Under the guidance of Dr. Birgitte (Gitte) I. McDonald, graduate students in the MLML Vertebrate Ecology Lab study marine and estuarine birds, marine mammals, and sea turtles. MLML’s 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 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.
Moss Landing students have many opportunities to conduct and participate in field studies. Many classes require students to conduct field projects, and fellow students can often use help in gathering data for their own class and thesis field studies. Help might take the form of monitoring the activities of nesting Caspian Terns or radio-tagged harbor seals, driving a Boston whaler for a student studying distribution and behavior of sea otters or Great Egrets, assisting in line transect boat surveys for harbor porpoise, or helping band Rhinoceros Auklets or tag harbor seals and whales. By lending such assistance, students and interns are introduced to a variety of field study techniques, and learn first-hand the inner-workings of ecosystems and the behaviors of the species existing in those ecosystems.
The Vertebrate Ecology Lab is also a member of the nation-wide Marine Mammal and Sea Turtle Stranding Network, sharing responsibility for strandings on the Monterey County coastline with The Marine Mammal Center and the Monterey County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA). Members of the lab participate in the stranding program by collecting data on beached dead animals, by assisting in necropsies of those animals, and by responding to live animal strandings.