Blogging from Biennial: Day 5

Friday was the last day of the official Biennial Conference and the weekend was filled with workshops about specific topics. Colleen and Monica will fill us in on those later this week, once they return to the US, but here are their thoughts about the final day  of the conference!

If you missed Day 4 updates, check them out here

Day 5:

After 5 full days of conference presenters and plenary speakers, my head is spinning with new ideas and information. Most conferences that I've had the privilege of attending have been specific to a species, region, or topic.  For an event as large as this 22nd Biennial Conference of Marine Mammalogy, there were people from all over the world in attendance.  One of the things I enjoyed most about this conference was being able to learn about work being done in other parts of the world that I wouldn't have otherwise known about.  Also worth noting is that you'd be AMAZED at how many people dedicate themselves to researching whale earwax! I listened to three different presentations on this topic, and I'm pretty sure there were a few others I missed. And I'm not going to lie- it's very cool work that they are all doing!

 Some other interesting things I learned today:

  • In Hawaii there have been 80 confirmed vessel strike cases reported since 1975, and 75% of them have occurred in the last 10 years, so it is an increasing problem in recent years.
  • A website called Discovery of Sound in the Sea (DOSITS, for short) has recently added tutorials, instructional videos, and webinars on how sound travels through water and how marine animals react to it. The impetus for this was to equip decision makers with helpful tools to make well informed decisions in the best interest of marine animals. Even if you are not a decision maker, these resources are still interesting, so definitely check them out!
  • Narwhals and bowhead whales in the Canadian Arctic appear to use sea ice as a defense mechanism to shelter from nearby killer whales.
  • 22 different species of marine mammals have stranded on UK coastline in the last 25 years, and around 53% of those cases were traumatic causes of death, i.e. not dying of natural causes. 

Also, I learned about a positive reinforcement project that's being going on close to home that I was previously unaware of. Since 2009 The Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary office has been issuing "report cards" to shipping companies and other ocean users who travel through Cape Cod Bay when the Seasonal Management Area is in effect.  This means that in Cape Cod Bay, vessels larger than 60 feet have to slow to 10 knots from January 1-May 15 each year to protect North Atlantic right whales from lethal collisions. The report cards issued by the Sanctuary score companies from A-F (just like in grade school!) based on their compliance with this regulation. The companies who score an A or B receive a "Certificate of Corporate Responsibility" and it seems that these companies really appreciate the recognition. To them I say keep up the great work and thank you! -Monica


Closing plenary presentation at SMM2017
Closing plenary presentation at SMM2017

I can’t believe the conference is already over!  After a full week of talks, posters, and special presentations, we’re on the downward slope of things with two workshops over the weekend, and then back home on Monday!  This week has been incredibly informative, inspiring, and thought-provoking.  One of the big themes of the conference has focused on conservation – all our science and research means nothing if we watch the whales and dolphins we study descend into extinction.  We must translate the science into meaningful and effective policy, and act before it’s too late to save the amazing and charismatic beings in some of the most vulnerable populations around the world.  But to save the whales, we must also understand their history.  So today, we started with a talk by my friend and Baylor University PhD candidate Danielle Crain about what you can learn from the earwax of whales!

  • Sounds gross, but earwax can tell us a lot about individual whales – their age, pregnancies, hormones, toxins, and a general life history for the whale.  By studying ear plugs from as far back as 1902, Dani is trying to understand pregnancy patterns and how they change between species of whales, and if there are any differences with changing environmental conditions.
  • Innovative technologies are helping us to understand how the physiology of whales can affect their behavior and how they relate to their environment, which can help inform conservation and protection.
  • In the Southern Resident orca population, males capture salmon about twice as often as females do, and are also more likely to be successful – maybe that’s why Mom keeps her sons around, so they can help flush out salmon!  Knowing how often orcas are successful in catching salmon can help us develop regulations to mitigate vessel noise and disturbance, giving the orcas acoustic and physical space to catch fish.
  • Dolphins in Shark Bay, Australia have learned to use sponges to protect their rostrums while foraging – one of the best examples of the cultural transmission of information in dolphins.  This technique appears to be passed from mother to offspring, and all the dolphins that use sponges share a common ancestor.

 To know where we need to go, sometimes we need to know where we’re coming from, and recognize our mistakes to try and fix them.  We’ve watched some whale and dolphin species go extinct in recent years, either because they never recovered from the pressures of commercial whaling, or from new threats that we didn’t yet understand.  With the benefit of hindsight, we know where people went wrong in failing to save those lost marine mammals.  We must not repeat the mistakes of our past when it comes to preventing extinction, and use the lessons learned to take action for vulnerable populations today.  That might be the most hopeful thing that resulted from the many conservation-oriented discussions this week – we know what to do, the will and passion are there, and now we just have to take action and do it. - Colleen

Reinforcements for the last day of SMM2017

Catch up with the rest of the Blogging from Biennial series. 

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