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Blogging from Biennial: Day 3

Half way through the conference and there are no signs of slowing down! Monica and Colleen both had busy days learning about everything from narwhal hearts to beluga ear structure! 

Any questions for Monica and Colleen about the Biennial Conference? Send us an email at [email protected]

If you missed Day 2 updates, check them out here.

Day 3:

Note taking at Biennial

We have 4 more days left before we head back to the office and start piece together everything we’ve learned. Each night this has been my view- sitting in the hotel room reviewing my notes while looking at a picture of the clock tower at Halifax’s Citadel historic site. I hope to sneak in a quick trip at some point to visit the Citadel, which overlooks the downtown and waterfront sections of Halifax. 

During day 3 of imitating a sponge, I’ve absorbed (pun very much intended) the following fascinating facts:

  • I got to listen to audio recordings of narwhal heartbeats. I’m not sure if the researchers who presented on this topic have published their data yet, so I won’t share too many details, but narwhals have a four chambered heart that makes up only .5% of their total body mass, which is about the same as a lion!
  • An acoustical survey tool called Saildrone has been used in the Bering Sea to search for the cryptic North Pacific right whale. It is literally a drone sailboat, which in this case towed a hydrophone underwater to listen for whales.  Given that we are partnering with the sailing community for outreach on whales, I am excited to get back and share this fun fact with our sailing colleagues!
  • South Asia River Dolphins who live in the Indus River have many characteristics that are different from those who live in the Ganges River on the other side of India. There may even be enough differences to warrant being classified as separate species- a debate which has been ongoing in the marine mammal community for quite some time it seems.

 Tomorrow is presentation day for me! I’m ending my night with a review of my presentation to make sure I’m ready to go tomorrow afternoon. My next update will come to you with a sigh of relief after I’m done telling the international marine mammal community about our outreach program for sailors! -Monica

Colleen at poster presentation SMM 2017

Today was a pretty orca-heavy day with Day One of poster sessions for me and multiple other orca presentations.  We started bright and early with a study on how POPs (persistent organic pollutants) are transferred from mother to calf during gestation and lactation in orcas, and the day kept rolling on from there.  Even though these long days can be tiring because we’re doing so much thinking, today went by so quickly!  I attended talks on topics ranging from Southern Resident orcas to the genetics of humpback whales to the similarities of inner ear structure between belugas and guinea pigs (yes, you read that right – hey, they’re both mammals!).  Having four concurrent presentation sessions happening can be quite chaotic, with people running – literally running – between rooms as they change sessions.  But now that we’re on Day 3 and conference attendees have had a chance to get to know each other and make new connections, the halls are filled with smiles and people waving to each other as they run by in a mad rush.  Things continued to be chaotic as 1700+ people descended on the nearly 300 posters on display in the afternoon.  90 minutes flew by as I spoke to people from all over the world about our unique Southern Resident orca population, how they were targeted by the captivity industry 50 years ago, and why they’ve struggled to recover since.  My audience was amazingly diverse, with some people just interested in general orca stuff, some people curious about the conservation aspect, and some who were drawn in by our ecosystem approach to their recovery.  We have another poster session tomorrow, and I’m getting some much needed rest tonight in preparation!  Some of the cool stuff that happened today:

  • An impromptu but fascinating conversation with a very kind researcher who helped me set up my poster after it broke free of its push-pins and slapped me in the face several times.  I attended Eric Ramos’ workshop at the last SMM Biennial about the behavioral response of marine mammals to drones, and he gave me an update on his continued project, and we agreed that recreational drone users should stay far away from marine mammals!
  • Being “poster buddies” with my fellow stranding-responder Sarah Scrivano, who has been examining the impact of whale watching on humpbacks in Hawaii. (And again, recreational drone users should not disturb marine mammals!)
  • Hearing some wonderful quotes (paraphrased here) by prominent scientists working on two species of whale that WDC is working hard to protect: North Atlantic right whales and Southern Resident orcas.  “North Atlantic right whales don’t give a damn what country they’re in.  We need transboundary efforts” (Dr. Scott Kraus).  “If a disease outbreak occurs and ambulances start rushing people to hospitals, the solution is not to plan to build more hospitals.” (Dr. Lance Barrett-Lennard, on why Southern Resident orcas need not just abundant salmon, but available salmon).

As we sum up our today’s experiences, we’re getting ready for another full day tomorrow (and I can’t believe there are only two days left!).  I’m scrolling through the updates on #SMM2017 right now and so amazed by the tidbits everyone is learning and sharing.  As crazy as the SMM Biennial can be, the hardest part is deciding which presentations to attend and which posters to look at – there’s just so much incredible information being shared by intelligent, committed, passionate people!  And every presenter, every key speaker, every poster reflects a genuine awe and respect for the marvelous marine mammals we’re here to learn about. -Colleen

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