Cetacean Health and Life History Program Staff

Cetacean Health and Life History Program home page

Cassidy O'Bryant
Photographic Data Management
Phone: (858) 334-2861
E-mail: cassidy.obryant@noaa.gov

Facilitating projects within the CHLHP to assess the health of cetaceans, including databasing, photogrammetry measurements of individual size and group behaviors.

TopMore Information

Dave Weller
Phone: (858) 546-5674
Fax: (858) 546-7003
E-mail: Dave.Weller@noaa.gov

I have nearly 25 years of experience studying the biology and ecology of marine mammals. My specialization is focused in the areas of behavioral ecology, population assessment and evaluation of potential disturbance impacts from human activities. I presently direct two well-established research programs that include: 1) an ongoing study of the behavior, ecology and population dynamics of a critically endangered population of western Pacific gray whales off Far East Russia; and 2) an ongoing study of the behavioral ecology and population dynamics of coastal bottlenose dolphins off California. Recently, I have been working closely with the International Whaling Commission, World Conservation Union (IUCN), U.S. Marine Mammal Commission and a variety of national and international academic institutions on issues related to the conservation and management of endangered whale and dolphin populations.

TopMore Information

Elyse Wurster
Phone: (858) 334-2874
Fax: (858) 546-7003
E-mail: Elyse.Wurster@noaa.gov

In the summer of 1996, I worked as an oceanography assistant on a NOAA research cruise studying the habitat and prey of blue whales around the Channel Islands in southern CA. The following year, I began working at SWFSC in the sea turtle genetics division. Using mitochondrial DNA as well as microsatellites we studied the life history and migration patterns of multiple species of sea turtles. In addition to lab work, I participated in field efforts including sea turtle capture and sampling in San Diego Bay and the Eastern Tropical Pacific, and counts of migrating gray whales.

Currently, my research focuses mainly on analyzing endocrine hormones from marine mammal blubber as a tool to assess health, stress, and reproductive status of populations or individuals. I am also interested in diseases and causes of mortality in cetaceans and sea turtles. I assist with stranding response, postmortem investigations, and provide veterinary support to both the marine mammal and sea turtle stranding groups. In addition to my work with wild marine animals, I have worked as a small animal veterinarian since 2006.

TopMore Information

Hollis Europe
Phone: (858) 546-7077
Fax: (858) 546-7003
E-mail: hollis.europe@noaa.gov

LTJG Hollis Europe received her commission as a NOAA Corps Officer January 2013. She served as Junior Officer aboard NOAA Ship Pisces until November 2015 and is now the Cetacean Photo Specialist working for the Marine Mammal and Turtle Division at SWFSC. She is a certified NOAA diver, a member of the stranding team, and a drone pilot for the Cetacean Health and Life History Program. She is responsible for budget, purchasing, planning, and general admin assistance as well as some data collection and processing for annual gray whale surveys.

TopMore Information

Jim Gilpatrick
Phone: (858) 546-7195
Fax: (858) 546-7003
E-mail: Jim.Gilpatrick@noaa.gov

I began my work with NOAA in the early nineteen-eighties as a Fisheries Biologist aboard tropical tuna purse-seiners. This enabled me to witness a dynamic fishery and to observe the rich biodiversity of marine fauna found in pelagic waters of the eastern tropical Pacific (ETP). These experiences fueled my interest to support and conduct research on the morphology and life history of ETP dolphins. The studies later provided a better understanding of geographic range and structure of dolphin populations involved in the ETP yellowfin tuna fishery

Present research involves the use of fishery and aerial photogrammetric data to investigate biological parameters for blue whale populations. Morphometric analyses support delineation of exploited populations based on clear differences in the lengths of blue whales sampled in different regions of the Pacific and Southern Oceans. Morphological data will further be used to evaluate the biological condition of blue whales during certain years and seasons.

