Growing Up on Ice

Team B-030 is a collection of scientists with a passion for understanding how animals survive in the environments in which they live. We form a synthesis of expertise in seal biology, physiology, and veterinary care. Together, we seek to uncover the secrets of what it takes to be born in one of the harshest environments on the planet, and develop into one of the most elite diving predators in the ecosystem.


Heather Liwanag, ph.d.
Principal investigator

Heather is an Assistant Professor of Biology at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. She earned her B.S. in Biology from the University of California, San Diego; earned a PhD in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology from the University of California, Santa Cruz; and was a post-doctoral fellow at UC San Diego and Cal State Northridge. She is interested in the physiological adaptations of animals to their environment, and the evolutionary processes involved in those adaptations. Much of her research has focused on thermoregulation (the regulation of body temperature) and energetics (metabolic rates) in vertebrate animals, including seals, sea lions, and even lizards. She is especially excited to learn more about how Weddell seals survive in the Antarctic environment, and is also looking forward to seeing some emperor penguins while she is there.

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Linnea pearson, ph.d.
co-principal investigator

Linnea is a Post-Doctoral Fellow at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. She earned her B.S. degrees in Zoology and Biological Sciences from Colorado State University, and her Ph.D. in Marine Biology from the University of Alaska, Fairbanks. She is interested in how an animal’s physiology is adapted to environment in which it lives, and how this differs among species in similar environments. Her research has focused on comparative physiology of thermoregulation in phocid (“true”) seals, including the different strategies these animals use to maintain euthermia (normal body temperature). She is excited to be back in Antarctica to answer the question everyone asks: “How do those pups stay warm?”


lars tomanek, ph.d.
co-principal investigator

Lars is a Professor of Biology at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He has received a Bachelor and Masters in Biology from the University of Konstanz, Germany; a PhD in Zoology from Oregon State University, Corvallis, and was a Post-doctoral Fellow at Stanford University and UC Davis. His research has focused on the environmental stress physiology of marine organisms to help predict how climate change will affect the ecology of these organisms. In Antarctica, he focuses on analyzing the changes in the complement of proteins (proteome) in muscle and adipose tissue during the development of juvenile Weddell seals.  He has published over thirty research papers, co-authored a textbook on “Biochemical Adaptation: Responses to Environmental Challenges from Life’s Origins to the Anthropocene” (Sinauer Associates) and has received several major research awards from the National Science Foundation. He was a recipient of the Cal Poly Distinguished Scholarship Award in 2015. He teaches Principles of Physiology and co-teaches Marine Mammals, Birds and Reptiles with Heather.


Shawn johnson, dvm
co-principal investigator

Shawn is the Director of Veterinary Research at The Marine Mammal Center in  Sausalito, CA. He received his degree in veterinary medicine at Iowa State University, earned a Masters in Preventative Medicine at UC Davis, and also completed a  fellowship in anesthesia at UC Davis. Shawn's role at TMMC is to guide the science team's study of marine mammal health issues. As one of the world's leading marine mammal rehabilitation and research centers specializing in pinniped (seal and sea lion) health, The Marine Mammal Center provides the highest standard of clinical medicine and animal welfare, advances scientific knowledge through research and publication, and trains local and international veterinary professionals in its state-of-the-art teaching hospital. Shawn is excited to work with this team to gain insight into the physiology of Weddell seals.


Emma weitzner
graduate student researcher

Emma grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, surrounded by losing sports teams, horrible weather, and a river that once caught on fire, but not an ocean in sight; not the best place for an aspiring marine biologist. However, with some good old Midwestern determination, she beat the odds and received her degree in Marine Biology and an obsession with college basketball from Duke University in 2015. After one year of living in the “real world”, she returned to graduate school at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, California to pursue a Master’s degree in Biology. Her marine science career so far has taken her all over, from attaching cameras to monk seals in Hawaii, to studying sea turtles in Puerto Rico, monitoring the population of bottlenose dolphins in Wales, and wrestling with massive elephant seals in California. She is beyond excited to add working with Weddell seals in Antarctica to her growing list of experiences! Marine biology has been her primary passion since she could walk, but she dabbles in a few other hobbies as well: she has been playing the French horn since she was seven, she enjoys cooking, and she occasionally attempts to be an amateur photographer.


Melissa voisinet
graduate student researcher

Melissa is a graduate student researcher at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo with a bachelor's degree in marine biology and conservation. During her undergraduate career, she conducted research on the molecular impacts of prolonged fasting on northern elephant seal pups. She has also explored her passion for marine mammals by taking part in marine mammal rescue and rehabilitation, teaching ocean science to children, and conducting marine mammal population surveys. She is excited to continue studying marine mammal physiology by investigating the effects of environmental stress on Weddell seals in Antarctica. She plans to pursue a PhD in marine biology, focusing primarily on real-world applications to positively impact marine mammal care and conservation.


Sophie whoriskey, dvm
field veterinarian

Sophie is a clinical veterinarian at The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California. She earned her bachelors degree in marine biology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. After completing her bachelors degree she spent two years working as a research assistant at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography and the Atlantic Halibut Commission. She also started exploring the field of aquatic animal medicine and spent three months interning with the New England Aquarium veterinary staff. She then earned her doctor of veterinary medicine from the Atlantic Veterinary college, in Prince Edward Island. After graduating with her DVM she spent one year in private practice before starting to specialize in aquatic animal medicine. She spent one year at the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut before moving to California to take a position with the Marine Mammal Center where she has worked for the last 2 years.  She is passionate about developing new techniques in clinical medicine that improve our understanding of marine mammal health and is excited to be working in Antarctica with a team determined to improve our understanding of Weddell seal development and physiology. Her ultimate goal is to make a positive impact on marine mammal conservation through medicine and research.


field veterinarian

Heather is a veterinarian and lecturer in the Animal Science Department at Cal Poly. She also serves as contract veterinarian for The Marine Mammal Center’s San Luis Obispo field office. For the past 12 years, she has worked as a veterinarian for NOAA on marine mammal and sea turtle health and stranding response, where she has provided field support for projects all over the world. Her research applies an integrative One Health approach to study marine wildlife as sentinels for ocean and human health at the land-sea interface. At Cal Poly, she has developed new hands-on courses in marine mammal health, shelter medicine, and global one health. Heather received a doctorate in veterinary medicine and master of preventive veterinary medicine in wildlife disease ecology from the University of California, Davis. She completed a 1-year clinical internship in marine mammal medicine and pathology at The Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito, California. She is board-certified by the American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine, a specialty that addresses complex health issues that link humans, animals, and the environment we share.


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