30th Conference of the European Cetacean Society

Bottlenose dolphin, Madeira © Isabel Baker

Bottlenose dolphin, Madeira © Isabel Baker

The European Cetacean Society (ECS) hosted its 30th Annual Conference from the 14th to the 16th of March 2016 in Madeira and it was a lively and stimulating time full of inspiring keynote talks, presentations and poster sessions. Around 400 people attended the conference where I presented a poster entitled “Longitudinal study of a live-stranded female bottlenose dolphin in the Shannon Estuary, Ireland” in the Strandings section along with other similar international studies. The poster displayed new results from a study which began in 2012  on the live-stranding and subsequent refloating and resighting of a female bottlenose dolphin with a calf (O’Brien et al. 2014). This individual dolphin stranded when she was nine months pregnant with her calf. We see them both in the Shannon Estuary regularly and the calf is more than three years old now! In addition to displaying their sighting locations, the poster also presented an analysis of the female’s nearest neighbours during individual focal follows, her activity budget breakdown and a social structure analysis investigating her significant associations with other individual dolphins in the population.

The ECS is the largest scientific community involved in the research of cetaceans and pinnipeds in Europe and meets every year for workshops and a conference of oral and poster presentations. The ECS’s mission is to promote and advance the scientific studies and conservation efforts of marine mammals and to gather and disseminate information about cetaceans to members of the Society and the public at large. The theme of this year’s conference was “Into the Deep: Research and Conservation on Oceanic Marine Mammals” and it focused on the conservation of marine mammals in oceanic habitats.

Apart from presenting research, the conference provided an important opportunity to meet old friends and make new ones, and to network with international experts in cetology. The keynote talks delivered by Professor Hal Whitehead, Dr Robin Baird and Dr Mónica Silva were inspirational and delivered with great knowledge and enthusiasm for their subjects. During the presentations too, it was fantastic to learn about so many interesting research projects and presenting a poster provided a great opportunity to represent Irish research on a European platform. In particular, participating in this conference really enhanced my knowledge of current research on bottlenose dolphins and cetacean social structure and contributed well to the progress of my PhD studies.

Overall, it was a very energising and enjoyable conference!

To see the conference program, click here or to look at the ECS website, click here.

The Atlantic Ocean from Madeira © Isabel Baker

The Atlantic Ocean from Madeira © Isabel Baker

Mediterranean monk seals at the Conference Icebreaker © Isabel Baker

Mediterranean monk seals at the Conference Icebreaker © Isabel Baker

Typical Madeiran dish of scabbard fish with fresh fruit © Isabel Baker

Typical Madeiran dish of scabbard fish with fresh fruit © Isabel Baker

Cable car journey © Isabel Baker

Cable car journey © Isabel Baker

MARES Conference on Marine Ecosystems Health and Conservation

Sunny Olhão! (Photographer: Roxanne Duncan)

From February 1st-5th, I attended the 2nd MARES Conference for Marine Ecosystems Health and Conservation, in Olhão, Portugal. The first two days of the Conference consisted of training workshops in the areas of Effective Outreach and Research tools. The workshops were geared towards helping young scientists, like me; improve their skills in the areas of Oral and poster presentation, statistical programming and scientific illustration. I opted for the Effective Outreach tool package and over the two days, I learned tips on how to keep my audience engaged during an oral presentation and how to create a clear and engaging scientific poster. I also enjoyed the sessions that outlined the dos and don’ts of manuscript submission and review and the advantages of Open Science. The first two days were very exciting and the Conference hadn’t officially started as yet!

The Conference commenced on the evening of February 2nd. For three days, 186 delegates from 24 countries gathered together to present, learn and exchange ideas on Marine Health and Conservation. The aim of the Conference was to bring together individuals with different backgrounds and experiences to address the issues facing marine ecosystems. It focused on six themes, Future oceans, Natural resources, Biodiversity effects, Biological invasions, Habitat loss and Ocean noise. With such a large and diverse group, the themes were discussed from different angles and points of view.

