Heather Spence, Marine Biologist
Orchestrating Coastal Marine Ecology Investigation and Outreach

Heather Spence, Marine Biologist

Laz Tiyas and Flory Jagoda

This Friday we lost our Nona Flory – composer, musician, singer, mentor, performer, reviver of the Ladino language… We are grateful for the time we had together and honored to help carry on her amazing musical legacy. Flory Jagoda taught Laz Tiyas her songs by ear, to carry on the tradition of songs passing down from women to women.

Laz Tiyas performing in 2011

Laz Tiyas performing at County Fair in 2011


LAZ TIYAS. A group of women came to Flory in 2008 and asked her to teach them her songs. Since then they have been singing together every week. The name “Laz Tiyas” honors her aunts in her song of the same name.

Laz Tiyas include:

Tiya Mazalta – Janet Dunkelberger – Arlington VA
Tiya Grasya – Maya Giacobbe – Arlington VA
Tiya Luna – Heather Spence – Arlington VA
Tiya Paloma – Martha Halperin – Arlington VA
Tiya Estreya – Cory Giacobbe – Pristina, Kosovo
Tiya Miriam – Judith Wouk – Ottawa, Canada
Tiya Regina – Regina Barker-Barzell, Arlington VA
Tiya Elena – Elena Yepes – Medellín, Colombia

Laz Tiyas street performance 2009

Laz Tiyas street performing in 2009

Laz Tiyas performing in 2019

Laz Tiyas singing on Capitol Hill 2019

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Underwater Sound Recordings: Music of Marine Biology

Music from Other Worlds

LASER talk

Nov 12 2020
Music from Other Worlds

RSVP for this event

November 12 12:00 pm – 2:00 pm Pacific
Location: Zoom

Heather Spence (Marine Biologists and Composer) on “Underwater Sound Research:

Music of Marine Biology”

Cheryl Leonard (Composer and Instrument Builder) on “Phantom Limbs: Composing Music Amidst the Sixth Extinction”

The LASERs are an international program of evening gatherings that bring together artists, scientists, thinkers, inventors, and scholars who are working on paradigm shifts for informal presentations and conversation with the audience. Chaired by Piero Scaruffi. Visit www.lasertalks.com for more details.

Heather Spence is a marine biologist and sound artist who combines science and art to harmonize human-environment interactions. She has taught courses on animal behavior, behavioral neuroendocrinology, sensation and perception, personality, etc. Her Passive Acoustic Monitoring research program on the MesoAmerican Reef is featured in National Geographic’s television program “When Sharks Attack”, and is explored in her composition for viola da gamba trio, Vale la Pena?. She composes music inspired by, and inspiring, conservation and performs internationally as a cellist and gambist. She currently advises on science and acoustics at the US Department of Energy and is co-leader of the transdisciplinary Ocean Memory Project/

Cheryl E. Leonard is a composer, performer, and instrument builder whose works investigate sounds, structures, and objects from the natural world. Her projects cultivate stones, wood, water, ice, sand, shells, feathers, and bones as musical instruments, and feature one-of-a-kind sculptural instruments and field recordings from remote locales. She uses microphones to explore aural worlds within her sound sources, and develops compositions that highlight the unique voices she discovers. Her recent projects focus on climate change and extinction of species.

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Marine Biologist response to book The Girl Who Danced With Dolphins

Thanks for joining my Facebook Live event with Cory Giacobbe! If you have any further questions about the book, ocean science, dolphins, or anything else, let me know!



Here’s a photo of me recording dolphin sounds at an aquarium in Mexico.

2015 el balcon delfines



And another pic of me (top) and my friend and colleague Brando Gonzalez (bottom) doing underwater sound research in the ocean

I'm equalizing my ears, while carrying an EAR... with Brando Gonzalez Photo credit: Ray Santisteban

I’m equalizing my ears, while carrying an EAR…
with Brando Gonzalez
Photo credit: Ray Santisteban




And here’s a photo of a whale shark I took – it is feeding! check out that mouth! and the polka dots!

Whale Shark feeding (Photo: Heather Spence)








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Mark Ballora

Mark Ballora, a dear friend and collaborator, was a pioneer in acoustics and “sonification” of data. A memorial service is being held this weekend at Penn State, where he was a professor of music technology.

Naturally I collected my thoughts about carrying forward his energy and vision in musical form. This short composition (<2.5 min) incorporates a musical cipher of his name, coral reef sounds, and audio recordings he made of me pitched at his vocal frequency, as a symbol of my dedication to seeing his voice, missions, and work are carried forward.

Mark Ballora Echoes to Future.wav


Mark and I met at a National Academies Keck Futures Initiative conference and are in the middle of a NAKFI grant on sonifying ocean data: “Layers of Meaning: How the Ocean’s Natural Acoustics and the Music of its Datasets Can Reveal Hidden Connections”



Photos: (c) Kevin Allen Photo

National Academies DASER program on sound and the deep blue sea

Left to right, Mark Ballora, Aaron Rice, Heather Spence

(c) Kevin Allen Photo

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Visiting Artist lecture in Canada

Heather Spence Daniel Kohn Canada














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Ocean Memory Project

The Ocean Memory Project won the NAKFI Challenge!

