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!”

Dr. Colleen Reichmuth

Principal Investigator, Senior Research Scientist

Trained primarily as an animal behaviorist, Colleen has spent the past 25+ years conducting research in marine mammal cognition, bioacoustics, and behavioral ecology. She heads the Cognition and Sensory Systems Laboratory at UCSC’s Long Marine Laboratory where resident seals, sea lions, and sea otters are trained for participation in cooperative research. Colleen holds a B.Sc. in Biology, a M.Sc. in Marine Science, and a Ph.D. in Ocean Sciences. As PI, Colleen is responsible for all research, personnel, animal care, funding, and administrative activities in the program. She mentors graduate and undergraduate students conducting research in the areas of animal learning, sensory biology, and physiology. She oversees animal research programs at Long Marine Laboratory and at the Alaska SeaLife Center, and participates in the Institutional Animal CAre and Use Committees at both sites. Colleen worked closely with the project’s founder, Dr. Ronald Schusterman, before taking over leadership of the project. She strives to sustain the positive, cooperative, and team-based program that has generated so much good science and fostered so many wonderful scientists over the years.

Dr. Jillian Sills

Project Scientist, Acoustics team leader

Jillian received her bachelor’s degree in Biology and Natural Resources from Cornell University in 2009, and her doctorate in Ocean Sciences from the University of California Santa Cruz in 2016. Prior to joining the Pinniped Lab back in 2010, Jillian 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 environment and how this influences their behavioral ecology. Her research in the lab focuses on the bioacoustics of pinniped species and she is leading ongoing audiometric research with ringed, bearded, and monk seals. Jillian contributes to a range of other psychoacoustic, bioacoustic, and behavioral research projects, and serves as Assistant Director of the research program.

Jenna Sullivan

Laboratory Manager and Curator

Jenna is the glue that keeps our team together. She is responsible for leading daily operations in the lab involving animals, people, research, resources, and schedules. She serves as our lead animal technician and is responsible for teaching animals and staff how to work cooperatively across research projects while meeting animal welfare and research objectives. Needless to say, multi-tasking is her speciality.

Dr. Caroline Casey

Research Associate, Field program leader

Since first joining the lab in 2007, Caroline has spent the past decade exploring sound production and reception in seals. She completed her PhD in 2018 at UCSC in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department where she studied the communication system of northern elephant seals and decoded the specialized acoustic signals males produce during male-male combat during the breeding season. Caroline manages our long-term field study of northern elephant seals, which she continues to lead each winter breeding season, and leads field projects concerning animal behavior and communication. Within the lab, she enriches ongoing research projects by training resident animals for various research projects, mentoring students, and bringing her skills and energy to research collaborations. In addition to her work with our program, Caroline is a founding member of the California Ocean Alliance and a staff scientist at SEA, Inc.

Micaela Garcia

Assistant Lab Manager, Senior Animal Technician

Micaela is our secret weapon -- she works to ensure the care of resident animals 24/7 and can often be found at the lab on weekends, nights, holidays, and whenever there is a need. She is a skilled trainer and husbandry manager that is focused on the welfare of resident animals outside of daily research operations. Micaela’s focus and expertise is on animal health, enrichment, and fostering learning opportunities for students, staff, and visitors to the program. Micaela graduated from UCSC with a B.S. in Marine Biology and Neuroscience in June 2015. In addition to her management responsibilities in our program, she works as a product specialist for a local biotechnology company.

Holly Hermann-Sorensen

Graduate Student Researcher, Department of Ocean Sciences

Holly is a graduate student studying the ecophysiology of arctic seals. She works closely with three species of arctic seals (ringed, spotted, and bearded) to answer questions about how ice-dependent seals manage energy and thermoregulation, molt, and live a semi-aquatic lifestyle in ecosystems that are on the forefront of major climatic shifts. Holly is an expert in open-flow respirometry and she is inspired by the potential uses of biomedical technology to better understand diving physiology. Holly spends her time conducting research and animal husbandry activities between Long Marine Laboratory and the Alaska SeaLife Center in Seward, Alaska. For more, see her website here.

Brandi Ruscher-Hill

Graduate Student Researcher, Department of Ocean Sciences

Brandi joined the lab in 2014 as an undergraduate volunteer, and in 2018, she started her graduate degree with the program studying the auditory capabilities of the endangered Hawaiian monk seal. During her time at the lab, Brandi has participated in various physiology and sensory biology studies of pinnipeds and sea otters. She provides daily support to ongoing research through animal care and training and mentorship of volunteers and interns. 