Conference picture

Conference group photo © 2016 Mares Conference Coordination Office

Since my study species is albacore tuna, I enjoyed Dr. Jake Rice keynote talk on Overfishing. I also liked the talks given by Dr. René Dekeling, which focused on ocean noise management, and Dr. Tundi Agardy who presented on the topic of marine spatial planning. One string of thought that connected all the presentations was the need for a holistic approach to address the task of preserving the marine ecosystem.

All in all, it was a great week and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I also managed to take some time to appreciate the beautiful views of the little town of Olhão.

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Enjoying the beautiful weather in Olhão (Photographer: Roxanne Duncan)

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Taking a walk along the promenade (Photographer: Roxanne Duncan)

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Even though the morning was chilly, the views were well worth it! (Photographer: Roxanne Duncan)

If you are interested in having a look at the conference program, you can click here.
Also if you would like to keep an eye on the website for future conferences, you can click here.

My Journey across the Atlantic Ocean!

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Sunset in the Atlantic Ocean (Photographer: La Daana Kanhai)

If I were to use one phrase to describe the year 2015, the phrase that I would use would be ‘absolutely awesome’! Although several events would have contributed to this description of 2015, in this piece, I will tell you about one of these extraordinary experiences; the 2015 Floating Summer School. In July of 2015, thirty-two (32) students from nineteen (19) different countries around the world were informed that their application to participate in the 2015 Floating Summer School was successful. I was one of the lucky ones! The 2015 Floating Summer School was a five week course that was geared towards training participants in the field of Biological Oceanography. This training was to be conducted along the North/South Atlantic Training Transect (i.e. from Bremerhaven, Germany to Cape Town, South Africa) onboard the RV Polarstern. For someone whose only seagoing experience entailed sampling in the relatively calm waters of the Caroni Swamp/Gulf of Paria and the occasional ferry trip between the islands of Trinidad and Tobago, five weeks onboard the RV Polarstern was quite a feat. In October of 2015, participants met for the first time either on the way to or at Bremerhaven, Germany. There was a definite air of excitement amongst all the participants as the majority of us had never been on such a large research vessel before neither had we been on a research expedition that intended to traverse such a diverse latitudinal gradient. Upon meeting, there was an almost instant camaraderie amongst the participants possibly because we realized that for the next few weeks, we were each other’s family. Prior to boarding the vessel, participants attended a welcome reception at the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI) which entailed a lecture by Professor Peter Lemke on ‘The Climate System and the Oceans’ and a tour of the AWI Ice Laboratory. Both sessions were particularly informative as the former set the context for our upcoming expedition whilst the latter gave us an overview of some of the polar research that was being conducted by the AWI.

Thursday 29th October 2015 was the day when we boarded the RV Polarstern! From the first glance, I along with everyone else was simply fascinated by the impressive vessel. During the first few days, the Polarstern left Bremerhaven harbour and made its way along the English Channel. Once onboard, students were rotated through 5 working groups (Tools, Oceanography, Remote Sensing, Phytoplankton, Zooplankton) for the duration of the cruise. Along the North/South Atlantic Transect, there were multiple sampling stations. Within the various groups, students got hands-on experience (i) conducting field sampling, (ii) processing samples, and (iii) analysing environmental data. Before moving on to the next working group, students had to present their findings based on the sampling that they had conducted and the data they had acquired at the relevant stations. During the expedition, some of the equipment that we used to collect and/or analyse samples were the CTD, Expendable Bathythermograph (XBT), Temperature/Conductivity/pH meters, Bongo/Calcofi/Plankton nets, Continuous Plankton Recorder (CPR), Ferrybox, Thermosalinometer, and Algae Analyser. Students were also introduced to the concept of using satellites to remotely sense the oceans, sessions were held regarding the preparation of scientific presentations and articles, team building exercises were conducted, and students were taken though the process of designing/setting up experiments using field samples.

