A marine ecologist researches aquatic systems, focusing on how ocean organisms interact with their environment. Specifically, Leila studies how animals use sounds, including the ones they create, to support making a living underwater.
Leila became interested in the sounds animals make underwater at age 16 when she started working for a professor at Cornell University, helping his team analyze recordings of whale song. Leila went on to study genetics in college, but her initial interest in acoustics came back into play in graduate school. During her fieldwork with whales, she learned that noise produced by people engaged in a variety of offshore activities can be one of their main stressors. Because Leila wanted to apply her scientific work to inform resource management, she became a Knauss Fellow, working on the Hill for the House Committee on Natural Resources. After that fellowship, she came to NOAA, where she now works to coordinate underwater sound research at Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, off the coast of Massachusetts, as well as for NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries more broadly. Conservation is about achieving a balance where animals and humans can live together, Leila says. But you can’t find balance without information. It’s Leila’s job to help make sure NOAA gets the information it needs on sounds underwater to figure out how humans and animals can live together.