Current Projects

Assessing the impact of marine pollutants on fat tissue function in seals – the PHATS project.

Weaned grey seal pup
Weaned grey seal pup, Isle of May. Weaned pups are in a fasting state and rely on their blubber reserves to stay alive until they can learn to forage at sea.

In collaboration with Abertay University, I am working on a team lead by Dr Kimberley Bennett on a large project called the PHATS project (Pollutants, Hormones & Adipose Tissue Science) investigating how persistent pollutants in the marine environment, such as PCBs, impact on marine mammal health by preventing them from being able to utilise the fat reserves in their blubber. We are currently focusing on studying grey seals on the Isle of May colony in Scotland, and my time is divided between fieldwork with the seals and laboratory work measuring hormone, metabolite and pollutant concentrations and tissue culture work.

You can find out more about this project here on the University of Abertay’s website or here on the RCUK (Research Councils UK) website.

Yearling grey seal
Yearling grey seal about to moult. All seals undergo a moult every year to shed their old fur and grow a new coat. During this time they do not feed as regularly as other times of the year, and must rely on their blubber reserves to survive.

Dolphin social behaviour and endocrinology

Bottlenose dolphin in Sarasota Bay, Florida.
Bottlenose dolphin in Sarasota Bay, Florida. (Please note, this picture was taken on a public boat tour of the bay, hence no MMPA project permit number is needed with the image)

In collaboration with the Sarasota Dolphin Research Programme (SDRP) at the Mote Marine Laboratory, I am working on a project investigating whether hormone concentrations can tell us useful information about an individual’s social behaviour and affiliations. This project focuses on bottlenose dolphins in Sarasota Bay, Florida, USA.

Stranding responses, UK

Mass pilot whale stranding in Fife, 2012
Mass pilot whale stranding in Fife, 2012

While working on my PhD at St Andrews I helped respond to several cetacean strandings. I still help out during strandings whenever needed, and the job can range from re-floating live animals, collecting dead ones for necropsy at the dedicated lab in Inverness or doing field necropsies of individuals that are too large to transport to try and determine cause of death.

Minke Whale stranding in Fife, 2016
Minke Whale stranding in Fife, 2016