Mason Cole | Ph.D. Student

Ocean Sciences UC Santa Cruz


  • B.S. General Biology, UC San Diego, 2010
  • M.S. Marine Science, Moss Landing Marine Laboratories (SJSU), 2021

Research/Career Interests
My career interests span the fields of ecology and conservation quite broadly, but my primary focus is currently the behavioral and foraging ecology of marine mammals in relation to the systems they inhabit. In my recent research I developed and applied analytical tools to estimate energetic gain (timing and size of captured prey) and fine-scale propulsive energy expenditure in diving California sea lions using animal-borne biologger data, revealing that foraging strategy affects a dive’s mean energetic cost as a function of physiology, body condition, and behavior. For my PhD research I hope to incorporate aspects of this mechanistic energetic perspective while investigating baleen whale behavioral responses to multi-scale (long-term, multi-year, and shorter-term) environmental and ecological disturbances on the West Antarctic Peninsula, as part of the collaborative NSF Long-Term Ecological Research (LTER) project at Palmer Station.

Cole, M. R., Ware, C., McHuron, E. A., Costa, D. P., Ponganis, P. J., McDonald, B. I. 2023. Deep dives and high tissue density increase mean dive costs in California sea lions (Zalophus californianus). Journal of
Experimental Biology 15 July 2023; 226 (14): jeb246059.

Cole, M. R., Zeligs, J. A., Skrovan, S., McDonald, B. I. 2021. Head-mounted accelerometry accurately detects prey capture in California sea lions. Animal Biotelemetry 9, 44 (2021).

Grants and Awards
2019 - SJSU/MLML Archimedes Scholarship
2017 - COAST Student Travel Award
2016 - COAST Graduate Student Award
2016 - H. T. Harvey Fellowship
2016 - MLML Scholar Award
2016 - Dr. Earl H. Myers and Ethel M. Myers Oceanographic and Marine Biology Trust

Master’s Thesis
Cole, M. R. (2020). Detecting Feeding and Estimating the Energetic Cost of Diving in California Sea Lions (Zalophus californianus) Using 3-Axis Accelerometers. San José State University, 2020.

Presented Research
Cole, M. R., Ware, C., McHuron, E. A., Costa, D. P., Ponganis, P. J., and McDonald, B. I. (2022, August). Dive depth affects cost of transport (J kg -1 m -1 ) and power (W kg -1 ) requirements in foraging California sea lions (Zalophus californianus). Virtual talk presented at the 24 th Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals, Palm Beach, Florida.

Cole, M. R., Ware, C., McHuron, E. A., Costa, D. P., Ponganis, P. J., and McDonald, B. I. (2021, October). Dive depth affects cost of transport (J kg -1 m -1 ) and power (W kg -1 ) requirements in California sea lions (Zalophus californianus). Virtual talk presented at the 7 th International Bio-logging Science Symposium, fully virtual conference, hosted from Hawaii.

Cole, M. R., Zeligs, J. A., Skrovan, S., Madsen, P., and McDonald, B. I. (2017, October). Head-mounted accelerometry accurately detects prey capture in California sea lions (Zalophus californianus). Poster
presented at the 22 nd Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals, Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Cole, M. (2017, March). Detecting California sea lion prey capture events using head-mounted accelerometers. Preliminary thesis research presented at the 2017 meeting of the California Student Chapter of the Society for Marine Mammalogy, Moss Landing, CA.

Professional Experience

  • Ecological restoration, Coastal Conservation and Research, Inc. Planning and implementation of ecologically sound habitat restoration in a variety of large terrestrial and wetland sites (up to 35 acres) in the central Monterey Bay area. 2017-2020 (crew member) & 2020-2023 (restoration & crew manager).
  • Lead Tour Guide, Monterey Bay Kayaks. Led natural history and ecology-focused tours of Elkhorn Slough (Moss Landing, CA) and the Cannery Row coastline (Monterey, CA). 2014-2020. Marine Mammal & Turtle Observer, Upwell Turtles. Identify, count, and size marine mammal and leatherback sea turtles (as well as Mola Mola and sea nettles) from small aircraft. Summer-Fall 2019
  • Marine Mammal Stranding Network Coordinator, Vertebrate Ecology Lab at Moss Landing Marine Labs (MLML). Coordinate daily operations for the Monterey County dead marine mammal stranding network, collect appropriate data and samples from dead stranded animals, and perform necropsies to investigate cause of death and pathology. 2014-2018.
  • Common Murre Colony Video Analysis, Humboldt State University through MLML. Video analysis of a common murre colony at Castle Rock State Marine Reserve assisting MLML student Stephanie Schneider in her diet and reproductive energetics study. 2015-2016.
  • Field Technician: Black-Tailed Deer study, Washington State University. Fine-scale activity and behavior observations, vegetation identification and sampling, forestry measurements, and enclosure construction and removal in assistance of Dr. Amy Ulappa's PhD research in rural Western Washington. Summer 2013.
  • Outdoor Educator, Naturalists at Large. Led school groups on outdoor activities relating to teamwork, safety, science, natural history, outdoor sports, and personal growth. 2012-2014.

Other Research and Volunteer Experience

  • Lead author: forthcoming paper validating common acceleration metrics DBA and MSA against calculations of propulsive energy expenditure at fine scales (5 second intervals and full dive phases) in diving California sea lions. Offshoot analysis of MLML thesis research. 2018 – current.
  • Coauthor: lab, field, writing, and analysis assistance of a study investigating the impacts of purple urchin grazing on microscopic stages of giant kelp with Sloane Lofy. 2018-current.  Field assistant: Northern elephant seal research volunteer for UCSC, including animal marking, tag resights, weanling data collection, and data collection and instrumentation of adult and juvenile Northern elephant seals at Ano Nuevo CA and elsewhere. 2015-2021.
  • Field assistant: monitoring sea otter behavior and movement in Elkhorn Slough and Monterey, CA with MLML student Heather Barrett. 2018.
  • Field assistant: behavior, acoustics, and photo ID of Risso’s dolphins in Monterey Bay, CA with MLML student Brijonnay Madrigal. 2017.
  • Field assistant: capturing and instrumenting California sea lions at San Nicolas Island, CA assisting Dr. Mike Tift and Dr. Paul Ponganis (Scripps Institute of Oceanography) in Dr. Tift’s PhD research. 2016.
  • Field volunteer & class project: spatial movement, dive behavior, and activity of hawksbill sea turtles around El Pardito, Baja California, MX. 2016.
  • Lab intern in the Vertebrate Ecology Lab at MLML: California sea lion scat cleaning and sorting (K. Hernandez), dead marine mammal responder, sea otter radio tracking and monitoring (J. Lindsay), long-term whale tag barb refinement (A. Szesciorka), Otolith extraction and measurement (J. Harvey). 2014-2015.
  • Field volunteer with Bay Area Puma Project: checking camera traps and rub stations along trail networks in the San Fransisco Bay area. 2014.
  • Trekking and Rock climbing guide: leading 1-6 day trips from Xelajú (Quetzaltenango), Guatemala in financial support of a local orphanage and rural school. 2011-2012.
  • Field volunteer: VHF radio tracking and triangulation of collared Andean bears in cloud forests near Pucará, Ecuador, for the Andean Bear Foundation. 2011.
  • Habitat restoration volunteer: working on a crew to restore overgrazed pastureland in Chilean Patagonia in preparation for the creation of Patagonia National Park, including fenceline and exotic species removal, trail construction, and community outreach. 2010-2011.

Contact Info
Ocean Sciences
Ocean Health Building
115 McAllister Way
University of California, Santa Cruz