Ryan Jones

Graduate Student Researcher, Department of Ocean Sciences

Ryan comes to the pinniped lab with a background in dolphin echolocation and auditory evoked potentials gained at the US Navy Marine Mammal Program. His current focus is on the audiometry of the Pacific walrus and using electrophysiological techniques to compare the cardiorespiratory behavior of resting pinnipeds. 

Mariah Tengler

PHOCAS graduate student, University of San Francisco

Mariah joined the Pinniped Lab in August 2015 as an intern, after graduating with her B.Sc. in Marine Biology from Alaska Pacific University. Although she grew up in the deserts of Arizona, getting certified as a NAUI scuba diver initially sparked her interest in the ocean and its inhabitants. While attending college in Alaska she participated in research projects focusing on everything from invertebrates to fish to pinnipeds, and she completed her senior thesis working with Steller sea lions. Being particularly interested in marine mammal behavioral ecology, our lab was a great place to learn more about comparative research in behavior and biology. After completing her internship, Mariah stayed with the program as a Research Assistant and transitioned to graduate school. She is presently completing her thesis on comparative muscle physiology in seals at the University of San Francisco with our research partner Dr. Nicole Thometz on the PHOCAS project. She now works as a research data analyst for The Marine Mammal Center, but is still an important part of our animal care and research teams. 

Sonny Knaub

Senior Animal Technician, Research Lead

Sonny joined the lab in September of 2009 and has since progressed through the program to become spirit guide to most of the staff and students. While attending UCSC as an undergraduate, Sonny took an interest in vocal development, cognition, and assisting in sample collection and veterinary assistance. She is currently our cognition research coordinator, responsible for the medication, blood, and sample databases, recording and analyzing vocal behavior, various animal training tasks and mentoring volunteers and staff. With many years of experience in our team, with The Marine Mammal Center, and presently with Monterey Bay Aquarium, Sonny is an animal husbandry specialist with expertise in animal transports and restraint. There is nothing that Sonny can’t do 🙂

Michelle Hartwick

Graduate Student Researcher, University of San Francisco

Michelle started out as a volunteer and then a research tech in our program while she was an undergraduate at UC Santa Cruz. She currently works on the PHOCAS project as a graduate student at the University of San Francisco with our collaborator Dr. Nicole Thometz. Michelle is focused on evaluating seasonal changes in body condition for spotted, ringed, and bearded seals in order to better understand seasonal, developmental, and environmental factors that influence energy stores and overall health.

Madeline Meranda

Research and Animal Technician

Maddie first joined the pinniped lab as an intern following completion of her bachelor’s degree in zoology and animal behavior at the University of New Hampshire. She is now based in Seward, AK, where she works in partnership with our Arctic seals. Maddie works closely with the marine mammal husbandry staff to support the PHOCAS project in Alaska through data collection, data management, animal care activities, and occasional dance routines. Trained to conduct research at both facilities, Maddie serves as the bridge between our teams at Long Marine Laboratory and the Alaska SeaLife Center.

Chloe Lew

Animal Technician, Research Lead

Chloe joined the team as an undergraduate volunteer in 2017, and has brought so much sunshine into our lives since then. In addition to caring for animals and assisting with the daily operations of the lab, Chloe serves as a team leader for bioacoustics projects, leading analysis of underwater vocalizations of Hawaiian monk seals, and contributing to ongoing studies of spotted seals and bearded seals. Her  interest in sound recently led her to the Antarctic through her work with California Ocean Alliance. Chloe’s musical talents enrich our acoustics research and our daily lives in the lab 🙂

Sarah Santich

Animal Technician

Sarah Santich is an Animal Technician who has been working with us since 2017. Among many other responsibilities, she trains resident seals for participation in the PHOCAS project, which aims to understand basic physiology of arctic species. Prior to working with our team, Sarah supported marine mammal rehabilitation programs at The Marine Mammal Center and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Sarah is our resident caretaker. She looks after the entire marine lab, cultivates a wonderful succulent garden, and enjoys painting local marine landscapes and wildlife.

Julia Einsweiler

Animal Technician, Research Lead

Julia has been with the lab since early 2018, and received her B.S. in marine biology from UCSC. In addition to working with pinnipeds, she has experience with sea otters and humpback whales. Julia loves working with the animals, and she is especially passionate about acoustics and communication. To this end, Julia spends a lot of time under headphones, analyzing sounds to document seasonal and developmental patterns in sound production for various species.

Angelo Incitti

Animal Technician

Angelo is a recent graduate of UC Santa Cruz with a B.S. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. During his undergraduate work, he became involved in a variety of research and conservation programs throughout Monterey Bay. These experiences nurtured his passion for biology and instilled a dedication to learning more about how we can better protect our oceans. Angelo is focused on animal husbandry and veterinary care, and has a special focus on the bearded seals in our team, conducting  training activities as well as tracking behavior and acoustic development. When not with the seals Angelo is often busy working with kids — the kind with little horns that like to jump around!

