A Travelling Fellowship revealing the age-old movements of killer whales

3 March 2023

Travelling Fellowship recipient working analysing Whale tooth dentine at her work bench

The teeth of killer whales grow in layers, layers that can be analysed to reveal the diet of an individual animal, over the course of a specific time frame. Material from inside the teeth cavity, known as dentine, can be extracted and stable isotope analysis used to investigate ecological behaviours such as large-scale movements. Maeva Terrapon, a student from the University of St Andrews used a Travelling Fellowship from Journal of Experimental Biology, to investigate the ecology of killer whales alongside fellow researchers at the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), Winnipeg, Canada.

Maeva arrived at the DFO during November 2022 and met Dr Cory Matthews alongside Shu Ting Zhao. The two marine mammal experts taught the travelling PhD student the techniques used to extract dentine for isotopic profiling. Isotopic profiles (such as δ18O, δ15N and δ13C) can only be quantified once precise teeth sectioning and drilling methods are conducted; Maeva learnt a great deal about these methods as the DFO research team demonstrated the use of micro drilling techniques. Key skills such as teeth sanding, treating, and ageing were applied by Maeva and her fellow researchers during the experience.

“They also took me on a great tour of frozen Winnipeg, and I got to experience the real, cold, Canadian winter. I cannot thank The Company of Biologists enough for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” Maeva Terrapon – Travelling Fellowship recipient.

This Travelling Fellowship enabled Maeva to work directly alongside a research group, whose expertise is not matched in the UK. The team made sure there was plenty of opportunities to meet with other researchers and students at the DFO, all of which meant Maeva was sure to live an unforgettable experience, one which will benefit her PhD project and research career in the future.

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