Coastal Connections

Liah McPherson accidentally got involved in research at UNC when she tried to enroll in a graduate class as a freshman — an experience that’s led her to new colleagues and fostered her love of dolphins.

November 6th, 2018

Understanding the lives of dolphins and their success in the wild is vital to protecting their environment. They are a keystone marine species, meaning their health reflects that of their surroundings.

Since 2014, UNC senior Liah McPherson has worked with the Wild Dolphin Project, a nonprofit scientific research organization that studies and reports on a specific population of free-ranging Atlantic spotted dolphins in the Bahamas. She began as an intern while in high school and transitioned to the role of field assistant while in college. But this past summer marked the first season she conducted her own research project, which used drone technology to study the dolphins’ behavior as they travelled.

Faculty at UNC recognize and encourage McPherson’s passion for dolphin research. Within the marine sciences department, she has studied everything from phytoplankton to coral reef optics — knowledge she’s applied to her work with the Wild Dolphin Project. “Even though I haven’t studied dolphins with a professor at UNC,” she says, “the environment has really fostered my experience with the Wild Dolphin Project.” Thanks to the university’s support and through the connections she’s made, she hopes to continue her work with the Wild Dolphin Project into graduate school.