Marine Mammal Ecology Lab

JUNE 2022

Kyra's Blog

Kyra Bankhead, undergraduate student

1 June 2022

I’m closing into graduation, and it is a bittersweet feeling. There is a lot to get done before I graduate. First, I need to make sure I leave Holland in a good spot as project lead before I leave. This means we must conduct our interviews and choose the best candidates that will make her transition as smooth as possible. We have already received many resumes from promising candidates, and hopefully there will be at least four volunteers for the summer.

Now for some exciting news, I got to present my research in-person for the first time at Scholar’s Week! It was amazing and so far one of my favorite parts of science. I love hearing everyone’s opinions on the results of my research as well as how to improve the research in the future. The ironic thing is that Zoe and Kathleen were the most helpful people that came by to see me present. After discussing my results to them, they suggested using a present vs absent measurement for seal numbers which would get rid of the problem of zero inflation, overdispersion and temporal autocorrelation.

I also completed the draft of my manuscript that was sent to Wyatt and Grace to review. Grace agreed that a binary measurement for seals was a great way to handle these complications and Alejandro noted that keeping both methods of measuring seal counts would be best. Additionally, for noise measurements, we decided to nest the two waterfront locations so that we could use the first noise measurement taken at each location. We will then match them to the seal count taken at each separate spot. This also means we need to test the significance of location within the waterfront by adding it as a fixed factor into the GLMM model. Unfortunately, no one has responded for advice on how to incorporate temporal autocorrelation to my GLMM model, so we will continue with analyzing data this way.

Kyra Bankhead

Holland's Blog

Holland Conwell, undergraduate student

1 June 2022

The end of my third year at Western is quickly approaching! I’ve had my hands full with classes, labs, and preparation earlier in the month for my last conference this spring. A couple weeks ago I got to present my poster at Scholars Week! I’m glad that I got to experience both an online (NWSSMM) and an in-person conference this spring, since preparation and presentation at both were a little different. I got really good at giving my elevator pitch over and over again in a virtual breakout room but learned to vary the length of my information more based on people’s interest at Scholars Week. Also at Scholars Week, I had to dress for the occasion and learn how to engage people in my poster who were often outside of the marine science field.

Recently, I’ve been transitioning into my new role leading the Bellingham Waterfront project! A big thank you to Kyra for thinking of me for this role and showing me the ropes! I’ve been enjoying working with Kyra during the summer recruitment process and meeting so many wonderful applicants lately during interviews. This has also been a great learning opportunity for me, and I’m excited to know who will be helping in the summer/academic year soon!

Meanwhile, Kyra and I will conduct the last of our interviews, and I’ll keep working with the diet data for my project investigating sex-specific diet of harbor seals in the Salish Sea. I had to focus more on Scholars Week prep for a bit, but now I’ve been able to switch back. I started by visually depicting the diet proportions of each order by sex, season, year, etc. Now I’ve been able to collaborate, hammer out the details of PERMANOVA, and I will soon be subsetting the data and starting the analysis. There are a lot of new and exciting things going on, and I can’t wait to continue my research this summer!

Madison's Blog

Madison Gard, undergraduate student

1 June 2022

With one week left of classes until the end of spring quarter, I’m eager to see the school year winding down. This year has been a whirlwind full of trials and long hours in the library, so it feels very rewarding to finish off on such a high note. The highlight of this month for me was presenting our poster about novel qPCR assays for determining sex of Steller and California sea lions at Scholars' Week on May 18th. That was my first ever in-person poster presentation and I really enjoyed learning from my peers about the neat topics they’re studying. It was great to discuss the research Zoë Lewis and I have been working on with other students and hear their feedback. Later that day on May 18th, I attended the Modern and Classical Language department’s awards ceremony and received the Herbert L. Baird Jr. Scholarship to continue my studies in Spanish next year.

Poster at Scholar's Week.