Current field efforts also include aerial photography of ETP dolphins to help resolve questions on school and geographic structure. Additionally, I support our Division in aerial photogrammetric surveys of other rorquals and pinniped and sea bird populations around the Pacific. Free time spent surfing, reading the history of Latin America and watching my two boys play tackle football.

TopMore Information

John Durban
Ph.D. Marine Population Ecologist
Phone: (858) 334-2866
Fax: (858) 546-7003
E-mail: John.Durban@noaa.gov

John is the leader of the Cetacean Health and Life History Program, which integrates a suite of research approaches to study the health of whales and dolphins at the physiological, individual and population levels, and uses long-term datasets to assess health in the context of life-histories. John’s own research focusses on photogrammetric studies of individual size, growth and body condition using unmanned aerial systems, and on assessments of abundance and demographics using photographic mark-recapture methods. Current research projects include assessing the nutritional health of endangered Southern Resident killer whales, evaluating the response of cetaceans to Navy sonar exposure and the population assessment of eastern North Pacific gray whales.

TopMore Information

Keiko Sherman
Lab Support
Phone: (858) 334-2849
E-mail: kathryn.sherman@noaa.gov

Keiko began volunteering for SWFSC in 2012 and has since become a full-time contractor. Her current work focuses on photogrammetry analysis of aerial photographs from UAS missions, specifically to assess dolphin spacing as part of a study to understand the behavioral response of dolphins groups to sonar exposure off Southern California. Additionally, she is an active participant in the stranding response of dead marine mammals in San Diego County, to assess causes of mortality and build on a long time series of cetacean life history data.

TopMore Information

Kerri Danil
Research Fisheries Biologist
Phone: (858) 546-7001, stranding hotline (858) 546-7162
Fax: (858) 546-7003
E-mail: Kerri.Danil@noaa.gov

I began working at SWFSC in 1998 as an at-sea oceanographer for dolphin surveys in the eastern tropical Pacific. In 1999, I began working in the Cetacean Health and Life History Program, where I now lead the dead marine mammal stranding program in San Diego County. In addition, I coordinate marine mammal biological sampling for our California gillnet fishery observer program. My research includes cetacean life history (age, growth, & reproduction), causes of mortality of stranded cetaceans, and the prevalence and impacts of biotoxins on cetaceans.

TopMore Information

Marisa Trego
Phone: (858) 546-7066
Fax: (858) 546-7003
E-mail: Marisa.Trego@noaa.gov

Since 2003 I have worked at NOAA assisting in the development and implementation of a technique to extract molecular biomarkers from marine mammal blubber in order to gather valuable life history and health information. Our primary focus was primarily pregnancy diagnosis in free-ranging cetaceans but we have begun investigating new areas of research, such as chronic stress and other indicators of health in marine mammals. My role in the marine mammal molecular life history group is to conduct and manage lab work on marine mammal endocrinology. In addition to life history research, I have expanded my laboratory repertoire to include several different genetic techniques. I take part in fieldwork when possible where I have learned to biopsy marine mammals, perform marine mammal necropsies, and assist with counts of migrating gray whales. My graduate research will focus on the use of novel endocrine biomarkers in marine mammal ecotoxicology research to investigate the effects of contaminants on marine mammals in the Southern California Bight.

TopMore Information

Molly Groskreutz
Research Assistant
Phone: (858) 334-2860
Fax: (858) 546-7003
E-mail: molly.groskreutz@noaa.gov

Using photogrammetric methods to help track individuals and monitor the growth and condition of cetaceans, with particular focus on killer whales in the Antarctic and Northeast Pacific.

I’m interested in many aspects of the field of marine biology, but have had a special interest in cetacean ecology since I had the opportunity to study killer whales in the Northeast Pacific during a summer course while in high school.