In addition to the formal training that was received during the 2015 Floating Summer School, some of the priceless moments of the expedition that would remain forever etched in my memory are (i) the whales and dolphins we spotted somewhere in the vicinity of Las Palmas, (ii) the flying fish and Sargassum that we spotted once we started entering warmer tropical waters, (iii) the feeding of the squids during night time sampling, (iv) my first sighting of Planktoniella sol under a microscope, (v) the spectacular sunsets that we saw along the way, (vi) the feel of the Equator-ward winds that I’d been reading about, and (vii) the seals and cormorants that greeted us upon arrival in Cape Town. No journey, however remarkable, would ever be as good as one that was spent in the company of awesome people. Having said that, I must mention that one of the highlights of the 2015 Floating Summer School was being able to meet and interact with a group of remarkable students and scientists from around the world!

How could a year not be awesome when you’ve had the opportunity to travel out of Bremerhaven harbour into the English Channel, pop into the Bay of Biscay, zip to the top of the Ampere Seamount, spot Las Palmas and the Cape Verde Islands, hover at midnight over the Equator, sail along two upwelling ecosystems (Canary and Benguela) and safely disembark at Cape Town Harbour?

Below are a few photographs from my journey!

Participants and their instructors about to board the RV Polarstern in Bremerhaven, Germany (Photographer: Alfred Wegener Institute staff)

Participants and their instructors about to board the RV Polarstern in Bremerhaven, Germany on October 29th 2015 (Photographer: Alfred Wegener Institute staff)

One species of phytoplankton (Planktoniella sol) that we found in the Atlantic Ocean (Photographer: La Daana Kanhai)

One species of phytoplankton (Planktoniella sol) that we found in the Atlantic Ocean (Photographer: La Daana Kanhai)

The CTD being deployed at one of the sampling stations (Photographer: La Daana Kanhai)

The CTD being deployed at one of the sampling stations (Photographer: La Daana Kanhai)

Horizontal Bongo Nets were used to sample zooplankton at the various sampling stations (Photographer: La Daana Kanhai)

Horizontal Bongo Nets were used to sample zooplankton at the various sampling stations (Photographer: La Daana Kanhai)

The awesome group of students that I worked with during the expedition. From Left to Right: Monica Demetriou, Angelee Annasawmy, Elvita Eglite, Donal Mc Gee, Philip Wenta, La Daana Kanhai, Hanna Scheuffele (Photographer: Eleni Bintoudi)

The awesome group of students that I worked with during the expedition. From Left to Right: Monica Demetriou (Cyprus), Angelee Annasawmy (Mauritius), Elvita Eglite (Latvia), Donal Mc Gee (Ireland), Philip Wenta (Germany), La Daana Kanhai (Trinidad & Tobago), Hanna Scheuffele (Germany. (Photographer: Eleni Bintoudi)

If you wish to read the official blogs that were written by staff and students of the 2015 Floating Summer School, please visit the Polarstern Blog page:

http://blogs.helmholtz.de/polarstern/en/

 

Happy Reading!

La Daana Kanhai

21st Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals

Marine mammals, San Francisco City Hall © Isabel Baker


Society for Marine Mammalogy Conference Banquet, San Francisco City Hall © Isabel Baker

The Society for Marine Mammalogy (SMM) hosted its 21st Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals from the 13th to the 18th of December 2015 in San Francisco and it was an energising week full of marine mammal related talks, presentations and activities.  Over 2500 people attended the conference where I presented a poster entitled “Exploring the social structure of the resident bottlenose dolphin population in the Shannon Estuary, Ireland” in the Behavior section along with other similar international studies. The poster displayed results of a social analysis of individuals in the population indicating fluidity between members of the population but also significant longevity in some of their associations.

The SMM is the largest international scientific community in marine mammal research and meets every two years for workshops and a conference week of oral and poster presentations. The SMM’s mission is to promote the global advancement of marine mammal science and contribute to its relevance and impact in education, conservation and management. The theme of this year’s conference was “Bridging the Past Towards the Future” and it focused on marine mammal conservation on a global scale.