I’m happy to report that a nearly completed second draft of the introduction and the beginnings of a methods section are in the works for the manuscript! Balancing writing with 18 credits and working this quarter has been a stretch. I’m looking forward to wrapping up my classes this week and focusing on writing. Zoë helped workshop the flow of logic for my intro draft, noted some important previous studies to include, and taught me the method she uses for in-text citations using Mendeley reference manager. After incorporating her feedback, I’m feeling more confident about the second draft and am beginning to be less intimidated by the writing process as a whole.

Looking forward to this summer, it’s going to be an adventure! I’m excited to start my internship with NOAA’s coral office on June 20th. I will be compiling literature on the linkages between the health of shallow and deep coral ecosystems and fish populations, and synthesizing everything into a communication tool that is digestible and approachable for the public. In the last few weeks of summer, I’ll attend the study abroad Global Learning Program in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. I even booked my flights this morning to solidify everything - eek! I can’t wait to practice my conversational Spanish and learn about sustainable agricultural practices from the people of Guanajuato, MX.

Kathleen's Blog

Kathleen McKeegan, graduate student

1 June 2022

We are almost done with spring quarter! This past month, Kate and I presented our poster at Scholar’s Week, which went really well. Kate did an excellent job putting together the poster, and attendees seemed really interested in our work! The poster is now hanging up in the hallway near our lab, and it’s cool to walk by the physical manifestation of our work every day.

Kate, Bri, and I interviewed and hired a new team of research assistants to help Victoria in the fall. We interviewed 18 people and hired 10 excellent assistants. We also met with the 4 returning students to see how we could improve the lab moving forward. I think we will have a fantastic team working on the Whatcom Creek project, and I’m excited to see what Victoria chooses to study next year! We are having an intro meeting for the new team this week, and hopefully Victoria will be able to join us. We are also planning an end-of-year party for current lab students so we can all celebrate our hard work and say goodbye before summer.

Outside of lab management and presentations, I have been spending my time finalizing data analyses and writing drafts of my thesis. Since last month, I’ve incorporated various analyses using contingency tables to assess how prior observed site fidelity impacted an individual seal’s likelihood of being present and successful in Whatcom Creek with TAST on in 2020, and their likelihood of returning to Whatcom Creek in 2021. Site fidelity seems to play a strong role in the presence of seals at Whatcom Creek, whereas TAST has little effect on the likelihood that seals will or will not return to Whatcom Creek. Harbor seal fidelity to a foraging site over multiple years is an interesting phenomenon that has not been reported much in the scientific literature, so I’m excited to dive into the importance of fidelity in my discussion section.

I am writing my discussion section now and should have a completed and formatted draft of my thesis ready to go within the next week. Soon, I will be planning my predefense meeting and looking ahead to my actual thesis seminar and defense. Only a few months left!

Zoë's Blog

Zoë Lewis, graduate student

1 June 2022

May has been crunch time for data analysis, writing, and wrapping up spring quarter! My results are taking shape, and I finally have some preliminary results regarding my bioenergetics modeling data. Its been very nice to have some time to dig into the data, and potential explorations of this multivariate dataset, albeit, a bit overwhelming at times

For my first chapter, I’m focusing describing the diet of Steller sea lions in the region, and my analysis digs into seasonal and sex biased variation in diet along coastal Washington. Further, I’m looking at relative specialization, using methods similar to Madelyn Voelker’s analysis, to see if there is a correlation between certain species of interest and specialization.

My second chapter is finally coming along as well, thanks to the help of Dr. Benjamin Nelson! I finally have seasonal estimates for the biomass of salmon consumed by this population of Steller sea lions along coastal Washington, and I’m digging into which seasonal variations of Chinook salmon consumed. It’s exciting to feel like I have all the pieces finally fitting together.

This next month, I finish writing up my discussion elements, and apply to graduate. With that, it is critical for me to reconvene with my committee, determine target journals, and send out some drafts to committee members and others so that I have time for reviewers to provide feedback and time to adjust! It is crazy to think about how I’ll be defending in less than 2 months…

Kate's Blog

Kate Clayton, undergraduate student

1 June 2022

Happy summer!

