Michelle Fournet, Ph.D.
My research interests are in animal communication, the impact of anthropogenic noise on animal behavior, and how interspecies interactions manifest acoustically. I work primarily in marine environments, but I am generally interested in using acoustics to investigate questions of applied ecological significance and to disseminate science to the greater public.
For my graduate work, I investigated humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) acoustic ecology and the impact of vessel noise on humpback whale calling behavior in Southeast Alaska. This included classifying the humpback whale acoustic repertoire on North Pacific foraging grounds, quantifying and describing the role of non-song vocalizations within the humpback whale acoustic repertoire, quantifying the contribution of biotic and abiotic noise to the marine soundscape, measuring humpback call source levels (loudness), and assessing shifts in vocal behavior as a response to vessel noise. With the support of a Cornell Atkinson Rapid Response Grant, I am currently building on this work to investigate how humpback whale communication shifted during the prolonged quiet associated with the 2020 pandemic, and how local Alaskan communities can adjust their behavior to enable long term sustainable interactions with humpback whales in the future.
As a postdoctoral researcher at the Cornell Lab’s K. Lisa Yang Center for Conservation Bioacoustics (CCB), I collaborate with National Park Service scientists to use acoustics to understand community dynamics in Florida Bay, Everglades National Park (seatrout, snapping shrimp, toadfish), and collaborate with communities in Alaska’s NOrth Slope Borough to investigate the impact of climate change on culturally important marine mammal species in the Alaska Arctic (bearded seals and bowhead whales). Both projects investigate the intricate relationship between local environments, human activities, marine animal behavior and ecosystem function.
Former projects include humpback whale and killer whale photo-identification and citizen-science program development in Juneau, Alaska, the coordination and development of a marine mammal observation effort in Oregon’s near-shore ocean, and the analysis long-term acoustic data sets from Alaska’s Beaufort Sea. Teaching and mentoring credits include undergraduate internship development and university teaching at Oregon State University, internship development and mentoring from the Five Finger Lighthouse in Frederick Sound, Alaska, field mentorship programs at Glacier Bay National Park. I have also mentored several undergraduate Honour’s theses, and I have sat on MS committees on topics ranging from humpback whale communication to acorn barnacle ecology.
I feel passionately about science communication and the role of researchers in cultivating scientific literacy by disseminating their work to a broad range of audiences.