Outreach & Science Communication

I believe that education and outreach is essential for conservation efforts to succeed. With my research on Hawaiian spinner dolphins there is a real need to educate people about the dolphins and their daily behavior to help them make respectful decisions about their interactions with the dolphins.  I realize that there are many different ways to communicate your science and that each way targets a potentially vastly different audience. There are more traditional ways like a journal article written for other experts or via open access journal articles written for more of a general audience. However, there are other important ways too.  If you are a teacher or a student interested in my outreach and education efforts in the K-12 Classroom please contact me. I am always looking for ways to translate and share my research and to share my passion for science and the ocean with others.


I am on the executive board of the 501c3 nonprofit Scientific Research and Education Network (SciREN). SciREN aims to connect local STEM researchers and educators to foster the dissemination of current research and ultimately enhance the science literacy of today’s youth through annual networking events and lesson plan workshops. The networking events bring researchers and teachers to the table for face-to-face interaction and exchange of ideas and materials. The lesson plan workshops help researchers translate their work into classroom-ready exercises that meet state and national standards. Together with students from other institutions including but not limited to UNC, Duke, East Carolina University and North Carolina State University, we formed a network of researchers and educators to help bring current research and researchers into local communities and classrooms. We know that our SciREN researchers and their lessons have reached more than 1,500 students in Carteret County alone. I have been involved in four SciREN networking events held over the last three years in Carteret County at the NC Aquarium and in the Raleigh-Durham area of North Carolina at the NC Museum of Natural Sciences. In addition, I have been a leader in developing our lesson plan workshops to help support researchers in developing activities.
For more information on SciREN check out our website http://thesciren.org

For SciREN I created a Masking Marine Mammals: Introduction to Noise Pollution activity for middle school (grades 6-8) which can be downloaded here and can also be accessed, along with many other lessons written by STEM researchers, by registering for the (FREE!) SciREN website. http://thesciren.org

Classroom visits and other outreach

In addition to having visited several different K-12 classrooms and participating in the FEMMES Program (Females Excelling More in Math Engineering and Science) at Duke to talk about Hawaiian spinner dolphins and the sounds they make, I have also had experience working in education departments translating science for all ages. Information and reflection on some of my outreach activities can be found in my blog entries.

In Fall 2014, Heenehan and her advisor published an Op-Ed in the Honolulu Star Advertiser. This opinion piece was released coincident with a press release and a journal article published in the Journal of Sustainable Tourism. 2014-12-16 15.33.01In Fall 2012 Heenehan enrolled in an environmental issues and documentary arts class and produced a public service announcement as her final project.  After being encouraged to do so, Heenehan submitted “Their Right to Rest” to the Beneath the Waves Film Festival and it was chosen as one of 63 films to be screened.  The first screening was at the Benthic Ecology Meeting, March 21-24, 2013. It was also shown at in Lisbon, Portugal in November 2013, as part of the Portuguese National Day of the Sea event. She also showed the film at the One Ocean film festival in Beaufort, NC.

In addition Heenehan wrote an endpaper for Natural History Magazine called “Time for R&R?”  The piece appeared in the December 2012/January 2013 issue. The article can be found online here.

“Their Right to Rest”
Length: 10 minutes 45 seconds

Spinner dolphins (Stenella longirostris longirostris) that frequent the waters around the Main Hawaiian Islands use shallow, protected, warm and easily accessible bays during the day to rest and thus are targeted for swim-with dolphin programs. Since these interactions occur when the dolphins should be resting, there is growing concern about the potential effects of these interactions and whether management interventions are required. A major part of the problem is that people do not know the biology, life history or daily behavior of these dolphins and do not understand their need to rest during the day. “Their Right to Rest” introduces people to the Hawaiian Spinner Dolphin, a type of Gray’s spinner dolphin and their coastal lifestyle. The film showcases the dolphins, letting their beauty and behaviors do a lot of the talking. By pairing photos and film clips of the dolphins with basic biological information, people can learn about these animals and make informed decisions about interacting with them. The film also explores the human and dolphin interaction in their resting bays, the SAPPHIRE research project, and the work of Kenneth Norris, a pioneer marine mammal researcher. It closes with suggestions and recommendations for people that want to be considerate and respectful of the dolphins in their resting bays.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s