Hi, I'm Leanne. Originally from Wigan in the North of England, for the last five years I have been researching wild dolphins in Japan. Having been accepted on to the Marine Vertebrate Ecology and Conservation MSc at the University of Exeter I wish to return home and focus my efforts on marine conservation. I'm asking for your help to continue my dolphin journey.
My love for cetaceans began in high school but it wasn't until my days as an intern for Sea Watch Foundation in the UK that I discovered my passion could be turned into a career. I originally graduated in English literature, which made it difficult to take the traditional educational route into dolphin research, so I realised that in order to follow my dreams I would have to gain as much experience and knowledge as I could in other ways. Knowing the road ahead was long, I began to fill my life with all things ocean-related, devouring marine books, writing about whales and dolphins, emailing anyone in the field I could for advice, volunteering for marine groups and even getting my powerboat license!
My work in Japan
After arriving in Japan, I immediately started reaching out to people in hope of finding new opportunities here. To my surprise I received a response from an internationally recognised dolphin researcher who is a professor of marine mammalogy in Osaka and was willing to offer me some voluntary work. For the past 5 years I have been analysing flipper rubbing, a behaviour which strengthens social bonds in dolphins. I also presented my work at the Japan Animal Behaviour Conference. This valuable research experience gave me a taste of academia and led to other fascinating work with the nonprofit organisation Mutsu Bay Dolphin Research doing outreach work with the local community and schools to inspire people to help protect these amazing animals. I also began photo-ID studies on Pacific white-sided dolphins, which involves identifying individual dolphins using the unique marks and notches on their dorsal fins. After writing my first scientific paper with the group, I realised that in order to progress further I had to develop not just my knowledge and experiences, but also my scientific abilities. It became clear to me a masters degree would be the necessary next step in my career, and I finally had enough experience to be considered. I want to learn the skills necessary to use my research as a way to better protect dolphins, help promote marine biodiversity and in turn contribute towards the restoration of our oceans.
A new opportunity
I finally felt like my hard work had paid off when I received an unconditional offer on the Marine Vertebrate Ecology and Conservation MSc from the University of Exeter. However, my plans soon came to a grinding halt when I found out that a student loan can only be given to those who have lived in the UK for the last three years. Tuition fees for the one year masters course are £13,800, an overwhelming amount of money without the help of a student loan or funding aid. After supporting myself in Japan by working part-time as an English teacher and through unpaid or low-paid research jobs trying to get experience, I am not in a position to afford such a large financial outlay. So, I scoured the internet for grants, funding, scholarships, bursaries, whatever financial help available, only to find that I'm eligible for just a select few. With savings that won't stretch and no government assistance, I am left with one option: to share my story in hope that people can offer financial help towards my goal of making a difference in the world of whale and dolphin conservation.
Studying Marine Conservation in Cornwall:
Cornwall's rich marine biodiversity and stunning coastline make it the perfect location to study Marine Ecology and the importance of ocean preservation. This MSc uses practical learning methods taught by a collaborative team working in both animal behaviour and conservation and can teach me the specialised statistical knowledge that I cannot acquire through experience alone. The University of Exeter is one of the leading schools in marine conservation research. And, most importantly, the Cornish coast is a haven for dolphins!
I plan to continue my work on the Pacific white-sided dolphins of Japan, an understudied species which I feel will benefit from broader scientific understanding. After so long working abroad I'm also excited to get started on projects in British waters. I hope my work can support the amazing research already being done globally to save our seas. The threat to our oceans is one of the greatest threats our society faces but through passionate communication of science we can create a deeper understanding of the animals that live there, protecting their habitat and in turn helping ourselves and our planet.
Thank you so much for taking the time to read my story. Any contribution will be greatly appreciated.
Photos © Mutsu Bay Dolphin Research
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