Tell us a little bit about yourself. Living on Vancouver Island in the Pacific Northwest, I’m so lucky to be in such a great environment. I love packing up my car and going for hikes, camping, island hopping, and paddling on the ocean. My summer days are spent reading and camping, and my winter (rainy) months are spent playing board games on my couch in front of the fire after a day of skiing. One of my passions outside of my research is my podcast Below the Tide. I get to chat with scientists about their marine research, and make it accessible to the public.
What kind of scientist are you and what do you do? I started my research as an undergraduate project, for course credit. The curator of paleontology at the Royal British Columbia Museum is an adjunct professor at the University of Victoria, where I was completing my degree. I had been volunteering with Dr. Arbour for a couple of weeks before March 2020. In September of 2020 she offered me a project that involved looking through some cabinets of cetacean fossils from Vancouver Island that had been collected over the last few decades. The fossils had never been evaluated nor published on. So I jumped in, and learned about fossils as I went. The fossils are from the Oligocene period, which is a geological time period that defines the time of about 23-33 million years ago. This is such an important time in whale evolution; it is the time where we see toothed whales and baleen whales diverging. Before this time, all whales were toothed, and hunted their food. But something happened in this time period where whales started to grow baleen plates in their mouth, and the fun part is that nobody is completely sure why! A really thrilling part of this work is that the fossils were found on Vancouver Island, where I live. My research is helping to contribute to the fossil record of the North Pacific, and putting Vancouver Island on the map to prove the importance of the fossil record here. Oligocene-aged whale fossils are not found everywhere in the world; there are only select geographic areas where fossils from this time period can be found easily, and it just so happens that one of my favourite beaches on the island is a prime fossil hunting location!
Through this project I did some outreach work through the museum; creating accessible learning material in different media types and presenting my research at the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology conference in 2021!
I discovered this immense passion for public outreach and making science accessible, through this research project. That was what pushed me to start my podcast: Below the Tide. The goal of Below the Tide is to create a space in which marine scientists can share their research and stories in an accessible way to the public. We break down their research and chat about what their path and fieldwork looks like. I love the idea of bringing attention to so many realms of marine science, but also showing that scientists lead such remarkable lives.
What is your favorite part about being a scientist, and how did you get interested in science? I’ve always been into science, since I was a kid. My parents were in the science field, but they always encouraged me to follow my own path. My interest in science was different from theirs – I was really intrigued in the inner workings of ecosystems, and marine science. I moved across Canada from Montreal to Victoria to study marine science at the University of Victoria, and completed a bachelor’s degree in biology and earth and ocean sciences. Through my degree I got really interested in paleobiology, specifically cetacean evolution. My other interest in the scientific field really is science communication. I’m excited to see where my podcast takes me, and I hope making science accessible is something I can continue in.
How does your work contribute to the betterment of society in general? Paleobiology in general is really important for understanding ecosystem and organism evolution, and their responses to changes in the environment. Even looking at cetacean evolution; we can see there was an immense amount of diversity in cetacean populations about 33 million years ago. Today’s cetacean populations are commonly struggling in the face of climate change, and other anthropogenic influences. We can use the past millions of years of changing climate to assess how populations today may face the current issues. The field of anything paleo related isn’t all about fossils; it also includes ancient climates, ecosystems, influences, changes, and so much more. I love how the realm of paleo is so collaborative and is just one big puzzle.
What advice do you have for up and coming scientists? Take opportunities as they are presented to you, and reach out to people. I’m a believer in no opportunity is a waste of time, it definitely is a growing opportunity. If you start a volunteer position in a lab and realize you aren’t keen on lab work; you’ve learned something about yourself! Congrats! It means that you now know that a career or position in a lab may not be your cup of tea. And on the second point; reach out to people if you want to learn about their research. Ask questions, ask for potential volunteer positions, ask for career advice. The worst that will happen is that they will say no. So if you are interested in a certain field, find someone who is in that field and ask to connect. They are your most valuable resource. That way you can ask all the questions, ask for advice, and network.