Our Team

Executive

Dr. Denise Herzing, Research Director/Founder
Dr. Denise Herzing, Founder and Research Director of the Wild Dolphin Project, has completed over 32 years of her long-term study of the Atlantic spotted dolphins inhabiting Bahamian waters. She received her B.S. in Marine Zoology; her M.A. in Behavioral Biology; and her Ph.D. in Behavioral Biology/Environmental Studies. She is an Affiliate Assistant Professor in Biological Sciences at Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, Florida. Dr. Herzing is a 2008 Guggenheim Fellow, a fellow with the Explorers Club, a scientific advisor for the Lifeboat Foundation and the American Cetacean Society, and on the board of Schoolyard Films. In addition to many scientific articles (http://www.wilddolphinproject.org/research/library/), she is the co-editor of Dolphin Communication and Cognition, author of “Dolphin Diaries: My 25 years with Spotted Dolphins in the Bahamas” and “The Wild Dolphin Project (2002)”.

Coverage of her work with the spotted dolphins has appeared in National Geographic Magazine 1992 and 2015, BBC Wildlife, Ocean Realm and Sonar magazines and featured on Nature, Discovery, PBS, ABC, BBC, NHK and TED2013 https://www.ted.com/talks/denise_herzing

Dr. Herzing has spoken at the Society for Marine Mammalogy, European Cetacean Society, International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Explorers Club, TED2013, Boston Museum of Science, American Cetacean Society and others.

 

 

 

Boat Crew

Brad Ruda, Captain
Already familiar with Research Vessel, Stenella, Brad was first mate for our 2015 field research season. Brad was promoted to Captain in 2016. His valuable experience and leadership will long be part of WDP's team. A 5th generation florida native, Brad has spent a lifetime on the Florida waters. Aside from WDP, Brad enjoys his own fishing boat, hiking, hunting, and spending time with friends and family, and his girlfriend Kristi.

Richard Cisson III, First Mate
RJ came on board at Wild Dolphin Project as Stenella’s first mate in 2016. He grew up in Florida and enjoys fishing, camping, and sports. Graduating from Riviera Beach Maritime Academy, RJ gained valuable engine building experience. His mechanical skills are an absolute asset to the project. RJ has many pets including two dogs, Rebel and Blu, fish, ducks, geese and two tortoises.

Marcia Spanick, Provisioner
Back this trip season as our food provisioner for R/V Stenella, Marcia is a surfer, cook, and humanitarian. In her off season, Marcia works on local boats and runs a boat yard.

 

 

Office Staff

Melissa Williams, Administrative Assistant
Melissa is the office administrator and has extensive past office experience managing large businesses. The culture and mission of WDP motivated her to join the WDP team in 2015. Growing up in Florida, Melissa always had a passion for the outdoors, either on horseback or in the ocean. She has lengthy martial arts training and currently teaches self-defense lessons and kickboxing classes. She enjoys spending time with her family, riding her quarter horse mare, diving, snorkeling and kayaking, and is learning to surf.

Ariel Vieheller, Research Assistant
Ariel grew up in the beautiful (and often cold!) countryside of Ohio. From an early age, she has had an interest in marine mammals, particularly humpback whales and dolphins. She interned with WDP in 2013, and has since become a (crew-favorite!) cook during the field research seasons. She balances her duties preparing meals from breakfast through dinner, then spends hours ID'ing and cataloging dolphin photos long into the night. Her experience working within the project helps her further pursue a career studying marine mammals and their social behavior. Ariel celebrates 2016 as she moves into a new position at WDP, with an increased a focus on data collection and management. When not at sea or engrossed with her studies, Ariel enjoys diving and spending time with her boyfriend and her pets.

Research Associates

Dr. Cindy R. Elliser
Dr. Cindy Elliser received her B.S. (2000) and M.S. (2003) in Biological Sciences from Florida Atlantic University (FAU) and received her Ph.D. in Integrative Biology from FAU in 2010. She was the Research Assistant for The Wild Dolphin Project from 2002-2010. Dr. Elliser has published her work in scientific journals and presented at international scientific conferences. She teaches biology and related courses as an adjunct professor at local colleges/universities. After moving to the Pacific Northwest in 2014, Dr. Elliser founded the non-profit research organization Pacific Mammal Research (PacMam, www.pacmam.org) where she is the Research Director, studying harbor porpoises and harbor seals.

