Dr Jarman’s main research interest is the development of genetic methods to study age in animals. His research on whale age estimation has focused on changes in methylation of specific parts of whale DNA that can be measured in DNA purified from small skin samples to provide an estimate of the age of a whale.
His Fulbright Scholarship allowed him to work with whale ecologist Dr Jooke Robbins on the applications of population age structure information in whale ecology. Dr Robbins works on the population of humpback whales in the Gulf of Maine. This population has been studied for many years and contains the largest number of whales that have a known age from being recognised visually when less than one year old, and re-sighted in subsequent years. Samples from these known-age whales were essential for calibrating DNA-based methods for age estimation. Commercial harvesting of the Gulf of Maine humpback whales ceased in the early 1900s, whereas the east coast Australian whale fishery was still operating until 1962, which is within the 95 year lifespan of humpback whales. The research will compare the population age structures found in both areas and relate the modern day age structures to differences in past whaling history.
This work will also provide a foundation for application of genetic methods for age estimation in other animal species. Simon intends to develop similar genetic age estimation methods for other long-lived wild animals such as albatross and penguins and to use the age information for population status monitoring.