Debbie sitting shotgun in a helicopter

About Me

From as early as I can remember, my happiest memories have always been outside, in nature. As a kid I devoured National Geographic and Nova programs, lusting after the wild places they depicted.  My heroes were Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey and I marveled at the wildlife they brought into my living room.  If you had asked me then, I would have told you that I wanted to be a primatologist (or a famous actress), and soon after that it was big cats that I couldn’t get enough of. But it wasn’t until high school, when my acumen in biology landed me an internship opportunity at the National Aquarium in Baltimore, that the marine world captured my interest.

I attended Penn State University as an undergrad, gaining research experience in a physiological ecology lab. After graduation, I spent the bulk of my twenties exploring conservation-oriented career paths in science education, wildlife research, and animal husbandry- and living life to the fullest! My escapades took me all across the country, and I discovered new people and ecosystems everywhere I went. Over time, though, my passion for research led me to graduate school and I earned my MSc at Alaska Pacific University studying the vocal repertoires of Bigg’s killer whales in western Alaska.

I am currently a PhD student at the University of Victoria, researching the impacts of vessel noise on ringed seals in the western Canadian Arctic. When I am not doing science, you can find me curling (winter & fall), floating rivers with friends (summer), or reading dystopian sci-fi novels for my favorite book club.

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Current Research Interests

Call Types of Killer Whales in western Alaska

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PhD Project on Ringed Seals in the Canadian Arctic

Ringed Seals & Vessel Noise

Climate change is driving unprecedented changes in sea ice coverage throughout the Arctic, causing shifts in predator and prey distributions, and altering the underwater soundscape: as the duration and extent of ice-free periods increase, so is vessel noise. 

Ringed seals (Pusa hispida) are an ice-obligate species that produce low-amplitude vocalizations year-round in the relatively quiet Arctic soundscape. An important food source for polar bears and indigenous communities, they are integral to the arctic landscape and yet there is a lack of data concerning how they use their underwater habitat, the contexts in which they vocalize, and whether increases in vessel noise impact their vocal behavior and movement patterns.

To address these knowledge gaps, I will conduct a multi-pronged study in the western Arctic that:

1) Uses long-term satellite tags to identify areas and features of the environment that are important to ringed seals throughout the year

2) Uses seal location data from medium-term fast-loc GPS tags, along with AIS vessel tracks, to quantify ringed seal exposure to vessel noise during open water periods

3) Employs short-term hydrophone-equipped tags to determine if ringed seals adjust vocal and diving behaviors when exposed to noise from underwater playback experiments

(Photo Credit: Aqqalu Rosing-Asvid)