Spotlight: Heather Tabisola

Research Coordinator

Heather at sea during sunsetHeather Tabisola recently joined JISAO as a Research Coordinator after spending most of her career life offshore, on a boat either working as a deck hand and research assistant or watching and listening for whales. Working as a self-titled Marine Environmental Consultant for the last decade, Heather has led an intriguing and diverse career. First inspired by the charismatic megafauna of the nearish-shore waters of Massachusetts, her ocean adventures began with whale watches out of Plymouth Harbor and Lobster Hut fried clams. Later, while exploring coastal Maine tidepools, sailing the high seas on wooden ships, and wishing she could be on the Voyage of the Mimi, her parents sent her away to the Acadia Institute of Oceanography. It was there, along the shores of quaint Seal Harbor while dissecting a pregnant spiny dog fish, that Heather decided she was going to be a marine biologist. One degree in Marine and Freshwater from the University of New Hampshire, an internship and senior thesis later - Heather began working at the University of Maine and the New England Aquarium with the Right Whale Research Team the summer and fall after school. You could call her a scientist or a marine biologist, maybe even a cetologist (cetacean – acean + ologist = cetologist). Heather was a researcher, an observer, a note taker, a photographer, a counter, a collector, and a writer. Her work encompassed assisting the team on the right whale population (sometimes even collecting whale poop!) and a very intriguing interdisciplinary study in the Gulf of Maine regarding ‘hot spots’ in the ocean.

Expanding on her experiences with the NEAQ, Heather worked at the Center for Coastal Studies Habitat Studies Program and began her adventure with tiny zooplankton. In Provincetown, she captured and studied the plankton of Cape Cod Bay on a daily basis as a way to use the density of the copepod population as a management tool and rapid report system of right whale movement into Cape Cod Bay, and thus potentially reduce ship strikes. At the conclusion of her contract at CCS, Heather began a new adventure in her life as a Marine Mammal Observer implementing mitigation guidelines for marine mammals for the oil and gas industry throughout the US, Africa, and South America. Working initially in the Gulf of Mexico, as she took international work, her experiences became more diverse and included assisting with the creation of mitigation measures, serving on committees, and working with passive acoustic equipment. In the last five years, Heather’s experiences took her to some of her favorite countries: Denmark, Greenland, Uruguay, and Angola. Her experience in the industry of marine mammal regulations was a fascinating adventure of travel and working with conservation and management of marine mammals.

However, she is extremely excited to now be working at the University of Washington’s Joint Institute for the Study of Atmosphere and Ocean at the NOAA campus in Seattle as the Research Coordinator for EcoFOCI (Ecosystems & Fisheries-Oceanography Coordinated Investigations) and the Program for Innovative Technology for Arctic Exploration (PITAE) both at the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory. Her role is dynamic and currently includes assisting lead scientists in program planning, management and communications with NOAA headquarters. Heather also plans to be participating in data synthesis efforts, integrated ecosystem research projects in the Gulf of Alaska, Bering Sea, and Chukchi Sea, scientific cruises, and project outreach. She really enjoys working with such a talented and fun interdisciplinary group on a variety of projects that directly impact management and conservation of marine resources in the Alaska region.