs, customs, and cultural characteristics handed down from one generation to the next.

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