So, as we saw from my previous post, not everything is what it initially appears to be in the land of canids and in order to correctly interpret behaviours, quantify and classify them, one must understand the context of the situation they are investigating, as with ‘Jim Bean’! Which leads me onto my next point, initially a canid biologist does not seem to fit in with a bunch of seal biologists, so, how am I a key team member? Well, I will satiate your curiosity…..
Firstly, seals and canids have a phylogenetic relationship (see: http://www.whozoo.org/mammals/Carnivores/carnivorephylogeny.htm), which somewhat explains why many people often refer to seals as dog mermaids! Me, Zoe and the good ol’ Dr Twiss visited some Grey seals, down the Lincolnshire coast at Donna Nook, and yep, both the fat balls of blubber and fluff that are Grey seal pups and the adults look just like ‘spaced-out’ Labrador retrievers lying about the place, with their plaintive calls sounding out across the dunes, as if in mourning for their maritime realm……that is until a bout of agonistic flippering and teeth baring ensue, due to the unsolicited advances of a musky male! Still, a phylogenetic relationship does not exactly fully explain this mix of species within our animal behaviour team. Exactly how does my research link with the research the rest of my team are conducting? Well, we’re all looking at individual differences of our study subjects, yes, but the main link is in the physiological and behavioural indicators of ‘affective states’ – what’s that!? I hear you ask…….
Affective states are forms of motivation such as, moods, attitudes, desires, preferences, intentions and dislikes – so, in lay terms, the ‘emotional’ state of an animal. There are many physiological methods that can help interpret the emotional state of an animal, such as breathing rates and heart rates – increases in both of these rates may be an indication of increased stress in an individual (see previous posts from last year!). But, what other ways can we detect the emotional state of an individual? Well, looking at our own conspecifics during numerous social interactions we can generally interpret how one may be ‘feeling’ from their body language, and especially by the look on their face…..past research has shown this to be true for many other mammalian species as well, such as numerous primates, foxes, coyotes, rats and even goats! So, this is where I come in – instead of quantifying the internal physiological indicators of affective states, I am quantifying the external behavioural indictors of affective states, by looking at an individual’s body language, particularly their facial expressions! So, there you have it folks, that’s how this canid biologist (Steppenwolf) fits in with seal biologists (Selkies) – we work with different species (because I have always been obsessed with wolves!), but our research is very much bonded! That being said, I wonder what would happen if a Grey wolf pup was introduced to a Grey seal pup? Awww cuteness overload!!…….But, I also wonder what would happen if a pack of hungry Grey wolves happened upon a colony of nice fat juicy Grey seals mwa hahaha!!
Speaking of wolves, it is winter, the season of the wolf…..listen….hear that ‘Call of the Wild’? The howl of my wolves beckons me to prep for fieldwork, and I must obey the call – in a wee while I will be running with wolves, observing their every behaviour, and staring into their lupine eyes as they stare straight back at me with glares of liquid golden fire – the essence of pure power and beauty! Fierce yet subtle, unnerving, yet captivating……..
……….Through the eyes of a wolf………through their convex lenses of ebony embedded in amber………we shall see what the wolf sees……..