By: Chad King
Dr Jill Shephard is a Research Fellow at Murdoch University in Perth, Western Australia whose main role on board the RV Investigator is to undertake seabird and sea mammal surveys. This requires her to stand on the ship’s monkey bridge from dawn to dusk and observe wildlife through a survey area and count the occurrence of every species sighted as well as its behaviour. This information is put into a database and is tagged with other relevant data that is taken from the ship’s underway sampling, which can give the data more relevance during analysis.
By her own admittance, Dr Shephard has had quite a varied background. Starting off as a school teacher, she then moved into outdoor education where she garnered an interest for the environment and due to this, subsequently re-enrolled at university to study Environmental Science and went on to complete her honours and PhD. Dr Shephard has a love of research and has a strong interest in raptors, in particular eagles, but also does a lot of work with seabirds and cockatoo species. In particular her current seabird projects use seabirds as biosentinel species to study ocean condition and translate science for use in ecosystem management. She enjoys all aspects of her position and takes a global perspective on her research. Whilst the fieldwork can be repetitive at times, it is just as important as working with the data to address research questions.
Some of Dr Shephard’s favourite experiences have been in the field studying birds of prey. “It is thrilling to be able to have a bird in the hand, see it up close, and collect the data that you need, like body measurements, feather samples for DNA analysis, or to fit a GPS tag. Tracking data is particularly powerful as we can then really see what the bird is doing when it’s out of sight”. One recent experience allowed Dr Shephard to track a tern during an 1800 km return foraging trip from the Abrolhos Islands in Western Australia to Shark Bay. She believes that this is the perfect job for someone who likes to be able to marry up field work with downstream analysis to answer real world questions.