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A narrated slide show I made with photographer Ria Mishaal at the Biodiversity Technologies symposium held by the Biodiversity Institute at Oxford University in September 2012.


Ocean escapism for the new year

January in Cambridge might not seem like the most obvious time and place to think about the wonders of exotic ocean life but what better way to fend off the winter blues and start the new year than a bit of ocean escapism? So why not join me for a weekend lecture series at Cambridge …

Academic publications

Scales, H. (2010). Advances in the ecology, biogeography and conservation of seahorses (genus Hippocampus). Progress in Physical Geography. 34(4): 443-458.

Scales, H. (2010). Co-author of IUCN/TRAFFIC Analyses of the Proposals to Amend the CITES Appendices…

Lost at Sea 2

Getting lost at sea

A little while ago I got lost at sea and washed up in a disused lighthouse in London’s docklands. As luck would have it I found myself in a room full of people sitting in life rings on the floor. When the shout went out ‘is there a marine biologist in the house?’, naturally I stepped up and volunteered …

I recorded and produced the audio for this World Resources Institute video introducing Reefs at Risk on Google Earth.

beluga mike johnston

The whale who learned to talk

This week I wrote a piece for National Geographic News about a beluga whale who is sadly no-longer with us. Five years after he passed away, NOC the whale has hit the headlines with a study just out describing how he learned to mimic a human voice. Have a listen to the sounds he made. Photo by Mike Johnston.

sulcata tortoise helen scales

Tortoises on the radio

Tortoises are not well known for being noisy. They are in fact pretty much silent creatures and perhaps not great on radio. But I still managed to catch them making sounds on tape for my latest BBC broadcast, on Radio 4’s Saving Species this week. Listen here to a clip from the programme. During my trip …

lionfish cropped sm

Finding fish in the wrong places

I just got back from a trip to America and a quick jaunt to Abaco Island in the Bahamas to visit John Bruno and his team at work in the field. One of their projects is looking at the lionfish invasion in the Caribbean, something I’ve heard and read and talked a lot about. But …


Are the oceans dying?

I reviewed Callum Roberts’ latest book Ocean of Life (How our seas are changing) for the Globe and Mail. Callum’s book gives an excellent and immensely readable account of the problematic relationship between humans and the oceans. As you might expect, it’s not exactly a cheery read, although he does somehow manage to maintain a …


Twenty years later

It’s 20 years since the first Rio Earth Summit. God that makes me feel old. But it also reminds me of the time when I first started paying attention to the state of the planet. And oh boy, was I full of hope then.



Yesterday I saw rain for the second time in 2 months. The first time was 6 weeks ago when there was a strange shower that lasted thirty seconds as we ate dinner outside at our guest house. We heard an unfamiliar noise and looked across to see the swimming pool jumping with raindrops. The second …

Pied_crow Myburgh

The accidental birdwatcher

As a marine biologist I consider myself to be a fish-watcher. Obviously it’s not the sort of thing you can do all the time; it generally requires a certain amount of being underwater to really work well. But for bird-watchers it’s a different matter. Theirs is a pastime that can happen at any moment and …


My fabric obsession

I’ve tried to resist but it’s no use. When we leave West Africa in two weeks my bags will be laden with fabric. I should have guessed that I’d develop an unhealthy obsession with the printed fabrics out here in West Africa. I suffered a similar affliction in Malaysia, coming home with masses of sarongs …

mini beach 3

Dakar made mini

I’ve been in Dakar for a week now and believe me, this is a city of contrasts. I’ve driven along smooth motorways with blue French signs and brand new peage tollbooths and seen young kids begging by the roadside for food and coins. I’ve watched shiny new buses that wouldn’t look out of place in …

dusty leaf


Philip Pulman had a lot to say about dust in his His Dark Materials trilogy but I suspect it’s not the same variety of dust that I’ve been getting to know lately. Last weekend the Sahara blew in. We woke up to find the world around us covered in a fine layer of orange dust. …

genie and shark

Happy Birthday Genie!

Today is Eugenie Clark’s 90th birthday. To celebrate here is my blog post from last year, after I had the immense pleasure of meeting Genie at Mote Marine Labs in Florida… They say never meet your heroes. But I did. I sat in a diner and ate junk food with her and it was perfect. …

oyster shells

The world's best oyster festival

I’ve never been to an oyster festival before and I don’t imagine there are many quite like the one I went to a few days ago. This one involved a lot of singing, dancing, whistle-blowing, and drumming. I got to eat my first oysters plucked from between the roots of Gambian mangroves – and they …

dead fish 2

Dead fish mystery solved

Remember those dead fish on the beach getting munched by vultures that appeared in my first Gambian post? (some without heads?) Well, I’ve found out where they’re coming from. I met Chris, a fisheries biologist visiting from the US who’s working with a local project called Ba Nafaa. He’s out here helping local fishermen find …


Sahelian riches

For the past few days I’ve been paying my first visits to fishing communities here in the Gambia. I’ve met and chatted with my first fishermen; I’ve seen baskets of fish being pulled from the sea and balanced on the heads of young Ghanaian men who run up the beach to waiting traders, little kids …

