The Unit is staffed by the following full time positions:
Research Manager: Dr Els Vermeulen
Originally from Antwerp, Belgium, Dr. Vermeulen has been involved in marine mammal research since 2002. She attained her MSc degree (cum laude) in 2003 at the University of Brussels and her PhD in 2014 at the University of Liege, Belgium. Dr Vermeulen's research expertise lies in animal behaviour, ecology and population biology. Her main areas of interest are in the field of conservation biology and associated management, and include population structures and dynamics, ecology and ethology.
Dr Vermeulen conducted most of her research in Argentina, where she founded and directed a local NGO in 2005. During her stay in Argentina, her research projects were mainly focussed on the abundance and behaviour of southern right whales and population ecology of bottlenose dolphins, the latter which became the topic of her PhD. Additionally, she operated as a scientific consultant for the provincial government of Río Negro (Argentina), in relation to the newly established whale and dolphin-watching and swim-with-whales programmes. For this, she conducted the relevant impact studies and aided in the establishments of provincial laws, regulations and educative programmes.
Since 2009, Dr Vermeulen additionally works as a marine consultant for the marine offshore industry, with expertise in European waters as well as the Mediterranean and the South Atlantic. Due to her growing expertise, she became a member of the scientific committee as well as the Belgian delegation of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in 2011. Since 2014, Dr. Vermeulen resides in South Africa, where she attained permanent residency, and works as the Research Manager and a post-doctoral research fellow of the Mammal Research Institute Whale Unit of the University of Pretoria.
Technical Manager: Chris Wilkinson
Originally from Cape Town, Chris completed his Diploma and B-tech Diploma in Nature Conservation at the then Cape Technikon (now CPUT).
The practical training year of the diploma was completed at the West Coast National Park (WCNP) in Langebaan. During this time, Chris was exposed to every aspect of the parks Marine and Terrestrial ecosystem management. After completing his diploma, he joined the Marine Anti-poaching unit of the Table Mountain National Park (TMNP). During this time, he also completed my Class 4 diving and skipper training.
For 8 years, Chris worked at the Oceanographic Research Institute (ORI) in Durban. This job brought him back to my original career path in Marine Conservation. During his time in Durban, Chris completed my Class 4 dive supervisor’s course through the Professional Dive Centre and obtained his surf launching and diver skipper endorsements. Chris’s responsibilities at the ORI included the collection and processing of samples from the field, the entering of data on various databases, the maintenance of vehicles, boats, scientific and diving equipment, as well as providing technical support and skills to the various scientific components and projects of the ORI. Projects he has been involved with at the ORI include; various coral research projects based at Sodwana Bay, collecting samples for the African Coelacanth Eco-System Project (ACEP) from trawlers on the Natal bight, fish tagging projects both in Pondoland and in Cape Vidal, and a multitude of other inshore, offshore and estuarine sampling.
As Technical Manager of the MRI Whale Unit, Chris runs all the operations of the Unit, plans and executes safe field sampling, maintains all the scientific equipment, and manages and curates all the data. Additionally, Chris is an avid fisherman and represented my country at an international level, as well as being part of the national tagging programme.
Over and above these positions the Unit has a number of post-doctoral, and post-graduate students.