Gina Ylitalo | National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Gina Ylitalo

Gina Ylitalo Image
Location of Interview
Collection Name

Voices from the Science Centers

Voices from the Science Centers is an oral history initiative dedicated to documenting the institutional knowledge of fisheries scientists and administrators in the labs of NOAA’s Fisheries Science Centers.

Collection doi
10.VSC/1234567890
Interviewer
Date of Interview
08-10-2016
Audio
Transcript
Biographical Sketch

Gina Ylitalo is an environmental chemist at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, Washington. She was born in Yakima, Washington in 1957, and has been interested in a career in science since junior high.She attended Yakima Valley Community College for two years before transferring to Western Washington University and receiving a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry. She earned her Master of Science in Chemistry from Western Washington University and was hired by National Marine Fisheries Service in 1989. She is currently the program manager of the environmental chemistry program.

Interview contains discussions of:Northwest Fisheries Science Center, NMFS, NOAA, environmental chemistry, Exxon Valdez oil spill, Deepwater Horizon oil spill, PAHs, PCBs, DDTs, legacy contaminants, xenoestrogens, marine mammals, Gulf War.

In this interview, Gina Ylitalo discusses her work developing analytical methods for detecting environmental contaminants as an environmental chemist with NOAA. She started at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in April 1989. Since the Exxon Valdez oil spill had happened only a month earlier, it became the major focus of her early work. She went to Alaska on the NOAA R/V Fairweather to help with analyses of fish bile for hazardous compounds associated with oil spills. After that, Ylitalo worked to develop methods for analyzing and detecting different classes of environmental contaminants. She explains that even though legacy contaminants like PCBs and DDTs have been banned, they still exist in the environment and accumulate in animals at the top of the food chain. She also describes how advancements in computing technology have revolutionized how chemists can collect, identify, and analyze data, and allow them to do it more rapidly than in the past. Her lab collaborates extensively with other NMFS science centers and organizations around the country because of the unique chemical analysis work that they do.

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill also had a major impact on her work, and she did seafood safety analyses for a year after the spill. Her lab continues to analyze the contaminate levels in marine mammals and sea turtles even years later, and she feels very proud of the work she has done with the two major oil spills. Another enjoyable time was her month-long research experience doing shipboard analyses of fish in the Persian Gulf after the Gulf War.

Ylitalo has seen an increase in the number of female scientists since she started working at the agency, but believes there still is a lot of progress to be made in terms of diversity. In the future, she predicts that chemical analyses will continue to become faster and more accurate, and that they will begin to look at other chemical tracers besides contaminants to learn about the nutrition of animals. She also believes the technology for obtaining non-lethal samples from difficult to capture animals like whales will become more advanced. Currently, her lab is working on the ability to do a suite of chemical tracers in samples from marine mammals for things like hormones and fatty acids.


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