TopMore Information

Morgan Lynn
Phone: (858) 546-7194
Fax: (858) 546-7003
E-mail: Morgan.Lynn@noaa.gov

I’ve been with Wayne Perryman since he started the Cetacean Health and Life History group in 1986. My degree in Marine Biology and hobbies of photography and building things made it a perfect fit. I consider myself the “Jack of all Trades” in the group and participate in just about every project. Mostly I’m involved in the collection of the images (love field work!) and the counting and measurement of the animals. Although our camera systems are perfect for what we do, they have required a bit of modification from their original state. Although the old film reconnaissance cameras have given us years of service, I am currently involved in adapting new digital technologies to our Photogrammetric missions.

TopMore Information

Morgane Lauf
Laboratory Technician
Phone: (858) 334-2829
Fax: (858) 546-7003
E-mail: Morgane.Lauf@noaa.gov

TopMore Information

Nick Kellar
Fisheries Biologist
Phone: (858) 546-7090
Fax: (858) 546-7003
E-mail: Nick.Kellar@noaa.gov

My research encompasses a range of biological disciplines from reproductive physiology and biochemistry to population biology; however the focus is fairly specific. I measure biomarkers, mostly hormones, from small skin samples of free-ranging cetaceans, to help assess population health, demography, and reproduction.

So why do this? Well first you need to step into the shoes of a field biologist for a moment. Imagine you are on the bow of a research ship, and just a few dozen feet before you are a thousand spotted dolphins, zigging and zagging, leaping and diving. At any given moment, only a fraction of the school is visible from the surface. Each animal comes up just long enough to breathe, then disappears again. Now imagine trying to estimate how many dolphins are in that school let alone, how many are young or old, male or female, pregnant or not pregnant. It seems next to impossible, doesn’t it?

To help us, we employ a darting technique that takes a small piece of skin and blubber called a biopsy. This technique lets us obtain up to fifty biopsies in a single day. Back in the lab, we analyze the levels of steroid hormones in the blubber using laboratory procedures developed here at SWFSC. From this analysis, we can determine if an animal is pregnant, sexually mature, or even if it is likely experiencing chronic stress response. We use these findings to assess the relative health of dolphin and whale populations relative to potential anthropogenic disturbances such a pollution, fishing pressure, and acoustic perturbations from sonar use, shipping traffic, and oil exploration.

TopMore Information

Susan Chivers
Research Fisheries Biologist
Phone: (858) 546-7093
Fax: (858) 546-7003
E-mail: Susan.Chivers@noaa.gov

My research focuses on characterizing cetacean life history strategies, particularly those of small delphinid populations. I currently work on projects to estimate growth and reproductive parameters that can be used to distinguish discrete populations. I also work on projects to better understand the health and condition of their populations. These projects include quantifying contaminant loads in individual animals that may influence their health and reproductive potential. This work contributes to the assessment and monitoring of cetacean populations, particularly those that are impacted by fisheries or other types of human-caused disturbances.

TopMore Information

Wayne Perryman
Phone: (858) 546-7014
Fax: (858) 546-7003
E-mail: Wayne.Perryman@noaa.gov

The focus of my research over the past decade or so has been to develop aerial photographic techniques that will allow us to accurately count the numbers of marine mammals in large aggregations, and to determine the size and shape of individual animals. The count data that we collect form an integral part of the abundance estimates for populations of dolphins in the eastern tropical Pacific and for seals and sea lions from the California Bight to the Aleutians. We have also demonstrated that measurements of sizes and shapes of whales (gray whales and right whales) can be used to track changes in fatness or condition of individuals in these populations. Most recently I have worked to developed small unmanned aerial systems (UAS) that can be used to collect aerial images of populations in regions where manned platforms are unavailable, too expensive or impractical for other reasons. We are finding that in some cases these small UAS are more effective, cheaper and cause less disturbance than the manned platform alternatives.

I also lead the shore-based survey of northbound gray whale cows with calves from the Piedras Blancas Light Station. This long time series is providing clues into how short (weather) and long (climate) environmental changes impact health and condition of this population.

TopMore Information