a pile of seals and a seagull on a rock

Current Research Blogs

Victoria's Blog

Victoria Vinecke, graduate student

2 January 2023

Happy New Year! I have officially completed my first quarter of graduate school which has been quite a rollercoaster with lots of ups and some downs. In this first quarter I have learned how to effectively teach students, collected eDNA samples, had my plan of study/thesis topic approved, applied for an eDNA microgrant, and held my first committee meeting!

I have spent my winter break relaxing with my partner and our dog! During the break Bellingham received multiple inches of snow which I hear is not normal for this area. I have attached below a comical photo of my dog Baloo trying to traverse the mass amount of snow in our parking lot.

Baloo becoming one with the snow in Bellingham on 12/20/2022. Photo by V. Vinecke.

While taking time to rest and relax I did set aside time to tackle grad school responsibilities. I have started a very rough draft of my thesis proposal, read eDNA methods papers, and caught up on updating my TAing materials. I am feeling well rested and ready to tackle winter quarter with full force!

Lastly, I wanted to give Kate a shout out to thank her for all the amazing work she has done for the lab and to wish her well on her future endeavors! Congratulations on graduating Kate!

Till next time,
Victoria Vinecke

Holland's Blog

Holland Conwell, undergraduate student

2 January 2023

Happy New Year! The minute the clock turned midnight, it was hard not to think, “Wow, I graduate this year.” 2022 was a joy-filled year full of growth and friendship, and I’m definitely hoping for the same in 2023! No matter what, I’m sure it’ll be an interesting year of transitions and adventures along the way.

I just returned from a lovely Christmas holiday in the Caribbean with my extended family, and I can’t believe classes are starting so soon! Over break, aside from relaxing with my loved ones, I also addressed some of the nitpicky items in my most recent manuscript draft. This required some emailing around to track down information, rerunning some statistical tests, and adding a few things to some graphs. I’m also working on drafting an outline of my discussion section so that it’s easier to start writing when the quarter starts.

At the close of fall quarter, I also had an unexpected opening on my project in the lab, so I’ve been busy trying to get that position filled! Luckily, I already had somebody great in mind from interviews last spring, and I’m stoked that he accepted the position and is one step closer to being a regular part of the MMEL. I’m also super thankful to have found someone before winter observations start!

In the meantime, I’m starting to get set up for winter quarter and enthusiastically realizing that my course load looks much better now than before. I’m transitioning into what seems to be a cushier schedule with a built-in 4-day weekend and only 1 STEM lab for me to focus on. Hopefully this sets a better pace for my second-to-last quarter here at Western!

Kate's Blog

Kate Clayton, undergraduate student

2 Janaury 2023

Happy New Year!

I graduated from WWU this month so this will be my final blog for the Marine Mammal Ecology Lab.

Family and friends, thank you for all the support for the last 4 ½ years. I couldn’t have graduated without you. I am excited to be done with undergrad and that I can now shift my focus to working. The job hunt it on!

In January, I am going to the Alaska Marine Science Symposium to watch Kathleen present her work. I am so excited to have the opportunity to not only go to my first scientific conference (that hasn’t been held on Zoom), but to also go to Alaska! And of course, getting to spend time with and support Kathleen is always a bonus! As for the manuscript, Kathleen has been doing amazing work and we are getting close to having a final draft we can submit to our journal. Hopefully we can get that done in the next couple of months.

I am going to miss working in the Marine Mammal Ecology Lab. Thank you to everyone who has helped along the way! And a special shoutout to all students who participated in observations for the Whatcom Creek Project this fall – Ava, Avia, Ben, Edward, Emily L, Emily S, Gaither, Jordan, Kameran, Madison, Maya, and McKenna - we couldn’t have done it without you! And a special shout out to the amazing managers – Bri, Maddie, Victoria, and Alex. It has been a pleasure working with you all! I can’t wait to see what great things you do.

Seals and salmon,

Alexandrea's Blog

Alexandrea Otto, graduate student

2 January 2023

Happy New Year! It may sound very cliché but after reflecting on my first quarter in my last post, I feel very refreshed and ready to start the next quarter! I did travel home to the Midwest for the holidays but I sure did miss Bellingham. It feels good to be so close to the water (and seals) again! (-:

Before the holidays hit, I had my first thesis committee meeting. The meeting itself went well! It was very exciting to discuss my proposed questions for the project and all. One reality of a masters is finding that balance of how many research questions is realistic in the span of less than two years. Which is not necessarily a bad problem to have, as it is very encouraging to see how molecular tools applied to marine mammal ecology opens research possibilities and all the things we can learn about the ecosystem around us! Before flying home, I helped out Dr. Erin D’Agnese with some lab work. It was a fun two weeks cranking out gels (reminded me of my old days making gels almost every day back in my old lab) and testing PCR runs. It was amazing being able to learn from her in the lab and she has been such an encouraging teacher! I’m very appreciative to have her as a thesis committee member and all her support thus far.

I’m definitely feeling energized and have many things I want to finish before the quarter ramps up again. Luckily, I have a (somewhat long) to-do list written out to help me! I’m happy to see everyone back on campus also. I can’t wait to see the first-year biology graduate student cohort, the MMEL lab managers, and all the undergraduates and faculty at WWU again!

Talking about lab managers, I want to say a big thank you to Kate! She welcomed Victoria and I in the lab with open arms and taught us so much about the Whatcom Creek seals and everything in the lab! Kate has such an inspirational work ethic and always shares a smile when you see her in the hallways or lab. I wish her the best of luck in everything she does! I feel very fortunate to have worked alongside her as a lab mate and gotten to know her as a friend in her last quarter in the MMEL!

As always, till next time,

Madison's Blog

Madison Gard, undergraduate student

3 January 2023

It’s 2023! This is the year that I graduate and begin my professional career, and I’m super pumped for all that is to come. Winter Break was great visiting my home in Tucson, AZ and spending lots of quality time with loved ones. While I was home, I helped to make ~7 dozen red chile pork and ~2 dozen green chile cheese tamales, which has become a Christmas tradition. I also baked hundreds of Christmas cookies with my Grandma, and ran all over town finding last-minute gifts for everyone. (It’s hard to fly with 30 presents!)

I also want to say a huge thank you to Kate, who graduated from the Biology program in December ‘22. She has been a role model for me ever since I started in the marine mammal lab way back in spring of 2020. Her positive attitude is contagious, and it’s been so special to learn from her over the years. No one will ever match her ability to ID the harbor seals in Whatcom Creek on site - we’ve lost our walking catalog! I can’t wait to see all of the amazing things she goes on to do.

At the beginning of December, we unfortunately had some incidents related to safety and comfort at Whatcom Creek while our student researchers were conducting observations. My first month as a co-manager on the Whatcom Creek project has been spent updating and coordinating new safety protocols. While this hasn’t been ideal, I’m eager to get these implemented to improve the comfort and safety of our student researchers in the field. On a more positive note, this week I created my first availability schedule using NOAA’s Tide Predictions and sent out my first official email update to our team! I’m really looking forward to working alongside Bri this quarter to manage the Whatcom Creek project.