Nicole Vollmer

Nicolle Vollmer big eyes

Nikki Vollmer has been with CIMAS since August 2018. She earned her BSc in Marine Biology from the University of North Carolina at Wilmington and her PhD in Environmental and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. She spent 1 year as a high school biology teacher in Lake Wales, Florida, and 5 years as an NRC Postdoctoral Fellow at NOAA’s National Systematics Lab at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History. Her current research focuses on utilizing traditional and next generation sequencing data to investigate the genetic population structure of marine mammals in the US western North Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. Nikki and her colleagues just published a paper describing the populations of common bottlenose dolphins that occur in Mississippi Sound and the northern Gulf of Mexico and examined how the different populations may have overlapped with, and been impacted by, the oil from the Deepwater Horizon event in 2010. She is also working on developing and optimizing techniques to collect and analyze environmental DNA (eDNA) from marine mammals and investigating using it as a non-invasive way to determine where marine mammal species occur throughout their habitat. Nikki’s research helps determine how many populations there are of different marine mammal species, and where those populations occur. This type of information is essential to best understand if and how different marine mammal populations are impacted by events such as oil spills, disease outbreaks, and hurricanes. Without this knowledge, populations could go extinct without us even knowing, and that could significantly decrease the overall health of the entire species, making it more vulnerable to future impacts from both natural and human-caused events.

 Nikki always wanted to work with whales and dolphins, her passion for becoming a marine biologist can be traced back to when she was just a little girl. She remembers being very young and watching a program on TV about the dolphins dying in tuna nets in the Pacific and being quite moved and impassioned to try and do something to help them, which is why she did her best to direct her schooling, internships, and extracurricular activities to make that dream happen. It was not until the end of undergraduate school where she developed a strong interest in genetics, and she figured if she could not specifically work with marine mammals, then at least she could work on the genetics of another interesting organism. Nikki tries to do outreach whenever she can. She spent several years at the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum and was able to interact with the general public quite frequently giving tours through the genetics lab and through the museum’s Sant Ocean Hall. Since being with CIMAS, she has initiated an outreach program with the lab in Lafayette, Louisiana where she gives regular presentations about marine mammals to groups of all ages.  She has also worked with Skype a Scientist during the past year where she was able to reach out virtually to kids all over the country. Nikki would like to remind everyone that we can all do our part to help marine mammals. There are lots of easy things that we can do like properly disposing of all trash and fishing gear when at the beach or out on the water, never feed or get too close to marine mammals in the wild, and if you ever see an injured or dead marine mammal on the beach, never approach it yourself! First call 1-877-WHALE-HELP (1-877-942-5343) to get in touch with your local stranding response team, and they will help you.

 Published August 11, 2021

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