An interview with Dan Madigan

We’re excited to continue our series of posts from researchers who’ve posted projects on Petridish, highlighting their backgrounds, research interests and experience with the funding process.  Our next interview is with Dan Madigan, a Ph.D. candidate at Hopkins Marine Station of Stanford University.  View his project, called “Fukushima TRIPS: Transport of Radionuclides in Pelagic Species.”

Q: Tell us a little bit about your research interests.

My interests are the movements and ecology of apex predators of the Pacific Ocean (billfishes, tunas, sharks, etc).  The pelagic (deep, offshore) environment is vast and in many places, there aren’t many features that aggregate food (small fish) for the big fish.  How do the large animals make a living in this environment, and where do they travel to manage to survive?

Q: What inspired you to become a scientist?

I’ve always had a basic interest in natural biology, and it was an obvious major for me in college.  My deepest interests always lay in the ocean.  I went fishing for billfish in 2006 and after hours of blank ocean – there they were.  Why were these huge animals in this spot, and not somewhere else?  That’s when I got interested in large, migratory fish.

My studies of bluefin led to the radiocesium project on an informed guess.  We know that small bluefin off California recently migrated from Japan.  In 2011, months after Fukushima, I thought: what if these fish picked up radioactivity off Japan and transported it across the whole Pacific?  I got in touch with Dr. Nick Fisher whom I knew since I was an undergrad, he agreed we could take a look, and it led to our finding of radioactivity in all 15 sampled bluefin.  The logical next step was to look at other animals that migrate long distances.

Q: What has been the most exciting thing you’ve found in your research so far?

The first fish that showed up ‘hot’ was probably the most exciting moment I’ve had.  It was an inarguable, amazing, and surprising finding.  Those moments don’t happen as often as people may think.

Q: Why did you decide to post your project on Petridish?  

I was actually contacted by Petridish.  Once I learned what it was I thought it was a great idea.  We have received funding from the Moore Foundation and NOAA to look at Pacific bluefin much more thoroughly this year.  But we don’t yet have funding to look at other species, and after the bluefin study the public made it very clear that they want more information on what levels of radiocesium are in their fish.  This seemed like a great way for the public to take part in finding that out.

Q: What is your favorite part of the work that you do?

I can’t lie – you can’t beat fieldwork in the open ocean.  We see whales, turtles, dolphins, and fish (my greatest interest) ‘boiling’ on the surface, feeding on small fish.  Sometimes, after days of searching, it doesn’t get better than seeing those pockets of life.

To read more about Dan’s research, ask questions or back his work, view the project page:

Fukushima TRIPS: Transport of Radionuclides in Pelagic Species

Pacific bluefin in 2011 carried radiation from Japan to California. What other ocean species are transporting radiation from the Fukushima spill around the Pacific Ocean?

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