Dr Gavan Cooke

Lecturer in Animal Behaviour

Faculty:Faculty of Science and Engineering

School:Life Sciences

Location: Cambridge

Areas of Expertise: Animal and environmental biology

Gavan is a multi-discipline biologist with specialisations in cephalopod biology along with expertise in behavioural ecology, evolutionary biology, animal welfare. He has experience of lab based experimentation and field observations and is an advocate for aquatic animal welfare.

Find Gavan on Twitter


Gavan possess a PhD in behavioural ecology and has extensive experience of being a professional aquarist. His research interests include the behavioural ecology and evolutionary biology of aquatic animals, especially cephalopods, using a variety of techniques. He has 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).

Research interests

  • Cephalopod behavioral ecology
  • Evolutionary biology

Gavan is a member of our Behavioural Ecology Research Group.

Areas of research supervision

  • 3 x Master’s research projects on sexual selection and reproductive behaviours in cuttlefish
  • Masters research project, in conjunction with CCMAR (University of the Algarve) focusing on underwater filming methods (with Dr Antonio Sykes CCMAR)
  • 2 x Cephalopod microplastics interns (one at ARU with Dr Danielle Green, and one at CCMAR Faro with Dr Antonio Sykes)
  • MPhil Co-supervisor on reptile welfare (with Dr Andrew Smith)
  • PhD Co-supervisor on pet fish welfare (with Dr Wanda McCormick)

Gavan welcomes enquiries from prospective research students in the areas of his research interests and expertise.

Find out more about our Biology PhD including our exciting PhD project opportunities.


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.


  • 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

  • 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)
  • CephsInAction (EU COST ACTION FA1301 Cephalopod welfare, working groups, 1, 4 and 5 since 2013) – http://www.cephsinaction.org/
  • Reviewer for: Hydrobiologica; Journal of Zoo and Aquarium Research; Aquaculture; CAB Reviews
  • Perspectives in Agriculture Veterinary Science Nutrition and Natural Resources

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

Selected recent publications

*as corresponding author

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

Cooke, G.M.* and Turner, G.F., 2018. Team colours matter when playing away from home: aggression biases in geographically isolated mbuna cichlid populations. Hydrobiologia, 809(1), pp.31-40.

Cooke, G.M.*, 2017. Stereotypic behavior is not limited to terrestrial taxa: A response to Rose et al. Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research, 22, pp.17-18.

Cooke, G.M.*, 2017. Use of a translucent refuge for Xenopus tropicalis with the aim of improving welfare. Laboratory Animals, 52(3), pp.304-307.

Sykes A.V., Almansa E., Cooke G.M., Ponte G. and Andrews P.L.R., 2017. The Digestive Tract of Cephalopods: a Neglected Topic of Relevance to Animal Welfare in the Laboratory and Aquaculture. Frontier Physiology, 8, pp.492. doi: 10.3389/fphys.2017.00492

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, pp.403.

Book chapter: Cooke, G.M.*, Cracknell, D. and Hill, G., 2017. Public Aquaria Research Guide. In: Dr Amy Ploughman & Dr Geoff Hosey, ed. BIAZA research methods.

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., 2017. Fish, fangs and foolery: evolution of venom and mimicry systems in coral reef fish. Current Biology, 27(8), pp.1184-1191.

Greenway, E., Jones, K. & Cooke, G.M.,* 2016. Environmental Enrichment in Captive Juvenile Thornback Rays Raja clavata (Linnaeus 1758). Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 182 pp.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), pp.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, pp.77-83.

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

Tyers, A.M., Bavin, D., Cooke, G.M., Griggs, C. & Turner, G.F., 2014. Peripheral isolate speciation of a Lake Malawi cichlid fish from shallow muddy habitats. Evolutionary Biology.

In preparation

*as corresponding author

Cooke, G.M.,* Tonkins, B.M., Ponte, G., Andrews P.L.R., Severity assessment in cephalopod procedures: a consensus approach. Submitted to Laboratory Animal Welfare May 2018

Marshall, L., McCormick, W. and Cooke G.M., Is live feeding in public aquariums considered acceptable by staff and visitors? Submitted to PLOS One May 2018

Cooke, G. M.* and Dittrich, A., Female aggression in African cichlids. Submitted to Ethology May 2018

Tyers, A., Cooke, G., & Turner, G., Rare morph Lake Malawi mbuna cichlids benefit from reduced aggression from con- and hetero-specifics.

Tyers, A.M., Jones, K., Dittrich, A., Cooke, G.M.*, Hierarchical clustering of the behaviours and signals in the common European Cuttlefish, Sepia officinalis across contexts.

Cooke, G.M.* and Boal J. F., Field observations corroborate sleep analysis in Sepia officinalis in laboratory conditions.

Cooke, G. M.*, Manco, F. & Sykes, A., Distribution and habitat preference of Eledone cirrhosa (Cephalopoda) from social media observations.

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

Wild Tube – featured marine behavioural ecologist for 8/12 episodes featuring citizen science wild animal clips Spring 2018.

Octopuses invade Welsh beach - here are the scientific theories why - The Conversation (UK), 1 November, 2017.

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 – “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?”.