Dr. Paul D Jepson
BVMS PhD DipECZM (Wildlife Population Health) MRCVS
2013: Appointed to Reader.
2012: Member, IUCN Cetacean Specialist Group.
2012: Member, IUCN Wildlife Health Specialist Group.
2010: European Veterinary Specialist in Wildlife Population Health.
2007: Institute of Zoology PhD student Graduate Tutor (until 2012).
2007: Appointed to Senior Research Fellow.
2006: Awarded 5 year RCUK post-doctoral Fellowship in Marine Mammal Epidemiology.
2003: PhD, Royal Veterinary College (University of London).
1991: BVMS, University of Glasgow Veterinary School.
My long-term research interests as a European Veterinary Specialist in Wildlife Population Health include the systematic pathological investigations (necropsies) of stranded marine mammals, marine turtles and basking sharks. Necropsies are conducted at ZSL or in the field and are primarily undertaken to determine the causes of disease and mortality of stranded animals. This can involve rapidly responding to live stranding or mass stranding events as they happen. Since 2000 I have been the principal grant holder for the UK Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme (CSIP) – funded by UK Govt. Rob Deaville (IoZ) is the CSIP Project Manager. To date I have obtained over £7.5 million of research funding in total from a range of sources (Defra; EU; UNEP; ASCOBANS; UK Ministry of Defence).
This funding has enabled me to publish >130 peer-reviewed scientific publications and co-author a similar number of CSIP-related Government Reports. Other significant grants held at IoZ include the UK Government-funded investigation into the impact of the UK phocine distemper epizootic on UK seal populations in 2002 and an EU-funded Marie Curie post-doctoral Fellowship “CETACEAN STRESSORS” with Dr Sinead Murphy (2012).
The CSIP maintains a 25+ year UK-stranded cetacean database (including causes of death) alongside a national marine mammal, shark and turtle tissue archives. These data and tissue archives facilitate a broad range of collaborative and interdisciplinary research investigating natural or anthropogenic factors that can drive mortality, such as effects of fisheries interactions and impacts of chemical or acoustic pollution.
My research interests are diverse but include investigating exposure and effects of persistent organic pollutants (POPs), especially polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in marine apex predator species in European waters such as killer whales (Orcinus orca) and bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus).
This involves longstanding collaborative work with Robin Law, Jon Barber and other colleagues at Cefas Lowestoft laboratory in Suffolk. Although PCB use/manufacture was banned in Europe in the 1980s, blubber PCB concentrations consistently exceed all known thresholds for mammalian toxicity and are likely to be the main driver of marked population declines in European marine apex predators like killer whales (orcas), bottlenose dolphins and striped dolphins (Stenella coeruleoalba) in the NE Atlantic and Mediterranean Sea regions (Jepson et al 2016). PCB concentrations did initially decline in biota following an EU-ban in the mid-1980s, but PCBs have now stabilised in most European biota. For many cetaceans in Europe, PCB concentrations remain among the very highest globally and will induce a number of empirical toxic effects, including the profound suppression of reproduction in adult females (e.g. reduced pregnancy rates; increased stillbirths/calf mortality). Other effects of high PCB exposure include suppression of immunity and neurodevelopment and disruption of endocrine function/homeostasis. The suppression of reproduction (infertility and high calf mortality) is likely to have the greatest negative effect on the conservation status of many highly PCB-exposed cetacean populations in European and other waters.
So are high PCBs just a European problem? Probably not! In a recent Science Perspectives article, Robin Law and I argue that PCBs pose a threat to many marine apex predators globally (Jepson and Law 2016). The killer whale remains the most highly PCB-contaminated species on Earth, with very high PCB concentrations found throughout their range. After humans, killer whales are the most widely distributed mammalian species on Earth. But, in recent years, high killer whale numbers have only been found near the less polluted Arctic and Antarctic regions. The relatively long lactation period in cetaceans – compared to other marine taxa – facilitates considerable transmission of PCBs from mother to calf. Other marine apex predator species potentially impacted by PCBs include false killer whales (P. crassidens); coastal bottlenose dolphins (N. hemisphere); several “IUCN-threatened” cetacean species in SE Asia; all marine mammals in the Mediterranean and Black Seas; ringed seals and harbour porpoises (P. phocoena) in the Baltic Sea; polar bears (U. maritimus) in the Arctic and several apex predator shark species including great whites (C. charcharias) and tiger sharks (S. cuvier) (Jepson and Law 2016).