 Ocean Memory



Sept. 4, 2018


National Academies Keck Futures Initiative Announces Winners of the NAKFI Challenge

WASHINGTON — The National Academies Keck Futures Initiative (NAKFI) is pleased to announce the recipients of three $500,000 NAKFI Challenge awards. A 15-year, $40 million dollar program funded by the W.M. Keck Foundation, NAKFI was initiated in 2003 to break down barriers between fields and to promote interdisciplinary research. The NAKFI Challenge awards support activities that will carry forward NAKFI’s work beyond its 15 years as an activity of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.

Open only to NAKFI alumni who participated in the program’s annual interdisciplinary conferences, the call for proposals generated 78 applications. Applications underwent a round of peer-to-peer community judging by fellow applicants. The 30 highest scoring proposals were then judged by an expert panel consisting of members of NAKFI conference organizing committees. The three winners were chosen by the presidents of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the National Academy of Medicine.

The recipients, with NAKFI alumni in bold, and their project titles are:

Jody Deming, University of Washington
* Fiscal agent for grant, Djerassi Residents Artists Program
Daniel Kohn, Kohnworkshop
Heather R. Spence, Marine & Bioacoustics Programs, Michelle’s Earth Foundation (GRACIASS)
Jonathan Berger, Stanford University
Timothy J. Broderick, Institute for Human and Machine Cognition
Margot H. Knight, Djerassi Residents Artists Program
Timothy W. Weaver, University of Denver
Ocean Memory: A New Cross-Disciplinary Approach to Global-Scale Challenges
Memory involves the recall of events, pruned and processed from countless recordings by neural networks and thereby shaping future behavior. The ocean and its inhabitants hold memories of events throughout the evolution of the planet, awaiting our cognition. This proposal established a thriving community exploring and expressing Ocean Memory, a new line of highly evocative scientific inquiry , aiming for a sea change in our ability to address challenges of the Anthropocene. The approach builds upon NAKFI best practices, spanning disciplines required to address agents of memory and adding novel elements of distributed interactive spaces and grants for cross-disciplinary mentoring.

For more info check out:
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When Sharks Attack: Mayhem in Mexico

Catch Marine Biologist Dr. Heather Spence on Nat Geo Wild’s show When Sharks Attack: Season 4 Episode 5 “Mayhem in Mexico” in which she explores the impact of sound on shark behavior.

Heather Spence Mexico NatGeoWild

Don’t let the name of the show put you off – there’s a lot of good info and pro shark messaging! #SharkWeek #SharkFest #FriendsOfSharks

Watch it here

Heather Spence National Geographic


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‘Reef Recall’ cello+soundscape performance July 8 in DC

_20151009_113752As part of my ongoing work on Ocean Memory, on July 8 2018 at noon I will present a new composition for live solo cello with recorded coral reef soundscape composition entitled ‘Reef Recall.’ The piece explores past crustacean and fish conversations in the context of natural and human-imposed cycles. The performance is sponsored by the Smithsonian Hirshhorn Museum and DC Listening Lounge ‘Sound Scene XI: Mapping Memory’.

Full performance schedule and details:





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Sound file samples for NAKFI conference:

Murmur (Soundscape composition by Heather Spence and Klaus Dobbler for the European Water Soundmap)


Raw audio from the MesoAmerican Reef near Cancun Mexico –

Listen for the grunting fish

Listen for the scratching spiny lobster

Listen for the boat motor (caution: loud)






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Sound Walk guide

Sound Walks can happen anywhere, anytime – all you need is to focus on listening. Whether for a minute or a day, taking the time to prioritize your ears (and your body – sound can be felt as well as heard!) leads to surprising discoveries and a sense of connectedness with the surrounding environment.

July 18 is World Listening Day. To celebrate, I encourage you to lead your own Sound Walk. Here’s a checklist to get you started.

  1. Do you want to do the sound walk by yourself, or with others? Do you want to record the experience?
  2. Where and when? Consider the types of sounds you may hear (‘natural’, manmade,…) at different times of day, as well as practical concerns such as shade, accessibility, desires and abilities of fellow sound walkers, etc. You might want to plan a route, or see where whim takes you.
  3. Begin the walk by just listening, taking in the rich acoustic information, avoiding talking in order to listen closely
  4. When ready, share observations. What did you hear? How would you describe it? Where is it coming from? How does it make you feel?
  5. Continue alternating listening and sharing – and at the end, please share your experiences with me and World Listening Day!


For more information and ideas:




Acoustic ecology


Deep listening

World Listening Project

Acoustic niche

Passive Acoustic Monitoring


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