Dr. Michelle Green
Dr. Green graduated with a Ph.D. in integrative biology from Florida Atlantic University in May of 2008. She has been spent past field seasons with WDP as both a graduate student and research assistant. Dr. Green's specialty is in genetics, researching genetic population structure and assigning paternity for our spotted dolphins. Her current position is Visiting Research Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois where she studies population genetics, relatedness, and genomics of wildlife.

Dr. Fabienne Delfour
Dr. Fabienne Delfour is a research associate at LEEC, Laboratory of Experimental and Comparitive Ethology in Paris, France (http://leec.univ-paris13.fr/new/). She is the head of the Scientific Department at Delphinarium Parc Asterix, one of the largest dolphin enclosures in Europe (http://dauphins.parcasterix.fr/presentation) and Director of a consulting institute on animal behavior and welfare at Animaux et Compagnies, an organization specialized in human-animal relationships and training in Ethology (http://animauxetcompagnies.com/). She conducts research on animal behavior and cognition, cetacean acoustics, animal welfare and human-animal relationships. Currently she is supervising two PhD students working on dolphin etho-acoustics and welfare.

Graduate Students

Every year at least one graduate student serves as our Research Assistant on board trips. They are typically a Masters or PhD student in Biology with Dr. Herzing.

Masters Students, FAU:

Nathan Skrzypczak, Department of Biology

Cassandra Volker, Department of Biology

Alyson Myers, Department of Psychology
Alyson received her Master's degree with the Wild Dolphin Project and is currently a doctoral candidate in the department of Psychology at FAU. Her Master's thesis research examined synchrony during aggression in adult male Atlantic Spotted dolphins. This research established a baseline of adult behavior that currently allows her to examine the development of this valuable skill in juveniles. Her interests also include children's cognitive development and evolutionary developmental psychology. She was born and raised in the Bahamas and enjoys diving, sailing, and crossfit.

Sommer Kuhn, Department of Biology
Sommer Kuhn is currently a master’s student in Biology at Florida Atlantic University (FAU). She’s had a passion to study dolphins from a young age, even though she grew up in the Midwest. She moved to Florida after high school to receive her B.S. in Marine Science – Biology with a minor in psychology from the University of Tampa in 2013. Sommer has been a graduate student with the project since 2014, and is updating the identification records of the bottlenose dolphins so she can assess their resident patterns over the last several years for her thesis. She will look to see if any changes in their resident patterns occurred after many spotted dolphins residents made a large move a few years ago.

Board of Directors

Don Mader, President
Don's first business venture included fine-art silk screening from there he formed Blue Water Graphics, a pre-press house that serviced both screen and lithographic printers. Don became President of Southeastern Printing in 2001. Under his leadership, the company has expanded their commercial printing facility headquartered in Stuart, and added flexographic label packaging operations in Palm City, Florida and Tyrone, Pennsylvania. Don is a founding member of Wild Dolphin Project and is the current president. He is also involved in the following groups and associations: Vistage (TEC) Member since 2004, Founding board member of the Dolphin Ecology Project, board member Martin County Chamber of Commerce, Trustee of The Pine School. His interests include: boating, reading, business, skiing and mountain climbing.

Axel Stepan, Vice President
After receiving his MBA in 1999, Axel started his career as an Investment Banking Associate at Deutsche Bank in New York and has been active in the corporate finance and investment business ever since. In 2001, he assumed the role of Managing Partner at Douglas Pike Associates, an investment firm with a focus on private equity, as well as commercial real estate development and investment in the Rhode Island and Florida markets. Axel first became involved with the Wild Dolphin Project as a passenger on one of WDP’s Bahamas trips and, since 2013, has served as Vice President of its Board of Directors.

