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. After initially attempting to raise the tuition fees for a master's at the University of Exeter, I have now changed course on my dolphin journey and wish to study Marine Biology at Bangor University, Wales. I'm asking for your kind support to help get me there!
My love for cetaceans began in high school but it wasn't until my days as an intern for Sea Watch Foundation in Wales 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 course are £14,500, an overwhelming amount of money without the help of a student loan or funding aid. So after a year of attempted fundraising and plan changes, I landed myself a place on the much more reasonably priced and just as exciting Marine Biology MSc at Bangor University. 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 still not in a position to afford such a large financial outlay required for tuition fees. I have 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 Biology in Wales:
It seems fitting that my journey should take me back to the place where my love of dolphins first transformed into a devoted pursuit of my dream job. The gorgeous Welsh coastline has a very special place in my heart and its rich and diverse marine environment make it the perfect location to study Marine Biology and learn the importance of ocean preservation. This MSc uses practical learning methods that can teach me the specialised statistical knowledge that I cannot acquire through experience alone. Through studying Marine Biology I can broaden my ocean knowledge to further understand the watery world of dolphins and their place in the marine environment. Bangor University has a fantastic department of ocean sciences with a great reputation. And, most importantly, the Welsh coast is a haven for dolphins, being home to the only resident community of bottlenose dolphins in England and Wales!
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
Photos © Mutsu Bay Dolphin Research