Yesterday was the first day of the Biennial Conference and sounds like it was full of information! Collen and Monica’s brains are already bursting with new facts so let’s hear what they have to report back:
After the welcoming reception on Sunday evening and the first full day of conferencing on Monday, my head is already spinning! So much learning! I’ve had the opportunity to catch up with old friends and hear about what they are working on now, and make new connections over interesting and innovative research. I learned that:
- humpback whales in Alaskan feeding grounds use “non-song vocalizations” to “whisper” to each other (probably because they want to be selective about who they’re inviting to their buffet)
- Icelandic orcas have a much looser social structure than the well-known Resident orcas of the North Pacific, but still prefer to hang out with their family members
- approximately 30% of the Hawaiian monk seal population is alive today because of direct conservation efforts.
The first day started with inspirational talks from plenary speakers Asha de Vos and Scott Kraus. Like many of us at WDC, Dr. de Vos is a fan of whale poop, and what it can tell us about the unique population of blue whales that she studies off the coast of Sri Lanka. Dr. Kraus spoke about different ways to look for population decline in whale and dolphin populations, and how those can act as an early warning sign that a population may be in trouble. Both speakers talked about the importance of public engagement, making research accessible, and working with local communities who would be directly impacted by the recovery, or loss, of a species off their coast. Dr. de Vos urged the conference attendees to think about the future – how the research we’re learning about can be used to protect whales and dolphins, and how we can include the local people impacted. Dr. Kraus made the point that protecting whales means nothing if we lose our oceans – we must consider the bigger picture and think in the long-term, while acting now to prevent some populations from being lost forever. With those thoughts in our minds, we set off for a day of learning and thinking about how we can make those ideas into reality. -Colleen
The first day of Biennial was a bit overwhelming but so informative at the same time. I opted to listen in on presentations both in line with the work our office does and also out of our area of expertise. A few of the points I found most fascinating:
- Researchers at Baylor University examined stress levels in the layers of various whale earplugs and determined, among other things, that while whaling is definitely stressful for whales, they still showed elevated levels of stress hormones likely as a result of World War II despite whaling efforts having decreased.
- 42(!!) species of marine mammals are used as bait for fish across the world, of which 2/3 are specifically for shark hunting.
- Newborn and young land animals typically postpone development of locomotive skills to focus first on cognitive abilities; this does not seem to be the case for sperm whales calves off Dominica according to work being done by the Dominica Sperm Whale Project.
It was a jam packed day of presentations and poster displays, but I took some time (25.4 seconds, to be exact!) to take part in a little whale anatomy competition. The goal was simple- label the correct parts of the North Atlantic right whale and Northern bottlenose whale. The competition was to see who could do it fastest, but at an event with 1,700 participants, the odds are not in my favor. I was in 2nd place when I left the booth- I’ll have to wait for the final results until the end of the week. Cross your fingers for me!! -Monica