Recently, How Do You Science sat down with a Marine Mammal Biologist working in the Gulf of Maine! Evan is a graduate student working with Allied Whale, a small marine mammal research group based out of the College of the Atlantic. In his interview he shares sea stories, marine mammal encounters and some thoughtful advice to those thinking about Marine Mammal Biology as a career.
Could you please tell us your name, job title, and a fun/nerdy fact about yourself?
My name is Evan Henerberry and I am Assistant Stranding Coordinator for Allied Whale as well as a graduate student researching Humpback Whales. As Assistant Stranding Coordinator I help run the stranding response program. My graduate thesis concerns the impacts of climate change on Humpback Whale breeding grounds. I also have high-fived a seal, not once but twice! Call it a benefit of volunteering for an aquarium.
Cool! How did you get interested in that subject and could you tell us a little about how you got where you are today?
The New England Aquarium (NEAQ) sparked my interest in marine biology at a young age. When I was older I had the opportunity to volunteer as a visitor educator - someone who gives presentations and answers guests questions about exhibits. Organizations like the NEAQ provide a lot of programs for people looking to get involved in science.
I continued to pursue this interest by attending the University of New England. After college, I got an internship with Allied Whale and later, Whale and Dolphin Conservation. Education has always been a major part of my life (my parents are both teachers and most of my career has been focused on educating others). I want to continue their legacy by combining research and education in my professional career. I have worked at several environmental education institutes from the Florida Keys to the White Mountains of New Hampshire. My environmental education work culminated when I returned to the New England Aquarium to work as an instructor in their summer camp.
Take us through an average day - how do you science?
Stranding response doesn’t exactly have a typical day. A lot of my time is spent around the office, organizing equipment and helping with reports. I need to make sure that all of this is in place because, once the phone rings, my job becomes a lot more hectic. Going into the field is always an interesting experience. The most exciting thing about my job, and science in general, is that anything can happen, and often does.
Allied Whale responds to a large area of the Maine coast. If an animal is reported anywhere in our response region we go out to inspect it. If a marine mammal is not in good condition, and there is space in a rehabilitation facility in the region, we may transport the animal. This can involve a long road trip to bring the animal to a properly equipped facility. Typically, we only choose to bring an animal to rehab center if there are signs that it has had a “human interaction”, such as entanglement in fishing gear.
Sometimes when we respond, the animal is dead. While this is sad to see, dead animals provide us with an unique learning opportunity. Allied Whale can perform a dissection or necropsy to help us understand why the animal might have died. These necropsies are powerful teaching tools and a chance for people outside Allied Whale to “get their hands dirty” scientifically speaking.
What is some advice you have for people interested in pursuing your line of work?
Volunteering is the best way to get involved with Marine Biology. While the work is never particularly glamorous, volunteering equips you with the skills you’ll need to succeed. It is also a great way to find out if you are really interested in the field. Science, and marine mammal science in particular, is not for everyone and it’s better to find that out early before you put in a lot of time and effort. Networking is a powerful tool as well. If you make a good impression, a letter of reference can carry a lot more weight than a GPA or a resume.
Anything else you’d like to say about yourself?
To be honest, I’m not really all that special. I’ve gotten where I am by working hard and having a good attitude. Before I got accepted to be an intern at Allied Whale I applied and was rejected 4 times. If you really have a passion for something don’t give up on it, with time you will find a way to make it work.
Final question: can our readers contact you?
Feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, I’m always happy to answer questions!
Thank you so much for your time, Evan! It's been a pleasure getting to know about the amazing world of Marine Mammal Biology. Looking for more information? Check out these websites:
Jobs, Internships and Volunteer Opportunities at the NEAQ
NMFS: Pursuing a Career in Marine Mammal Science
The Society for Marine Mammalogy
How We Science is moderated and edited by the staff of the Natural Resources Trust of Easton.