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
Dr. David Kastak

Affiliated Researchers
Brandon Southall
Peter Cook
Nicole Thometz
Andrew Rouse
Jenna 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.

Dr. Jillian Sills
Postdoctoral Scholar
Institute of Marine Sciences, UCSC
jmsills at

Jillian received her bachelor's degree from Cornell University in 2009 (B.Sc. in Biology and Natural Resources), and her doctorate from the University of California Santa Cruz in 2016 (Ph.D. in Ocean Sciences). 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. She also supports a range of other psychoacoustic, bioacoustic, and behavioral 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 seals.

Juliette Dr. Juliette Linossier
Postdoctoral Scholar
Institute of Marine Sciences, UCSC
linossier.juliette at

Juliette was raised in Saint-Etienne, France, far away from the sea. She began her undergraduate study while still in Saint-Etienne, but took the opportunity to spend her third year in Québec, Canada, next to the sea. Here she studied animal behavior and completed an internship on harbor seals in Gaspésie. At this point she had two revelations: first, she loved the ocean, and second, she wanted to work with seals. Unfortunately, Juliette needed to return to France and so her dreams would have to wait. In the meantime, she studied the beautiful (but very complex) song of skylarks during her masters degree, and then investigated the plasticity and structure of the blackcap song in migratory and sedentary populations while pursuing her PhD at the University Paris-Saclay in Paris. Juliette developed strong skills in behavioral and acoustic data collection and is highly experienced in acoustic analyses and playback design. This year, Juliette finally achieved her dream and obtained a Fyssen Grant, allowing her to come to the Pinniped Lab to study northern elephant seals, right next to the ocean, in California. She wants to investigate the link between allonursing and maternal cognitive abilities using a multidisciplinary and experimental approach. She will evaluate the potential factors that may drive allonursing in this species (pup similarity, female age, genetic relatedness, spatial proximity) using time-lapse photography, chemical profiles, and SNP analysis.

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 investigates 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.


Holly Sorensen
Graduate Student Researcher (master's student), Department of Ocean Sciences, UC Santa Cruz
hhermann at

Holly Hermann-Sorensen joined the Pinniped Cognition and Sensory Systems Laboratory as a transfer student to the University of California Santa Cruz in 2014. She graduated cum laude in 2016 with a B.S. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, and began as a master's student in the program in 2017. Before joining the Pinniped Cognition and Sensory Systems Laboratory, 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 is passionate about marine mammal conservation and ecophysiology, and plays a key role in the PHOCAS project, a research program examining the unique physiology of ice-dependent Arctic seals.


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, 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 volunteer staff. Outside of the lab, Sonny serves as resident caretaker for the entire marine laboratory.




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.




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. 



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. In June of 2016 she received her B.S. in Marine Biology at UC Santa Cruz. She is currently a naturalist 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.



Mariah Tengler
Research Assistant

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 inhabitatns. 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, the Pinniped Lab was a great place to learn more about and be a part of the research being conducted to better understand how perception and cognition are translated into behavior. After completing her internship, Mariah stayed with the program as a Research Assistant and is now playing an important role in the PHOCAS research effort.




McKenna Eagan
Research Assistant

McKenna grew up in the small town of Auburn, California. Annual trips to Santa Cruz sparked her interested in the ocean at a young age. Through the courses she took at UCSC, she gained a specific interest in marine mammals and how the changing ocean environment affects them. She joined the lab in August 2015 eager to gain experience in animal training and marine mammal research. She will graduate from UCSC in June 2017 with a B.S. in Marine Biology. McKenna is excited to continue learning about pinniped cognitive capabilities and behavior, and to further her involvement in the program.




Taylor Abraham
Research Assistant

Born and raised in Southern California, Taylor's love for the ocean and its many wondrous creatures began at a young age. After transferring to UCSC as an Ecology and Evolutionary Biology major, she has been able to learn more about the diverse environment and mammals of the Monterey Bay. Furthermore, she has gained invaluable experience in marine mammal training and husbandry since joining the Pinniped Lab in September 2015. She is graduating from UCSC in June 2016 and is excited to further her knowledge about the marine mammal medical field while also learning more about pinniped behavior and cognition.