Apart from presenting research, the conference provided an important opportunity to meet and network with international experts in marine mammal science. It was fantastic to learn about so many interesting research projects across the globe and a great opportunity to represent Irish research on an international platform. In particular, participating in this conference really enhanced my knowledge of current dolphin research and contributed to the progress of my PhD research.

Overall, it was a very stimulating and enjoyable conference!

To see the highlights from the conference program, click here or to look at the SMM website, click here.

The Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco © Isabel Baker

The Golden Gate Bridge, San Francisco © Isabel Baker

Painted Ladies, San Francisco © Isabel Baker

Painted Ladies, San Francisco © Isabel Baker

San Francisco Bay © Isabel Baker

San Francisco Bay © Isabel Baker

California sea lions at Pier 39, San Francisco © Isabel Baker

California sea lions at Pier 39, San Francisco © Isabel Baker

San Francisco Marina © Isabel Baker

San Francisco Marina © Isabel Baker

Grey whale mural, San Francisco © Isabel Baker

Grey whale mural, San Francisco © Isabel Baker

The Marine Mammal Center, Sausalito © Isabel Baker

The Marine Mammal Center, Sausalito © Isabel Baker

Northern elephant seals at Point Reyes © Isabel Baker

Northern elephant seals at Point Reyes © Isabel Baker

San Francisco City Hall © Isabel Baker

San Francisco City Hall © Isabel Baker

Thanks to everyone who makes my PhD research possible.

Isabel Baker

World Seabird Conference

First day at Cape Town. Table Mountain partially covered by clouds - ©HeidiAcampora

First day at Cape Town. Table Mountain partially covered by clouds – ©HeidiAcampora

This last October I’ve had the chance to attend the 2nd World Seabird Conference, in Cape Town, South Africa. I was scheduled to give a talk about the Republic of Ireland Beached Bird Survey (RIBBS) and how to use stranding events and wrecks to monitor for marine litter in seabirds as a mean to comply with marine policy. The title of my presentation was “Assessing the Utility of Seabird Wrecks for Plastic Debris Monitoring”. This was placed in a Symposia within the conference focused on ‘The Impacts of Marine Debris on Seabirds’.

Apart from giving a presentation, I thoroughly enjoyed this conference very much. For a whole week, 562 delegates from 52 different countries have gathered to present, discuss and learn more about seabird focused research around the world. It was exciting to see all these amazing things people have been working on and studying across the globe!

Along  with the Marine Debris sessions, I very much enjoyed the sessions about ‘Diet Monitoring’, ‘Food and Foraging Areas’ and ‘Seabirds as Indicators of Ocean Health’, this last one being my favorite. All of these have added insights and bits of knowledge for my personal research. But it was also very nice to learn new things about different and endemic species from South Africa, for example. We have all enjoyed the African penguin and Cape Gannets talks for sure 🙂

All in all, it was an amazing week and I came back a little wrecked, but also charged with enthusiasm about doing amazing seabird things 🙂 I also managed to enjoy the beautiful views of Cape Town and its amazing wildlife. Photos will speak for themselves!

If you are interested in having a look at the conference program, it is available for download here.

If you would like to keep an eye on the website for future conferences, click here.

There was also a very cool video made by researchers around the world giving a quick summary on their work in their own countries. You can view it here.

Camps Bay looking mighty – ©HeidiAcampora

This is how Cape Town looks like from the top of Table Mountain - ©HeidiAcampora

This is how Cape Town looks like from the top of Table Mountain – ©HeidiAcampora

You all know I love puffins :)

Let the conference begin! You all know I love puffins 🙂 – ©HeidiAcampora

Yours truly presenting at a very big and intimidating auditorium - ©AlejandroSotillo

Yours truly presenting at a very big and intimidating auditorium – ©AlejandroSotillo

