Live Event: October 4, 2018 at 1:00pm Eastern (US)
Marie Trone is a Professor of Biology and a Researcher at Valencia College where she studies dolphins that live in the Amazon River. Her team utilizes ecology, animal behavior, computer science, machine learning, and electronic engineering in search of a way to identify the individual dolphins by their voices and assess their population.
Name: Marie Trone
Title: Professor of Biology; Researcher
Layman’s Title (ie. Biologist): college biology instructor and researcher
Company: Valencia College
Years in this organization/position?
What does your organization do?
Valencia College provides college education to approximately 70,000 students in the Orlando, Florida region.
What is your role in the organization?
I am professor / instructor and teach courses with labs, including Biological Science, Introduction to Marine Biology, Anatomy and Physiology, and Environmental Science. I have taught Environmental Science in a Developing Country and take students to the Peruvian Amazon to learn about sustainability and biodiversity.
What type of science, technology, engineering or math do you use in your career? And how often do you use them?
I use regular classroom technology when teaching.
However, I use a variety of STEM specialites in my research endeavors. I am currently investigating sounds produced by the two species of dolphins that live in the Amazon River and its tributaries: the Amazon River dolphin, a.k.a. the pink dolphin (Inia geoffrensis) and the gray dolphin (Sotalia fluviatilis). My research group is trying to assess the number of dolphins based upon the sounds they produce because it is not possible to visually count these animals due to the opaque water and behavior of the animals. Ultimately, we would like to find a way to individually identify the animals by their voices. We are also recording all the animal sounds from various levels above the rainforest floor, ranging from about 10 meters to 37 meters above the ground. To do this work, we employ ecology, animal behavior, computer science, machine learning, and electronic engineering. Our team continues to perfect equipment that can take and process 1 million sound samples per second on 4 hydrophones (underwater microphones) at the same time! We have also developed an application for tablets to be used while collecting data on dolphins in the field.
I am also exploring animal enrichment in zoos. I am working on a “radio” for parrots. This project requires animal behavior, computer science, and electronic engineering.
How is the work you do important to society?
I am not sure how important all of this is to society, but I think it all helps animals both in the wild and in human care. Plus, it is a whole lot of FUN!
What accomplishments are you most proud of in your current role?
I have had the support of Explorama Lodges in establishing the Amazon Dolphin Acoustics Lab in the Peruvian Amazon. I also will be taking my second group of students to Peru at the end of April 2018, and I am so happy to do so!
What are the biggest challenges you face in your work?
The largest challenge is finding time to analyze data and write up results. I love to write things up, but it does take time. I also have committed myself to find a better balance of work, research and personal life in my life for health reasons.
What is the most exciting, most amazing, or scariest thing that has happened to you during your work?
One very exciting thing was I have had to spend a few nights in the rainforest canopy! Very few people have ever done this, 37 meters above the ground! And, while there one night I was walking between the trees on the canopy walkway, about 1:00 AM, and a wooly opossum almost ran over my foot while a two-toed sloth came right past me on the cable! Unbelievable! A magic moment I will always treasure. FYI, the two-toed sloth is not slow.
But what I love about the research and going through the data is finding trends and patterns. So, although not as spectacular as the animal encounters, being able to start predicting what the next data point will be and making predictions, is like magic! Times stops, and everything gets really exciting!
Highest degree attained/ Schools attended?
BA Biology: St. Mary’s College of Maryland
MS Biology: Andrews University
PhD Experimental Psychology: University of Southern Mississippi
What educational accomplishments are you most proud of?
I am most proud of the PhD. I studied dolphin echolocation and behavior. It was a competitive program to get into, and it was a lot of work, but I am ever so glad I finished it!!!
What kinds of challenges did you overcome during your education?
I ended up with three proposed dissertation projects, as things beyond my control prevented me from completing the different projects. I was tempted to give up, but I was so close. So, I kept going, and again, I am very glad that I did.
Previous employers and positions that have lead to your current role:
National Aquarium in Baltimore: Volunteer docent and scuba diver
Aquarium of Niagara: Marine Mammal Specialist (trained dolphins, sea lions and seals)
Xcaret (Mexico): Dolphin Trainer
Dolphinarus (Mexico): Dolphin Trainer
Dolphin Research Center, Florida Keys: Senior Trainer
Busch Gardens Tampa: Senior Trainer, elephants
Other positions not necessarily related to your current career:
United States Marine Corp
Over-the-road truck driver (I loved this and did it also while getting my MS degree)
Favorite classes/coursework in elementary school, middle school, high school, college:
I loved science. But in high school, I should have failed chemistry and physics. But they passed me. I was terrified that I could never get to be a dolphin trainer because I would not be able to pass chemistry. But I took a chemistry class for non-science majors and I passed! And then I passed college chemistry and physics!
What were your favorite books/shows/movies when you were a kid?
I did not care much for TV as a kid, nor as an adult. I don’t even own a television and don’t have cable. I love to read. As a kid I liked fantasy books, like Lord of the Rings, and the dragon books by Anne McCafferty.
What did you think you were going to be when you grew up at age 12? At age 15? At age 18?
At age 12, 15 and 18, I wanted to be a dolphin trainer and do research with the dolphins.
When did you know you wanted to pursue your current career, and what drove you towards it?
At age 7, I knew I wanted to do dolphin research. I had seen National Geographic’s story on Dianne Fossey’s work with mountain gorillas. It was in black and white. My family was living in central Pennsylvania at the time. After seeing that show, I looked at my mom and announced that I was going to do what Dianne was doing, only with dolphins.
What are your favorite hobbies or activities you do for fun?
I like to go jogging, kayaking, scuba diving, biking, hiking / back packing (e.g. Grand Canyon, Zion, etc), and canyoneering.
What is your favorite non-science book, magazine, or blog?
What’s the most frequently played song?
I like up-beat, positive music, songs about success and feeling good. I don’t have just one song, but there are many. I run to this type of music.
Who do you look up to and admire?
I really admire people like Elon Musk, Craig Venter, Edward O. Wilson, Sylvia Earle.
What advice would you give a student interested in pursuing your career?
The answer to this is the same as the one for the next question.
What advice would you give students in general?
For a career, pursue what makes you happy! The money will follow. But, imagine what you would love to do everyday when you wake up, and let that help you decide what you will study in school. Don’t consider how hard the classes might might be. You can pass any class you want to pass, if you apply yourself. Be driven. Be passionate. Then, the rest will fall right into place!
What are some interesting places you’ve traveled?
When I worked in Mexico, I drove there in my red, Ford Escort (both times)! I went all over Mexico and even into Belize in my car with New York plates (I had driven there the first time from Niagara Falls)! I LOVED living and working in Mexico!
Currently, the Peruvian Amazon is like my second home, and I love it there!
I love the southwest of the U.S. I have spent weeks out there hiking, canyoneering, exploring. If I did not live in Florida, I would live somewhere in Utah or Arizona. Beautiful and magical.
I have also traveled to Japan for a conference, Honduras to visit a friend in the Peace Corp, the British Virgin Islands (undergraduate independent study on sea urchins), Costa Rica, Panama, Trinidad and Tobago (MS thesis in Tobago on fish biodiversity), and Chile (conference).
More from Marie:
Being a Biologist in the Peruvian Amazon: How Study Abroad Changed My Life: