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Tara Thean

Tara Thean
Room 304 Austin Building
Office Phone: 01223 (3)36629


I grew up in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and graduated from Princeton University in June 2013 with an A.B. in ecology and evolutionary biology. One of the best facets of my Princeton career was writing a thesis about how bottlenose dolphins learn to communicate with each other. Part of this work involved traveling to Sarasota, Florida to record wild bottlenose dolphin whistles with the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program.

At Cambridge, I've switched gears from animal behavior (dolphin whistles) to anatomy (whale ears). I also play chamber music, act, and write for a number of publications often about science, but sometimes about other things as well. I've been fortunate that my academic trajectories at Princeton, Oxford, and Cambridge have afforded me the freedom to relate my interests in biological sciences and academia to broader concerns with science communication and access.

My degree receives generous full funding from the John Stanley Gardiner Studentship.

Research Interests

Size matters. A great deal of the behavioral and ecological diversity we observe in the animal kingdom has at least a passing relationship with body size, and I study the details of this relationship in whales and other aquatic and semi-aquatic mammals. More specifically, I examine the ontogenetic allometry, or relative growth, of middle and inner ear elements in these taxa. The ontogenetic approach to allometry has given us valuable information about adaptation and evolutionary transformations. Visceral and reproductive organ growth rate data in harbour porpoises, for example, have provided insight into these animals' reproductive schedule and maturation (e.g. McLellan et al. 2002). Relative growth in aquatic mammal ears is especially interesting because of the importance of sound to sensory perception and communication in the generally low-visibility environment that is water.

I hope for my work to shed light on the relative and functional importance of specific features of aquatic species' auditory apparatus, and in doing so aid our understanding of the factors that have contributed to the remarkable success of aquatic mammals at achieving independence from life on land.