African penguins enjoy the day at the beach as you should - ©HeidiAcampora

African penguins enjoy the day at the beach as you should – ©HeidiAcampora

We ran into baboons on our way to Cape of Good Hope - ©HeidiAcampora

We ran into baboons on our way to Cape of Good Hope – ©HeidiAcampora

It's hard to resist baby baboons! - ©HeidiAcampora

It’s hard to resist baby baboons! – ©HeidiAcampora

Beautiful walk to the Cape of Good Hope - ©HeidiAcampora

Beautiful walk to the Cape of Good Hope – ©HeidiAcampora

And then there was a true seabird meeting! - ©HeidiAcampora

And then there was a true seabird meeting! – ©HeidiAcampora

And then elephants - ©HeidiAcampora

And then elephants – ©HeidiAcampora

... and then zebras - ©HeidiAcampora

… and then zebras – ©HeidiAcampora

... and giraffes - ©HeidiAcampora

… and giraffes – ©HeidiAcampora

And finally, some seabird nerds road tripping 😉 – ©HeidiAcampora

Thanks to everyone who makes my PhD research possible.

Heidi Acampora

Bottlenose dolphin research and education in partnership with the Shannon Dolphin and Wildlife Foundation

PhD bottlenose dolphin research
PhD bottlenose dolphin research

SDWF Field Season 2015

For the fieldwork component of my PhD research, I manage and run the Shannon Dolphin and Wildlife Foundation’s summer season every year. The focus this summer was on the core functions of the charity to carry out research and education about the bottlenose dolphins in the Shannon Estuary, thus contributing to the conservation of this important population. This work is integral to the aims of my PhD and provides the support I need for my research into the life history, social and foraging behaviour of this bottlenose dolphin population.

We had a great season this year, with three senior researchers and five dedicated research assistants from six countries – Canada, Sweden, USA, Germany, Ireland and the UK. Following training, they conducted dolphin research and education over the course of the summer, becoming independent and confident dolphin researchers and educators. Through hard work in the field and the lab, they developed their skills in photo-identification, data collection and processing, while their provision of excellent educational tours in the centre to over 900 visitors allowed them to develop their skills in public speaking and educational outreach. They also communicated really well with each other, creating a very positive and vibrant team dynamic!

Shannon Dolphin and Wildlife Centre

Researchers (L to R): Katharina Reusch, Andrew Shine, Isabel Baker, Jamie Nicol, Meadhbh Quinn, Joel Vikberg Wernström. Not shown: Stephanie Levesque, Elisa Keeling Hemphill. Photo courtesy of Arthur Ellis, http://www.arthurellisphotography.ie

Together, we completed 89 dolphin surveys, including many with multiple sightings of dolphin groups. The SDWF recorded a total of 10 newborn calves during summer 2015; an increase on last year’s eight. One of these calves was a new calf for mum Sarafina and her previous daughter, Nala. Researchers chose the name Ari for the new arrival. It’s also always a pleasure to see the previous years’ calves growing up; for example, Sandy Salmon’s calf, Muddy Mackerel, had his third birthday in August and it’s really wonderful to see this calf looking healthy and well.

Sandy Salmon and her calf Muddy Mackerel

Sandy Salmon and her calf Muddy Mackerel

The team also continued to contribute to the Natural History Museum’s Irish Cetacean Genetic Tissue Bank, attending strandings of a pilot whale and a minke whale, where they took skin samples for analysis. In addition, they attended a marine animal tagging workshop run by Wildlife Computers in GMIT where they learnt about tagging wild animals for research.

We were lucky to have some great equipment sponsored for fieldwork, including a GPS from Garmin (thanks to Peter Macmillan for installing it on the boat) and three sets of great binoculars from Minox. Thanks also to the Irish Whale and Dolphin Group for use of the Research Vessel Muc mhara for behavioural research; it is so important to gain detailed behavioural data on these animals. Thanks also to Jeff Adams for his ongoing support with our relational sightings database in FinBase, which is looking great.