Over the past 25 years CSIP-CEFAS collaborative research utilises a sentinel marine mammal – the UK-stranded harbour porpoise – to monitor trends in a range of marine POPs including PCBs and a range of organochlorine pesticides. PCBs in UK harbour porpoises are lower than the dolphins in European waters but are stable over time and still regularly exceed PCB thresholds for mammalian toxicity. Higher concentrations of PCBs in UK-stranded porpoises are strongly associated (statistically) with mortality due to infectious diseases (Jepson et al 2005); depletion of thymic lymphoid tissue (Yap et al 2012); and reproductive impairment - including a 50% reduction in pregnancy rate as compared to harbour porpoises in more “pristine” habitats with much lower PCB exposures (e.g. Iceland; Greenland; Bay of Fundy/Gulf of Maine) (Murphy et al 2015).
CSIP-CEFAS research was also focussed on new and emerging POPs such as increasing concentrations of brominated flame retardants in UK-stranded porpoise blubber in the 1990s (Law et al 2010). This data contributed directly to the EU-wide ban of the commercial penta- and octa-mix polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) products in 2004. Levels of these brominated flame retardants have subsequently declined significantly in UK porpoises (Law et al 2012). Collectively, these contaminant-related research findings in European cetaceans inform UK and other European Governments and the European Commission, and feed into other international bodies and agreements including EU Habitats Directives, OSPAR, ICES, ASCOBANS and ACCOBAMS.
In relation to acoustic (noise) pollution, collaborative research with Professor Antonio Fernandez and colleagues at the University of Las Palmas, Gran Canaria, Spain has identified “acute and systemic gas and fat embolism” in mass stranded beaked whales – a condition associated with a suite of tissue injuries that are very similar to decompression sickness (DCS) or “the bends” in human divers (Jepson et al 2003; Fernandez et al 2005). Gas embolic pathology has also occasionally been identified in single UK-stranded cetaceans, predominantly involving deep-diving species. The proximity of beaked whale mass stranding events (MSEs) to naval exercises using active sonars suggests that high-intensity acoustic exposure is a causal factor in the pathogenesis of cetacean DCS. As a result of our work on gas embolism, the Spanish Government imposed a ban on high powered naval sonars in the vicinity of the Canary Islands that was hailed as a major conservation success since no further cetacean MSEs occurred since the ban was imposed in 2004 (Fernandez A. et al., Nature 2013, 497:317).
Investigations of other (non-beaked whale) cetacean MSEs in the UK included a short-beaked common dolphin (Delphinus delphis) MSE in 2008 in Cornwall, UK (Jepson et al 2013) and two pilot whales MSEs in Scotland in 2011 and 2012 (Brownlow et al 2014; 2015). I have also invited expert on an Independent Scientific Review Panel (ISRP) that met in Washington DC in Feb 2013 and concluded that a 12 kHz multi-beam echo-sounder (deployed by Exxon-Mobil) was the most likely cause of a large (>100 individuals) melon-headed whale (P. electra) MSE in Madagascar in 2008 (Southall et al 2013). The IOZ-led CSIP investigation into the 2008 common dolphin MSE in Cornwall concluded that concurrent international naval exercises in the area were the most probable cause (Jepson et al 2013). This led directly to specific revisions of Royal Navy activities including a direct role for CSIP scientists in the early reporting of near-shore groups of pelagic cetaceans to Royal Naval Command in Portsmouth. The 2008 MSE investigation also led to the establishment of the Marine Underwater Sound Stakeholders Forum (MUSSF) convened by the UK Government (Defra and Ministry of Defence) to specifically discuss and improve the environmental mitigation of naval activities and of which IOZ (CSIP) continues to form an integral part.
Collectively, the research on cetacean MSEs has informed the environmental mitigation of high-intensity sonars and other naval activities and on a global basis, most specifically for the US Navy. For example, our research publications on cetacean MSEs have been cited numerous times in Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) for national and international naval exercises involving the US Navy. Our research on acoustically-induced cetacean MSEs has also helped to mitigate the environmental impact of multi-beam echo-sounders and other acoustic sources used in the oil and gas industry.
In recent years I have also participated in the scientific investigations of multiple cetacean stranding/mortality events overseas including: a mixed species cetacean mortality event in Taiwan in 2006; high calf mortality in Southern right whales (Eubalaena australis) in Patagonia, Argentina (2008-present); and causes of mortality in the critically endangered Irrawaddy dolphins (Orcaella brevirostris) in the Mekong River, Cambodia in 2012. During my career I have been a plenary speaker at several international marine mammal conferences in the USA an invited expert at a number of international workshops including the Determination of Human Interaction at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, MA, USA (2012); a workshop on the Effects of Climate Change on Cetaceans, Vienna, Austria (2010); a workshop on Diving Marine Mammal Gas Kinetics at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, MA, USA (2010). Although the bulk of my research is cetacean-focused I led a 12-month Defra-funded investigation into the impact of the 2002 phocine distemper virus (PDV) epizootic on UK seal populations in collaboration with the Sea Mammal Research Unit and the Scottish Agricultural College (Inverness). I also participated in a mass mortality event of Caspian seals (Pusa caspica) in 2000 caused by canine distemper virus (CDV).
