Ailsa’s academic career started when she joined the Institute of Occupational Health at the University of Birmingham in 1985. Her first research project was a study for the Department of Health, investigating the microbiological health risks for Pathologists and Post Mortem Technicians (Hall et al, 1991a; Babb et al, 1989). This research helped the Department produce a new Code of Practise for the Prevention of Infection in the Post Mortem Room. In combination with a mortality study for the Royal College of Pathologists it formed the basis of her PhD (Hall et al, 1991b).
She joined the Sea Mammal Research Unit in 1989 after the outbreak of phocine distemper (PDV) among harbour seals in the North Sea the previous year. Her initial studies involved investigating the interaction between polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) contaminants on the mortality rates from PDV in UK harbour seals (Hall et al, 1992). This was followed by a study of the effect of PCBs, transferred through lactational exposure, on the developing immune system of grey seals pups (Hall et al, 1997).
Since then she has undertaken a number of studies aimed at determining the effect that contaminant and pathogen exposure has on the risk of mortality and morbidity in marine mammals, both seals and cetaceans. She is particularly interested in the role of these factors in determining an animals early survival and reproductive capability and in how they interact with the species’ immune and endocrine systems. This has led to more fundamental questions about how the immune system may be shaped by the life history strategies of marine mammals.
She is also now very interested in the physiological adaptations to a marine existence, particularly at the molecular level; such as the respiratory strategies that allow animals to forage at depth and their adaptations to cope with long periods of fasting. It is these remarkable aspects of their physiology that makes these unique and fascinating mammals to study.