The educational work at the centre grew this year too, with several school tours, a refurbishment of all of the centre’s signs, painting all over the place, and notably the preparation of the centre façade for a new dolphin mural. The team spent hours scraping and power-hosing the old paint off, and then painting the base coat layer of lilac blue (thank you to Clancy’s for the paint), ready for the artist Mick O’Clery’s mural to be painted. To raise funds for the project, we ran a Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign which was a huge success. Thanks so much for the support from all of the project backers! We also set up our Adopt-a-dolphin scheme with starter packs for five individual dolphins – thanks to everyone who adopted so far; stay tuned for dolphin updates.

The SDWF held a number of fundraising events throughout the summer including two pub quizzes (thanks to all the local businesses that contributed prizes), a Kids Fun Day, a Family Fun Day (huge credit to the SDWF researchers who designed terrific new games for these events), and a Cake Sale. During our Fun Days, the winners of our marine-themed Drawing Contest and Poetry Competition were chosen, and we received loads of great entries from kids all over Ireland and further afield.

SDWF researchers at Loop Head, Co. Clare for Whale Watch Ireland 2015

SDWF researchers at Loop Head, Co. Clare for Whale Watch Ireland 2015

We also took part in many public outreach events throughout the summer including giving presentations at the Ballybunnion Seaweed Festival and Vandeleur Walled Garden during Heritage Week, taking part in Whale Watch Ireland 2015 at Loop Head and Killiney Bay, having a stand at the Clare Environmental Network Fair and taking part in four Craft Fairs at the Vandeleur Walled Garden, including the day of the Entente Florale competition. We also took a team community day to help Kilrush Tidy Towns with boat painting in Kilrush Marina’s ship yard. Thanks again to Alix Levesque at OneOSix Design for her great new SDWF logo for the t-shirts we wear during these events.

We have increased our online presence so that the Shannon Dolphin and Wildlife Centre can now be found on the Fáilte Ireland, Clare.ie, and Wild Atlantic Way websites. We have also been active on social media, continuing to promote our work on our website and Facebook page (now over 1400 likes), and also through the set-up of a new Twitter account (@ShannonDolphins) and a TripAdvisor page, where we  have started accumulating reviews. Our website also now has a PayPal Donate button, a link to Facebook, and the logos of our sponsors.

Thanks to Peter O’Connell and Arthur Ellis, we started the summer with a page in the Living Section of the Clare Champion describing the work we do and highlighting our need for raised awareness. It was a great spread for the team. In September, we were interviewed by UTV Ireland on board Dolphinwatch Carrigaholt’s boat Draíocht for their show next year, Lesser Spotted Ireland, so keep a look out for that.

We are also very grateful to Giada Maugeri for the new posters she designed for the centre and also to Mary Meade at Bewley’s for the coffee machine – it was a great draw to the centre and also provided the researchers with some extra pep.

I’d like to extend a huge thank you to our Centre Coordinator this year, Katharina Reusch, who did a tremendous job keeping everything going, from merchandise to research to training; she did it all impeccably. Thank you so much to all the SDWF researchers – Elisa Keeling Hemphill, Jamie Nicol, Joel Vikberg Wernström, Meadhbh Quinn, Andrew Shine and Stephanie Levesque – for all your enthusiasm and hard work throughout the season. A massive thank you to the dolphin-watching operators, Geoff and Sue Magee of Dolphinwatch Carrigaholt, and Ger and Geraldine Griffin of Dolphin Discovery, Kilrush, for their ongoing support and for providing fantastic platforms for dolphin research. Thank you to everyone at Kilrush Marina for your kindness and support of our work. Thanks to our Project Officer Dr Simon Berrow for providing ongoing encouragement and advice. And to everybody else who supports our work and those who helped us throughout the season, we are so grateful, thanks so much!

Thanks again to a terrific team for such a fun and productive field season!

Isabel Baker

Marine and Freshwater Research Centre @ GMIT, Galway

mfrc_logo

Marine and Freshwater Research Centre @ GMIT, Galway

A dynamic group of researchers, academics and students working together to enhance the management of marine and freshwater ecosystems worldwide.

Our team of students, researchers and scientists conduct postgraduate research, carry out research projects in co-operation with agencies and industry, and provide expertise and advice to national and international bodies.