 

 

Denise Herzing, Ph.D., Treasurer
Dr. Denise Herzing, Founder and Research Director of the Wild Dolphin Project, has completed over 32 years of her long-term study of the Atlantic spotted dolphins inhabiting Bahamian waters. She received her B.S. in Marine Zoology; her M.A. in Behavioral Biology; and her Ph.D. in Behavioral Biology/Environmental Studies. She is an Affiliate Assistant Professor in Biological Sciences at Florida Atlantic University, Boca Raton, Florida. Dr. Herzing is a 2008 Guggenheim Fellow, a fellow with the Explorers Club, a scientific advisor for the Lifeboat Foundation and the American Cetacean Society, and on the board of Schoolyard Films. In addition to many scientific articles (http://www.wilddolphinproject.org/research/library/), she is the co-editor of Dolphin Communication and Cognition, author of “Dolphin Diaries: My 25 years with Spotted Dolphins in the Bahamas” and “The Wild Dolphin Project (2002)”.

 

 

Chris Traughber,Chair
Chris Traughber is one of the original founding board members of the Wild Dolphin Project. After joining The Wild Dolphin Project in the field in 1987 Chris became committed to helping the project grow and thrive.  An active medical doctor, Dr. Traughber has been in the field with WDP almost every field season since 1987 and advises on medical issues both onboard and on land.  Chris is also a great underwater photographer who specializes in black and white photography.  A hold out for film, Chris's prints of the dolphins are often on display at Wild Dolphin Events.  Chris is often accompanied by his wife Gail, an avid horse and dog trainer, who cooks for us the hungry crew during our research trips.

 

 

Ruth Petzold, Director
Ruth Petzold is a long-time scuba diver and professional underwater photographer. She played amajor role in the research of Dr. Eugenie Clarke, traveling with her on over 50 expeditions and serving as her research photographer. A member of the Explorers Club, she has been recognized as a Champion of the Sea due to her philanthropic work in seeking to promote the welfare of the seas and the protection of the marine environment through her generous donations. Her philanthropic actions have reached a number of marine-oriented organizations, including SHARK SAVERS and The Wild Dolphin Project. She attended the University of Michigan Hospital and Rockefeller University to do Immunology Research. She turned to full-time underwater photography and dive travel in 1985 and has made diving her life ever since. In addition to her skills as a scuba diver, Ruth is an airplane pilot. In 2016, she was inducted into the WomenDivers Hall of Fame.

 

 

Ivi Kimmel, Director
Ivi joined the Board of the Wild Dolphin Project in 2004 as an avid supporter and enthusiast of WDP’s work. Originating from Estonia, Ivi has spent the majority of her life in the U.S. and has been involved in the underwater world for decades.  An active member of the Explorers Club, Ivi has traveled the world to observe both its underwater creatures and human inhabitants.

 

 

Drew Mayer, Director
Drew's heart has always belonged to the natural world, but by age 23 he joined Shearson/American Express and found himself on Wall Street for the next 20 years where he developed into an investment manager specializing in pattern recognition and what is now known as algorithmic trading at Prudential-Bache and UBS. Concurrently, in the early 90's Drew cofounded the non-profit group The American Association of Individual Investors Palm Beaches and served as its President for 5 years where he was host to top Wall Street analysts and hedge fund managers. In 2004, Drew's prior use of pattern recognition in the financial markets came in handy when he called Dr Herzing to volunteer. Drew says: "WDP is a great fit for me, it engages my heart and mind... these amazingly intelligent animals and some of the world's top scientists working together, using cutting edge technology toward exciting breakthroughs. It's a privilege to be included."

An avid scuba and freediver, Drew is often the first to jump in and last to exit the water. His smile is widest with a mask on, sea life surrounding him and his kids Trent and Chanelle diving alongside. "...add a pod of dolphins, 4K cameras and ultrahigh frequency recorders and I'm in heaven!"

 

 

 

Community Advisory Board

  • Barbara Birdsey
  • Tanya Burnett
  • C. Wolcott Henry
  • Theresa Carlsen
  • Susan Lovejoy
  • Bill O’Donnell
  • Zita Wright
  • Katie Deits

Scientific Advisory Board

  • Sir David Attenborough
  • Randall Brelsford, Ph.D.
  • Fabienne Delfour, Ph.D.
  • Christine Johnson, Ph.D.
  • Marc Lammers, Ph.D.
  • Adam Pack, Ph.D.
  • Kenneth R. Pelletier, Ph.D., M.D. (hc)
  • Thomas I. White, Ph.D.

Emeritus Board

  • Anne Earhart, Ph.D. (hc)
  • Diane Ross
  • Linda Castell, DVM
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