The current staff of the project consists of a small, dedicated team of researchers, graduate students, and undergraduate and post-graduate volunteers. Together, we conduct ongoing laboratory and field research, care for and train the resident animals, maintain the lab and its facilities, and share our adventures in marine mammal research. We live by the mantra "all for one and one for all!."
Colleen Dr. Colleen Reichmuth
Principal Investigator, Associate Research Scientist
Institute of Marine Sciences, UCSC
coll at

Trained primarily as an animal behaviorist, Dr. Colleen Reichmuth has spent the past 20+ years conducting research in the areas of comparative cognition, bioacoustics, and behavioral ecology. Dr. Reichmuth currently heads the Cognition and Sensory Systems Laboratory, based at UC Santa Cruz's Long Marine Lab, where resident seals, sea lions, and sea otters are trained for participation in studies examining how these amphibious marine mammals acquire and process information. She has extensive experience with laboratory and field methods addressing how animals produce, perceive, and are affected by sound, and expertise in operant studies of discrimination learning and emergent behavior. Dr. Reichmuth currently directs the research program and is responsible for managing all research, personnel, animal care, funding, and administrative activities. She mentors graduate and undergraduate students conducting research in the areas of animal learning and sensory biology. She has a B.Sc. in Biology, a M.Sc. in Marine Science, and a Ph.D. in Ocean Sciences, all from the University of California Santa Cruz. Dr. Reichmuth worked closely with the project's founder, Dr. Ronald Schusterman, for many years before taking over the leadership of the project. She strives to sustain the positive, cooperative, and team-based program that has supported so much great science and fostered so many good scientists over the past four decades.

In Memoriam
Dr. Ronald Schusterman

Affiliated Researchers
Brandon Southall
Asila Asila Ghoul
Laboratory Research Coordinator
asila at

Asila organizes all of the ongoing research protocols, daily experimental sessions, and research training for personnel and animals in the lab. In this role, she serves as the lead technical support and plays a key role conducting experiments and managing incoming data. Asila is a UCSC graduate (she has a B.Sc. in Marine Biology and her Master's in Ocean Sciences) who has been working with the project since May of 2004. Her own primary research efforts are focused on the sensory systems of sea otters, and how these amphibious animals are adapted for an aquatic lifestyle. She is especially interested in how sea otters receive and perceive sound, and is currently using active and passive behavioral approaches to measure the hearing capabilities of these animals. Asila is also interested in the sensory biology of pinnipeds, and she is currently collaborating on a project to investigate how seals and sea lions process temporal aspects of sound. Prior to joining the project's research team, Asila worked as a research technician and manager of the Zooplankton Ecology Lab at UC Santa Cruz, and volunteered with The Marine Mammal Center to rescue and rehabilitate stranded pinnipeds.

Jenna Lofstrom
Laboratory Manager, Science Education Coordinator
jlofstro at

Jenna is the primary animal technician in the lab, and she serves as the lead trainer for all animal husbandry and research activities. Jenna is an experienced technician that has acquired a range of specialized skills pertaining to psychophysical and cognitive research with marine mammals. Jenna manages a busy schedule and structures the daily routines of our five seals, two sea lions, one sea otter, and 15 volunteer research assistants and interns. This includes providing husbandry training, environmental enrichment, health assessments, and research training for the resident animals, and mentoring our hard working support team in the areas of animal training and care, program operations, and research skill development. In addition to all she does for the program, Jenna also serves as the education coordinator for the lab. She leads the Ocean Explorers summer program for children 7-14 to provide super fun learning opportunities for young scientists, and works closely with the education program at the Seymour Marine Discovery Center at a Long Marine Lab to develop new interpretive materials for the visiting public and school programs. Jenna received her Bachelor's of Science in Marine Biology in June of 2010 from UC Santa Cruz.. Jenna grew up in Redondo Beach, CA. In her free time, which she has almost none of, Jenna enjoys cooking and playing volleyball, and reading tons, especially about animal behavior and natural history.




Peter Cook
Center for Neuropolicy, Emory University
pcook at

Peter Cook earned his undergraduate degree in Philosophy of Mind at Pomona College and subsequently studied for a post-baccalaureate in Psychology at Columbia University in New York, where he worked for two labs, one specializing in primates, the other in marine mammals. In 2007 Peter was accepted as a doctoral student in Cognitive Psychology at UCSC. Peter is co-advised by Dr. Reichmuth and UCSC Psychology Professor Meg Wilson, who specializes in working memory. While Peter conducts some human behavioral research through the Psychology Department, he does most of his own cognitive research here at the marine laboratory using California sea lions as his primary research subjects. Peter is the recipient of a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship, which supports his research on the cognitive and behavioral affects of naturally occurring domoic acid exposure in stranded California sea lions. Domoic acid is a toxic byproduct of algal diatoms common to the Monterey Bay Area, and the cause of amnesiac shellfish poisoning in humans. The toxin causes localized hippocampal damage in exposed sea lions. This ongoing work is conducted in partnership with The Marine Mammal Center and has important implications for conservation, brain science, and human health. Peter has recently started a new position at Emory University, although he continues to collaborate with the lab on a few projects.


