Lab Happenings

Check out what’s been going on with the Vertebrate Ecology Lab students:

Spring 2016 Update:

Dr. Birgitte McDonald received funding this Spring from the Office of Naval Research for a collaborative project to develop a new data logger to measure heart rate in deep diving toothed whales.  Additionally, she has been busy co-teaching two courses this semester, Vertebrates of the Gulf of California and Sampling and Experimental Design, and has been continuing her research with Aarhus University measuring the metabolic rate of harbor porpoises. The students are busy with classes and thesis research. Two students, Jackie Lindsay and Keith Hernandez, will be defending their theses this Summer.

Fall 2016 Update:

This has been a busy year for the vertebrate ecology lab with two students completing their theses (Angela and Marilyn), the addition of 2 graduate students and 3 interns, and the continuation and initiation of several research projects. In May Dr. Gitte McDonald and new student, Heather, traveled to Florida to participate in the annual Sarasota Bay Dolphin Health assessments. During the assessments they tested out a prototype heart rate data logger that can be deployed on wild cetaceans to help us understand how they manage oxygen while diving. Gitte also traveled to Denmark this summer to continue her research on harbor porpoise energetics and diving physiology in collaboration with Aarhus University.  This fall the lab started a collaboration with the Costa Lab at UC Santa Cruz to assist with the long term research program studying the ecology of northern elephant seals.  Graduate students Heather and Mason, interns Jenni and Sharon, and Gitte have started going to Año Nuevo State Reserve to collect tag resight data which is essential data for life history studies. The students are also receiving training so they will be able to help with data logger and satellite tag deployments and recoveries during the breeding season early next year.

Additionally, this fall, Dr. Alison Stimpert and Gitte received a research award from the Monterey Bay Chapter of the American Cetacean Society.  This money will be used to initiate a photo identification program of Risso’s dolphins in the bay allowing us to address questions on whether these animals are resident or transients and to investigate social structure relationships.

The students have been busy working on their theses and coursework.  Keith is currently conducting molecular assays to finish up data collection in time to defend in summer2016.  This fall Jackie started working as the BeachCOMBER project manager. She is currently analyzing data and writing her thesis for a defense in spring 2016.  Stephanie is currently working on her proposal while continuing to supervise a long-term seabird research effort at Castle Rock National Wildlife Refuge during 2015 in conjunction with Humboldt State University. Heather and Mason started in the graduate program this fall and are busy with course work and developing their research projects.  Mason recently began to assume more responsibilities with the Marine Mammal Stranding Network for Monterey County, which is run by our lab. He will be replacing Keith as the stranding coordinator over the next few months.

This December the Vertebrate Ecology Lab will be well represented at the 21st Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals in San Francisco with a talk by Alison and posters by Keith, Jackie and Gitte.  In association with the conference, Alison and Gitte are co-hosting a workshop “Career-Life Balance and how to make a successful career in marine mammal science.  The lab has also had several publications accepted this fall including papers on fin whale calling (Alison Stimpert), carcass recovery rates for coastal bottlenose dolphins (Jim Harvey and Keith Hernandez, co-authors), and failure of satellite tags deployed on Emperor penguins (Gitte McDonald, co-author).

Spring 2015 Update:

The members of the Vertebrate Ecology Lab have been hard at work on their various projects. Dr. Gitte McDonald started her position at MLML in January and is enjoying teaching a class on the Physiological Ecology of Marine Vertebrates. Dr. Alison Stimpert is co-teaching a science and policy course with Monterey Institute for International Studies and the Center for Ocean Solutions this semester, evaluating the whale ship strike issue with students from MARINE campuses around Monterey Bay.

Angela Szesciorka successfully defended her thesis in March and is the TA for the science and policy MARINE course. Marilyn Cruickshank is finishing up her thesis and will defend this semester. Jackie Lindsey and Keith Hernandez are hard at work analyzing their data.

Stephanie Schneider is continuing to develop her thesis ideas with Dr. McDonald. Mason Cole will start this fall as one of Gitte’s new students! In the meantime he continues to assist with the stranding network and is taking Dr. McDonald’s Physiological Ecology class. Charlotte Cumberworth is continuing her work with the BeachCOMBERS program.