Michal Zatrak

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The focus of my PhD is to investigate the behavioral and physiological aspects of stress and diseases in harbour seals (Phoca vitulina) and grey seals (Halichoerus grypus), to aid their conservation efforts. I will be looking into the behavioural differences between permanently captive seals and individuals staying in short-term captive settings, such as rescue centres. Stress levels of seals will be measured using a yet to be validated enzyme-immunoassay (EIA), that will quantify the concentrations of faecal cortisol metabolites. This cortisol EIA will then be used to design a Lab-on-a-chip (LOC), so that it can be used for stress assessment of seals in the wild. Furthermore, the most prevalent diseases in rescued seals will be identified, using seal rescue records from collaborators around the UK and Ireland. Consequently, an LOC device will be designed to make the detection of these diseases fast and available to be carried out in non-laboratory settings.

My interest in seals, and all other pinnipeds, stems from my previous experience of working with California sea lions, grey seals and harbour seals at the National Zoological Society of Wales, where I was captivated by their behaviour, cognitive abilities and amphibious physiological adaptations. My fascination greatly complemented my Marine Zoology (BSc) degree and led me to carry out a masters degree in Zoo Conservation Biology. During my studies I further acquired work experience at various establishments including SeaLife Manchester, the Great Barrier Reef sea turtle rehabilitation centre and Chester Zoo’s endocrinology laboratory. I am currently a laboratory assistant at the University of Chester, where I demonstrate on zoology-based modules and am responsible for the care of all the animals in the department of Biological Sciences.

Alongside my studies and work experiences I was involved in various research projects that included:        

  • Investigating metabolic responses of shore crabs to reduced salinity and progressive hypoxia.

  • Determining the effects of supplementary carotenoids on the growth rate and colouration of green and black poison dart frogs.

  • Assessing the effects of time and environmental conditions on the concentrations of progesterone metabolites in faecal samples of African wild dogs.

  • Looking at interactions of zoo visitor with educational material.

  • Carrying out fish surveys on the Great Barrier Reef.

  • Assessing population size and individual movement of field voles in a nature reserve

© Ecological Genetics & Conservation, 2019