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Live Event

Heather Heenehan, Biologist

By November 8, 2017June 10th, 2020No Comments

Live Event: November 8, 2017 at 1:00pm Eastern (US)

Heather Heenehan is a Biologist studying the impacts of various human-produced sounds on acoustically sensitive marine mammals, to aid in management, education and conservation efforts. Heather is a JASON STEM Role Model that will be featured in a new World of Waves curriculum mission that will be released in 2018.

About Heather

What are your favorite hobbies or activities you do for fun?

My favorite hobbies are stand up paddleboarding and baking sourdough!

What are your favorite hobbies or activities you do for fun?

My favorite hobbies are interior design, crafting, gardening and beach cruising.

Do you play any musical instruments?

I would call myself an amateur pianist.

Do you play any sports or do any athletic activities?

These days, I love to beach cruise. When I was a kid, I played soccer, basketball and softball. As I got older, I realized those were not the activities for me. In middle school, after years of ballet as a small child, I took up Irish Step. It was the right activity for me! I would love to take classes again.

What is your favorite non-science book, magazine, or blog?

My favorite non-science book is Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes. I also follow the blogs of Jillian Harris and Ali Fedotowsky; major fashion and design inspiration!

Highest degree attained

Ph.D. Duke University

Future degree(s) planning on pursuing, if any

Nope! I think I’m done

Schools attended

Duke University
University of Connecticut

Favorite classes/coursework in elementary school, middle school, high school, college

Elementary School – I don’t think I had a favorite really in middle school.
Middle School – This is where I really started to like science. In 8th grade we did this team-based investigative learning throughout the whole year to solve a problem, I loved it!
High School – I loved my science classes of course but I also really loved my history and government classes.

What educational accomplishments are you most proud of?

Finishing my Ph.D. is a big one but I’m also very proud of my Excellence in College teaching award.


NOAA Northeast Fisheries Science Center, Passive Acoustic Group

Official title

Postdoctoral Fishery Biologist II

“Layman’s” title


Years in this organization/position

I came after I finished my Ph.D. so I’ve only been here about 7 months.

What does your organization do?

Marine mammals and many fishes are highly adapted for producing and perceiving sound in the ocean. The Passive Acoustic Research group at NEFSC is interested in understanding the sounds these animals make, on a variety of spatial and temporal scales. Ultimately, we seek to evaluate the impacts of various human-produced sounds on acoustically sensitive marine mammals, to aid in management, education and conservation efforts.

What is your role in the organization?

I am a postdoc in the Research Group.

Other positions not necessarily related to your current career

My first job was at a local bakery during the holiday season. They would get massive orders of cookies so they needed a cookie scooper. I mostly scooped out chocolate chip cookies but also helped with other tasks. My favorite was filling cannolis!

Best job you’ve ever had and why

I think it was working on the Jersey shore at the Wetlands Institute in the education department with my sister. We were both interns at the Wetlands Institute, teaching visitors about the salt marsh and living at the beach. I loved that summer with my sister.

Worst job you’ve ever had and why

I will preface with I still love Panera and it wasn’t a bad job, it was a great job, but I was on staff that opened a brand new Panera bread in a shopping center during the holidays. It was crazy! There were always so many people so it was constantly moving and making food. I loved the food and I loved making people happy with what I made but it was a really crazy job.

What were you like as a kid?

I played soccer and softball which in high school turned into field hockey and softball. I also danced and was in the school plays. I played the flute for a while. I loved the beach and the ocean, obviously still true today. As a family, we were really involved with the YMCA so one thing my sister and I did from when we were really young is we volunteered at the local YMCA helping with programs for special needs children. This later turned in to being a camp counselor for these programs.

I have a folder of pictures of me from middle school people get a big kick out of. I usually share them when I visit middle school classrooms because it helps place me as their age, even though I look really different.

What were your favorite books/shows/movies when you were a kid?

I’ve already mentioned Harry Potter. I was the original Harry Potter generation so I grew up reading the books. The first one was published when I was in elementary school and the last one when was published when I was in college. I also read a lot of Nancy Drew, Anne of Green Gables, Little House on the Prairie.  I did really like Beauty and the Beast and Little Mermaid.

What did you think you were going to be when you grew up at age 12? At age 15? At age 18?

12 – a vet
15 – a marine animal vet
18 – marine biologist

When did you know you wanted to pursue your current career, and what drove you towards it?

My mom and dad say they knew I was interested in the ocean from when I was very young.

Who inspired you on this path?

My dissertation acknowledgments go into much more detail on this topic but here’s a shortened version:
My Mom, Dad and sister Kaitlin. I have learned from the best and can’t thank them enough for everything they do for me and for everything they’ve taught me. I have friends, family and teachers I’ve known as far back as Kindergarten to thank for inspiring my love of science and for showing me the power of teachers. I have so many people at UConn and specifically the Honors Program at UConn to thank for giving me a chance to start pursuing research and for giving me my first mentoring and teaching experiences. And my set of beautiful, smart and amazing friends from both UConn and Duke, I’m really extremely lucky to have some of the best women and so many of the best women in STEM I’ve ever known as my best friends. Those ladies inspire me every day. And at Duke all of my students in all of the classes I have TA’d, taught and guest lectured in. My advisers, mentors, committee, teachers, everyone at the Duke University Marine Lab. It was an amazing place to learn and grow and develop as a scientist and teacher.

If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, what other careers</h5 > might you have pursued?
A baker!
What advice would you give students in general?

Don’t let anyone tell you can’t do something. I just saw Hidden Figures, everyone should see it, it is amazing and inspiring. I really love two of their taglines, “Strength has no gender” and “courage has no limits.” So I’ve added them to my own personal, “Be a big sponge!” Which is also, soak it all in. Ask questions and listen to the answers. You never know where a question might lead.

What are some interesting places you’ve traveled?

I’ve been to some pretty cool places for my work. Most recently that was the French Caribbean Islands of St. Martin, Guadeloupe, and Martinique to put out recorders to listen for humpback whales. I’ve also been to Hawaii for my work on Hawaiian spinner dolphins. I’ve presented my work in places like Paris, France, Dublin, Ireland and one a little closer to home, San Francisco, California. For most of these trips I’ve tried to stay later to enjoy the place and do some traveling for fun!

Available Resources

Personal website:

Duke site on me:

Where I work:

The project I’m working on now:

A video put together by one of our French colleagues on this project: