Matthias Hoffmann Kuhnt
What is your history of engagement with National Geographic Society?
I am a National Geographic Society Fellow since 2020 and also an NGS explorer since 2021. The fellowship is awarded for spearheading bioacoustics research in South-East Asia, and the grant that I received in 2021 was a tech grant to build a new version of an underwater recording device that combines high-frequency audio and video.
Tell us about your work/research. What kinds of things do you do?
My main interests are in the area of bioacoustics and animal cognition and behavior. I am interested particularly in dolphin echolocation and how they are able to "see with sound". dolphin echolocation is far superior to any man-made sonar - and I am trying to learn how they might use this sense to interrogate their environment and communicate with each other. sound is really the main sensory system that is available to animals living in the ocean and lets them communicate over large distances - up to several thousand kilometers (in the case of blue whales)! if we can learn how they talk to each over these distances and how they communicate with each other then maybe some day we will be able to join the conversation with them. Since sound is such an important medium to them, we can learn a lot about their world and their behavior if we can identify which animal is vocalizing and which is responding at what time.
What sparked your initial interest in your career?
I have always been fascinated by the ocean and it is a big unexplored area of the world - there is so much to learn and we only have scratched the surface. I studied biology and then when I was able to do so went for an internship at a dolphin research laboratory in Hawaii. this then led to a Masters and PhD in behavioral biology.
What element of your work/study is the most fascinating?
The most exiting point is when you are in the water with dolphins and whales - and when you get to look in their eyes and they look at you - and you form a bond across species - there is definitely "someone" in there...
What other jobs or skills led you to your current position?
I would say in the area it's important to be able to improvise - so solve a problem with whatever means are available - "McGyvering" and i think i have that ability. photography is another skill that I have that has proven important
What are your degrees and certifications?
Master of Science - University of Regensburg, Germany 1994, PhD behavioural Biology, Freie Universität Berlin, 2003, Divemaster PADI,
What are your hobbies?
Anything outdoors, Cooking, paragliding, diving, woodworking (i make my own furniture)
What advice would you give someone who wants to have a career like yours?
Don't let anyone tell you that there are no jobs in this field - just follow your instinct and as long as you love what you are doing you will find a way!