Leah Rubin ’19 serves as Marine Mammal Collections Assistant for her work study position with College of the Atlantic's marine mammal research laboratory <a href="/allied-whale/" target="_blank">Allied Whale</a>.Leah Rubin ’19 serves as Marine Mammal Collections Assistant for her work study position with College of the Atlantic's marine mammal research laboratory Allied Whale. Credit: Aubrielle Hvolboll ’20Leah Rubin ’19 spends 12 hours per week in a basement sorting bones, and she loves it. As a Marine Mammal Collections Assistant for College of the Atlantic’s Allied Whale marine stranding and research organization, Rubin catalogues and labels marine mammal skeletons, constructing storage boxes and articulating creatures large and small.

Rubin holds a work-study position for Allied Whale. The organization, she says, is a big draw for students looking for real, hands on study of marine mammals.

“Allied Whale is a big player in the whale matching and research game,” Rubin says. “There’s kind of something for everyone at Allied Whale. Most people work in the office, matching flukes of different types of whales in different places. With what I’m doing there’s a lot of art, anatomy, and physiology.”

Rubin spends the majority of her work hours cataloguing and labeling Allied Whale’s marine mammal skeletons. Through her work, useful information can arise. “Once I’ve got it to what it would actually look like inside the mammal, I’ll start writing numbers on it… I’ll write an ID number on each bone, and then I’ll take a lot of data: what the length of the animal was, what the sex was, and if I know who collected it.”

Rubin says her end goal is to provide useful information to COA students studying marine animals. “If any class ever wants to take them out, or if any students ever want to look at them, whether they want to try sketching them or answer some type of research question, they’re absolutely allowed to do that.”

"Mostly it's like trying to put together a puzzle. It's a lot of questions, and a lot of trial and error, but it's awesome that I get to do this on my own" - Leah Rubin '19."Mostly it's like trying to put together a puzzle. It's a lot of questions, and a lot of trial and error, but it's awesome that I get to do this on my own" - Leah Rubin '19. Credit: Aubrielle Hvolboll ’20

Rubin receives the majority of the skeletons she categorizes from her mentor, Dan DenDanto ’91, longtime Allied Whale research associate. After the marine mammals are necropsied, a one year to two year process must occur before Rubin is able to label them for research. “Dan basically waits for the bones to compost in his backyard, we dig them up, try to clean them off as best as we can, and I get to label and store them.”

The Marine Mammal Collections Assistant’s job is highly self-directed: Rubin sets her own hours, figures out her own daily tasks, and even teaches herself anatomy through her work. “Mostly it’s like trying to put together a puzzle,” she says about the process. “It’s a lot of questions, and a lot of trial and error, but it’s awesome that I get to do this on my own.”

Each specimen handled by Leah Rubin ’19 at her work study position with College of the Atlantic's marine mammal research laboratory <a href="/allied-whale/" target="_blank">Allied Whale</a> will eventually be available for other students to observe and study.Each specimen handled by Leah Rubin ’19 at her work study position with College of the Atlantic's marine mammal research laboratory Allied Whale will eventually be available for other students to observe and study. Credit: Aubrielle Hvolboll ’20

Rubin knew marine biology was going to be key to her undergraduate study after she attended a secondary-level semester school, Coastal Studies for Girls, where she first heard of COA and Allied Whale. She has since broadened her interests to include other areas. “I’m really interested in education and ethnography, so looking at how different cultures feel about whales, and how they relate to them… I would love to work in museum collections, in a way this is perfect for working in a museum someday.”

True to the interdisciplinary nature of a human ecology education, Rubin often finds herself delving into other areas to fulfill her work, such as carpentry to make storage boxes, and art through the articulation of the bones - the process of reassembling the animal’s skeleton.

At the moment there are four full skeletons labelled and ready for students to use for research, and many more waiting to be catalogued.