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

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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