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Anaïs Remili (she/her)

Whale Researcher
McGill University / Whale Scientists
Anaïs Remili tenant un sac de poissons à étudier.

The Icelandic herring in the bag that Anaïs Remili is holding will have their lipid composition analyzed. This information will be used to reconstruct the diet of Icelandic killer whales. 

Anaïs Remili tenant un sac de poissons à étudier.

The Icelandic herring in the bag that Anaïs Remili is holding will have their lipid composition analyzed. This information will be used to reconstruct the diet of Icelandic killer whales. 

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Education Pathway

I am doing research on pollution in killer whales.

About me

I was born/grew up in: I was born in Evian, France. I grew up in a small valley in the French Alps.

I now live in: Today, I live in Montréal, Québec.

I completed my training/education at: After graduating from high school in France, I went through a one-year exchange program in an American high school in Michigan, where I developed my English skills. When I got back to France, I started my bachelor’s in ecology called “Biology of the Organisms and Populations” in the University of Lyon 1 Claude Bernard.

After completing my undergrad, I went into the MER (Marine Environment and Resources) master program. It is an Erasmus Mundus joint program that involves universities from multiple countries. The goal is to change universities each semester to get the most out of each country/university. As a result, I spent a semester in Bordeaux (France), then a semester in the Basque Country in Spain, and then a year in Liège, Belgium. I traveled a lot all around Europe to attend conferences. My studies alone did not determine where I am today. Instead, it was my extracurricular involvements that shaped my career.

What I do at work

I work both at the lab and the office. The work of a PhD candidate changes every day. I basically have about four years to complete a massive research project. While I am doing this, I have to learn new skills and develop my network to find future job positions. I also have to find money to travel to conferences to present my research and "advertise" my research to other scientists. I work primarily in English, although sometimes French comes up.

I perform my own analyses in the lab. These vary depending on the data I want to obtain. My starting point is a piece of killer whale fat coming from a skin biopsy. When we are at sea, we shoot a dart at a whale. This dart will steal a bit of skin and fat (called blubber). This procedure does not hurt the whales.

Using these samples, I either extract the lipids inside the fat or extract the pollutants that build up in the fat. The two analyses are similar and involve a lot of dangerous chemicals. This means I have to be extra focused when I am in the lab. Once I obtain data, which looks like a wall of numbers, I spend weeks trying to understand it. I also explain what we found using complex statistical models. I once spent four months developing a model to reconstruct the whales' diets by using the lipids in their blubber. This is the most exhausting part of my job!

After I have my results, I need to make pretty figures for publications. I also have to write an excellent story explaining why we did our research and what we found. This part is critical because it is how we get recognized as scientists. Young scientists need to publish good papers in good journals to be given a chance later in our careers. My advisor is a brilliant inspiring researcher who is also highly demanding in terms of writing skills. Everything needs to be precise and concise! So I always try my best to produce something she will like.

Outside of the pandemic, my job also involves traveling for field work or conferences. This is my absolute favorite part! Through these things I have made friends everywhere in the world. I look forward to being able to travel again. During conferences, I present my work and discover what my colleagues are up to. Then I get to chat with them and find future work opportunities.

At Whale Scientists, I work on my own. My job involves reaching out and communicating with partners and authors. I also write and illustrate social media posts and manage our social media platforms. I also have to find new ideas to write about. When I’m not doing these things, I’m trying to find funding so we can do interesting things. I spend long evenings and weekends on the website.

My career path is

I studied the careers of great oceanographers. I quickly realized that I would have to leave my home, learn English, and get a PhD if I was to have any chance of becoming a great researcher. So, I worked harder than ever on my science classes and English. I wanted to improve my chances of finding a research internship. I also wanted to show my involvement in the scientific community. To do this, I became the president of my faculty's student society. I also took on the duties of the secretary of the National Federation of Students in Biology (FNEB). I organized scientific events such as seminars, visits to zoos and museums.

This helped me meet researchers and gain tips on becoming a good scientist. The summer just before starting my master's, I volunteered in Italy to study whales and dolphins. It was my first real research experience. Having experience at sea allowed me to secure another voluntary internship between my two master’s years in the USA. In this internship I grew humpback whale cells from biopsies. I also tested the effect of contaminants on the whales’ cell mitosis.

These voluntary experiences allowed me to develop my master’s thesis on pollutant contamination in Antarctic humpback whales. It was a dream come true! During my master’s years, I also helped my professors with various projects when I had free time. I was lucky to help with porpoise and seal autopsies in Belgium at the veterinary school of Liège. All these experiences helped me find my PhD position.

I am motivated by

I have always wanted to work on marine mammal conservation. This fascination with the marine world started very early in my life. With the rise of Google, this fascination quickly turned into an obsession.

Whales are my whole world! Knowing that my work contributes to more knowledge, and more conservation actions, is the most fulfilling part of my job. When I get lucky enough to go at sea, I feel like the luckiest human being in the world!

When I was a child, I always believed I would help "save the whales".  This was always my response when people asked me what I would do when I grew up. Even though saving the whales will require far more than one PhD project and one website, they are undoubtedly a step in the right direction. I will keep working hard to hopefully spend more time at sea with them.

How I affect people’s lives

As a PhD candidate, I get to produce good quality science. This provides important information on how pollution is affecting killer whales through their diets. This will help decision-makers with conservation efforts.

The tools I developed for my research will help investigate cetaceans' diets in depth. They will also help us understand how climate change influences Arctic marine mammals' diets.  Our research could also explain in the future how killer whales impact Arctic ecosystems. For example, the amount of prey available to predators like polar bears or indigenous communities that rely on subsistence harvesting.

As the chief editor of Whale Scientists, I am supporting access to science and education. Scientific communication has always been important to me. I believe it is the foundation for our sustainable future. This means that people from every background need to be able to access and understand science.

Our role as scientists is to make sure our findings are accessible to a general audience. I also feature conservation strategies for critically endangered species and threatened habitats due to climate change. I also highlight the research of other early-career scientists. I help give them a voice and make sure they are heard.

Outside of work I

Besides my studies, I usually spend my time traveling, working out and eating good food. I enjoy listening to chill French electro music, hanging out with my friends, and relaxing at home with my cat and my partner. I talk to my family as much as possible since they are spread worldwide (France, USA, Korea). I love the ocean and wish I could live on the coast.

My advice to others

Take some risks. No great opportunity will ever be offered to you. You need to take risks and shine your light out there, in the real world. This might be working abroad. Some experiences may be exceptional; some may be bad. But it will help you figure out what you want for your career. At least, it will help you know what you do not want at all! Every failure teaches you a lesson. Every failure will be a step toward success.

When I was a student, I enjoyed:
  • Art
  • Foreign languages
  • Geography
  • Physical Education/Health
  • Science
When I was a student, I would have described myself as someone who:
  • Brought people together
  • Organized activities for my friends
  • Was motivated by success
  • Wanted to be in charge
  • Liked being given free range to explore my ideas
  • Engaged in volunteer activities
  • Felt great satisfaction in getting good grades
  • Always knew exactly what I wanted to do
  • Liked to take things apart to see how they worked
  • Felt at home in the outside, natural environment

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