Kia Ora from the 20th Biennial Society for Marine Mammalogy Conference in New Zealand!
Two years ago, the Society for Marine Mammalogy’s conference was smack dab in the middle of fieldwork, meaning that this is the first time I’ve been able to attend a global gathering of researchers, managers, even some politicians and advocates, all whom have dedicated their lives to studying and conserving the world’s marine mammals. As the only representative from our lab attending, I’ve had the chance to tell other pinniped researchers from around the world about the work our research group is doing.
My contribution was a poster discussing the work I did this field season with the seismic kit. I was told my poster (describing the Body Slap and how it relates to male size) had the best ‘punny’ title: Good Vibrations by the Beach Boys (thanks Paddy!). But aside from the title, many animal communication specialists and pinniped researchers from the US, Germany, and the UK were very excited to hear about a new behaviour with a mode of signaling that hasn’t been extensively documented for these animals. Offers of help with follow up collaborations or just general enthusiasm were great to hear!
Sean was scheduled to give a talk but when he couldn’t make the conference, I stepped in to deliver the presentation on his behalf. The topic was on the decline of seals seen at another colony in Scotland, North Rona, and the apparent effects this decline has had on the male dominance hierarcheies there. It was very heartening to hear multiple times this week that studies like this: long-term, individual based, behavioural studies may not be ‘sexy-science’ but they can reveal patterns and trends that otherwise would have been overlooked. And since the theme of this conference is the conservation of marine mammals, it couldn’t be a better time to hear that researchers like Ian Stirling are still advocating the art of sitting in boxes.
It has been a whirlwind since getting off the plane a week ago, but throughout the entire conference a sense of urgency seems to be prevailing. Everyone has presented their science, shown the facts, and agreed that the next few years for marine mammal research are going to be important ones in terms of conservation. There are no longer smoking guns like the Exxon Valdez oil spill or bad guys twirling their mustaches like the Tuna Fishermen fleet, but as Andy Read said in his plenary: conservation issues these days are wicked problems, with no clear answers and no right or wrong. Behavioural science: knowing where animals go, what they eat, how they interact with people, how they cope with stressors (natural and human), will be vital to future efforts and I’m very happy to see so many talks and posters embracing the ideals of focusing on not only the population level, but the individual variation within that population.
So today we end a productive week. I’ve met up with old colleagues and friends, shared our current work and I personally feel my batteries are recharged and my head is swimming with the possibilities of what to do next….well… after I finish writing my PhD thesis of course. 🙂