Salma is a Marine Scientist who is fundamentally interested in the effects of ecosystem dynamics on evolutionary processes. She graduated from the College of William & Mary in 2015 with a B.S. with Honors in Biology and a Minor in Marine Science. She spent the majority of her undergraduate research stealing the gametes of various species of echinoids and then subjecting their offspring to different environmental conditions in the lab to explain overlooked phenomena. Much to the disappointment of her undergrad advisor, she left the inverts and began working with [vertebrate] marine mammals and interned for a couple of stranding networks. She then went back to school to earn her M.S. in Geographic Information Science (GIS) at San Francisco State University. This is where Salma really started developing her technical interests in science and understood the value of geospatial analysis to explain biological processes. It’s also where she began to let go of her fear of computers and started leaning into the world of computational methods for biological analysis. She’s still struggling with that, but has come a long way from quietly sobbing while doing her R homework for biostats in undergrad. She is now the Marine Mammal Sightings Network Coordinator and works as a Data and GIS Analyst for the Whale Museum in Friday Harbor, WA. She manages the The Whale Museum’s long-term database and helps inform research and policy initiatives for the conservation of critically endangered species, such as Southern Resident Killer Whales. In her spare time she enjoys being a potato/lizard-cat with a good cup of coffee and a book preferably in a sunny spot. Salma is passionate about science and access to science for all people. And hopes that she can help broaden the field of marine science, specifically marine mammal science, to all who are interested in the conservation efforts of these semi-mythical but truly majestic animals.

1 Are you an early bird or night owl?

Night Owl

2 Are you pro- or anti-pun?


3 Do you have any pets?

I technically have a cat, Ollie, but he’s lived with his grandma (my mama) longer than he has with me soooo I think he’s transferred ownership? At least he and my mama think so!

4 Do you have any science-themed home decor?

I have cetacean, pinniped, and echinoid decor all over! I have a signed photograph of humpbacks bubble net feeding, an Ernst Haeckel print of the anatomy of a sea biscuit and sea urchin, the evolutionary taxonomy of marine mammals, wildlife of the Pacific Northwest, a print of my favorite cetaceans, some old bones, and all my mounted echis!

5 Do you prefer cooking or baking?


6 Do you prefer sweet or savory?


7 Do you speak any other languages?

Arabic is my first language, but I’m sadly no longer as comfortable with it as I am with English. My auntie is supposed to be tutoring me! And I speak/read/write enough French to get by. I was getting the hang of ASL before moving out west for my master’s but I have not retained much of the little I did pick up in DC.

8 If you could switch professions, what would you do?

I would want to be one of those people that organizes people’s homes, but not on TV. I didn’t know that was a real job until I saw a show on Netflix. Or one of those people that get to travel the world and check out awesome homes and restaurants.

9 If you could switch science fields, what field would you want to work in?

Astronomer/astrophysicist! Or a volcanologist

10 If you got a plane ticket right now, where would it go?

Aaaaand it was safe?? Probably Egypt to visit my family

11 If you had one superpower, what would it be?

This is a lame answer, but I really want to fly.

12 Is there anything you strongly recommend we watch and/or read and/or listen to?

Watch: The Life of Plastic doc, I May Destroy You (Michaela Coel is a wonderful artist).
Read: The Water Dancer by Ta Nehisi Coates
Listen: Ear Hustle, The Sporkful, 60 Second Science, How to Save a Planet (all podcasts)

13 It’s your day off. What do you want to do?

Wake up without an alarm, make coffee and stare out my window for a bit. If it’s sunny, I’m going outside for a walk/hike. If it’s gross and gray, I’m inside probably being a potato under some warm blankets.

14 What are three things you can’t live without?

Family (biological and chosen aka friends), Faith (in God and Science), and warm showers!

15 What beverage gives you life?

Coffee and [ginger] kombucha

16 What book did you read in school that positively shaped you?

I was a voracious reader! I loved reading EVERY and ANY thing. In 8th grade I chose The Other Side of Truth by Beverley Naidoo to read and ended up writing to the author, and she actually wrote back! I still have her letter. Kiss the Dust by Elizabeth Laird, 19 Varieties of Gazelle: Poems of the Middle East by Naomi Shihab Nye, Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, The Weary Blues by Langston Hughes was the best thing I read in High School English, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, and I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou were all books that I read in school and still think about.

17 What did you want to be when you grew up?

Pediatrician (lol) or photojournalist

18 What drives you and keeps you going?

Solving issues that, to me at least, seem very solvable. That doesn’t mean these issues are easy to solve/address, but I believe that they have a solution, and that keeps me going.

19 What got you excited in science?

I was a “why” kid and science was the only thing that not just gave me answers to my questions but helped me make sense of and understand the world around me.

20 What excites you about science now?

Ooof now is a tough time, but I was really heartened by all of the #BlackIn____ movements I saw online and participated in. They really made me feel less alone and gave me hope that there are people out there whose experiences resonated with me and who can also understand my experiences in STEM.

21 What is a guilty pleasure of yours?

Watching home tours/decor videos/shows

22 What is a secret talent of yours?

I am the ONLY one in my immediate family (at least as far back as my grandparents) that can roll their tongue.

23 What is your favorite game?


24 What is the last book you read?

Big Friendships by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman

25 What is one of the best pieces of advice you’ve received?

What is meant for you will come and what isn’t meant for you is a blessing. – Mama Kasem

26 What is something you’ve always wanted to try but you’ve been too scared to do?

Sky diving

27 What is the best advice for your 18 year old self?

Don’t stress all the little things as much. People really don’t notice or care.

28 What is the best way to de-stress?

Turning the world off and spending the day alone either outside or at home eating cookies and watching tiny home tours

29 What is the last thing you watched?

Amend: The Fight for America

30 What is the weirdest thing you’ve had in your bag?

Steller Sea Lion skull

31 What is your favorite animal?

Right now it’s a tie between Narwhals and Blue whales

32 What is your favorite book?

Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

33 What is your favorite comfort food?

My mama’s rice pudding

34 What is your favorite day of the year?

The summer solstice

35 What is your favorite plant?

It’s a tie between my monstera deliciosa and figgy/twiggy. But plz don’t tell the other plants!

36 What is your favorite science fact?

Nemerteans give live birth to their young via anal birthing. Google it, you will be equal parts scarred and intrigued. Also flatworms will fence with their penises to determine who will be the “father” and “mother” during a mating event.

37 What is your favorite season?


38 What is your favorite smell?

A good cleansing rain and fresh flowers

39 What is your favorite sound?

The hum inside an airplane on long flights when people are asleep/quiet.

40 What is your favorite thing about yourself?

My brain (sometimes) I like that I remember weird things from a long time ago that no one else remembers and how I can problem-solve.

41 What is your favorite word (in any language)?

Rohi (Arabic) adults will say it to you as a term of endearment and when I get that now I feel giddy like a little girl.

42 What is your proudest moment?

When I finished college and my mama saw me defend my thesis and graduate. I’m the guinea pig in the American school system for my family so I think my mama was just as proud of herself as she was of me.

43 What kind of tree would you be?

A weeping willow or madrona

44 What’s the best thing about where you live?

My huge window that overlooks the harbor! Even when the weather sucks it’s always SO pretty.

45 Tell us something we probably don’t know.

I have two birthdays

46 Who would you like to see 46 Questions interview next?

Max Czapanskiy (@mfczap)! He’s an awesome human and better friend who has helped me in so many ways and is just so wonderful to have in my circle. I’m really thankful for him and I’d love to see him highlighted here. Also I was messaging him when I got this request, so it seems fitting that I tag him next. Also his dog is my favorite!