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About Our Lab

Under the guidance of Dr. Birgitte (Gitte) I. McDonald, graduate students in the Vertebrate Ecology Lab study the physiology, behavior and ecology of marine mammals, birds and turtles. Moss Landing Marine Labs' proximity to the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary and the Elkhorn Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve provides a wealth of pelagic, near-shore, and estuarine species and habitats for local study.  Current and former Vertebrate Ecology Lab students have conducted their graduate research both locally and throughout the world, including Cape Crozier Antarctica, the Pribilof Islands of Alaska, the San Juan Islands of Washington, the Channel Islands of southern California, the Hawaiian Islands, Mexico, Australia, Costa Rica, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The Vertebrate Ecology Lab is also a member of the nationwide Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Stranding Network, sharing responsibility for strandings in Monterey County with The Marine Mammal Center. If you find a dead pinniped, cetacean, or sea turtle in Monterey county please call the MLML Stranding Hotline at 831-771-4422.

Lab News and Updates

  • Eyes in the (Washington and Oregon) Skies

    Many beach goers love to watch coastal animals resting, playing, and swimming along the shoreline, including my typical study species, the southern sea otter. However, some species are much harder to find and require extensive efforts to see them, even for the experts! During the months of August and September I worked with a small […]
  • Elephant Seal Field Season Wrap Up!

    Greetings from the Vertebrate Ecology Lab You may not know this, but much of research here in the Vert Lab is on the ever charismatic Northern Elephant Seal! Each year, we get to work with colleagues from institutions such as UC Santa Cruz, UC Davis, Sonoma State, and many more, to investigate the lives of […]
  • Vertebrate Ecology Lab members celebrate the start of summer!

    VEL members (vaxxed and tested for COVID-19) gathered for an end-of-semester barbeque at Dr. McDonald's house over Memorial Day Weekend. We are looking forward to a summer of field work and outdoor recreation! Wishing everyone a safe and rejuvenating summer. Top row (left to right): Sierra Fullmer, Daphne Shen, Amber Diluzio, Shawn Hannah Bottom row: […]
  • VEL students Shawn Hannah & Lauren Cooley present their thesis’ projects at EB2022!

    Lauren Cooley (right) and Shawn Hannah (left) presented their thesis research at the Evolutionary Biology 2022 Conference last month! You can read their published abstracts here: Hannah et al: Examining the Plasticity of the Dive Response in Relation to Dive Behavior of Northern Elephant Seals. (2022). Cooley et al: Research Handling Effects on Stress Hormones, […]
  • Congrats to VEL Members for being awarded MLML Student Scholarships, COAST grants, and more!

    Congratulations to the following VEL Lab Members to being awarded scholarships/grants this Spring! Loury Family Marine Science Outreach Scholarship - Kali Prescott MLML Student Body Scholar Award - Daphne Shen MLML Student Body Wave Award - Sierra Fullmer, Taylor Azizeh COAST Graduate Student Research Award- Emma Nicholson, Taylor Azizeh Dr. Earl H. Myers and Ethel M. Myers Oceanographic […]

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