seaql lab

Data Science for Marine Ecology and Conservation

Meet the Team

Francesco Ferretti

Assistant Professor

I am a quantitative and computational marine ecologist specialized in research synthesis. My scientific work is on marine conservation, fishery sciences, population dynamics, and quantitative ecology with a special interest in sharks and rays. I combine ecology, statistical modeling, and data science to approach questions on animal abundance and distribution, species interactions, large marine predators, top-down control, structure and function of large marine ecosystems.

I am interested in characterizing the history of human impact in the ocean, understand how this impact has altered marine ecosystems, and develop solutions for a sustainable use of marine resources. My research spans from macro-ecology to applied management and conservation. It focuses on dynamics from single species to whole ecosystems, and revolves around three main scientific approaches: 1) inferring ecological processes from limited and disparate data; 2) filling the data gap characterizing many ecological systems by exploiting unconventional sources of information; and 3) using data science methods, big data, and new technology to address pressing ecological issues and develop ocean solutions.


Brendan Shea

PhD Student

I am a marine biologist and conservationist working to inform the conservation of large marine predators, in particular sharks. My research interests can generally be grouped into the following categories: 1) the ecological role of sharks, with a focus on predator-prey dynamics, risk effects, and deep-sea habitat use; 2) the ecosystem consequences that result from removing large sharks; and 3) marine protected areas and their potential benefit for global shark populations. My approach uses big data and environmental synthesis in conjunction with field research techniques, including acoustic and satellite telemetry, biologging, baited remote underwater videos (BRUVs) and physiology, to consider fieldwork-derived mechanistic findings across broader scales.

Jeremy Jenrette

PhD Student

I am a former biochemist turned data scientist who is interested in big data, machine learning, citizen science, and database management. Currently, I am developing several shark classification architectures using convolutional neural networks and object detection. My research is focused on two areas: 1) Creating ecologically relevant shark population indices from massive clouds of data such as Instagram and 2) integrating artificial intelligence into tracking and classifying shark media. My responsibilities also encompass managing and updating sharkPulse, a web application designed to warehouse shark sightings from all over the world. In the future, I hope to build upon crowdsourcing applications for validating shark sightings.       

Chiara Gambardella

MSc Student

I am a Master’s Student in Marine Biology at the Polytechnic University of Marche, Ancona, Italy. During past years I’ve become interested in trophic cascades, and ecosystem consequences of top predators removal, with a spotlight on sharks and rays. My current research (and also my Master’s thesis) is focused on the assessment of rays and skates population of the North Adriatic Sea. With the aim to understand their trophic interactions, and if the increase of these meso-predators in the Adriatic Sea is a consequence of the lack of large sharks, I am analyzing which species could be possibly impacted. I am currently improving my skills on how to approach data analysis and the use of field techniques such as BRUVs.

Lauren Morris

Undergraduate Student

I am an undergraduate student at Virginia Tech majoring in Biology with a minor in Green Engineering. New to the SeaQL lab, I am involved in research using data scraping methods to convert shark images from social media into occurrence records. Through this, I am developing my data literacy skills through programs and languages such as R and SQL. On a broader scale, my interests in marine biology focus on creating sustainable systems and policies to combat the exploitation of our ocean’s natural resources and protect biodiversity.

Lindsay Bomgardner

Undergraduate Student

I am an undergraduate student majoring in Marine Fish and Wildlife Conservation at Virginia Tech. I am currently working on a project relating to using trends in ecological factors to estimate baseline abundances of sharks through the use of stock assessment data from Regional Fisheries Management Organizations (RMFOs). This project focuses on collecting, modeling, and analyzing data, allowing me to develop skills in the statistical programming language, R. I am also beginning a project relating to stock assessment analysis of cownose rays. Previous work includes assisting in research utilizing big data to analyze the impact of bycatch on shark populations in shark sanctuaries. I hope to continue working in shark research and work within fisheries management to better inform and regulate shark conservation.


Morgan Karns

Undergraduate Student

I am an undergraduate student at Virginia Tech majoring in Wildlife Conservation with minors in Leadership & Social Change and Philosophy. Currently, I am working to add a human dimensions element to our lab, creating education and outreach opportunities to engage communities in shark conservation. My interests include environmental education, human impacts on marine ecosystems, environmental justice, and accessibility to nature. 

Zach Wendel

Undergraduate Student

I am a junior undergraduate engineer from Syracuse, New York. At the moment I am currently pursuing my B.S. in Ocean Engineering with a minor in Naval Architecture. I am currently one of the engineers working on our various drone prototypes here at the SEAQL lab, primarily in the hardware and construction aspects of our drones. I joined this lab to help apply my learning to something highly impactful and have hands-on experience in both drone science and conservation. I hope to aid the SEAQL lab in revolutionizing the way we track both poaching and shark populations so that we can sustain shark and endangered populations worldwide.