Jillian Sills
Graduate Student Researcher (doctoral degree candidate), Department of Ocean Sciences, UC Santa Cruz
jmsills at

Jillian received her bachelor's degree from Cornell University in 2009 (B.Sc. in Biology and Natural Resources), and joined the lab as a UCSC Ocean Sciences graduate student in summer 2010. Prior to starting her graduate research program, Jillian worked and interned at a variety of research labs working on interesting projects. She studied fisheries biology at NOAA's J.J. Howard Lab, dolphin behavioral ecology with the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program, and baleen whale acoustics at NOAA's Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. Jillian is primarily interested in understanding how marine mammals perceive their environments and how this influences their behavioral ecology. Her doctorate work in the lab focuses on the bioacoustics of arctic pinniped species and she currently is leading ongoing audiometric research with spotted and ringed seals. She also supports a range of other psychoacoustic research projects. Jillian has become an accomplished trainer during her time in the lab, and has core responsibilities for the welfare, training, and care of our four ice seals.


Kane Cunningham
Graduate Student Researcher (doctoral degree candidate), Department of Ocean Sciences, UC Santa Cruz
kaacunni at

Kane has an eclectic background in mathematics, fine arts, engineering, biomechanics, and oceanography, which he brings to his research on the auditory capabilities of marine mammals. Just prior to joining the lab in 2011, Kane earned a M.Sc. in electrical engineering from Boston University. While at BU, he focused on marine mammal bioacoustics research from a signal processing perspective, and completed a thesis project that simulated the effects of shipping noise on North Atlantic Right Whale vocalizations. Upon entering the Ocean Sciences program at UCSC, Kane earned a prestigious Regent's Fellowship, a University-wide honor among incoming graduate students. As a PhD student in the department of Ocean Sciences, Kane plans to conduct dissertation research centered around pinniped hearing and the effects of anthropogenic noise on marine mammals. He is currently leading a project on the ability of seals and sea lions to detect high-frequency active acoustic tags used in fisheries research. This work is being conducted in cooperation with NOAA fisheries research groups and has important implications for the conservation of endangered salmonid fish.


Caroline Casey
Graduate Student Researcher (doctoral student), Field Research Coordinator
cbcasey at

Caroline was our former laboratory manager, but she recently stepped into a new role with the program as a graduate student researcher. After several years of supporting the research program and especially our field research with northern elephant seals, Caroline decided to return to school to follow her passion for animal communication. Caroline is presently a Doctoral student in UCSC's Ecology and Evolutionary Biology program, where she is co-advised by Dr. Reichmuth and Dr. Dan Costa, one of the world's experts on the behavior, ecology, and physiology of pinnipeds. Caroline is conducting research on the acoustic, visual, and seismic signals used by male northern elephant seals during intense competitive interactions during the breeding season. For more information about this research, please click here. She has been involved with this research for several years, serving as our primary field technician and coordinating our long-term study of vocal and social behavior at Año Nuevo State Reserve. Caroline is interested in expanding and refining classic studies of communication in elephant seals, including those conducted 40 years ago by UCSC's own Burney Le Boeuf and colleagues. Caroline's love of elephant seals was inspired in part by her work with Burnyce, a trained northern elephant seal that was part of our captive research program for 17 years. Caroline has Bachelor's degree in Environmental Studies from UCSC, and extensive prior experience in conservation, restoration, and education. In addition to her current role as a graduate student, Caroline continues to support the laboratory research program by teaching and training animals and staff, and supporting various ongoing research programs. Caroline is currently the primary trainer for our current research with the University of Virginia on hydrodynamic trial following by harbor seals and California sea lions.

Sarah McKay

Sarah McKay Strobel
Graduate Student Researcher (doctoral student), Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, UC Santa Cruz
smstrobel at

Sarah McKay was born and raised in Nashville, Tennessee, and she joined the lab as an intern in January 2012. After graduating from Princeton University in 2011 (B.A., Ecology and Evolutionary Biology), she completed multiple internships, including analysis of acoustic data with NOAA's Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole, MA, and field studies of dolphin behavioral ecology with the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program in Sarasota, FL. After spending the summer teaching high school students for Duke TIP, she returned to the lab as a research technician. She has since transitioned to a new position as a graduate student researcher. Sarah McKay's research will investigate how sea otters detect, locate, and acquire benthic prey. She works in close collaboration with the Tinker/Estes Lab at UCSC, where she is coadvised by Dr. Tim Tinker. Sarah McKay is the recipient of a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship, which supports her research on sea otter underwater foraging behavior in controlled and natural settings.


