New Science Officer!

Categories // Whale & Dolphin General News

New Science Officer!
James Robbins, ORCA's Science Officer

This week, we welcomed James Robbins to the ORCA team here in Portsmouth.  Read about James' role below and his past experiences, which make him the perfect candiate for the Science Officer post.

"I'm excited to join the ORCA team, and am looking forward to the next couple of years working with our extensive dataset. My job is to carry on from Katrina, the out-going Data Officer. She has done a great job at organizing the data, and there is now plenty of scope for analysis.

Previously, I have worked and volunteered in a variety of roles which have focussed on data analysis, and fieldwork research. I have worked around the UK & Ireland, mostly researching coastal dolphin populations. I have graduated with a master's degree in marine biology from University College Cork in Ireland, with a thesis investigating the accuracy of passive acoustic monitoring techniques.

More recently, I have been researching seals, which involved extensive fieldwork. I volunteered on the Farallones (a small island 30 miles off the Californian coast), where we spent time documenting the breeding season of Northern elephant seals. One of the highlights of this experience was the opportunity to conduct land-based cetacean surveys from an old lighthouse atop the island, where we recorded grey whales as they migrated past in huge numbers. The most I saw was just over 50 in an hour!

In April 2017, I returned from working with the British Antarctic Survey on Bird Island, South Georgia for 18 months. During this time, I led field research on seals, with an austral summer season working with Antarctic fur seals. These can be highly territorial animals during the breeding season, which meant no day was the same, and certainly none were boring! The work was varied, including observations of return rates, pup mortality, body condition, diet, and tagging studies which allowed us to investigate foraging trip durations of lactating females. Unfortunately we saw quite a few seals entangled in fishing line or packing bands, and where possible we disentangled these animals. In the winter I spent my time taking photographs of leopard seals as they are individually identifiable by pelage patterns (fur markings), which allowed us to investigate return rates. Due to the small size of our research base (only 4 people over winter), everyone was required to assist in other work areas, whether this was changing our water filters for the base water supply, weighing penguins, or reading wandering albatross leg rings. It was an incredible experience, which I feel very lucky to have gone through. The work I'm undertaking for ORCA is very different, but I spent the last few months performing analysis that will be included in this years' The State of European Cetaceans report (coming soon!), and I look forward to carrying out similar work as part of this role.

And as we welcome James to the team, it's time to say a very fond farewell to Katrina!  Katrina, who has been ORCA's Data Officer for nearly 2 years is off to Australia.  She's certainly made an impact here at ORCA, by completely transforming our citizen science dataset and producing not one, but two of our 'The State of European Cetaceans' Reports.  We are sure that we will see Katrina out at sea again with ORCA soon!  Thank you Katrina, you will be missed!

- Farewell, Katrina!