Marine Mammal Ecology Lab


Kyra's Blog

Kyra Bankhead, undergraduate student

1 September 2021

I’ve been working on my research statement for the Graduate Research Fellowship Program at NSF. I am so fortunate to have learned so much from my independent project in the Marine Mammal Ecology Lab because it has been very useful in my research statement. Grace Freeman and Kathleen McKeegan have been great help for starting my application for the GRFP and have even shared their own personal experiences in applying. I have contacted a huge range of faculty at graduate programs that I am interested in, but have not had much luck. I am hoping that developing my research statement will help me attract more graduate professors.

Right now, I am working on developing a project based on conservation of cetaceans through a cultural lens. I have been scoping out possible knowledge gaps in this field and am still unsure what to narrow in on after reviewing a lot of the literature. Hal Whitehead is the lead author to most of these scientific papers, so I reached out to him to find knowledge gaps in cetacean culture. I am piecing together a focus for my statement: Cultural transmission in cetaceans constitutes a large proportion of their functional behavior. What proportion of this functional behavior is vertically transmitted (less likely to adapt to human induced threats) and what proportion is horizontally transmitted (more likely to adapt to human induced threats). I am currently waiting to hear back from many emails that will hopefully narrow down my research.

Kyra Bankhead

Holland's Blog

Holland Conwell, undergraduate student

1 September 2021

Last month, I began work on all parts of the methods section that I’m currently able to complete. Now I’ve finished my first draft of this section and sent that off for notes and feedback from Zoë, who is well acquainted with its content. In the meantime, I’ve been able to do some initial work with a completed dataset! Earlier this month, Zoë let me know that aside from uploading recent plates and rerunning a couple that had failed positive controls, the SSMSP dataset is pretty much complete. This opened up additional tasks I could work on while waiting for feedback on the methods section. First and foremost, I began merging the updated sexing results and sample information. At first, I grappled a bit with finding an Excel strategy to complete this task, which turned out to be a bit more challenging than I had anticipated. After a few failed attempts with various Excel codes, I found one that worked perfectly with the format of the dataset! I put together a cheat sheet for the code so I can more quickly apply it to the rest of the dataset, and now I’m just working on merging all the information. Thankfully, it shouldn’t take much longer to create this master datasheet, which means I will be able to figure out my next steps soon!

Kathleen's Blog

Kathleen McKeegan, graduate student

1 September 2021

Another productive month has come and gone. The fall quarter starts in a few weeks, and I’m beginning to get the start-of-school jitters. This past month, Kate and I made great progress on our Photo-IDs. We are almost completely done with IDing the clear, easy-to-ID photos from our lab and from Ocean’s Initiative. Now we’re left with the blurry, difficult-to-ID photos that will take a little more analysis and scrutiny to either successfully ID or throw out. We are also working through a huge list of potential new IDs from this past season. Before we can confirm those new IDs, we need to verify that the photo is not of an existing seal from our catalog, and then find a 360 of this new individual (left side, front side, right side of the face). Kate would probably agree with me that we are now at the tedious, annoying part of the photo-ID process. Luckily, she and I will both be back in Bellingham soon, so we can plow through these difficult-to-ID photos together.

Last week, I finished up my Washington Sea Grant (WSG) Science Communications Fellowship. The fellowship was a great learning opportunity in which I was able to develop and strengthen my communication and writing skills. Through the fellowship, I interviewed many amazing people working in marine science, boating, water quality, and the maritime industry. I shared the incredible work WSG has accomplished in their 50 years, and even helped develop an ArcGIS Story Map for their 50th Anniversary celebration. I also learned how to successfully run several different social media platforms, implementing two different campaigns for the summer boating season. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to develop these skills and be a part of the amazing WSG team!

Looking forward, Kate and I will be working with the undergraduate research assistants later this month, training them in the field-observation protocol. I will also begin developing a side-project focused on how drones affect harbor seal behavior. My goal for fall quarter is to have another successful field season and to complete a large portion of my data analysis. But for now, I’ll keep plugging away at those pesky, hard-to-ID photos!

Kate's Blog

Kate Clayton, undergraduate student

1 September 2021

Kathleen and I are nearing the end of our work for the 2020 salmon run, yay! We have spent the last month finishing up by cropping and IDing as many photos as possible. We have made many new IDs which has helped us tremendously, however, there are some new individuals that we have failed to find all 3 sides (front, left, right) of their face and therefore cannot confirm as a new ID. We may have to create some incomplete IDs for us to gather our results, but we will figure that out further down the road.

The rest of our summer will be spent sorting through poor quality images and determining if they are usable or not. After this, we will double check all our work for any mistakes that we may have made and then we can get to work on the statistical analysis. In addition to this we will also start making plans for Fall quarter, such as organizing a welcoming meeting, making observation schedules, and training the new assistants. I am sad that my days of staring as seal’s faces are ending, but I am excited to see what our results yield, and I am especially excited to get back into the field with our new team!

Hopefully I will have more exciting information to share next month. Until then,

Zoë's Blog

Zoë Lewis, graduate student

1 September 2021

August brought a return to laboratory processing, cooler weather, and the completion of our data collection! With only 45 scats to go (and 300 complete), I’m getting excited to have all of our samples in the hands of our contractors at WDFW. Hopefully, by the beginning of school, Maddie and I will be finished with these scats, and ready to take on the molecular side of lab.

As much as I love lab work, I am finding myself enjoying the writing aspect of the project more and more. While at Neah Bay, Adrianne and I discussed including a general introduction in my thesis. Rather than a shorter summary of previous relevant research, the general introduction will cover the background of diet studies, Steller sea lion food habits and bioenergetics modeling. I found myself excited at the idea of more writing, and started working on a outline structure based on my original outline immediately.

I have been so lucky that despite COVID closures, I have had unlimited access to the laboratory. I used to go weeks without seeing anybody in the building. As we approach the beginning of fall quarter, people have started ramping up their preparation for classes, and returning to in person research. Although I was expecting it, I was still surprised to find that my other PI Dietmar and his new grad student Hadley had snowberries full of maggots in the lab! It’s no longer a ghost town in the labs… and I am hoping that with vaccine boosters, careful masking, and social distancing, we can stay that way. I missed the in-person scientific community more than I realized! I’m looking forward to the start of fall quarter, going on a few seal watching observations with Kathleen, and diving further into writing this next month.