Marine Mammal Ecology Lab


Holland's Blog

Holland Conwell, undergraduate student

1 December 2022

I can’t believe the quarter is almost over! Coming back from such a lovely Thanksgiving Break, it’s definitely hard to muster the energy needed for finals preparation. While I’ve already given my final presentation for one of my classes, I still have an exam, lab practical, essay, group presentation, and a project ahead of me. Between all the studying and preparation for finals week, it’s been a challenge to find time to work on my manuscript. I probably should have factored this chaos into my initial, admittedly ambitious timeline!

While I have not had much time to work on my discussion section, I have been able to clean up my second draft of the introduction, methods, and results. After some initial edits from co-authors, I cleared up a lot of language, worked on the flow, cut down on unnecessary detail, and took a stab at fixing some figures. Most of my figures deserved some more attention to detail—some more than others. My map made in RStudio has gotten me this far, but it’s now time to try and reconfigure the map with GIS and the help of one of my research assistants from the log pond project. I also just recently found a bug in my ggplot code that’s been messing with my diet plots, and I’m much happier with how they look now!

Aside from a couple more nitpicky items, I’m about ready to finalize the second draft of my manuscript and send that out! After the whirlwind of finals calms down, I’m hoping to start on an outline of my discussion section and move forward on writing. Of course, I’ve also been out observing and just recently had a fun Steller sea lion sighting! It’s been a joy observing during the fall salmon run, and I’m definitely going to miss it as the temperatures drop and activity slows down at the log pond. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to getting finals over with and hopefully having some time to work on my discussion section soon!

Kate's Blog

Kate Clayton, undergraduate student

1 December 2022

Happy December!

November always flies by quicker than I expect it to. Over the last month, I have been focused on finishing up my classes and wrapping up things for the lab so that Bri and Maddie can take over. I cannot imagine more capable hands to pass this project onto. It has been a bittersweet time. I am beyond ready to have a break from school, but I am going to miss the lab and all the wonderful people in it.

Given fall is our active field season, we are observing 4-5 times a week which has been keeping everyone busy. Anecdotally, we seemed to have a lull in seal activity during mid-November (which in previous years, has been our busiest time), but over the last week, activity has picked up again. I can only assume the fluctuations are due to Chinook and chum spawning migrations. Regardless, it is interesting to observe a change in the normal schedule we have seen for the past couple of years. We saw a couple of seal lions during observations at the beginning of the month and then again at the end of the month, which is always exciting! Students are getting familiar with the seals and are starting to make IDs in the field which is amazing! It is so cool to see them improve and how dedicated they are to the lab. They are also doing a wonderful job with photo work! Between our croppers and IDers, we are making some good progress. We are so appreciative and thankful for each and every one of them and all their hard work!

Manuscript work has been going well. I haven’t been much help this past month, but Kathleen has been doing incredible work as always. She is working hard on finalizing models, incorporating edits, and condensing our paper into an appropriate length for a journal. We are still planning on submitting at the end of this year or the beginning of next. I am very excited to see how it turns out and I am so grateful I have had the opportunity to work with so many talented scientists for this project!

Kathleen submitted an abstract to present our work at the Alaska Marine Science Symposium and recently got accepted. I am so proud of her and all the amazing work she is doing! I am going to try to find a way to join her for the conference for support. Wish us luck!

In other lab news, we have a new lab logo designed by our own Jordan Sawyer (seen below). The managers are going to try to figure out a way to create some fun lab merch like stickers and sweatshirts for any interested past or current Marine Mammal Ecology Lab members. Thank you, Jordan for creating such an awesome design! And thank you to everyone else who participated! Each design will be displayed in our lab before I leave. :)

Lab logo designed by Jordan Sawyer.

My last blog and goodbye will be next month.

Until then,

Victoria's Blog

Victoria Vinecke, graduate student

1 December 2022

Hello again,
Happy holidays!

The month of November was a wild ride! I have successfully obtained eDNA samples and I’m gearing up to start extractions! I have missed working in a lab setting, so I am excited to get back to extractions! Learning how to collect eDNA samples and use the equipment with Alejandro’s past graduate student Austen Thomas was easily the highlight of November!

This month I plan on starting my thesis proposal which is quite exciting! I am looking forward to diving deeper into the world of eDNA and learning about different qPCR primer methodologies. I plan on having my first committee meeting next week where I will get the chance to discuss my progress so far and bounce ideas off everyone. I am feeling quite optimistic at the moment regarding my research and I am hopeful that I can share promising results next month!

My first quarter of grad school is starting to wrap up with finals week right around the corner, it has been a very hard but rewarding quarter! I am so thankful and extremely lucky to have a wealth of support from my advisors, the MMEL lab, and the biology grad student cohort!

eDNA sample collection. Photo by A. Otto.

