About Michelle

Hello!  Thank you for taking an interest in my work.  I am a postdoctoral researcher with the Center for Conservation Bioacoustics at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and am the director of the Sound Science Research Collective (Sound Science), a small conservation non-profit based on bioacoustics research. I completed my doctorate in Wildlife Science and my MS in Marine Resource Management from Oregon State University (OSU). My research is based in acoustic ecology, meaning that I use sound to investigate questions of ecological importance. This includes investigating how marine organisms use sound to facilitate vital life functions as well as investigating the potential impact of noise on marine species, and how sound can be used as an indicator of ecosystem health.  I am particularly interested in using bioacoustics as a tool to further conservation and to assess species’ resilience to a rapidly changing ocean.

My research to-date has focused on humpback whale non-song communication – or social sounds – in Southeast Alaska. I combine passive acoustic monitoring with land-based visual observations in an attempt to learn how humpback whales are utilizing the Southeast Alaskan soundscape,  to gain insight into call use, call function, and acoustic adaptability, as well as to assess the impact of vessel noise on humpback whale vocal behavior. I completed my M.S. in Marine Resource Management within OSU’s College of Earth Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences.  View my M.S. thesis “Social calling behavior of Southeast Alaskan humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae): classification and context” here. My dissertation research was conducted in Glacier Bay National Park, Southeast Alaska.  Read my dissertation here. Additional research experience includes acoustic detection of marine mammals in the Beaufort Sea, boat based fluke ID for humpback whales in Southeast Alaska and Maui, as well as both marine and terrestrial based acoustic ecology projects along the Oregon Coast and in the Willamette Valley.

As a researcher with CCB, I head to primary projects. First, I study the acoustic behavior of estuarine fishes in Florida Bay, and the impact of management decisions on the acoustic ecology of Everglades National Park. This includes basic soundscape ecology (what does a very shallow water environment sound like, how much do sonic fishes contribute?), as well as community level acoustics (how does sound reflect, and drive, community structure?), and predator-prey dynamics (whose eating sonic fishes? Dolphins? Sharks? Crocodiles? Can we determine this by listening carefully?). As part of this work we strive to develop acoustic indicators of ecosystem health that can be incorporated into long-term park management strategies.

Second, I investigate the impact of climate change and anthropogenic noise on the acoustic ecology of Arctic marine mammals. This includes understanding how climate change has changed bowhead whale migration – which we track with acoustics – and understanding how ice seals adapt their vocal behavior to contend with a rapidly changing ocean (see our paper in the Proceedings to the Royal Society, Biological Sciences)

I feel strongly about student involvement in research and the responsibility of science to share and disseminate information.  To this end I’ve developed and supervised numerous internship programs through Sound Science, Cornell University, and through Oregon State University, as well as dedicate my time whenever possible to teaching, public lecturing, master class appearances, and furthering the goal of connecting people of all ages with the ocean through art, media, and nature.

Please feel free to contact me with any questions.

~Michelle Fournet


(907) 723-2752

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