Dash Masland, a marine biologist nicknamed the "poopologist" by her father, has won a National Geographic grant to study monk seal scat.
Masland, who lives in Maine, is working with the University of Hawaii’s Institute of Marine Biology and the National Marine Fisheries Service to study the diet of the seals.
As the winner of the National Geographic’s Expedition contest, Masland was awarded $10,000. The contest winner was determined by online votes, which Masland garnered through video posts, blog entries and Facebook.
Masland is motivated to study monk seals because they are the most endangered seal species in the United States and one of the most in the world, the contest website said.
She will study two populations of monk seals from the main Hawaiian islands, from Hawaii to Niihau, and the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
The monk seals from the main Hawaiian islands are increasing in population while those in the northwestern isles are decreasing.
Masland hopes to discover if diet plays a role in the growth or decline of populations. The fish they consume will be studied by using fecal DNA.
After preserving samples and collecting data, she will return to the East Coast until she returns to Hawaii in fall or winter to follow up on her findings.
Masland will then go to work with captive Hawaiian monk seals at the Waikiki Aquarium.