Animal Migration – Professor Rory Wilson

Rory with red-cheeked bulbul
Professor Rory Wilson with red-cheeked bulbul.

Let me introduce Rory Wilson, Professor of Zoology at Swansea University. Rory’s work focuses on animal movement, migration, and behaviour. In particular, he focuses on marine vertebrates. He was named one of Britain’s top 50 most influential conservation heroes by the BBC Wildlife Magazine! Rory also worked on the Great Migrations series for National Geographic as the lead consulting scientist. His studies of migration have taken him all over the globe.

Rory, how would you describe your work to a 10yr old?

I work by using mini computers attached to animals. These ‘tags’ record everything that animals do; when they eat, where they go, what they do when they get there, how much energy they expend doing the various things that they do. That way, I can find out the important elements in animal lives and hopefully use this to help in conservation or, at the very least, help us ‘understand’ animals better.

Why did you choose this as a profession?

I’ve always been fascinated by animals and this approach allows me to find out some of the special things that they do – many of which we wouldn’t have dreamt of previously.

Scientific research is full of challenges; can you share some of your biggest challenges, and how you overcame them?

One of the biggest challenges was to determine when animals feed, and how much they eat. I solved this for penguins (and other animals) by attaching a tiny magnet to the lower beak and a small sensor that measured magnetic field intensity on the upper beak. When the beak was opened, the magnetic field intensity perceived by the sensor changed and allowed me to calculate beak opening angle. By measuring this many times per second, I could see when penguins were swallowing fish and how big the fish were.

How would you define success as a scientific researcher for you personally?

Making extraordinary discoveries.

What excites you about your current projects?

The level of detail that we can derive about animal lives. This is hugely revealing and is changing the way we think about animals.

What advice, that has impacted your career, would you like to share with any scientists reading this?

You can do more, and better, by finding the right collaborator, especially if that person works across disciplines.

If another scientist wanted to collaborate with you, what is the best way for them to connect with you?

Email, I guess. (


Many thanks to Rory for taking time out of his busy schedule to respond to my questions. The more I’ve looked into Rory’s work the more inspirational I have found him to be. I love the fact that the advice Rory shared points towards others and the importance of good collaborations. To paraphrase ‘The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People’ by Stephen Covey; collaboration in the workplace produces win-win situations where everyone benefits.

If you liked this interview then don’t forget to say so in the comments below, and share it on your favourite social media platform.

If you want to learn more about Rory’s work then you can view his Swansea University profile page here, and check out the video below.

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