Dara Orbach

Location of Interview
Collection Name

The Gulf Podcast and Oral History Project


The Gulf is an oral history project and podcast that shares stories about people and nature on the Texas Gulf Coast. For more information, visit the The Gulf's homepage.

Date of Interview

Maxwell McClure

Biographical Sketch

Dr. Dara Orbach is a marine mammal biologist with a unique journey into the field. Unlike many of her peers who knew from a young age that they wanted to work with marine mammals, Dr. Orbach's path was more indirect and driven by her love for the coastal lifestyle. Originally from Toronto, Canada, she completed her undergraduate studies at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, where she fell in love with the coastal way of life. She pursued two bachelor's degrees simultaneously, one in Classic Near Eastern and Religious Studies (Bachelor of Arts) and the other in Animal Biology (Bachelor of Science). Her interest in research was sparked during her third year at the university when she participated in a field course in the Yukon. This experience led her to conduct an honors project on diving duck physiology in her final year. Dr. Orbach's transition into marine mammalogy came after her master's degree, where she studied bats. One of her notable projects involved studying the effects of alcohol on bats' flight mechanics and decision-making, which garnered significant media attention and set her up for success in her PhD. Her PhD focused on marine mammals, fulfilling her desire to live and work by the coast. She has since continued her research in marine mammalogy, with a focus on cetaceans and reproductive ecology.

Scope and Content Note
This interview with Dr. Dara Orbach, conducted by Maxwell McClure on September 15, 2020, provides an in-depth look into Dr. Orbach's journey into marine mammalogy and her research in the field. The interview begins with Dr. Orbach's early life and what led her to marine biology. She discusses her undergraduate studies at the University of British Columbia, her initial interest in research, and her unique path into marine mammalogy through her master's research on bats. Dr. Orbach also shares details about her notable alcohol study on bats, which involved studying the effects of alcohol on bats' flight mechanics and decision-making. This study received significant media attention and played a crucial role in her transition into marine mammalogy for her PhD. Dr. Orbach discusses her current work at Texas A&M – Corpus Christi, where she runs the Functional Anatomy and Behavioral Ecology of Marine Mammals lab. She shares details about her ongoing research on the form and function of genitalia in marine mammals. She also talks about a planned trip to Iceland's phallological museum, which was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The trip was intended to allow her and her team to take photos and create 3D models of the museum's extensive collection of mammalian penises, with the aim of studying taxonomic patterns and coevolution with female genitalia. Dr. Orbach concludes the interview by discussing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on her research. She mentions that several projects involving international travel have been put on hold, but she has been able to continue some aspects of her work, such as photo collection of dolphins and semen analysis. She also mentions that she has used this time to catch up on projects that were on the backburner and to push for the completion of collaborative projects. Throughout the interview, Dr. Orbach provides valuable insights into her research and offers advice for students interested in pursuing a career in marine biology. Her passion for her work and her dedication to her research are evident, making this interview a valuable resource for anyone interested in the field of marine mammalogy.

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