Dr Gavan Cooke

Lecturer in Animal Behaviour

Faculty:Faculty of Science & Technology


Location: Cambridge

Areas of Expertise: Animal and environmental biology

Gavan is a Behavioural Ecologist with experience of lab based experimentation and field observations. He is also an advocate for aquatic animal welfare.

Find Gavan on Twitter


Gavan is a behavioural ecologist and professional aquarist, possessing a BSc in Zoology and a PhD in fish behavioural ecology. His research interests include the behavioural ecology of aquatic animals, especially cephalopods. He has have a great deal of experience in controlled laboratory behaviour experiments and aquatic field work, having dived many times in the UK (and abroad) and spent a good deal of time in Lake Malawi collecting fish and observational data.

As someone who works with captive aquatic animals, Gavan is an advocate for captive aquatic animal welfare, holding numerous professional certificates in captive animal welfare and husbandry (including birds, mammals and reptiles). He has experience of being a professional aquarist in the research, aquaculture, public aquarium and hobbyist sectors. Among other societies, he is a scientific advisor the Aquarium Welfare Association and a welfare specialist/course tutor for the European Association for Zoos and Aquariums (EAZA).

Research interests

  • Cephalopod behavioral ecology

Areas of research supervision

  • Masters research project on social networks in captive Thornback Rays
  • MPhil research supervisor on Nautilus behaviour


Gavan has been teaching at undergraduate level and above in the areas of zoology, animal behaviour, animal welfare and marine biology (including statistics and research methods) since 2007. In addition to lecture theatre teaching he has led tutorials, laboratory and aquarium based practicals. He has taught using project based learning team based learning (in his current position) and initiated student led learning as part of his routine learning techniques.


  • Powerboat level 2 August 2015
  • PADI Open Water February 2015
  • Marine Mammal Medic March 2014
  • Institute for Animal Technology Level 2 February 2014
  • First Aid in Work June 2013
  • UK Home Office (ASPA, 1986) Accredited (Society of Biology) Animal Welfare Training
  • Named Animal Welfare Officer March 2013
  • Fish modules 1 (law), 2 (husbandry), 3 (anaesthesia) and 4 (minor surgery) September 2012
  • Cephalopod modules 1 (law) and 2 (husbandry) August 2012
  • Bird modules 1, 2, 3 (law, husbandry and anaesthesia) July 2011
  • Mammal modules, 1, 2, 3 (law, husbandry, and anaesthesia) June 2010

Memberships, editorial boards

BBSRC Animal Welfare Network (invited member since 2015) – http://awrn.co.uk/

European Association of Zoos and Aquariums (welfare advisory specialist and lecturer since 2015) – http://www.eaza.net/about-us/

SepiaBreed (Improving the reproduction of the European cuttlefish, Sepia officinalis (Linnaeus, 1758) in captivity: a multidisciplinary approach) - http://fbh.ccmar.ualg.pt//sepiabreed/team.html

Aquarium Welfare Association (scientific advisor and committee member since 2014) – http://www.aquariumwelfare.org/

CephsInAction (EU COST ACTION FA1301 Cephalopod welfare, working groups, 1, 4 and 5 since 2013) – http://www.cephsinaction.org/

British and Irish Association for Zoos and Aquariums (research committee  2013 – 2017) – http://www.biaza.org.uk/research/

Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (member since 2013) – http://www.ufaw.org.uk/

Research grants, consultancy, knowledge exchange

UFAW Summer studentship award (as supervisor, captive Thornback Ray enrichment), 2015 £1600

Universities Federation for Animal Welfare (UFAW) grant, 2014, £800 to present welfare research at 9th World Congress for Animal Welfare (Prague)

Bangor University internship scheme (as supervisor, Cuttlefish welfare and enrichments), 2014 £1500

ZSL Erasmus Darwin Grant 2009, £4000 conservation field work in Africa

Selected recent publications

Tyers, A.M, Jones, K. Cooke, G.M*, Reactors and Thinkers: Individual variation in behavioural plasticity crosses contexts in cuttlefish. Submitted July 2017 Behavioural Ecology

Cooke, G. M* and Dittrich, A.  Female aggression in African cichlids. Submitted Behavioural Ecology and Sociobiology July 2018

Cooke, G. M*. and Turner, G. F. Team colours matter when playing away from home: Allopatric aggression in African cichlids. Reviewed with revisions in progress Hydrobiologica June 2017

Sykes, António V., Eduardo Almansa, Gavan M. Cooke, Giovanna Ponte, and Paul LR Andrews. “The digestive tract of cephalopods: a neglected topic of relevance to animal welfare in the laboratory and aquaculture.” Frontiers in Physiology 8 (2017): 492.

Ponte, G., Sykes, A. V., Cooke, G. M., Almansa, E., & Andrews, P. (2017). The digestive tract of cephalopods: towards non-invasive in vivo monitoring of its physiology. Frontiers in Physiology, 8, 403.Book chapter: Cooke, G.M*, Crackenel, D. and Hill, G.  (2017) Public Aquaria Research Guide in BIAZA research methods. Ed. Dr Amy Ploughman, Dr Geoff Hosey In press.

