Jennifer McKinney came to Deep Blue Resort as a guest in 2005, and was so motivated by her experience that she dedicated herself to studying whale sharks, hoping to both elucidate some of the mysteries surrounding these animals and play a pivotal role in the conservation of the species. She completed her master’s degree in 2010, at the University of Southern Mississippi’s Gulf Coast Research Laboratory (USM-GCRL). Her thesis work involved a spatial analysis of whale sharks in the northern Gulf of Mexico using volunteer sightings data (View publication here: http://www.int-res.com/abstracts/meps/v458/p199-211/). She was instrumental at spreading awareness throughout the offshore community in the northern Gulf about the USM-GCRL Online Whale Shark Sighting survey (www.usm.edu/gcrl/whaleshark), which continues to collect valuable data that helps to guide directed research efforts.
She continues to study whale sharks in the northern Gulf of Mexico as a Biologist III with the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. Since 2012, she has worked with LDWF using telemetry techniques to study habitat use of pelagic fishes in the Gulf of Mexico, including several shark species (whale shark, hammerheads, and tigers) and yellowfin tuna. She continues to partner with the Shark Lab at the USM-GCRL on the whale shark sightings survey and assists with the Wildbook for Whale Sharks database management in the region.