Education: BSc Mathematics & Ecology (McGill University); MSc Zoology (UBC); PhD Zoology (UBC)
Courses Taught: Fish 506 – Critical Issues in Fisheries; Mar. Sci. 455 – Biology of Marine Mammals; Scie 300 – Communicating Science
Research Interests: biology of marine mammals, population dynamics, bioenergetics, fisheries, data analysis
|Professor||UBC Fisheries Centre|
|Director||UBC Marine Mammal Research Unit|
|Director||North Pacific Universities Marine Mammal Research Consortium|
|Associate Member||UBC Department of Zoology|
|Research Associate||Vancouver Aquarium|
|Member||PICES Advisory Panel on Marine Birds and Mammals|
|Member||Marine Mammal Specialist Group for the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC)|
Research: My research is primarily focussed on pinnipeds (Steller sea lions, northern fur seals, and harbor seals) and involves captive studies, field studies and simulation models that range from single species to whole ecosystems. My research program is designed to further the conservation and understanding of marine mammals, and resolve conflicts between people and marine mammals. I oversee a research program that includes researchers, students, technicians and support staff. The training of students, and the collaboration between researchers specializing in other disciplines (such as nutrition, ecology, physiology and oceanography) is central to the success of my research program.
Current and Recent Projects:
- Patch Dynamics. We are studying birds, mammals and their forage bases to determine the consequences of spatial patterns (patches) on predator-prey dynamics in the Bering Sea. This coordinated study involving researchers from 5 institutions is seeking to determine how groups of species (walrus, fur seals, kittiwakes, and murres, pollock, and bivalves) are controlled by fishing, predators, food availability, the physical environment or a combination of all four. (see bsierp.nprb.org/focal/patch.html).
- Blue Whale Project. In May 2010, we completed a 3 year project to recovery and articulate a blue whale skeleton for the Beaty Biodiversity Museum. The 25 m blue whale was buried in Prince Edward Island in November 1987 and was still covered in skin and blubber when we uncovered her 20 years later. Removing the rancid oil from her bones and repairing the extensive damage to her broken and shattered bones was a massive undertaken that involved the efforts of over 100 people. Big Blue is on display in the entrance to the Beaty Biodiversity Museum in the center of campus (see www.beatymuseum.ubc.ca/research/whale).
- Steller sea lions.The disappearance of Steller sea lions from the Gulf of Alaska and Aleutian Islands since the mid 1970s is a major ecological mystery. Through the
North Pacific Universities Marine Mammal Research Consortium, we have tried to test all of the
major hypotheses. Predation by killer whales, competition with fisheries, and reproductive failure associated with consuming large amounts of low energy fish (e.g., pollock or Pacific cod) have not yet been refuted. We continue to test these three leading hypotheses using a combination of field studies, captive experiments and retrospective modelling and data analysis. (see www.marinemammal.org/research/research.php).
- Northern fur seals.The cause of the Steller
sea lion decline may be linked to the dramatic fall of northern fur seals on the Pribilof Islands. In addition to studying a captive colony of fur seals at the Vancouver Aquarium, we have also been conducting research on Bogoslof Island and the Pribilof Islands to assess whether fur seals are experiencing food shortages that could be caused by fishing or natural changes in the ecosystem. The studies have included fine scale foraging, dietary differences, and changes in body size (see www.marinemammal.org/research/furseal).
- Harbour seals. Harbour seals have been implicated in the decline of sockeye, chinook and coho salmon in British Columbia. Harbour seals in the Strait of Georgia have recovered from culling and are the highest density population of harbour seals found anywhere in the world. We are initiating a new research program to determine diets and foraging behavior of seals in the Strait of Georgia and the effects that predation are having on the lack of recovery of commercially important fish species. Research invovles a combination of field and mathematical modelling studies.
Graduate Student Opportunities: I generally accept one to two students per year through the Department of Zoology (www.zoology.ubc.ca/graduate-studies/how-to-apply). Current thesis topics are described in the graduate student homepages, and completed theses are listed below. Research topics have spanned the fields of animal behavior, physiology, molecular ecology, biomechanics, ecosystem modelling, habitat modelling, population dynamics, and predator-prey interactions.
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