Gwen was born and raised in the North West Province of South Africa, in the tiny mining town of Orkney. At 16 she left SA to attend school in the UK where she completed her GCSE’s and A –Levels at Kelly College in Devon. From there she went on to Cardiff University to do a BSc in Zoology and after completing her first 2 years she embarked on a professional training year at the Centre for Dolphin Studies in Plett, under the supervision of Dr Vic Cockcroft. This year was the beginning of her passion and career in marine mammal research and she started collecting data on the South African Bryde’s whale. She went back to Cardiff to complete the final year of her Zoology degree (2005). Straight after completing that she knew she wanted to continue with the Bryde’s whale research and registered with St Andrews University (Sea Mammal Research Unit) in Scotland for a PhD. After three years of fieldwork at the Centre for Dolphin Studies in Plett and 18 month of laboratory work and analysis in St Andrews she finally became Dr Penry in March 2010. Gwen then worked with the Namibian Dolphin Project in Walvis Bay for 2 months before embarking on a 3 month voyage from Malta to Cape Town aboard a private Australian research vessel ‘RV WhaleSong’ during which time she was responsible for collecting observation data on pelagic birds and cetaceans.
In January 2012 Gwen began a 2 yr post-doctoral position with the University of Pretoria’s Whale Unit, based in Cape Town. Here she expanded her Bryde’s whale research to include False Bay and East London (the entire known range of the inshore Bryde’s whale). Gwen is currently working up the data from those 2 years and will produce the first, range wide population estimate for this population in over 30 years. The South African inshore Bryde’s whale population is resident in our coastal waters and is completely dependent on our small-pelagic fish (sardines and anchovies) for their food source. Very little is known about these mysterious animals, but due to the ever changing conditions of our marine environment, from natural and human induced causes, there is growing concern over their conservation status. It is estimated that there are only a few hundred individuals in this population and as the largest resident predator in our waters (and therefore a critical player in maintaining balance in the ecosystem) it is a conservation imperative that we understand their requirements and identify potential threats to their survival.