Wiggly sea urchin

On sand dollars and dead fish

So here I am in the Gambia. It’s a country I hadn’t thought a great deal about until a few months ago. I didn’t know it takes the shape of a sliver running along the River Gambia, poking a meandering finger into Senegal. I didn’t know how small it is – just over 4000 square …

Helen's kindle


One of the giveaway signs that we’re about to go on a long trip is the upswing in the amount of stuff being delivered to our house. In the past 5 days we have taken delivery of two kindles, two cameras, two external hard drives, two pairs of trail running shoes, one netbook, one voice …


I'm going to West Africa

In one week I will be in West Africa. It’ll be the first time I’ve visited sub Saharan Africa and I’m oh so very excited about it. It’ll be the first big trip in years that I’ve been on with my husband (The Other Dr Scales). In 2005 we lived together on Madagascar’s wild west …

holkham beach by Evelyn Simak

Notes on the north Norfolk coast

This time yesterday I was standing on a gigantic sandy beach. The sun was shining down from a cloudless sky, miniature waves breaking around the legs of exotic-looking seabirds that probed the sand with long beaks, and I felt like I was in another country. In fact all I’d done was drive two-hours north and …

home planet pic

Home Planet BBC Radio 4

For six years I was an oceans expert on the BBC Radio 4 series Home Planet. It was a huge pleasure to join my colleagues on air, including most weeks Philip Stott, to answer listeners questions about science and the environment. Here are a few of my favourite questions: If squeezing gases makes them hot, …

Helen Scales by Ria Mishaal

Remembering a day at the beach

2012 began for me with a long, rainy drive back home (after a week of glorious idleness with my parents) and for the first time this winter I felt the tug of summer. Of bare feet, no coat, and green trees. But all that is a way off and we’re settling in for the long haul …

blue planet NASA

New Year what-next pondering

A few days before the end of 2011, the BBC broadcast my last appearance on Home Planet. After nearly 6 years of taking part I’m undeniably sad to see the series come to an end. But on that last show, rather than dwelling on things coming to an end I was granted the chance to …

xmas card 2011 3

May your bicycles have mistletoe

Last year I didn’t make any christmas cards. I can’t remember why exactly but I assume I thought I was too busy or I didn’t get inspired by anything in particular. This year I found time and inspiration. The first thing I decided on was that I wanted it to be a stylised line drawing similar …

cod wayneandboat

Cod end

I was recently asked by The Browser to pick my top 5 books about the ocean. Mulling over my choice I returned to a modern classic and re-read that pioneer of single-topic, one-word titled bestsellers – Mark Kurlansky’s Cod. Mark’s book has been sitting on my shelf since I was an undergraduate zoologist and it …


Cold feet & dwarf seahorses

You can hear me this week on BBC Radio 4’s Saving Species meeting some of the teeniest members of the syngnathid family. I went to Tampa Bay in Florida and did a spot of seahorse hunting with the wonderful Professor Heather Mason-Jones. Assisted by a gang of keen students (all of them ladies – go girls) …

seahorse playground ride by elston

Museum of Curiosity

And so I make my debut on comedy radio which came as something of a surprise, I can tell you. Well… not by the time this week’s episode of The Museum of Curiosity hit the airways but a few months back when I got an unexpected email asking if I’d fancy being on the show …

Helen Scales writing by Ria Mishaal

Welcome to my new-look site

Welcome to my new-look website. I’ve decided to merge my old website and blog into a single, one-stop-shop. This will now be the place to find out about me and my work and also catch my latest blog posts. I will be posting regularly about the things I’m up to, my thoughts on ocean science …

helen coming up for air

My new favourite thing

I recently paid my first visit to the Red Sea and discovered my new favourite thing: freediving. The idea of learning to freedive first came to me years ago when I was floating on my back in a saltwater swimming pool by a beach in Madagascar, gazing at the sky and imagining what it would …

fish cake

How to make a podcast

Can it really be a year since I started making podcasts about the sea? 12 months have flown by in a blur of chatting with amazing ocean experts, getting to grips with microphones, recorders, editing software, and websites, and having a lot of fun talking oceans alongside the lovely Sarah Castor-Perry. We’ve just put the …


Introducing Naked Oceans

For several years now I’ve been regular co-presenter on the Naked Scientists – a fun, live science show broadcast from Cambridge University. And if any of you have ever listened in, you’ll know that I tend to talk about the oceans, a lot. Well, now I’m getting the chance to talk about nothing else, in …

seahorse with cuttlefish eggs

Seahorses with dangerous underwear

Seahorses are masters of disguise. They really are. They can grow a coat of weedy sprouts and change their skin colour to seemlessly match their surroundings. No wonder a cuttlefish recently mistook a seahorse for a blade of seagrass and covered it in eggs, as seen in this video on the BBC news website. The …

baobab misty

Beautiful Baobabs

For six months I lived and worked in Madagascar, on its wild western coast, and every day I encountered some of the most spectacular trees in the world. There are 8 species of baobab and 6 of them are found only in Madagascar. For most of my stay it was the dry season in the …

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