Kristina Cammen

Assistant Professor of
Marine Mammal Science   
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I approach marine mammal science with a broad focus on ocean health that incorporates interconnected components of animal, human, and ecosystem health. My research program utilizes genetic and genomic techniques to study evolutionary adaptation, population ecology, and conservation biology. I am driven by questions of how individuals have adapted to survive threats in their environment over evolutionary and ecological timescales, and how genetic variation (or lack thereof) affects resistance to these threats in the face of rapid environmental change. My research focuses primarily on marine mammals that are sentinels of ocean health and species of conservation concern, though I have also investigated questions of adaptation to natural and anthropogenic stressors in estuarine fish and saltmarsh birds.

Current Lab Members

Shannon Brown

Undergraduate Research Assistant, Marine Biology

I am currently a junior marine science major with a concentration in marine biology at the University of Maine. I am originally from the Boston area and I came to Maine to pursue my dream of being a marine biologist. In the Cammen lab, I have participated in data entry for an analysis of trends in marine mammal standings along the coast of Maine, and I have analyzed marine mammal bioacoustic data to detect baleeen whale presence in the Gulf of Maine. This past summer, I got hands-on experience in marine mammal rehabilitation and public education as an intern at National Marine Life Center in Buzzards Bay, MA. In the future, I hope to either become an aquatic veterinarian or work in the rescue and rehabilitation of marine mammals.

Sarah Burton

Undergraduate Capstone Student and Research Assistant, Marine Biology

I am currently a senior at the University of Maine, studying Marine Sciences with a concentration in Marine Biology. I moved from Connecticut to Maine with hopes of pursuing my interests in the world’s oceans and the extraordinary marine mammals that inhabit them. As a research assistant in the Cammen lab, I have participated in a study of marine mammal stranding patterns along the coast of Maine in hopes of understanding why these strandings occur and what we can do to help prevent them. This past summer, I moved into the field and the lab as one of five participants in an interdisciplinary undergraduate research collaborative studying the ecology of Western Passage, a tidally turbulent body of water between Eastport, Maine and New Brunswick, Canada. Through this summer internship, I got experience in marine mammal visual observation and collecting, extracting, and analyzing environmental DNA from harbor porpoise.  Moving forward, I hope to continue studying marine mammal health and explore careers in marine mammal veterinary science.

Holland Haverkamp

M.S. Student, Ecology & Environmental Sciences

The focus of my research is to utilize marine mammal stranding data in the Gulf of Maine to 1) assess the abundance, distribution, and health of the marine mammals that make the Gulf home, 2) analyze interactions between humans and marine mammals, specifically harassment, and finally, 3) with an awareness that marine mammals are sentinel organisms (indicator species of the status of their broader ecology), use these data to assess ocean and human health. I am further interested in a body of work that classifies cetaceans as “non-human persons” and exploring the idea of transitioning it from a theoretical to applied practice. I have four children and am joined by my wife at UMaine, whom recently received her Ph.D. in Anthropology and Environmental Policy.

Alayna Hawkins

M.S. Student, Marine Biology

I am currently a Master’s student at University of Maine studying Marine Biology. Originally from Pennsylvania, I moved to Maine to fulfill my passion of studying marine mammals. More specifically, my research interests include using genetic techniques to answer questions of marine mammal health and evolution in response to environmental issues. My Master’s research involves analyzing genes within the Major Histocompatibility Complex in gray and harbor seals to investigate immunity against viruses. In the future, I hope to continue such research while earning a Ph.D.

Lauri Leach

M.S. Student, Marine Biology

I joined the Cammen Lab in 2019 as a Master’s student after spending several years participating in seasonal research projects. My previous work has included aerial and vessel-based surveys of North Atlantic right whales, population assessment of Hawaiian monk seals, and monitoring productivity of piping plovers and common loons. I came to the University of Maine to study the potential impacts seals are having on fish species of conservation concern in the Penobscot River. I will also be creating a photo-identification catalog of seals that use the river so that we can learn more about individual patterns of use. Check out updates on this research here.  My other research interests include marine mammal health, toxicology, and conservation. I am especially interested in the effects marine debris and microplastics have on marine mammal health, reproduction, and survival.

Emma Newcomb

Undergraduate Research Assistant, Marine Biology

I am currently a sophomore marine science major with a double concentration in biology and oceanography. Originally from eastern Massachusetts, I came to Maine to pursue my dream of working with marine mammals. At the University of Maine I am a research assistant analyzing spatial and temporal relationships in mammal strandings in the Gulf of Maine and visually observing marine mammals in Western Passage. Working in the Cammen Lab, I have been given the opportunity to follow my passion and work on expanding my understanding of the oceans. I hope to go on and get my doctorate in marine biology to study the effects of anthropogenic factors such as noise on marine mammals.