Filippo Bargnesi


I have a Ph.D. in “Marine ecology and biology” obtained at the Marche Polytechnic University (Ancona, Italy). My Ph.D. has been co-funded by the Cattolica Aquarium (Cattolica, RN, Italy), and I have background experience in the husbandry of sharks and tropical marine fauna. My research activity is focused on shark conservation in the Mediterranean Sea. Shark populations in the area are facing a decline in terms of abundance and changes in their distribution due to human impact. Data collection and analysis is mandatory to monitor the situation and act properly.  In that view, I use both historical ecology and genetics, and citizen science as tools for supporting data collection and making analysis.

Stefano Moro

PhD Student

At the moment I am a Ph.D. student in Marine Ecology at the Sapienza University of Rome and a research fellow at the Stazione Zoologica Anton Dohrn. I am interested in investigating species’ spatial distribution, abundance trends, and fisheries sciences questions to promote management and conservation. My research focuses principally on sharks but also ranges from teleosts to marine mammals. In the last four years, I mainly focused on analyzing the sharks’ presence within the Mediterranean Sea, estimating for the first time the Spatio-temporal pattern of abundance and distribution of the Mediterranean great white shark. 

Emma Gee


I am currently an Illegal Fishing & Transparency Fellow at Oceana.  I completed my undergraduate and Master’s degrees at Stanford in Environmental Systems Engineering and Earth Systems, respectively.  As a Master’s student, I was mentored by Dr. Ferretti in my thesis using statistical modeling to establish historical baselines for sharks in the Indian Ocean.  We are working towards using this historical data to reconstruct changes in shark community composition as well.  My current research interests center around highly migratory pelagic fishes and the effects of distant water fishing on these species.

Pranav Chimote

MSc Student

I am a Master’s Student majoring in Computer Engineering at Virginia Tech. I am interested in Big Data, Machine Learning, Computer Vision, and Natural Language Processing. My principal research interest is analyzing tweets to develop summaries that would act as informative priors for disaster predicting algorithms. As part of the SeaQL lab, I work as a Data Scientist and System Administrator focussing on the SharkPulse Project. My responsibilities include: 1) Creating data pipelines for image scraping from various social media sources to build towards a robust shark image classifier. 2) Developing applications to support the sharkPulse platform. My career goal is to build systems that would improve the sustainability of nature and mankind.

Simone Chesi

Research Associate, Aerospace Engineer

I am a passionate engineer & researcher with experience in self driving cars, drones and spacecraft. My mission is to explain complex engineering concepts with simple hands-on examples. I obtained my Ph.D and M.Sc. degrees in Applied Mathematics and Statistics from the University of California Santa Cruz, with  focus on attitude control and stabilization for small satellites. I also received the M.Sc. degree with highest honors in Astronautical and Aerospace Engineering from the Sapienza University of Rome and the B.Sc. degree in Aerospace Engineering from “Politecnico di Milano” in Italy. In 2015 I received the prestigious US National Academy of Science Engineering and Medicine award for the development of autonomous guidance systems for swarm of ultra-long-endurance UAVs for reconnaissance missions.
I worked on several different projects ranging from UAVs, ground robots and satellites in the US, UK, and Germany for companies, government agencies, and universities such as Clyde Space, Planet, European Space Agency, Naval Postgraduate School, and UCSC. Furthermore, I developed and tested control algorithms in space on 100+ small satellites. I also worked on the development of autonomous driving algorithms and methods for Lucid Motors and after that I joined MAXAR Technologies to work on the development of Earth and Moon orbiting spacecraft. I published several journals and research papers. I  am member of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and review editor for the journal Frontiers in Astronomy and Space Science.

Dr. Mohamed Shainee

Research Associate

Dr. Mohamed Shainee is interested in applying his diverse academic and policy background to Ocean Conservation, Marine Technology, and Fisheries Managemen. He has a BEng. (Hons) in Marine Technology from the University of Plymouth (UK), a Master’s Degree in Marine Management from Dalhousie University (Canada), a MSc. in Marine Technology and a PhD Doctorate in offshore aquaculture cage designing, both from Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU – Trondheim, Norway). Dr. Shainee also served a full 5-year term as the Minister of Fisheries and Agriculture in the Maldives from November 2013 to  November 2018.

Dr. Mohamed Shainee has also worked as a national and international consultant in coastal, environmental, and ocean engineering projects. His latest international consultancy was designing and dimensioning an offshore aquaculture cage grid system in Seribu Islands, Indonesia. As an environmental consultant, Dr. Shainee has conducted over 20 Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) for coastal development and infrastructure projects in the Maldives.