Corinne Gibble is an environmental scientist for CDFW’s Office of Spill Prevention and Response (OSPR), working at the department’s Marine Wildlife Veterinary Care and Research Center (MWVCRC) in Santa Cruz. Corinne studies the health and pathology of marine birds, with the ultimate goal of providing the best care possible to birds that are impacted by oil spills. She also researches and monitors emerging threats to seabird populations. During oil spills, she serves as a first responder, filling a variety of roles within the incident command post.
Corinne earned a bachelor’s degree in wildlife biology from the University of Vermont, Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, as well as a master’s degree in marine science from Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, and a PhD from UC Santa Cruz. Her master’s thesis research investigated the food habits of harbor seals (Phoca vitulina richardii) in San Francisco Bay, with a focus on the increasing importance of invasive species in their diet.
While she was pursing her doctorate, she was a NOAA Nancy Foster Scholar in the lab of Raphael Kudela, where she conducted research investigating the movement of the cyanobacteria Microcystis aeruginosa, and associated toxin microcystin from terrestrial to marine environments in Monterey Bay. She examined the uptake and retention of this toxin in shellfish, and developed new methodology to detect the occurrence of this toxin in estuarine birds and seabirds.
Who or what inspired you to become a scientist?
I’ve always had an innate sense of wonder about the natural world. During my childhood in Pennsylvania, my parents emphasized outdoor exploration and nurtured my love of animals and nature at every turn. I also had some amazing science teachers! I owe a lot of gratitude to one high school teacher in particular, Dr. Doug Dahms. He helped me harness and focus that energy and motivated me to go into the field of wildlife biology and ecology.
What got you interested in working with wildlife?
My mother wanted to be a veterinarian, but chose a different career path, so I grew up with a collection of pets. I was around all types of animals from a young age, allowing me to develop compassion, respect and awe for companion animals and wildlife. I’ve always been fascinated by wildlife and the outdoors, and working with wildlife in some capacity was always my goal.
What brought you to CDFW?
When I was working on my MS degree, I was hired to work on a grant-funded seabird health project. This study was funded by the Scientific Study and Evaluation Program (SSEP), which is an OSPR-run research program that provides a mechanism for investigating, evaluating and improving applied OSPR programs, best achievable technologies and our knowledge of the adverse effects of oil spills in the marine environment. That project was housed at the MWVCRC, so I spent four years working with CDFW employees. Since my current job combines my scientific interests and my passion for the care of oiled wildlife, it is a perfect fit for me.
What is a typical day like for you at work?
Some of the most rewarding work I do is serving alongside other OSPR employees and Oiled Wildlife Care Network affiliates during oil spills and other large mortality events to support sick, injured and oiled seabirds. But my typical day varies quite a bit, and my work is multi-faceted. You might find me in the field on a beach survey, in the necropsy laboratory examining birds from die-off events or oiling events, or in my office analyzing data and writing reports and publications. Since I am an employee of CDFW-OSPR, some of my work also revolves around oil spill preparedness and response. I frequently attend drills and trainings pertaining to oil spills and oiled wildlife care.
Scientists involved in environmental and wildlife science contribute to our knowledge base and provide the capacity to improve how we can act as guardians of the natural environment. In general, environmental scientists and natural resource managers are attempting to answer questions that help support healthy ecosystems. Good data and sound scientific design are key to studies that are useable and easy to implement. I truly enjoy producing science that supports the best achievable care for oiled wildlife.
If you had free reign and unlimited funding, what scientific project would you most like to do?
I would like to put more funding into long-term monitoring programs for seabirds. Projects like these are often not funded because they are not especially flashy. However, they are incredibly important for understanding the baseline information for seabird populations. This important data helps scientists gauge what is normal when something like an oil spill or a large mortality event occurs!
Generally, scientists working in ecology are doing all of their work on a shoestring budget, and often the process of designing and carrying proper experiments takes quite a bit of time. Sometimes, a large span of time and a lot of research is needed to find the true answer.
Over the course of your career, was there a discovery or an incident that surprised you?
I feel fortunate my career lends itself to different experiences. Some of these include participating in whale, pinniped, sea turtle and seabird research. Perhaps one of my favorite and surprising discoveries was finding out how much you can learn from harbor seal scat. My MS research explored the diet of harbor seals by examining fish ear bones (otoliths) and other diagnostic bones from fish found in their droppings.
Do you have any advice for people considering careers in science or natural resources?
My advice would be to not focus on one particular species. Be open and interested in the questions and the interconnectedness of many fields in science. If you keep that in mind, you will have many opportunities to study and interact with subjects that you think are interesting! Also, don’t be shy to volunteer! Volunteering and interning gives people considering careers in science necessary field experience and allows them to explore different scientific disciplines.
Photos courtesy of Corinne Gibble