Studying whales that died more than a century ago

My research is a bit like magic. I take an old bone that has been sitting on a beach for over a century and draw conclusions about that individual using various scientific approaches. I can tell you information about this individuals diet and how it’s diet compared to other individuals of the same species. I can tell you whether it preferred to eat higher trophic food items such as fish or whether it chose to feed on lower food items, such as zooplankton. I do this by extracting bone collagen and looking at the isotope ratios of carbon and nitrogen. I can also tell you what species this individual belonged to and whether it was male or female. I do this by extracting DNA and performing basic molecular techniques, such as PCR and Sanger sequencing.

Although new to me, I could also tell you approximately how old this individual was using an up-and-coming technique known as “DNA methylation”.

You can learn a lot from a deserted bone on a beach… I cannot wait for the advancements in this field and the knowledge it will bring about the individuals and populations that were lost and are now found.

Balaenoptera borealis


A very warm welcome to Whale space. The space where I am going to blog about my current and extremely exciting research and its impacts to help conserve the largest creatures on our planet, the great whales.

So how did I get to where I am and more importantly where is that exactly… well I’ve always been obsessed by the outdoors, wildlife and most importantly the marine environment. As a young teenager I trained as a marine mammal medic with the BDMLR and whenever possible I accepted educational positions at companies wanting to spread the word about ocean conservation.

However, it wasn’t until I joined the Marine Strandings Network during my 5-year cornish adventure that I began to wonder about the real benefits of these poor stranded and often deceased individuals.

I began to exhaust the internet and contact various research associates for known research positions that may utilise the database of stranded marine mammals across the globe for the benefit of conservation research for the great whales. It wasn’t until a good friend of mine forwarded me a twitter link titled “PhD Position – Whale population structuring in the polar south Atlantic at the University of Cambridge, British Antarctic Survey and the Natural History Museum” that I shrieked with excitement and then I peed my pants at the thought of ever applying for a PhD position at Cambridge… no way would they ever accept me, I am no Einstein, Hawking or Newton. Surely I would embarrass myself and my application would get laughed at… after much deliberation I decided to apply with the hope that even if I failed, the experience would help me get closer to my goal. I have never learnt such an invaluable fact…


4 months, 1 painful interview and some extremely solid dedication to learn later… I began my PhD at the University of Cambridge and British Antarctic Survey studying Whale Bones in an extremely powerful and unknown field to me – HISTORICAL ECOLOGY

More on historical ecology to come …

PS. I love my dog (Please click here to learn how awesome my dog is)