#7: Meet Sam!

This season we've invited new faces to the team to introduce themselves and provide a little background on what led them to our research program. We first met Brigid, so now it's time to meet Samantha Emmert, who will be working in the Bay of Fundy on the R/V Nereid and offshore on the R/V Shelagh.
I am a recent graduate of Duke University (T'15) with a Bachelor of Science in Biology and Evolutionary Anthropology. The path that brought me to The Whale House in Lubec begins five years ago in Cape Cod where I was a summer intern at the Woods Hole Science Aquarium. My internship provided my first exposure to marine mammals, specifically the aquarium's rescued harbor seals, as I assisted with husbandry. One of the seals, Bumper, was blind and I became fascinated with his ability to flawlessly imitate behaviors trained to other seals. Although Bumper was not trained in these behaviors for fear that his blindness would make any efforts futile or dangerous to him, he was capable, perhaps through the use of his vibrissae (vibration-sensing whiskers), to learn from the movements of other seals.

Samantha at the helm.

Two summers later, inspired to learn more about marine mammal health and rehabilitation, I interned at The Marine Mammal Center in Sausilito, CA, with assistance from a DukeEngage Independent Project grant. This experience introduced me to cetaceans through the Center's stranding operations and participation in necropsies. I then spent my junior year at the Duke UNiversity Marine Lab in Beaufort, NC. Soon after I arrived at the lab, bottlenose dolphin strandings related to the morbillivirus Unusual Mortality Event began in the area. Throughout my year at the lab, I assisted Dr. Vicky Thayer with the strandings and necropsies and conducted a research project with Dr. Andrew Read on patterns in the die-off. While at the lab, I also took two field biology classes which made me fall even more in love with being on the water: Tropical Field Biology in Panama, and Marine Invertebrate Zoology in the Bahamas. In the summer following my junior year, I was a Summer Student Fellow at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution where I worked with Dr. Michael Moore studying bottlenose dolphin breath sounds. This first exposure to marine mammal acoustic studies led me to conduct my senior thesis on short-finned pilot whale acoustics with Dr. Andrew Read. As a result of these experiences, I pursued the opportunity to participate in the right whale field season with commitment to a career in marine mammal conservation and the hope to gain field experience and contribute to the science that fuels conservation for one of the most endangered marine mammals.

The Mullholland Lighthouse on Campobello Island NB, captured by Sam during a particularly picturesque moment.

During our first week, we familiarized ourselves with Lubec, the Nereid, and our data collection methods. This includes learning how to estimate distances at sea and how to match photos of individuals to the North Atlantic Right Whale Catalog. The weather was too foggy and windy to get out to the Bay of Fundy until August 7, when we finally got out on the water and put some of our new skills to work!


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