Mason Cole

Mason hugging a deer I am currently a second-year student under Dr. McDonald. I received my B.S. from UC San Diego in 2010 with a degree in general biology and an emphasis on mammalian/human physiology and neuroscience. Before beginning to pursue marine biology as a career, I volunteered and worked for various ecological studies and conservation efforts; these included grassland habitat restoration in Chilean Patagonia, Spectacled Bear (Tremarctos ornatus) radio tracking and home-range plotting in Ecuadorian cloud forests, Puma (Puma concolor) rehabilitation in Bolivia, a Black-tailed Deer (Odocoileus hemionus colombianus) diet choice study in Washington, U.S.A., and Puma camera-trapping in the San Francisco Bay area. As an intern in the MLML Vertebrate Ecology Lab from 2014-2015, I assisted Keith Hernandez with his California sea lion (Zalophus californianus) diet study, began work (which I continue currently) with the Marine Mammal Stranding Network as Stranding Coordinator, and conducted a short study investigating the factors influencing sand dollar (Dendraster excentricus) distribution in Elkhorn Slough, CA. Since beginning as a Master’s student in Fall 2015, I have done a pilot study investigating Hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) diving patterns, spatial preferences, and behavior in Estero San Jose, B.C.S., Mexico, in collaboration with UC Santa Cruz researchers; I participate frequently (as do several VEL lab members) in Northern elephant seal (Mirounga angustirostris) research with UC Santa Cruz; and I have begun my thesis research.

For my Master’s thesis, I am investigating the underwater movement and foraging patterns of wild California sea lions. I am approaching this goal from two angles. First, I am working with captive trained sea lions at SLEWTHS (Moss Landing, CA) to validate the use of accelerometer dataloggers as a means to identify when sea lions make feeding attempts. These sea lions wear custom-built neoprene and fabric harnesses holding a datalogger, and are filmed capturing a prey item underwater in a controlled setting. I use these trials to associate certain movements and behaviors with observed patterns in the accelerometry data from the dataloggers. Second, I am analyzing movement, metabolism, and foraging data obtained from wild California sea lions at San Nicolas Island, CA. I hope this research will improve our understanding of sea lions’ underwater movements and foraging patterns, and how these patterns relate to energy expenditure during foraging trips to sea.