Finally, I periodically undertake clinical veterinary work of free-living marine mammals such as responding to live cetacean strandings, including the famous “Thames whale” in January 2006. In 2012 I participated as a veterinarian conducting health assessments (blood sampling, etc.) in the free-living and resident bottlenose dolphin population in Sarasota Bay, Florida led by Dr Randy Wells (Chicago Zoological Society). In September 2013 I chaired an international workshop of experts on euthanasia protocols to optimise welfare concerns for stranded cetaceans (mainly large whales) held under the auspices of the International Whaling Commission.
Jepson, P.D. and Law, R.J. (2016) Persistent pollutants, persistent threats: Polychlorinated biphenyls remain a major threat to marine apex predators. Science 352: 1388-1389.
Jepson, P.D., Deaville, R., Barber, J. L., Aguilar À., Borrell A., et al. (2016) PCB pollution still impacts populations of orca and other dolphins in European waters. Sci. Rep. 6, 18573; doi: 10.1038/srep18573
Brownlow, A., Baily, J., Dagleish, M., Deaville, R., Foster, G., Jensen, S-K., Krupp, E., Law, R., Penrose, R., Perkins, M., Read, F. and Jepson, P.D. (2015) Investigation into the long-finned pilot whale mass stranding event, Kyle of Durness, 22nd July 2011. Report to Defra and Marine Scotland. http://sciencesearch.defra.gov.uk/Document.aspx?Document=12547_KyleofDurnessmassstrandingeventreport.pdf.
Murphy, S., Barber, JL, Learmonth, JA, Read, FL, Deaville, R, Perkins MW, Brownlow A, Davison, N, Penrose, R, Pierce, GP, Law RL and Jepson, P.D. (2015) Reproductive failure in UK harbour porpoises Phocoena phocoena: legacy of pollutant exposure? PLoS ONE 10(7): e0131085. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.013108
Papachlimitzou A., Losada S., Barber J.L., Bersuder P., Deaville R., Brownlow A, Penrose R., Jepson P.D. and Law R.J. (2015) Organophosphorus flame retardants (PFRs) and plasticisers in harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) stranded or bycaught in the UK during 2012. Marine Pollution Bulletin 98:328-34. doi: 10.1016/j.marpolbul.2015.06.034.
Brownlow A., Baily J., Dagleish M., Davison N., Deaville R. Foster G., Gajdosechova Z., Jensen S-K. , Jepson P.D., Krupp E., McGovern B., Morell M., Penrose R., Perkins M., Read F. (2014) Investigation into the long-finned pilot whale mass stranding event, Pittenweem, Fife, 2nd September 2012. Final report to Marine Scotland, Scottish Government, September 2014.
García-Párraga D., Crespo-Picazo J. L., Bernaldo de Quirós Y., Cervera V., Martí-Bonmati L., Díaz-Delgado J., Arbelo M., Moore M.J., Jepson P.D., Fernández A. (2014) Decompression sickness (‘the bends’) in sea turtles. Diseases of Aquatic Organisms 111: 191–205. doi: 10.3354/dao02790
Wilson, S.C.; Eybatov, T.M.; Amano, M.; Jepson, P.D. and Goodman, S.J. (2014) The roles of disease epidemiology and persistent organic pollutants in long-term mortality patterns in Caspian seals, Pusa caspica. PLoS ONE 9(7): e99265. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0099265
Peltier H., Dabin, W., Jepson P.D., Deaville, R., Van Canneyt, O., Daniel, P. and Ridoux, V. (2014) The contribution of stranding data to monitoring and conservation strategies for cetaceans: developing spatially explicit mortality indicators for common dolphins in the eastern North Atlantic. Ecological Indicators 39; 203– 214.
Arbelo, M., Espinosa De Los Monteros, A.; Herráez, P., Jepson, P.D., Fernández, A. (2013) Pathology and causes of death of stranded cetaceans in Canary Islands (1999-2005) Diseases of Aquatic Organisms 103: 87-99.
Jepson P.D., Deaville R., Acevedo-Whitehouse K., Barnett, J., Brownlow A., et al. (2013) What caused the UK’s largest common dolphin (Delphinus delphis) mass stranding event? PLoS ONE 8(4): e60953. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0060953
Law R.J; Sara Losada; Jonathan L Barber; Philippe Bersuder; Rob Deaville; Andrew Brownlow; Rod Penrose; Jepson P.D. (2013) Alternative flame retardants, Dechlorane Plus and BDEs in the blubber of harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) stranded or bycaught in the UK during 2008. Environment International 60, 81–88.
Law RJ; Bersuder P; Barry J; Barber J; Deaville R; Barnett J; Jepson P.D. (2013) Organochlorine pesticides and chlorobiphenyls in the blubber of bycaught female common dolphins from England and Wales. Marine Pollution Bulletin 69: 238-242.
