Maude Jane Delap (1866–1953) Pioneering Marine Biologist from Kerry

It’s Science Week – A national celebration of all things science, technology, maths and engineering. Over the years Ireland has produced some extraordinary scientists and scientific achievements that have changed the world and many of these great strides have come in the areas of maritime technologies and marine science.

In recognition of this important week we’re taking a look at some of these influential and inspiring marine scientists and inventors. Today we’re celebrating the influential marine biologist Maude Jane Delap.

Maude Jane Delap (1866–1953)

Maude Jane Delap

Delap Sisters Valentia Island

Kerry’s Maude Jane Delap was a pioneer. A self-taught marine biologist, she worked out of her remote island home and became highly influential in the study of marine species. She spent her life on Valentia Island off the southwest coast of Ireland and from a very young age she and her sister were fascinated by the diverse marine life surrounding their little island. In true scientific fashion, they even took samples on the shore and sent them off to Natural History Museum in Dublin for further analysis. 

It was based on these specimens the Delap girls sent in that the Royal Irish Academy deemed the island worthy of surveying and sent a team headed up by Edward T. Browne of University College London in 1895 and 1896. Maude and her sisters work collecting samples was acknowledged in the published papers which was hugely significant for female scientists at the time.

Maude began conducting her own experiments on rearing jellyfish which would lead to major contributions to the understanding of the life cycles of these creatures. She was the first person to get them to breed successfully in captivity and wrote a series of influential articles, all authored under her own name, something quite unusual for a woman at the time.

In 1928 her work was fittingly acknowledged when she had a sea anemone named after her. The Edwardsia delapiae is a rare anemone only found on Valentia Island and first recorded by Delap in the eelgrass on the shores.

Due to her significant contributions to marine biology in 1906 Maude was offered a position in the Marine Biological Station at Plymouth but her father refused to let her leave – he said ‘No daughter of mine will leave home, except as a married woman’. This didn’t deter her and she continued to collect samples and study them in her makeshift lab.

About the Author

Daniel Farrell
Interested in all things on the Irish coast and sharing the best of it. // Email: // Follow on Twitter: @DanielsSeaViews