After graduating with a degree in Natural Science (University of Cambridge, UK), Tom has spent the last two years working for various marine research and conservation groups, with a focus on whales. As part of this, he spent a summer working for the University of Iceland in Húsavík, contributing to photo-identification and behavioural research. During this time, he formed the idea of promoting a more sustainable whale watching industry in Iceland and beyond. This idea has now transformed into Whale Wise, a collaborative project with the broader aim of reducing human disturbance to whales. Whale Wise will form part of Tom’s PhD with the University of Edinburgh.
Tom is currently focusing on the whale watching industry in north Iceland. Specifically, he aims to answer the following questions:
- How do whale watching encounters impact individual whales?
- How might these individual effect scale up to population-level impacts?
- How can we develop a sustainable whale watching industry in the future?
- How will climate change impact the whales on which this industry relies?
In order to answer these questions, Tom is currently involved in a number of research areas, including:
Behavioural observation: By comparing the activity patterns of individual whales in the presence and absence of whale watching vessels, we can then attempt to model the impact of encounters on energy acquisition and expenditure.
Blow sampling: Perhaps the most exciting part of Whale Wise involves using drones to collect samples of a whale’s exhaled breath, the blow. Amongst other biological compounds, these blow samples contain the stress hormone cortisol. Therefore, we are attempting to use these blow samples to estimate the physiological stress induced by whale watching encounters.
Aerial imagery: We are also using drones to capture aerial images of whales in Iceland. These images can be used to estimate the body condition of individual whales.
Habitat modelling: Finally, we are modelling the habitat distribution of blue and humpback whales around Iceland. If all goes well, we will use these models to predict the impact of climate change on the future distribution of these species. This knowledge could be vital for future whale conservation.
Whale Wise is by no means a solo effort, but relies on a whole team of researchers during the field season, in addition to collaboration with the University of Iceland and Edinburgh’s Clinical Research Facility.
To find out more about their research, visit www.WhaleWise.org
For any questions about Tom’s research, please email firstname.lastname@example.org