Murphy, Sinead, Pinn, E., and Jepson P.D. (2013) A review of the short-beaked common dolphin (Delphinus delphis) in the North-east Atlantic: distribution, ecology and conservation status. Oceanography and Marine Biology: An Annual Review 51; 193-280.
Law, R.J., Barry, J., Barber, J.L., Bersuder, P., Deaville, R., Reid, R.J., Brownlow, A., Penrose, R., Barnett, J., Loveridge, J., Smith, B. and Jepson P.D. (2012) Contaminants in cetaceans from UK waters: status as assessed within the Cetacean Strandings Investigation Programme from 1990 to 2008. Marine Pollution Bulletin 64: 1485-1494.
Siebert, U., Jepson P.D. and Wohlsein, P. (2013) First indication of gas embolism in a harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) in German waters. European Journal Wildlife Research 59: 441–444. doi 10.1007/s10344-013-0700-4
Yap, X., Deaville, R., Perkins, M.W., Penrose, R., Law, R.J., and Jepson P.D. (2012) Investigating links between polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) exposure and thymic involution and thymic cysts in harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena).Marine Pollution Bulletin 64: 2168-2176.
Law, R.J., Barry, J., Bersuder, P., Barber, J., Deaville, R., Reid, R.J. and Jepson, P.D. (2010) Levels and trends of BDEs in blubber of harbor porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) from the UK, 1992 – 2008. Environmental Science & Technology 44, 4447–4451.
Law, R.J., Bersuder, P., Barry, J., Wilford, B.H., Allchin, C.R. and Jepson P.D. (2008) A significant downturn in levels of HBCD in the blubber of harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) stranded or bycaught in the UK: an update to 2006. Environmental Science & Technology 42, 9104-9109.
Hall, A.J., Hugunin, K., Deaville, R., Law, R.J., Allchin, C.R., Jepson, P.D. (2006) The risk of infection from polychlorinated biphenyl exposure in harbour porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) – A case-control approach. Environmental Health Perspectives 114: 704-711.
Hall, A.J., Jepson P.D., Goodman, S.J. and Härkönen, T. (2006) Phocine Distemper Virus – Data and models, nature and nurture. Biological Conservation 131: 221–229.
Jepson, P.D., Deaville, R., Patterson, I.A.R., Pocknell, Ross, H.M., et al. (2005) Acute and chronic gas bubble lesions in cetaceans stranded in the United Kingdom. Veterinary Pathology 42: 291-305.
Jepson, P.D., Bennett, P.M., Deaville, R., Allchin, C.R., Baker J.R. & Law, R.J. (2005) Relationships between PCBs and health status in UK-stranded harbour porpoises (Phocoena phocoena). Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 24: 238–248.
Lawson, B. and Jepson P.D. (compilers) (2004) UK Phocine Distemper Virus Epizootic: Investigation Report 2002/2003. Report to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. 221pp.
Fernandez, A., Arbelo, M., Deaville, R., Patterson, I.A.P., Castro, P., Baker, J.R., Degollada, E., Ross, H.M., Herráez, P., Pocknell, A.M., Rodriguez, E., Howie, F.E., Espinosa, A., Reid, R.J., Jaber, J.R., Martin, V., Cunningham, A.A., and Jepson, P.D. (2004) Whales, sonar and decompression sickness (reply). Nature, doi:10.1038/nature02528
Jepson, P.D., Arbelo, M., Deaville, R., Patterson, I.A.R., Castro, P., et al. (2003) Gas-bubble lesions in stranded cetaceans. Nature 425: 575-576.
Jepson, P.D., Baker, J.R., Kuiken, T., Simpson, V.R., Kennedy, S. & Bennett, P.M., et al. (2000) Pulmonary pathology of harbour porpoises stranded in England and Wales between 1990 and 1996. Veterinary Record 146: 721-728.
Jepson, P.D., Bennett, P.M., Allchin, C.R., Law, R.J., Kuiken, T., et al. (1999) Investigating potential associations between chronic exposure to polychlorinated biphenyls and infectious disease mortality in harbour porpoises from England and Wales. The Science of the Total Environment 243/244: 339-348.
Collaborators & Links:
• CEFAS Lowestoft Laboratory, Pakefield Road, Lowestoft, Suffolk, NR33 0HT
• Natural History Museum, Cromwell Road, London, SW7 5BD.
• Wildlife Unit, SRUC Veterinary Science Division (Inverness), Drummondhill, Stratherrick Road, Inverness, IV2 4JZ.
• Sea Mammal Research Unit, Gatty Marine Laboratory, St Andrews University, St Andrews, Fife, KY16 8LB.
• Department of Veterinary Pathology, University de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Gran Canaria, Spain.