Kyle Donohoe

Animal Technician

Kyle graduated from UCSC with a B.S. in Marine Biology in June 2019. He presently works at Long Marine Lab with our team, and with the eels next door, so he has the unique combined speciality of eels and seals. Kyle has been with our program since July 2018 and he will soon be taking what he has learned here and applying it at the National Marine Mammal Foundation in San Diego. Kyle has a strong connection with sea lion Ronan, his primary training partner.

Madilyn Pardini

Animal Technician, Research Lead

Madilyn joined the lab in 2018 as an intern to complete her MPS degree in marine mammal science with the University of Miami. While learning the ropes in the lab, Madilyn also focused on studying the lung volume capacity of free diving California sea lions and harbor seals. She is now a core part of the program, and serves as a research lead for the PHOCAS project. In addition to her many skills, Madilyn brings the ability to make everyone laugh, even the seals.

Ryan Hobbs

Animal Technician 

Ryan learned of the Pinniped Cognition and Sensory Systems lab after he attended a guest lecture hosted by Colleen Reichmuth. He was inspired to apply to our program so he could pursue a lifelong love of marine mammals. In the past two years, Ryan has gained a wide range of knowledge and skills pertaining to animal care and academic research. The lab has been an incredible place for Ryan to hone his marine mammal training techniques and nurture his love and appreciation for our resident animal team. 

Jordan Leib

Animal Technician, Research Lead

Hailing from Los Angeles, Jordan transferred to UCSC where she is receiving her B.S in Ecology and Evolutionary biology. She is especially interested in the fields of comparative anatomy, veterinary medicine, animal husbandry and conservation and will be pursuing a career in wildlife veterinary medicine. Jordan serves as a research data lead for the PHOCAS project and fosters a strong relationship with Sprouts, her training partner at Long Marine Lab.

Charles Tralka

Animal Technician

Charles found us in his 3rd year as an undergrad in the Marine Biology program at UCSC. His interest in marine biology began with a trip to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and has only grown with his time at UCSC and previous work as a docent at the Seymour Center. Within our team, Charles assists with research and animal care while continuing to learn more about the biology of seals and sea lions. He brings a special energy to our group, a great sense of humor, and most importantly…hot thumbs.

The lab is powered in large part by our awesome volunteer team, which supports the program in all sorts of ways while completing their core training with the project. Our current volunteers include Chloe Reilly and Brent Farmer. We also work with 4 to 5 incredible and hard working full-time interns each year. Our current intern, Noah Doeden, comes to us from the University of Hawai’i. To learn more about volunteering or interning with our program, please visit the support page.


We have some wonderful partners whose work extends beyond our shared projects. Meet some of our extended family.


Dr. Brandon Southall

Brandon completed his PhD at the lab and studied communication, hearing, and the effects of noise on seals and sea lions under the guidance of Dr. Ron Schusterman. Brandon then went on to direct the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Ocean Acoustics Program. Since returning to Santa Cruz in 2009, Brandon has been centrally involved in supporting the lab in exploring the audiometry of pinnipeds, and has worked to develop systematic noise exposure criteria for marine mammals. Brandon currently serves as the President and Senior Scientist of SEA, inc. 

Dr. Peter Cook

We work with Dr. Peter Cook from New College of Florida on various cognitive studies, including those related to the neurobiological bases of behavior. Learn more about Peter’s lab here!

Dr. Nicole Thometz

We collaborate with comparative physiologist Dr. Nicole Thometz (lower left) at the University of San Francisco on our PHOCAS research program. We share resources, students, and the same passion to support conservation science. Learn more about Nicole’s lab here!

Dr. Isabelle Charrier

Isabelle is a Research Scientist at the Université Paris Sud in France. She specializes in pinniped communication, and has worked all over the world exploring specializing in mother and pup recognition in seals and sea lions. She has been an integral member of our field research team since 2009, and has helped us to decode the communication strategies used during male male contests and female and pup interactions during the breeding season. 

Dr. Nicolas Mathevon

Dr. Mathevon is an internationally recognized expert in comparative communication, whose own research focuses on a wide range of species including crocodiles, bonobos, and humans. Serving as the director of the CNPS-ENES laboratory in Saint Etienne, France, Nicolas has been a core member of the field research team since 2009, and has helped the lab to uncover the function of the sounds produced by northern elephant seals. 

Andrew Rouse

We collaborate with Andrew Rouse.

Alaska Sealife Center Team

We collaborate with the Alaska SeaLife Center. See their website here!

Williams Lab

We collaborate with the Williams Lab. See their website here!