Spring quarter is nearly complete and I am ready for a break! Thankfully, I only have one final and then I am free. I am hoping to go back home to Idaho for the summer, but besides that, I have no idea what comes next.

This month has been a whirlwind. Kathleen and I have been training one of our awesome undergrads Bri to help manage the lab next fall. She has been doing an awesome job and has mastered making observation schedules! The three of us have also spent a good portion of the past month interviewing students for next fall. We have decided our team for fall quarter, and we are so pumped to get to work with them! We are having an intro meeting with everyone later this week to introduce everyone and let them know what to expect for the fall.

Alejandro has brought on a new grad student that will be taking over the Whatcom Creek Project after Kathleen graduates this summer. Although I have yet to meet her in person, the couple of Zoom calls we have had with her have been great and I am excited to get to work with her and see what she decides to study. Plus, she is also from Boise, so that will be fun too! :)

Kathleen and I presented our poster at Scholar’s Week this month. It was not as terrifying as I was expecting so that was nice! It feels good to have that checked off our list. Another bonus is getting to look at our poster every time we walk past the lab. It is so refreshing to see some new work in the hallways after Scholar’s Week and learn about all the research going on in the Biology department.

This last month the Whatcom Creek Hatchery released a large amount of Chinook smolt. In the past, the hatchery has focused on raising and releasing Chum smolts which are much smaller than Chinook. Due to poor returns, this year they decided to release Chinook, and since they are larger than the Chum smolts, we wanted to see if this release caused any kind of reaction in the seals. Kathleen and I went down to the creek the morning after the release. We found a couple of seals gathered under the bridge, far away from where we normally observe, so we had to improvise and try to find the best spots to photograph the seals. Long story short, it was a fun, chaotic adventure and we got to see one of our returners (0166) waiting under the bridge, acting as the smolt’s gatekeeper to the ocean. It appears we likely missed most of the action since the smolts were released sometime during the night and the seals left soon after we arrived. Still, this was such an amazing experience, and I am so grateful I was able to be there to witness it.

During Memorial Day weekend, my dad came up to visit and I took him to Semiahmoo Marina to see if we could spot any hauled-out seals. While we did see a small group hauled out, they were too far away to ID. Luckily, some seals were swimming nearby that I got some identifiable photos of. When I get a chance, I will go through the photos and see if we recognize any individuals from our creek. My dad and I also spotted a group of +20 seals swimming in a group in a large channel. We suspected they may have been hunting a school of fish after spotting some commotion under the water, but we did not see anyone surface with a fish in their mouth (much to the swarming seagulls’ disappointment). Moments like these are great reminders of why I decided to pursue science, despite its many difficulties. Observing seals in their natural habitat makes it all worth it.

I think that is about it for the month of May. Before I go, I would like to extend my thanks to some important people in the lab. To all this year’s lab members (Maddie, Leila, Jenni, Kendra, Avia, Josh, Kait, Bri, Liz, Jordan, Jessica, Olivia, Marysia, Grant, Elizabeth, Jasmine, and Kenneth) thank you for all that you do! Kathleen and I are so appreciative of your hard work. We could not do what we do without you, so thank you! (PS Apologies if I missed anyone!)

To Kyra, thank you for all of your help this year. From preparing ethics debates for lab meeting to watching seals (both hauled out and in the water), I have enjoyed all the time I have gotten to spend with you. Good luck with OSU! You are going to do amazing things!

To Alejandro, thank you for your patience, your support, your wisdom, and your generosity. I have learned so much from you and I am so grateful I was able to find a home in your lab. I hope you have a wonderful time on your sabbatical next year and I look forward to our meetings in the fall.

And finally, to Kathleen, I could not have imagined a better partner. I have learned so much from you and look up to you so much. I am so proud of you and all the hard work and dedication you have for this project. You are an amazing human and, while I am going to miss working with you, I am excited to see what you will do next. :)

Until next month,