Sonny Knaub
Research Technician, Cognition Coordinator

Sonny was born and raised in southern California and moved to Santa Cruz to attend UCSC. She joined our lab in September of 2009 and graduated with a B.Sc. in Marine Biology in 2010 and is now one of the primary trainers in the laboratory. Sonny is currently responsible for leading a simple discrimination/learning set task with our youngest female California sea lion, Ronan, as well as managing the cognitive experimental databases for the lab. Sonny is also centrally involved in recording our resident animals to track reproductive cycles, for a project related to the intrinsic annual temporal patterning of vocal behavior. Sonny is passionately interested in animal behavior, especially problem solving and decision-making in animals, and she is excited to be involved in her work at the lab. In addition to all of her research responsibilities, Sonny serves as a mentor to the entire volunteer staff. Outside of the lab, Sonny serves as resident caretaker for the entire marine laboratory and works part-time in the biotechnology field.

Andrew Andrew Rouse
Cognitive Neuroscience Research Technician

Andrew joined the lab in August 2009 and began working closely with Peter Cook assessing the cognitive effects of domoic acid on wild California sea lions. He graduated from UCSC in 2011 with a B.Sc. in Biology, and after contributing to a variety of projects, he became one of the lead researchers in a study on rhythm entrainment with Ronan.  Andrew has fantastic technical skills, and in addition to his role supporting cognitive research, he enriches the program with his expertise in hardware configuration and statistical analysis. He is also proficient in database management, having implemented a centralized data storage system and designing the digital animal care records for the lab, and is now working closely with The Marine Mammal Center to program a patient database for their facilities in Sausalito and Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.



Ross Nichols
Research Assistant

Born and raised in Aromas, California, Ross has been enthralled with the study of pinnipeds since before he can remember. He received his B.S. in Marine Biology at UCSC in 2012. Ross joined the lab in July of 2012 to pursue his goals and to gain experience in pinniped research. He is especially interested in pinniped vocalization and the ecological factors that institute their use. He was drawn to the lab to better understand pinniped acoustics and marine mammal husbandry. He hopes to continue his hands-on work with the research staff and the animals to improve his understanding of marine mammal acoustics and communication.




Brooke Farrand
Research Assistant

Brooke Farrand joined the Pinniped Lab in June 2013. Although she grew up in the Sierra Nevada mountains, she fell in love with the ocean after attending school in San Luis Obispo. She volunteered with the The Marine Mammal Center in Morro Bay and this led to her passion for pinnipeds. After transferring to UCSC, she earned a B.S. in Marine Biology and joined the lab in hopes of gaining knowledge and experience working with marine mammals and the cooperative research they participate in. Brooke is excited to continue her education and is looking forward to further opportunities training marine mammals.




Briana Giorgione
Research Assistant

Growing up in a Navy family, Briana had the fortunate opportunity to live in many coastal areas. Living so close to the ocean in places such as Hawaii and San Diego sparked Briana's passionate interest in marine mammals. Since a very young age Briana knew that her goal was to work as a marine mammal trainer. After graduating from UC Berkeley with a B.A. in Integrative Biology in May 2014, Briana joined the Pinniped Lab as the Summer 2014 intern.  She was drawn to the lab because of their balance of superb marine mammal care and groundbreaking research. After her internship period she stayed on as a research assistant. Through her close work with our sea lion Ronan, Briana hopes to gain strong training skills and an even stronger understanding of the remarkable marine mammals that she feels so fortunate to work with. 



Katie Rodriguez
Research Assistant

Katie was born and raised near the water in Orange County. While attending schools near the water, she was always curious about the marine environment which surrounded her. Participation in Junior Lifeguards and growing up surfing led her to UC Santa Cruz, where she graduated with a BS in Marine Biology. Her coursework at UCSC inspired her involvement in marine mammal research, especially in the interaction between marine mammals and our rapidly changing environment. She looks forward to continuing her education and involvement as an acoustics assistant and seeing where her love of the sea and marine mammals takes her.



Michelle Hartwick
Research Assistant

Michelle grew up in Sacramento, CA and gained an interest in the ocean on her many family trips to the Monterey Bay. She joined the lab in March 2014 to learn about marine mammal research and gain hands-on experience in animal husbandry and training. She is graduating from UCSC in June 2016 with a B.S. in Marine Biology and hopes to one day attend grad school. Michelle is fascinated by all aspects of marine mammal research, especially the effect of human activity and climate change on pinnipeds and other marine mammals. She is looking forward to all the opportunities to come in the field of marine biology.