Connor Whalen
Research Assistant

Connor grew up in a small suburb of San Diego and, from a young age, was constantly around the water. Coming from a camping-centered family, spending weeks at a time on the beach was second nature. This influenced his interest in the world's oceans and the lives of the organisms that inhabit them. Connor's upbringing played a huge role in his decision to attend UCSC as an Ecology and Evolutionary Biology major, and eventually led him to a position at the Pinniped Lab. He is very interested in anatomy, toxicology, ecology, and field research methods and plans to utilize his time in the Pinniped Lab to help expand his knowledge in these subject areas as he works toward earning his degree in 2018.


Chloe Lew
Research Assistant

Chloe had always dreamt of working with marine mammals and studying techniques to better their lives at sea. In the Spring of 2017, she was delighted to learn that the Pinniped Lab was a perfect marriage of the two. Since joining, she has enjoyed learning how research techniques and animal husbandry can help us understand the broader impacts of the changing environment on populations of marine mammal species. She has pursued her interests in bioacoustics by assisting researchers in various projects, and in animal enrichment by creating stimulating, engaging environments for the animals. Chloe plans to graduate from UC Santa Cruz with a B.S. in Marine Biology in the Spring of 2018, with hopes to continue learning and someday pursue a career in marine mammal research. While she loves science, she comes from a strong background in Music and Theatre. If you are ever in need of a research assistant who can also be your duet parter, she's your gal.


Sarah Santich
Research Assistant

Sarah grew up in Los Gatos, California, just a short drive from Santa Cruz. She first learned about the Pinniped Cognition and Sensory Systems Lab as a first-grader on a field trip, and started organizing her life plan of becoming a marine biologist and animal trainer immediately after that. After getting her B.S. in ecology, evolution, and organismal biology, Sarah was thrilled to finally have this unique opportunity to assist with both the research and training of our cooperative marine mammals in September 2017. Sarah is interested in pinniped sensory systems - understanding the various ways and degrees to which pinnipeds perceive the challenging world around them, and how these sensory systems dictate their behavior. In addition to her duties at lab, Sarah is also very happy to be one of our facilities caretakers and is responsible for looking out for our invaluable water systems matrix.


Elizabeth Jones
Research Assistant


John Ahrens
Research Assistant



Support Team 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 Nicole Wilson, Julia Einsweiler, Angelo Inchitti, Kyle Donohoe, and Ryan Hobbs. Our current intern is Madelyn Pardini.

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.




Dr. Peter Cook
Former graduate student (Ph.D. in Cognitive Psychology)
Assistant Professor of Psychology at New College of Florida

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 was co-advised by Dr. Reichmuth and UCSC Psychology Professor Meg Wilson, who specializes in working memory. While Peter conducted some human behavioral research through the Psychology Department, he did most of his own cognitive research here at the marine laboratory using California sea lions as his primary research subjects. Peter was the recipient of a National Science Foundation Graduate Fellowship, which supported 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 work was 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 New College of Florida, although he continues to collaborate with the lab on a few projects.


Dr. Nicole Thometz
Former postdoctoral scholar, Institute of Marine Sciences, UCSC
Assistant Professor of Biology at the University of San Francisco

Nicole Thometz is a broadly trained physiological ecologist who specializes in marine mammal physiology. She has spent the past 8 years studying the ontogeny of energy demands, development of diving capacities, reproductive energetics, and foraging behavior of sea otters. In addition, Dr. Thometz has studied the foraging behavior and physiology of Weddell seals in the Antarctic, the metabolic demands and diving capacities of Hawaiian monk seals, and the comparative physiology of sound production muscles in toothed whales. Ultimately, Dr. Thometz's research is driven by one overarching question: how do physiological traits influence the behavior, ecology, and survival of large marine species? To answer this question, her research examines how physiological and behavioral parameters at the individual level can scale up to population level implications. Further, understanding the underlying physiology of a species and its ability to adapt or respond to changing conditions is critical for management and conservation efforts. Dr. Thometz is currently working with Dr. Reichmuth on the PHOCAS effort. Dr. Thometz earned her bachelor's degree from the University of Portland in 2008 (B.Sc. in Biology with a minor in Philosophy). She received her Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from UC Santa Cruz in 2014; she was co-advised by Dr. Terrie Williams and Dr. Jim Estes.


Andrew Rouse
Former Cognitive Neuroscience Research Technician
Ph.D. student in the Psychology Department at Tufts University

Andrew joined the lab in August 2009 and began working closely with (then graduate student) Peter Cook to assess 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 enriched the program with his expertise in hardware configuration, statistical analysis, and database management. Andrew is now a Ph.D. student at Tufts, where he is examining the role of vocal plasticity in rhythm perception and processing in zebra finches. He continues to collaborate with the lab on various projects.

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