My doctoral research investigates human responses to and representations of whale strandings, unusual mortality events and mass whale strandings in the east Pacific. My thesis focuses on two major mortality events in the east Pacific and draws together wide-ranging material from environmental sciences, media sources, archival material, literary texts, indigenous studies and more. The first case study is the 1999-2000 eastern North Pacific gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) unusual mortality event, which involved the stranding of 651 animals on the west coasts of Canada, the USA and Mexico. The second is the discovery of more than 300 sei whales (Balaenoptera borealis) stranded on the coasts of Chile’s Patagonian fjords in 2015.
Strandings are examined for their dual role in specialist and popular spheres, revealing the symbiosis between the two. I consider what the multiplicity of responses to strandings reveal about perceptions of and knowledge about threats to marine species, the oceans and the natural world more widely. It takes a highly interdisciplinary approach, combining the environmental humanities with the marine conservation sciences to reveal the significance of cetacean mortalities to different sectors of society in the context of contemporary preoccupation with biodiversity decline, species extinction and the wider implications of the Anthropocene epoch. It considers what scientific investigations into these events reveal about real impacts of anthropogenic activity, highlighting the crucial role of strandings in contributing knowledge to science. I question in what ways there is disconnect between scientific reality and perceived reality, emphasising that while strandings can be caused by human activity, they are also interpreted via popular knowledge about species depletion and habitat degradation. The legacy of whaling – its tangible impacts and its cultural imprint – is a recurring theme throughout my research.
I am based in the School of English at the University of Leeds, where I am supervised by Professor Graham Huggan and the Environment Department at the University of York, where I am supervised by the marine conservation biologist Professor Callum Roberts. I am part of a wider WRoCAH doctoral research network exploring species extinction from cross-disciplinary perspectives. I have carried out extensive primary field-work on the west coasts of the USA and Canada as part of my research.
I previously completed an MPhil in History at the University of Bristol entitled 'On the Beach and Beyond: Responses to and Understandings of Sperm Whale Strandings on the British North Sea Coast since 1980'. My thesis was an environmental history detailing the development of a specialist welfare and scientific network responding to strandings as well as the dramatic shift in public perceptions of cetaceans in the post-whaling era. My viva was examined by Richard Sabin, Principal Curator of the Natural History Museum, London, who is a specialist in cetaceans and strandings.
'Open Endings: The Eastern North Pacific Gray Whale Unusual Mortality Event, 1999-2000', 'Blue Humanities' special issue Symploke (forthcoming December 2019)
'Recovered Species? The Eastern North Pacific Grey Whale Unusual Mortality Event, 1999-2000', in Jill Atkins and Barry Atkins (eds.), Around the World in 80 Species: Exploring the Business of Extinction (Oxon: Routledge, 2019)
Whale Encounters (Leeds: East Street Arts, 2019)
I co-curated the exhibition Here Be Whales at Left Bank Leeds and Hull Maritime Museum, February-April 2019. I produced an original piece of writing reflecting on the theme of the exhibition, Whale Encounters (Leeds: East Street Arts, 2019).
I am the Director of Leeds Animal Studies Network, 2018-19.
I completed the course 'In Pursuit of the Whale' at the Bamfield Marine Science Centre, Vancouver Island, Canada, July 2019. The interdisciplinary course was delivered by Dr Greg Garrard (UCB) and Dr Nicholas Bradley (UVIC).
‘Extinction, Success Stories and Shifting Baselines: The 1999-2000 Eastern North Pacific Gray Whale Mortality Event’, Paradise on Fire: Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment (ASLE), UC Davis, June 2019
‘Scourge of the Red Tide: The 2015 Sei Whale Mass Stranding Chilean Patagonia and its Cultural Representations’, Animal Remains, University of Sheffield, April
‘Whose Whale? Sperm Whale Strandings on Britain’s North Sea Coast’, Maritime Animals, National Maritime Museum, London, April 2019
‘Omens from the Deep: The 1999-2000 eastern North Pacific gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) unusual mortality event and its cultural representations’, A Hostile Climate? Multidisciplinary Perspectives on Climate Change, University of Leeds, April 2019
‘Space, Time and the Body: Liminality and Sperm Whale Strandings on Britain’s North Sea Coast since 1980’, A Place On the Edge?: ASLE-UKI Postgraduate Conference (in collaboration with the Orkney Science Festival), September 2018
'Open Endings: The Eastern North Pacific Grey Whale Unusual Mortality Event, 1999-2000', Marine Transgressions, Environmental Humanities Research Centres of the University of Bristol and Bath Spa University, June 2018
'Recovered Species? The Eastern North Pacific Grey Whale Unusual Mortality Event, 1999-2000', Extinction Roundtable, University of Sheffield, February 2018
'On the Beach and Beyond: Responses to and Understandings of Sperm Whale Strandings on the British North Sea Coast since 1980', Animal History Group Summer Workshop: Cooperation and Conflict, King's College London, June 2017
The Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE)
The Association for the Study of Literature and Environment, UK and Ireland (ASLE-UKI)
Environmental history, blue humanities, environmental humanities, marine conservation, cetaceans, species biodiversity, extinction, the Anthropocene, cultures of the Pacific Northwest, indigenous studies.
- MPhil History, University of Bristol
- BA History, University of Bristol