Micaela Garcia
Research Assistant

Micaela was raised in Southern California, but decided to move up north to attend UCSC. She was drawn to all of the diverse species of marine mammals that inhabit the Monterey Bay. She graduated from UCSC with a B.S. in Marine Biology and Neuroscience in June 2015. She volunteered as a docent for the Seymour Center, which is where she discovered the Pinniped Lab and immediately was drawn to the resident animals. Aside from the lab, she is currently working at Santa Cruz Biotechnology, in hopes of future studies as a clinical lab scientist. Micaela has been at the lab for over a year, and hopes to continue learning about both animal training and animal care.



Brandi Ruscher-Hill
Research Assistant

Brandi was born and raised in Ventura, CA. Growing up, she spent much of her free time at the beach and took many family trips to the mountains, which fostered her admiration for wildlife. After discovering all the research opportunities UCSC had to offer, Brandi moved to Santa Cruz in 2012 and is currently finishing her B.S. in Marine Biology. She became interested in the Pinniped Lab after becoming a docent at the Seymour Marine Discovery Center and started as a volunteer at the lab in May of 2014. Brandi is fascinated with many aspects of marine mammal ecology and behavior, making the lab the perfect environment to further inspire her interests. 



Deanna Falge
Research Assistant

Deanna Falge's passion for marine mammal research and conservation stems from her great appreciation for the ocean and animals. As a Santa Cruz native, Deanna spends the majority of her free time surfing and pondering the minds of marine mammals. Deanna was initially drawn to the Pinniped Lab for their fascinating research on pinniped cognition and behavior. Soon after receiving her B.S. in Biological Psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara, Deanna joined the Pinniped Lab team in August 2014 as the Fall intern. After completing her internship, Deanna transitioned into a research technician position. She is currently the lab's Enrichment Coordinator, and is working closely with our southern sea otter, Selka. Since working at the Pinniped Lab, Deanna's knowledge and interests in marine mammal biology have drastically expanded, and she hopes to apply her experience from the Pinniped Lab when she conducts her own research in graduate school one day.



Holly Sorensen
Research Assistant

As a transfer student to UCSC's Ecology and Evolutionary Biology program, Holly joined the lab in 2014 with an enthusiasm to get involved in bioacoustics research. Holly is passionate about marine mammal conservation and learning about anthropogenic effects on marine ecosystems. Before she transferred, Holly gained invaluable experience working with animals in medical, research, and training settings as an intern through the Navy Marine Mammal Foundation and as a veterinary technician. Holly plans to graduate spring 2016 and intends to further her education as a graduate student, hopefully working on a project that can benefit animals and humans alike.



Emma Levy
Research Assistant

Emma was raised in Carmel, California. Growing up in an area with so much marine life, as well as the Monterey Bay Aquarium sparked her love for the ocean. From a young age she loved learning about marine mammals. She is currently pursuing a B.S. in Marine Biology at UC Santa Cruz. She works on whale watching boats on Monterey Bay, which sparked her passion for photographing marine mammals in their natural habitat. Emma joined the lab in October of 2014 to learn more about pinniped research. She is very interested in the marine mammal husbandry and cognitive research aspects of the lab. Emma is excited to expand her knowledge of marine mammal research and continue building relationships with the animals in the program.



Jacob Linksy
Research Assistant



Other Team Members The lab is powered in large by our awesome volunteer team, which supports the program in all sorts of ways while completing their core training with the project. Our current intern is Kirby Parnell, and our current volunteers include McKenna Eagan, Emma Ashton, Taylor Abraham, and Connor Whalen.

Dr. Brandon Southall
Former graduate student (M.Sc. and Ph.D. in Ocean Sciences)
Research Associate, Institute of Marine Sciences, UCSC & President, Senior Scientist, SEA, Inc.

Brandon worked extensively with our program at Long Marine Lab from 1995 through the spring of 2003. While here, he completed his Master's degree in Marine Science at UCSC in 1998 studying underwater masked hearing in three pinniped species. He also completed his doctoral research, which involved both lab and field components on pinniped bioacoustics. In the lab, Brandon conducted fine-scale measurements of aerial masked hearing thresholds and critical bandwidths. In the field, he studied elephant seal bioacoustics at Año Nuevo State Reserve. In 2003, Brandon left Santa Cruz to join the NOAA Fisheries Acoustics Program in Bethesda, MD where he worked tirelessly to improve regulatory policies related to marine mammals and noise. In 2009, Brandon founded a local environmental consulting company, SEA Inc., where he continues to work on conservation and research issues related to anthropogenic impacts in marine environments. Brandon maintains an active research affiliation with UCSC, where he continues to be an important member of our research program by conducting and participating in research related to pinniped acoustics and communication. Currently, he is partnering with us on the ice seal hearing study through SEA -- which is providing support to the study through acoustic measurement, calibration, and technical problem solving, as well as contributing to experimental planning and design.

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