Whale Scientists Story: Madison Hahn

Madison Hahn

Madison Hahn is a 23 years old American marine mammalogist. She obtained her BSc in Ecology from the University of Georgia and a Master of Professional Science (MPS) in marine mammal science from the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. Here is her story …

Internships and Research

Dolphin Photo-ID

My research path was first nurtured by Dr. Schacke, a professor at UGA. I became his research assistant and fin catalog manager, for almost 3 years, for his photo-ID study on bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus) in the Georgia coast and estuaries. That opportunity he gave me let me explore the marine mammology field and helped opened doors to the internships I received.

From Hawaii to Miami

My first internship was with the Pacific Whale Foundation in Maui, Hawaii, one summer during my undergrad. My second internship was paid (a rarity in this field) with Miami Seaquarium as an animal care intern for three months. I did it before starting at the University of Miami.  My internships in Hawaii and Miami were found on a marine mammal job/internship listing, MARMAM, as well as grad school options. MARMAM is Jesus in this field, but I found that equally having and creating strong connections, like the one I made with Dr. Schacke, propel you further. Through all my experiences I realized, networking is key.

Madison Hahn
Madison helping with the deployment of a hydrophone array in Samos, Greece with the Archipelagos Institute of Marine Conservation

Through my graduate career, I participated in a research project with my marine mammal disease and medicine class on capillary electrophoresis (CE) with my professor and a few classmates in the optional lab credit (in process of publication). Other classes gave me the necessary hands-on experiences with many aspects of the field that helped me discern where my true interests.

Bioaccoustics research

Finally, I did a research thesis project on marine mammal bioacoustics and they respond to vessel effects in the Mediterranean Sea as I interned with the Archipelagos Institute of Marine Conservation in Samos, Greece while heading my own bioacoustic Project. I found the program through my own investigation for self-research based internships.

I learned many different skills in the marine mammal field, as well as fine-tuning the skills I already had. It was also interesting to learn how different places and locations do, for example, photo-ID differently in terms of cataloging, field protocols, etc. I think all my internships/projects were positive experiences. My internship in Greece taught me to spearhead my own project, time management, and how to become my own researcher.

Madison’s current job

Madison Hahn
Madison assessing bioacoustic sounds picked up by the hydrophone.

I just started a job 4 months after officially graduating with a master’s. I am a Marine Mammal Stranding and Population Assessment Assistant at Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute. We handle strandings in our area and assist other organizations like the Florida Wildlife Commission (FWC) if they request extra help. This includes rescues, necropsies, and interventions for cetaceans. I also assist in photo-identification efforts through boat surveys to collect photos/data on cetaceans (mostly dolphins and hopefully soon to move offshore for potentially humpback and right whales). Additionally, I manage the photo-id catalog and create projects to assess the population. We plan to start utilizing Drones and, hopefully, biopsy sampling to really understand the Indian River lagoon populations as well as offshore populations. Lastly, on top of all this, there is the behind the scenes maintenance of all the vessels, equipment, and rescue ambulance, which is very important.

I interviewed for my current job after my professor passing on the information. It was not on MARMAM.

What is next for Madison?

My new job advantages are the opportunities we have to get excellent data and, luckily, the funding to do so. They are also open to so many new and crazy research ideas and what to incorporate. I’ve just started, so I am very excited and have not found any drawbacks. My job is having us build from the ground up and reshape the photo-ID part so I’m excited to build that as my own and take all my knowledge and experience I’ve gained to add to it, and I wish to start using that data to learn about the social network of these species in the area and offshore. I’m excited to gain more stranding experience as well. Sadly, I don’t think I’ll be able to speak dolphin, but I do hope to eventually incorporate bioacoustics into the new job as well!

Madison Hahn
Photo of some common dolphins (Delphinus delphis) taken by Madison off Samos, Greece.

Madison’s tips for future whale scientists

There are many paths you may take to get to where you want to go. Not everyone goes the route of education like I did. Sometimes the route you take is the one you least expect. During and before my Miami Seaquarium internship I didn’t get into the grad programs I applied. It felt like a weird limbo period for me. That internship helped give me time to figure out my next move.  And then, by a stroke of luck, I noticed that UMiami RSMAS had openings for their MPS program… I was like ‘wow that’s right next door…’

Things fell in place and I gained experiences and opportunities that have brought me to where I am today. Some take the route of experience by constant volunteering/interning. I, on the other hand, did not have many opportunities to volunteer and get experience where I grew up, so I took the education route.

I would recommend to take your time, build connections, gain experience and try different aspects of the field. Marine Mammal Science has many sub-fields: bioacoustics, population assessment (photo-ID, modeling, etc.), strandings, medicine (vet), rehab, training, etc. I suggest dabbling one a few that interest you to gain more knowledge and figure out which route better suits you. Being able to try it all, and see the routes I like the best helped me to really love the field more and solidify where I want to be.

An anecdote from Madison’s experiences

We once did a stranding training for a live animal scenario and I got to be the dolphin so they, the other trainees, secured me in the water, got me in a stretcher and lifted me up and out of the water!

If you want to contact Madison Hahn to ask her questions, you can do so by reaching her down below:

Also check out her professional photography Instagram down below.

Make sure to come read out other stories here.

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