After graduating in University College Cork (UCC) with a BSc (hons) in Zoology in 2007, I returned the following year to start a taught MSc in Marine Biology which I completed in 2009. My MSc thesis looked at the impact of ecotourism vessels on the semi-resident population of bottlenose dolphins in the outer Shannon estuary. Specifically, I used a dolphin-watch tour boat as a platform of opportunity (POP) to collate group data and photo-identification images of the bottlenose dolphins to; 1) examine habitat use of the dolphins and 2) to quantify, on an individual level, the level of exposure to tour boats. I really enjoyed this research project and it highlighted the value of using POPs to carry out marine mammal research which would otherwise not be possible due to limited funding.
In 2010, I was contracted by MaREI, UCC (previously CMRC) as a marine mammal field assistant to join the Broadhaven Bay Marine Mammal Monitoring Programme, Co. Mayo. This programme was run in conjunction with the underwater construction of the Corrib gas pipeline. The aim of the research was to monitor the impact of the construction on the marine mammals which frequented the bay. This research took on a multi-disciplinary approach by conducting land-based surveys, boat-based surveys and collated underwater acoustic year-round using cetacean acoustic loggers known as C-PODs. I returned to this project in 2011 for another seasonal contract. Between these contracts I was hired as a Marine Mammal Fisheries Bycatch Observer for the Aquaculture Fisheries and Development Centre, UCC. This contract involved boarding trawlers during the winter months monitoring any fish and marine mammal bycatch. During this time we had numerous encounters with Killer whales, also known as Orca, foraging around the vessels during mackerel hauling. I went on to present the findings in the form of a poster at the European Cetacean Society conference in 2012.
In late 2012, I travelled to New Zealand, where I took on a short voluntary research position carrying out photo-identification on dusky dolphins, Hector’s dolphins and killer whales for Texas A&M University, USA. In 2013, I returned to Ireland and carried out several boat based surveys from all sorts of platforms (research vessels, trawlers, seismic vessels), some research based and others as short consultancy contracts. In 2014, I returned to the Broadhaven Bay programme until 2015. During this time, I began to think more about the killer whales I seen from the trawlers back in 2010/2011 - how little was known of them and what a big opportunity it would be to get the chance to study them more in depth and so in 2015, a very lengthy proposal was written and re-written! In October 2015, I was awarded an Irish Research Council Enterprise Partnership Scheme Postgraduate Scholarship with the Marine Institute, Galway acting as Enterprise Partner.
I have a keen interest in multi-disciplinary marine mammal research and its pivotal role in the decision making process with respect to providing adequate protection for marine mammals. I believe that given the free-ranging nature of these large vertebrates combined with the ever-changing marine environment particularly in the face of anthropogenic threats, a multidisciplinary approach is crucial to aid in the conservation of these species.
My PhD is entitled,’ Biology and ecology of Killer whales (Orcinus orca) foraging around pelagic trawlers in the northeast Atlantic’. The main aim of this research is to use a combination of photo-identification, biopsy sampling, genetic (DNA) and stable-isotope analysis (diet) to reveal the biology and ecology of this particular group of killer whales. The key questions we are aiming to answer are; is there a single population of killer whale specialising year round on mackerel or are there several killer whale populations in the northeast Atlantic coming together to use the mackerel as a seasonal food supply? Are they just feeding on mackerel or do they forage around other fish species hauls too? Is a certain gender or age class benefitting more from this feeding strategy? Where do they go at other times of the year? Are they related to any of the other killer whale groups known in the Northeast Atlantic? The research will involve comparing identification photographs and DNA from the skin samples with those obtained by researchers from other countries in the northeast Atlantic, namely Iceland, Norway and Scotland, in an attempt to reveal more about this particular aggregation of killer whales.
Pinfield, R. (2009). Ecotourism and habitat use of bottlenose dolphins, Tursiops truncatus, in the Shannon estuary. Unpublished MSc thesis, University College Cork, Ireland, 69pp.
Culloch, R.M., Brandecker, A., Krüegel, K., Murphy, D., Pinfield, R., Jessopp, M. and Cronin, M. (In review). When is a porpoise not a porpoise? Investigating the occurrence of false-positive harbour porpoise detections using C-POD automated classifiers.
Pinfield, R., Enright, J., McCarthy, A. and Rogan, E. (In review). Killer whales (Orcinus orca) forage around pelagic trawl fisheries targeting mackerel and horse mackerel in the North East Atlantic. Aquatic Mammals.
Culloch, R.M., Anderwald, P., Brandecker, A., Haberlin, D., McGovern, B., Pinfield, R., Visser, F., Jessopp, M. and Cronin, M. (2016). Effect of construction-related activities and vessel traffic on marine mammals. Marine Ecology Progress Series, 549, p. 231-242.
Anderwald, P., Brandecker, A., Coleman, M., Collins, C., Denniston, H., Haberlin, M.D., O’Donovan, M., Pinfield, R., Visser, F. and Walshe, L. (2013). Displacement responses of a mysticete, an odontocete, and a phocid seal to construction-related vessel traffic. Endangered Species Research, 21, p. 231-240.
Culloch, R., Brandecker, A., Krüegel, K., McGovern, B., Pinfield, R., Robbins, J., Jessopp, M. and Cronin, M. (2015). Marine mammal monitoring in Broadhaven Bay 2014. Progress Report to RSK Environment Limited Group. Beaufort/Coastal and Marine Research Centre, University College Cork, Ireland.
Anderwald, P., Brandecker, A., Haberlin, D., Coleman, M., Collins, C., O’Donovan, M., Pinfield, R. and Cronin, M. (2012). Marine Mammal Monitoring in Broadhaven Bay 2011. Progress Report to RSK Environment Limited Group. Coastal and Marine Research Centre, University College Cork, Ireland.
Anderwald, P., Coleman, M., O’Donovan, M., Pinfield, R., Walshe, L., Haberlin, D., Jessopp, M. and Cronin, M. (2011). Marine mammal monitoring in Broadhaven Bay 2010. Progress Report to RSK Environment Limited Group. Coastal and Marine Research Centre, University College Cork, Ireland.
McCarthy, A., Pinfield, R., Enright, J. and Rogan, E. (2011). Pilot observer programme in Irish pelagic trawl and gillnet fisheries: Implementing Council Regulation (EC) No 812/2004. Report to An Bord Iascaigh Mhara, Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine. Aquaculture and Fisheries Development Centre, University College Cork, Ireland.
Pinfield, R., Enright, J., McCarthy, A. and Rogan, E. (2012). Interactions between killer whales (Orcinus orca) and the Irish pelagic trawl fisheries during the winter 2010/2011 fishing season. [Poster presentation], Information and Ideas worth Sharing. 26th Annual Conference of the European Cetacean Society, Galway, Ireland, 26-Mar-12 – 28-Mar-12.
Pinfield, R. and Rogan, E. (2010). Ecotourism and bottlenose dolphins, Tursiops truncatus, in the Shannon estuary, Ireland. [Poster presentation], Marine Mammal Populations – Challenges for Conservation in the next Decade. 24th Annual Conference of the European Cetacean Society, Stralsund, Germany, 22-Mar-10 – 24-Mar-10