RESEARCH PROJECTS INVOLVED IN

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Orca Survey - Center for Whale Research Social and foraging behavior of killer whales Sea mammals and Sonar Safety Killer whale respiration and energetics Grey seal, harbor porpoise and cormorant diet Pregnancy, birth and calf development in bottlenose dolphins and killer whales Distribution and abundance of the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin

Orca Survey – Center for Whale Research

Orca Survey is a long-term photo-identification study of the Southern Resident Killer Whales (SRKW) in North America’s Pacific Northwest conducted by the Center for Whale Research. The SRKW population is a large extended family, comprising three pods: J, K and L pod. As of December 31 2015 this population counted 84 individuals (J Pod=29, K Pod=19, L Pod=36) (www.whaleresearch.com).

In 2009 I went to help with the project for a little while collecting photo-identification data, which was my first working experience with orcas.

Sea Mammals and Sonar Safety

The 3S project is a multidisciplinary and international collaborative (Norwegian Defense Research Establishment (FFI), The Netherlands Organization for Applied Scientific Research (TNO), Sea Mammal Research Unit (SMRU)) effort to investigate behavioral reactions of cetaceans to naval sonar signals. Behavioral responses to naval sonar signals were studied for toothed whales (pilot -, killer -, sperm -, and bottlenose whales),  baleen whales (minke – and humpback whales) and fish (herring).

During part of this long-term project I was involved in the field with DTAG handling and preparation, tagging, tracking and observing pilot whales in the Lofoten area, Norway. I processed the collected data and produced plots for assessing the effect by naval sonar on short term behavior in the large whales. Also I assisted with managing the logistics concerning the preparation and conduction of the fieldwork.

Social and foraging behavior of Icelandic killer whales

The long-term research project on the Icelandic killer whales focuses on their social and foraging behavior while monitoring which individuals can be regularly seen in Iceland to gain a better understanding of the population size and status (www.icelandic-orcas.com).

In the winter of 2013 I assisted with managing the logistics concerning the preparation and conduction of the fieldwork. At site I preparing and handing research equipment, including DTAGs, for tracing, tagging, tracking, and observing killer whales at sea.

Killer whale respiration and energetics

Respiration rate has been used as an indicator of metabolic rates of free-ranging cetaceans, discounting potential respiration-by-respiration variation in oxygen uptake. As M.Phil. research project I investigated the importance of accounting for fluctuating oxygen uptake through respiration timing by developing an innovative dynamic model of oxygen exchange and storage. Study outcomes showed that accounting for respiration timing is crucial in making cetacean energetic estimations from respirations. Results will be published in the July 2016 issue of the Journal of Experimental Biology.

Some of the animals included in my research were exposed to experimental sonar (3S project) for which I assessed the potential energetic consequences by such disturbance.

 

Grey seal, harbor porpoise and cormorant diet

As graduation assignment for my B.Sc. I assessed the diet of the grey seal by analyzing hard prey remains in faeces samples at the Institute for Marine Resources and Ecosystem Studies (IMARES, The Netherlands). By washing the seal faeces, hard prey remains could be retrieved and measured and prey species identified.

Together with my colleagues we wrote a scientific paper on the results that will be published. Also, I assessed the diet of the cormorant and harbor porpoise through analyzing prey remains in the stomach contents.

Pregnancy, birth and calf development in bottlenose dolphins and killer whales

During my time at Marineland Antibes I guided and initiated several research projects, such as the design and testing of a new non-invasive dolphin tag (in collaboration with the University of St. Andrews (Scotland), and the University of La Rochelle (France)), and tested relationships between respiration parameters and behavior in adult killer whales.

One of my main tasks was to monitor the development of both bottlenose dolphin and killer whale behavioral parameters in pregnant females and calves. I produced a behavioral catalogue for killer whales and provided training to personnel and interns of Marineland concerning behavioral observations and data collection focusing on breathing, behavior, and suckling.

Distribution and abundance of the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin

As internship for my undergraduate studies I did research on the abundance and distribution of the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin and Snubfin dolphin, in the southern Great Barrier Reef. My responsibilities included photo-identification, data collection and processing, and boat handling.

I wrote my thesis about the habitat use in the Great Sandy Strait (Queensland, Australia) of the Indo-Pacific humpback dolphin.