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Next Generation: Amber Fandel

August 30, 2021

Advisor(s): Helen Bailey

What is the focus of your research?
I use the sounds made by marine mammals (acoustics) to learn about them. Lucky for us marine mammals are very vocal, so their vocalizations can tell us all sorts of things from what time of year they are around to who is there and what they're doing.

We anchor a hydrophone, an underwater microphone, under the water for three to six months to record any sounds in the area. After we pick it up, we analyze all of that acoustic data, trying to figure out as much as we can from the sounds on the recordings.

After we know when marine mammals like whales and dolphins are in areas such as the Chesapeake Bay or offshore Ocean City, we dig into what they're doing when they're in those areas. We can try to get a good idea of how many animals are in the area and how are they affected by disturbances such as storms, construction, or increased sound levels from boats.

Understanding these behaviors and movements are important because it will help us manage, and hopefully protect them from, potential disturbances in the future.

How will it make a difference?
These animals are protected species, so figuring out when these animals are around and what disturbs them is important.

By simply putting this little microphone at down under the water we can get a lot of information about them, save money, and also minimize the disturbance to those animals.

What influenced your career path in science?
I always knew that I wanted to go into marine mammal research. Well, when I was a very little kid I think I actually wanted to be a dolphin trainer. That evolved from a general interest in whales and dolphins to acoustics and disturbances and now it's kind of shifting into an interest in policy.

Why did you choose to study with your mentor at UMCES?I had been following Dr. Helen Bailey's work for quite some time; she did some great research on porpoises in Scotland and how they were impacted by wind energy construction. So when I saw an opportunity to work for her, I jumped at! I arrived at the University of Maryland Chesapeake Biological Laboratory campus and was excited by the plethora of resources there and the diverse experiences of all of the researchers. It was just really great to be able to collaborate with those folks and learn more about this region.

What is an experience that stands out most to you about your time at UMCES?
The opportunity to participate in the Chesapeake DolphinWatch program has been extremely rewarding. DolphinWatch is our community science-based app that allows anyone in the community to report when they see a dolphin in the Chesapeake Bay. It's been great learning from those folks, sharing information with them, and growing that relationship.

What is the most important thing people can do to help the environment?
I think that we can all do our part. We can do things to minimize pollution like not use single use plastics, but also putting pressure on local legislators to make sure that they are prioritizing our waterways and making sure that people have equal access to those resources.

Do you have advice for kids in the next generation who are interested in STEM fields?
It can be intimidating, that's for sure! So the advice that I typically give young people these days is that you should learn to code.  Coding is extremely beneficial for most STEM fields. Also take as many science classes as you can and make sure you're brushing up on your math- especially your statistics.

Have you received a scholarship, grant, travel award or gift from a donor? What did it allow you to do and why was that important?
I was awarded a travel grant to attend the Society for Mammalogy’s annual conference at the end of this year, so fingers crossed that that happens!

I'm also excited to be able to take advantage of the Knauss Fellowship in the upcoming year.

When do you anticipate earning your degree?
I hope to be defending by the end of the semester.

What are your future plans?
I will be participating in the Knauss Fellowship program in 2022. I’m hoping to build on past experiences I had working for a Congressional Member on Capitol Hill, learn more about policy making, and learn how policies implemented through my work in the Executive Branch.