Marine Mammal Ecology Lab


Kyra's Blog

Kyra Bankhead, undergraduate student

1 October 2021

I have been working on my research proposal for the NSF GRFP and have found some questions that I believe to be gaps in the knowledge of Bottlenose dolphin behavior. It seems to be unclear whether behaviorally distinct segments of populations also have correspondingly different diets. In Sarasota, Dr. Doug Nowacek found in 2002 that dolphins display a large range of foraging behaviors, some of which may be culturally transmitted or individually learned by trial and error. I would expect that these different segments of the dolphin population using different foraging tactics would focus on different fish species, thereby could have different fatty acid signatures. This sounds important to me because a higher diversity of diet at the population level could provide a buffer against human deprivation of certain fish species, therefore it would make it essential to preserve these cultural variants.

I am starting a collaboration with Dr. Mauricio Cantor at Oregon State University who has experience modeling the links between the spread of information and social network topology which can help define these culturally transmitted foraging behaviors. However, I do not have access to the Sarasota long-term data and am not sure how to reach out to the SDRP. I have been emailing many faculty members at the Sarasota Dolphin Research Program to propose a collaboration but have had no luck so far. My goal is to first put together a research proposal to NSF, which would naturally lead to writing papers in collaboration with everyone involved.

Now that fall quarter has started it’s going to be a lot harder to get my application done but I’m excited to hear more advice from Dr. Cantor and faculty at the SDRP. Right now, I'm trying to focus on getting my project in the lab back up and running with the new students in the lab.

Until then,
Kyra Bankhead

Holland's Blog

Holland Conwell, undergraduate student

1 October 2021

The start of fall quarter has brought on a flurry of activity! I find myself excited by this boost in momentum, the rush of having in-person classes once more, and the knowledge that I will soon have much more to work on for my project. Since last month, I have finished merging the sexing data with the sample information, and I am currently working on filling in a few gaps that emerged during that process. I discovered a typo in one sample’s sexing result, which requires me to dig deeper into an existing dataset to correct and confirm the true result. There were also a handful of samples that did not have a corresponding sexing result. Zoë concluded that this is likely because these samples were not run in duplicate (only one plate contained each individual sample). For whatever reason why this occurred, we agreed that these samples should probably be ultimately excluded from further analysis. Zoë also informed me of some issues with positive controls not working for a couple of the last plates, so I have not merged those sexing results yet. Aside from that, I am ready to continue moving forward with work on this project! I look forward to meeting as a group this week to discuss the path forward and troubleshoot a couple of the previously mentioned issues with the dataset.

Kathleen's Blog

Kathleen McKeegan, graduate student

1 October 2021

Fall quarter has started! After a year of virtual learning, it has been nice to feel the energy and excitement from the students and to just have a sense of place again. Plus, I got to meet the other biology graduate students in person (finally!).

This past month, Kate and I worked on photo IDs and the difficult to ID photos. When we got back on campus, we realized that there were some folders of raw photos that still needed to be cropped and IDed, so she and I are finishing up those last remaining folders. I’m hoping to have everything done (cropping, IDing, and going through the difficult to ID photos) by the end of next week, or shortly thereafter. I then plan to build a ‘new-and-improved’ catalog based on the changes made over the summer and correcting existing datasheets based on any mis-matched seals or bad IDs. We are close to turning all the photo IDs into tangible, quantifiable data, which is very exciting. If everything goes according to plan, I hope to have some rough preliminary results by the end of this month.

In addition to working on the project itself, Kate and I are also working on getting the new undergraduate research assistants ready for the fall field season. For the past couple weeks, she and I have been making changes to our observation data sheets, the safety protocol, and generally preparing for the start of observations. We will begin training the students next week and start our actual observations the week after. For a number of reasons, I’m interested to see how this run season compares to last year. The water levels at Whatcom Creek are particularly low for this time of year, so it will be interesting to see if this impacts the Chum run or the seal presence. Additionally, it looks like the fishing season will remain open and, as far as I know now, the TAST will not return to Whatcom Creek. We’ll see if these factors impact individual foraging success of the seals this year!

All in all, things are going well. For this next month, I hope to complete the photo IDs, begin data analysis, attend most observations, begin flying the new drone, and figure out if I want to apply for any PhD positions for Fall 2022. I have a lot to do, but I have high hopes that I can get most, if not all, of it done!

Kate's Blog

Kate Clayton, undergraduate student

1 October 2021

Kathleen and I have spent the last month frantically trying to get everything in order before school began. During the summer we cropped and IDed all our lab and OI’s pics. Our grad camera pics are coming along quickly and we are already over half-way done with the folders. We still have to double check our IDs and go through the un-IDable folders in addition to finishing up the grad camera pics. Although it sometimes seems like we’re moving slowly, we have been working our butts off everyday trying to get as much of our data together before the salmon run starts for 2021. If we don’t run into any more technology problems, I am hoping that by this time next month, all of our data will be collected, checked, and ready for statistical analysis.

We sent out our first email to the lab assistants asking them to complete some tasks, including filling out their first observation schedule. Our 1st observation/training session starts on Oct 3rd which is exciting! Our plan is to spend the first couple of observations training students and making sure that they feel comfortable and confident with each role (recorder, photographer, and timekeeper). Our goal is to have all of our assistants feeling well-prepared by the time the creek picks up in activity (end of October-beginning of November).

Wish us luck as we enter the crazy season of observations, seals, and salmon!

Zoë's Blog

Zoë Lewis, graduate student

1 October 2021

After 9 months of smelly data collection, we have finally finished processing all 352 scat samples! Huge shoutout to my ESU (emotional support undergraduate) Maddie, for hanging out through the summer to finish our dataset. With the help of Holland and Maddie, I am so thankful I could process samples, while staying on top of other project goals. After cleaning out the scat room and sending samples, I am excited that my data collection is in the hands of Monique Lance and Sarah Brown at WDFW. I look forward to seeing these results as the hard part identification and the DNA metabarcoding finish up by December. Until then, I have plenty of work to accomplish before I feel ready for statistical analysis and bioenergetics modeling.

With the end of scat, brought the start of school. Undergraduates have been returning to campus and the rain has made it easy to settle into study mode. This quarter, I’m taking a course with Dr. Kathryn Sobocinski on Fisheries sciences. In only 4 lectures, I already feel like I am learning more about the implications of my diet study. Further, I hope this class can help me framework my thesis introduction and improve my ability to collaborate with the Makah Tribal Fisheries management. Informing ecosystem-based management has always been an important aspect of this project, and I am excited to learn more about fisheries management to better inform my thesis approach.

Unlike the majority of my first year as a graduate student, I now find myself staring at a computer and sitting at a desk during the day. In some ways, I already miss the daily lab work. But, overall, not having to smell poop daily has been a nice change of pace. As I start writing and developing my statistical analysis, I’m excited that I now get to share an office space with the other 2nd year grad students. I find that I am much more productive (and happier!) when I can bounce ideas off my office mates.