Alexandrea's Blog

Alexandrea Otto, graduate student

1 December 2022

Hi there,

As the quarter is soon to be ending, I am for the first time experiencing and realizing how fast the quarter system really is! Having been use to an academic background of a semester system, the change to quarter has been eye-opening. Reflecting back though, it is also super encouraging to see the progress made as a first-year graduate student just within these last three months!

Teaching and the Marine Mammal Ecology Lab (MMEL) meetings continue to go well this quarter! Teaching the more biodiversity driven labs for Lab 204 has been rewarding and fun to see what specimens we get the opportunity to observe each week. Additionally, the MMEL meetings have also been rewarding discussing with the undergraduates in the lab important topics, such as research ethics, and papers in science from past graduate students of the MMEL!

The collaboration with Alejandro’s former MMEL graduate student, Dr. Erin D’Agnese of Wild EcoHealth, and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) has continued to be an absolute amazing opportunity! This past month, I have gained a lot of clarity into my proposed sampling scheme for my thesis. It has been exciting to discuss the shear potential my project can have with the help and contributions from other organizations in regards to increasing sample size and geographical range pending approvals. There is potential to create a more representative and comprehensive genetic population structure of the harbor seals not only within the Salish Sea but also along the coastline of Washington! I am so grateful to how receptive organizations have been in terms of collaborating!

I have also started helping Dr. Erin D’Agnese in the lab and words cannot describe how happy I am to use a pipette again in over three months and be back in the lab! I truly never expected to feel so excited to use a pipette again, but I am starting to see the realities of molecular ecology work as well. Molecular ecology is almost a perfect ratio of lab and field work. I have also been able to help Victoria in her sampling efforts of environmental DNA (eDNA) at Whatcom Creek! What a truly exciting project as well! There is so much within the world of molecular ecology I have yet and want to learn, and I look forward to it as it is such an exciting and progressive field in science!

I also am moving forward from my thesis outline to now the proposal! I have been fortunate enough to complete my thesis committee as well and look forward to meeting before the quarter ends!

I wish everyone the best holidays and to stay safe while traveling!

As always, till next time,

Madison's Blog

Madison Gard, undergraduate student

4 December 2022

It’s hard to believe we are closing out the Fall Quarter so soon! This month was a whirlwind of midterms, group projects, presentations, and reports in my courses. I designed a proposal for improving WWU’s main campus pollinator pathway in order to better support pollinator populations within our region for my Conservation of Biodiversity class with Dr. John McLaughlin. I also created a poster presentation of the TMDL report and updated water quality status of the Bear-Evans Watershed, which is on the 303d list of impaired waters, in my Water Quality class with Dr. Brooke Love. Further, I worked with a group of my peers to author an environmental impact assessment study proposal for an underground cobalt mine near Salmon, Idaho on the south fork of the Salmon River in my Environmental Toxicology course with Dr. Manuel Montaño. In my Spanish course with Dr. Sheryl Bernardo-Hinesly, we have learned about linguistic variations between different Spanish dialects, and I implemented those concepts to analyze the singing and speaking of Pepe Aguilar in my final presentation. This has been the busiest quarter I’ve ever experienced, but it has been so rewarding over the last few weeks to see the months of studying and research efforts culminating into these products. I’ll definitely take so much of what I’ve learned over the last few months with me into my future career.

Within the Marine Mammal Ecology Lab, it’s been an eventful month! I was honored to be asked to take on a larger management role within the Whatcom Creek monitoring project. Kate and Bri have done a great job showing me everything that goes on behind the scenes on the managerial side of things (Figure 1). I’m very excited to work with Bri next quarter as co-managers! Along with feeling sad to see Kate move on to her next big chapter, I’m excited to celebrate her graduation and achievements with her :)

Fig. 1- Bri using the manager's camera during an observation at Whatcom Creek. Photo by M. Gard.

As far as the manuscript goes - I have continued to make edits and progress. In between everything going on in classes and on-campus jobs, I drafted the first versions of the results and discussion sections! We now have a near-complete final draft ready for revisions from Dr. Acevedo-Gutierrez, Dr. Schwarz, and Zoë Lewis. I’m so proud to see the final product beginning to come together now and look forward to the next steps. Watch out world: new qPCR pinniped sex-determination assays are dropping soon!

With finals next week and holidays around the corner, I’m looking forward to a slower-paced winter break. I’ll be flying home to visit my family in Arizona and spend quality time with loved ones. I also celebrated my 22nd birthday this month - and my lovely friends knitted hats for both me and my cat, Otis (Figure 2). I think he really likes it.

Fig. 2- Otis and I in our new knitted hats. Mine is a magikarp fish made by my friend, Lilu, and Otis has a cute lil sailor cap to match made by my friend, Chiyo.