Inaugural welfare fellowship for Massey researcher

Stranded pilot whales [credit: Emma Betty].

Massey University marine ecologist Dr Karen Stockin is the inaugural recipient of the prestigious Bob Kerridge Animal Welfare Fellowship.

The fellowship, worth $10,000, is awarded to projects that seek solutions to animal problems, and present the opportunity to create change to the ultimate benefit of animals, people and the environment.

Dr Stockin, director of the Coastal-Marine Research Group and Associate Investigator at the Animal Welfare Science and Bioethics Centre at Massey University, aims to develop a rule-based modelling technique to assess the likelihood of survivorship in refloated whales under different scenarios. As part of this fellowship, she will be investigating the human dynamic to these events by assessing public perception and attitudes before, during and after a whale stranding event.

“New Zealand has an international reputation not only for its high incidence of mass strandings, but also its degree of public engagement at such events. The public and media play a significant role, which can dramatically change the outcome of management decisions we see on beaches during emotive events such as a mass stranding” Dr Stockin says.

New Zealand experiences on average 2.4 mass strandings per annum, mostly occurring between November and February. Between Jan 1978 to Feb 2017, a total of 132 pilot whale mass stranding events occurred, involving an estimated 9,234 whales. Notably, 600 pilot whales beached themselves on Farewell Spit, near Golden Bay in February 2017, where over 400 were known to have died over the course of hours, days and in some cases, even weeks.

Dr Stockin says the aim of the overarching programme is to improve welfare by identifying as quickly as possible which whales have the best chance of survival, and to reduce welfare costs to those whales unlikely to survive. “Our aim is to forge synergies between animal welfare science and conservation practice, so that the efforts we make are based on science-derived assessment” said Dr Stockin.

Founder of the fellowship Bob Kerridge, expressed his pleasure that this first award was being given to such a worthy recipient, and for such an important cause. 

“Humans have a great empathy and connection with whales, and the tragedy of their many strandings is one of the great mysteries of the ocean and one that has a major emotional impact on those who experience them”, he said.

 “It is our belief that Dr Stockin’s study will lead to a greater understanding and consequently more humane and effective management of whales in distress.”

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