Emma Spies

Undergraduate Research Scholar, Marine Biology

Growing up in Maine, I have never been more than 15 minutes from the ocean. I have always loved the ocean, so it made sense to pursue my passion and study marine sciences. I am currently a sophomore at the University of Maine, majoring in Marine Sciences with a concentration in Marine Biology. I hope to one day become a shark biologist, to research, observe, and understand more about such a misunderstood species. In the Cammen Lab, I have worked on seal genetics in the past, and am currently working on an independent study. The research I am focusing on is archival research regarding historical shark and seal population trends in the Northwest Atlantic.

Prior Lab Members

Faythe Goins

Undergraduate Honors student, Marine Biology

Faythe completed her Honors thesis project in the Cammen lab in May 2018. For her research project, entitled The effect of temperature on the incubation period of loggerhead sea turtles in Edisto Beach, South Carolina, Faythe was awarded Highest Honors. Her primarily data analysis-driven research project followed four years of volunteer work with the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources on Edisto Beach Sea Turtle Patrol.

Faythe is currently pursuing her veterinary degree at the University of Georgia, aiming to specialize in marine animal medicine and continue to contribute to sea turtle conservation.

Elizabeth Piotrowski

Undergraduate Capstone student and Research Assistant, Marine Biology

Liz Piotrowski completed her Senior Capstone research in the Cammen Lab in May 2019. Her Capstone research poster, entitled Estimating Atlantic white-sided dolphin (Lagenorhynchus acutus) abundance and distribution through use of various survey methods, won an award at the School of Marine Sciences Senior Capstone Symposium. Liz was also integral to the establishment of an environmental DNA research program in the Cammen Lab.  She presented her research on Developing eDNA sampling as a mechanism for improving marine mammal conservation at the University of Maine Student Research Symposium.

Liz is currently pursuing a Masters of Science at University of the Pacific, where she is interested in applying molecular approaches to the study of marine mammal physiology and behavior.

Kai LaSpina

Undergraduate Capstone student, Ecology & Environmental Sciences

Kai LaSpina completed her Senior Capstone research in the Cammen Lab in May 2019. Her Capstone research, entitled Genetic relatedness of mass stranded Atlantic white-sided dolphins, is currently undergoing review for publication in a scientific journal.

Kai is currently pursuing a Masters of Marine Management at Dalhousie University.  She is interested in understanding how anthropogenic noise pollution affects marine mammals and helping to shape public policies addressing this ocean health issue.

Sarah Vincze

Undergraduate Capstone student, Marine Sciences

Sarah Vincze completed her Senior Capstone research in the Cammen Lab in May 2018. Her Capstone paper was entitled Analysis of factors influencing the ongoing occurrence of brevetoxin-associated mass mortality events of bottlenose dolphin populations in the coastal waters along Florida. Sarah was also an active member of our marine mammal genetics research lab, participating in population genetic studies of gray and harbor seals.

Sarah is currently a research assistant at the Center for Molecular Oncology at UCONN Health.  She is also enrolled in a Clinical Genetics and Genomics Grad Certificate Program, working towards her masters in Genetic Counseling.


Our research is more productive, effective, and fun because of the amazing collaborators we work with. Our lab has ongoing collaborations with the following research groups:

Maine’s marine mammal stranding research collaborative. (left to right) Lynda Doughty (MMoME), Katie Gilbert (MMoME), Emma Newcomb (UMaine), Sarah Burton (UMaine), Holland Haverkamp (UMaine), Kristina Cammen (UMaine) Shannon Brown (UMaine), Lindsey Jones (Allied Whale), Sean Todd (Allied Whale), Dominique Walk (MMoME)

Interested in joining our lab?

Funding dependent, we welcome new undergraduate and graduate students to our lab each year. In Fall 2020, I anticipate recruiting 1-2 new PhD students to conduct research in the following focal areas:

  1.  Drivers and implications of differential disease susceptibility among marine mammal populations or species
  2. Describing the role of marine mammals in aquatic ecosystems using environmental eDNA

Graduate students can join our lab through the School of Marine Sciences M.S. in Marine Biology, dual M.S. in Marine Biology/Policy (requires a Marine Policy co-advisor), and Ph.D. in Marine Biology programs, as well as through the Ecology and Environmental Sciences M.S. and Ph.D. programs. If you are interested in joining our lab, please send me an email outlining your research interests and future career goals. A resume and summary of academic history, including GPA and GRE scores, are also helpful.

Undergraduate students in our lab receive training in molecular lab techniques, data analysis, and scientific writing. If you are interested in completing an independent study, senior Capstone project, or Honors thesis research with our lab group, please send me an email with a brief description of your academic and research interests, and what you hope to gain from an experience with our lab.

If you’re interested in finding ways to collaborate with our research group, please send me an email – I’d be excited to hear from you!

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