Nicholas R. Casewell, Jeroen Visser, Kate Baumann, James Dobson, Han Han, Michael Morgan, Jordan Debono, Ivan Koludarov, Gregory Bird, Gavan M. Cooke, Amanda Nouwens, Wayne C. Hodgson, Simon C. Wagstaff, Karen Cheney, Irina Vetter, Michael K. Richardson, Sanjaya Kuruppu & Bryan G. Fry. Fish, fangs and foolery: evolution of venom and mimicry systems in coral reef fish.  Current Biology February 2017

Greenway, E. Jones, K. Cooke, G.M* 2016 Environmental Enrichment in Captive Juvenile Thornback Rays, Raja clavata (Linnaeus 1758): Applied Animal Behaviour Science.  182 (86–93)

Cooke, G.M* 2015. Letter to the Editor. Concern regarding use of the term “nonhuman animals” in article titled Ontogeny and phylogeny of facial expression of pain. PAIN. 156(9):1826–1829.

Cooke, G. M* & Tonkins, B. M. 2015 Behavioural indicators of welfare exhibited by the common European cuttlefish (Sepia officinalis). Journal of Zoo and Aquarium Research 3(4)

Tonkins, Belinda M., Alexandra M. Tyers, and Gavan M. Cooke*. 2015 “Cuttlefish in captivity: An investigation into housing and husbandry for improving welfare.” Applied Animal Behaviour Science 168 (77-83).

Gough, R, Hollima, J. Cooke, G.M, Freeman, C. 2015 Characterisation of algogenic organic matter during an algal bloom and its implications for trihalomethane formation. Sustainability of Water Quality and Ecology. 01/2015;

Tyers, A.M., D. Bavin, Cooke, G.M, C. Griggs, and G.F. Turner.  2014.  Peripheral isolate speciation of a Lake Malawi cichlid fish from shallow muddy habitats. Evolutionary Biology doi:10.1007/s11692-014-9277-4

*as corresponding author

In preparation

Marshall, L. and Cooke G.M* Is live feeding in public aquariums considered acceptable by staff and visitors? Manuscript in preparation for PLoS One

Book chapter: Cooke, G.M* and Tonkins, B. M. “Environmental enrichment, cognition and sentience in cephalopod molluscs” in “The Welfare of Invertebrate Animals.”. Ed. Dr Jenifer Mather and Dr Claudio Carere.

Cooke, G.M*, Tonkins, B.M., Ponte, G., Andrews P. L. R. Severity assessment in cephalopod procedures: a consensus approach. Manuscript in preparation for Laboratory Animal Welfare

*as corresponding author

Recent presentations and conferences

CIAC/Cephs in Action conference, Heraklion, Crete March 2017 Presenting talk: “Prospective severity assessment in cephalopods: Results of an on-line survey of the COST Action (CephsInAction) FA1301 cephalopod research community”

Aquaculture Europe, 2016, Edinburgh, oral presentation: “Effects of increased volume and tank bottom areas on cuttlefish Sepia officinalis, reproduction behaviour”

RSPCA/APHA ‘Welfare of wild animals used in research’ meeting, 2016, oral presentation: “Recent Inclusion of the Class Cephalooda (Mollusca) in ASPA1986/EU Directive 2010/63/EU and The Use of Wild Caught Specimens in Scientific Procedures”

LASA/UFAW meeting, 2016, oral presentation: Welfare assessment in alien life forms: The challenges presented by inclusion of cephalopods in directive 2010/63/EU

BBSRC Animal Welfare Research Network Inaugural Meeting, May 2016, Welcome Trust, London, poster: “COST Action FA1301 – CephsInAction A network for improvement of cephalopod welfare and husbandry in research, aquaculture and fisheries”

FELASA congress 2016, Brussels, poster: “Prospective severity assessment in cephalopods: Results of an on-line survey of the COST Action (CephsInAction) FA1301 cephalopod research community”

Aquaculture Europe, 2015, Rotterdam, oral presentation: “Caring for cephalopods”

BIAZA Research Conference 2015, Dublin, oral presentation: “Improving the lives of captive Rays”

NAW BIAZA Conference, 2014, Liverpool, oral presentation: “The science of animal welfare: caring for cuttlefish”

Media experience

EAZA Zooquaria journal article “Zoo Science for Keepers and Auquarists” Spring 2017

BIAZA Newsletter Autumn 2016 Written article “Jellyfish – monsters from the deep?”

Supporting the development/research BBC documentary “Trust me I am a vet” Sept 2016

Creator of Zoo Science for Keepers and Aquarists monthly digest of scientific papers aimed at bridging the gap between peer review publications and keepers/aquarists June 2016 – present – www.zoosci.com

Squid behaviour consultant BBC One Show Oct 2015

Written article for Practical Fish Keeping October 2015 – “Snorkelling in a native wonderland”

Featured Scientist BBC Spring Watch June 2015 – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03xlld3 “Cuttlefish personality”

Interviewed for Practical Fish Keeping July 2014 – “10 Questions with a cutting edge aquarist”

Interviewed for Practical Fish Keeping June 2010 – “Is it already too late for a new fish species?”