Science Committee

Jonathan Gordon

Jonathan has been studying marine mammals since the early 1980’s and completed his PhD and much of his research on the behaviour of sperm whales (the largest of the toothed whales and a species that lives only in deep offshore waters). In the course of this he has been involved in developing methods for studying sperm whales and other cetaceans from modest motor sailors and using acoustic techniques to find, follow and assess the abundance of cetaceans. (Some of these techniques and approaches are now being applied on the Trust’s boat Silurian.) This emphasis on acoustics has also lead to a particular interest in and concern for the potential effects of underwater noise on marine mammals. For many years Jonathan ran a motor sailor (Song of the Whale) as a research boat for the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW). Richard Fairbairns contacted IFAW for help and advice soon after he started the first whale watching operations in Mull and this was followed by two field seasons working in the Hebrides in collaboration with Richard and the fledgling HWDT.

Jonathan was invited to become a Trustee when the Trust moved to its new premises in Tobermory. Although his association with IFAW has now ended, (Jonathan works part time for the Sea Mammal Research Unit at the University of St. Andrews, and also as a consultant), his links to HWDT endure and he serves on the Scientific Committee and as Chairman of the Boat Committee.

Dr Peter Evans

Peter Evans

Peter’s passion for the Hebrides started from the age of eleven when he first went there, following this up with seabird studies in the late 1970’s. Then in 1980, Peter discovered its rich marine mammal fauna when conducting boat surveys of the Minches and Sea of the Hebrides, and has been conducting field-work on cetaceans in the region on an annual basis since 1982. Peter’s interests lie especially in cetacean monitoring and distribution studies, but also investigating ecology and behaviour, and the potential conservation threats facing cetaceans. In the Hebrides, his studies have concentrated particularly upon minke whales, Risso’s dolphins, white-beaked dolphins and the harbour porpoise.

In 1991 Peter established Sea Watch, and is Head of Research. He has worked on cetaceans for thirty years, and overseen the UK National Cetacean Monitoring Scheme. Presently on the Council of the European Cetacean Society as Editor, Peter was previously founding Secretary and Chairman. He is a Director of Fair Isle Bird Observatory Trust, a Trustee of the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust, and advisor to the government and various NGO’s on cetacean matters.

Peter’s field research concentrates upon ecological, behavioural and conservation biology studies of cetaceans in the UK, particularly harbour porpoises, bottlenose dolphins and minke whales, as well as the effects of human disturbance upon cetaceans. Peter has also worked extensively on seabirds in Britain, Ireland and the Arctic, and was former Secretary of the Seabird Group and editor of its journal Seabird. At present Peter is Research Associate of the Department of Zoology, University of Oxford.

Susannah Calderan

Susannah Calderan is a marine mammal scientist, with a particular interest in cetacean ecology. Having graduated from the University of Wales, Bangor, with an MSc in Marine Mammal Science, she worked on visual and acoustic surveys around the British Isles, including for offshore windfarm sites, before joining HWDT in 2006. She ran the field research onboard Silurian for three years, and now works as a research
consultant for HWDT.

Nienke van Geel

Nienke van Geel worked for the Trust in 2009 and 2010 as Biodiversity Officer. She is a marine mammal scientist, especially interested in species’ distributions and habitat preferences. She has a M.Sc. (Honours) in Natural Resources Management from Utrecht University (Netherlands), performing her final Masters thesis on whales and dolphins of the Azores in relation to water depth and slope gradient. Before joining HWDT, she worked on IFAW’s RV Song of the Whale on acoustic detections of beaked whales. Currently she is doing a PhD with SAMS on bottlenose dolphin movement patterns in relation to marine renewables and remains working for HWDT as a research consultant.

Russell Leaper

 Russell Leaper studied mathematics at Oxford University before joining the IFAW research vessel Song of the Whale in 1988 to study sperm whales. He initially worked on developing acoustic methods to study and count whales. His subsequent research has covered a wide range of marine mammal conservation and welfare issues with an emphasis on survey methods and population assessment. In addition to data analysis he has conducted extensive field work from a range of vessels including several surveys in the Southern Ocean. Russell has been a member of the Scientific Committee of the International Whaling Commission since 1996 and attends as a member of the UK delegation. He has authored over 45 scientific publications and presented more than 60 papers at international conferences. He also has an MSc in Marine Resource Development and Protection from Heriot-Watt University and is an honorary research fellow of Aberdeen University.

Denise Risch

Denise Risch

Denise is a marine acoustician with a particular interest in baleen whales and ice-breeding seals. She is a post-doctoral researcher at the Scottish Association for Marine Science in Oban. Denise completed per PhD on minke whale acoustics in the USA from the University of Kiel in Germany. She has a particular interest in assessing and understanding the impacts of anthropogenic noise on the marine environment.

Ben Wilson

Ben Wilson

 Ben is a professor at the Scottish Association for Marine Science at Oban. His research includes the environmental interactions between marine renewable devices (wave, tide and wind) and marine fauna. Ben completed his PhD on bottlenose dolphins in the Moray Firth and maintains a keen interest in this species in Scottish waters.

Jay Butler

Jay Butler

 Jay is a business leader and a specialist in renewable energy and environmental science. Taken on by Richard Fairbairns in 1996, she was the first CEO of HWDT. Jay is a wholly committed and passionate champion of the organisation with a deep affection for the Hebrides. With an enthusiasm for cetacean research that has taken her from the Azores to the Americas, she is a committed defender of the marine environment and a staunch conservationist.

Conor Ryan

Conor is a marine mammal biologist and worked for HWDT from 2014 to 2016 as the Sightings and Strandings Officer and then the Science and Policy Officer. He is an independent contractor and a Research Associate on R/V Song of the Whale. These days he regularly works for Lindblad Expeditions / National Geographic as a naturalist in the North Atlantic and Southern Ocean. Conor graduated from University College Cork in 2009 with a degree in zoology, before completing a PhD on the feeding ecology of baleen whales in Irish waters at Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology. Following his PhD, Conor is still involved in humpback whale research in Cape Verde Islands. He used to work for the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group as their Science Officer.