This is a bit delayed as I had to immediately rush out to join the rest of our intrepid field team whom you’ve heard from already – Alec, Nathan, and Maddie – but just prior to the start of this year’s final field season on the May, I attended and gave a talk at the 22nd Biennial Conference on Marine Mammalogy in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada! I discussed the results of my first two data chapters of my PhD research, focusing mainly on the trade-offs that we are seeing in our study females as garnered from head-mounted accelerometers that we’ve deployed over the prior two field seasons. Among the ability for us to access a full 24/7 activity budget for the first time, we have found that our seals may be showing signs of thermal stress despite likely being within their thermal neutral zones (TNZ, or the temperature range in which an organism can maintain homeostasis without raising their metabolic rate). In light of this, we’ve deployed a number of temperature loggers across the island to investigate the fine-scale temperature differences that may be experienced by seals across the island. Hopefully these will be able to help us shed some light on these preliminary results and investigate a more fine-scale ‘heat map’ of the island.
Unlike the previous conference I presented at (Biologging in Konstanz), this meeting typically attracts a much larger crowd of researchers – this year only a scant 1,700, but in years prior, almost 2,600! Rather than being methodologically or technically focused, this conference typically covers a large range of subjects, approaches, and disciplines all surrounding the world of marine mammals – anywhere from anatomy and physiology to human impacts to noise and acoustics. With 4 concurrent plenary sessions and 2 separate poster sessions all taking place in the Scotia Bank Centre in downtown Halifax, there was a lot going on and a lot to see. While I could spend hours discussing all the really fascinating research that is being done and all, I would encourage you to check out the twitter #SMM2017 as many colleagues were actively tweeting throughout the conference, often with links to their own research. In fact, most conferences now have become very active on Twitter so that many who are not in attendance can still get in on some of the action.
Halifax is also home to a large base of grey seal research that takes place on Sable Island – a large spit of dunes and sand off the coast of Nova Scotia. While life on the May seems quite hectic at the peak of the season with a few thousand individuals, Sable Island plays host to somewhere in the ballpark of 80,000 individuals during the breeding season in February! It is the largest colony of grey seals in the world and has been continuously studied for many decades. As this was the host city, there were a lot of talks regarding greys on both sides of the Atlantic and provided a great opportunity to connect with so many folks from all around – it was even one of the featured animals in the logo! The conference also focused a great deal on other iconic species of the host area, as is tradition, including the North Atlantic Right Whale and Northern Bottlenose Whale.
Miss out on the action in Halifax? Did you know that there is a UK and Ireland student chapter of the Society for Marine Mammalogy? If you are interested in marine mammals (which I hope many of you are, finding yourself on Studying Seals), getting involved in a society is a great step to make a lot of very useful connections! And, as luck would have it, our friends up at St. Andrews are hosting a conference this coming January – free to attend!
That’s all for now – back to field work!