November: A Busy Month for Mystic Aquarium Research Scientists
Mystic, Conn. (November 16, 2015): Research Scientists at Mystic Aquarium have a full slate this November as conservation and research stand in the forefront of their Mission Program’s “One Ocean, One Mission” initiatives. From hands-on research and collaborative efforts to important speaking engagements, the team is poised for progress in the field of beluga whale research, veterinary sciences, and resource management and policy.
During the first two weeks of November, Scientists from Mystic Aquarium collaborated with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries and Science Center to continue a sound study on beluga whales in an effort to better understand the effect of increasing noise in our oceans.
Beluga whale trainers Kathryn Hanover, Kate McElroy and Lindsey Nelson worked side-by-side with Dr. Aran Mooney, Associate Scientist in the Biology Department of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, and Dr. Manuel “Manolo” Castellote, Affiliate Scientist with the National Marine Mammal Center of NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center. Mystic’s own Dr. Laura Thompson coordinated the collection of the blow samples using a non-invasive technique developed at Mystic Aquarium.
During these studies, Mystic Aquarium scientists measured the physiological response to sound by sampling their respiratory vapor or blow to better understand health implications. Different manmade sounds were played through an underwater speaker while the beluga’s hearing sensitivity was measured by electrodes placed on their skin. The hearing tests utilized were similar to those used to test hearing in human infants.
Studies like these are critical with further evidence of the loss of ice in the Arctic. As the Arctic ice shrinks due to climate change, the beluga’s habitat becomes increasingly threatened by human activities. Many of these activities increase sound in their natural environment which could impact not only their communication with one another but also their hearing and overall health.
Data obtained from studies such as these can be used to better manage beluga habitats and limit human activity. Mystic Aquarium provides a critical space for beluga whales to become better understood so that we can protect them in their natural habitat. Sound studies of this caliber cannot be replicated in the ocean environment.
Currently, Justin Richard, a PhD student in the Integrative and Evolutionary Biology program at the University of Rhode Island and Mystic Aquarium, is participating in the Alaska Beluga Whale Committee Meeting in Anchorage, AK. Native Alaskans, scientists and wildlife managers are engaged in discussion on the status of beluga whales and updates on the latest research, including new techniques to assess their health. Richard is presenting Mystic Aquarium’s work on non-invasive blow sampling of reproductive and stress hormones in belugas with potential application in the field.
Dr. Paul Anderson, another of the renowned research scientists at Mystic Aquarium, will be speaking at the Wildlife, Aquatics, Zoo, Exotics (W.A.Z.E.) Symposium at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine on Saturday, November 21. Dr. Anderson will discuss the use of veterinary medicine to advance conservation objectives; more specifically on the use of veterinary diagnostic techniques to advise and improve handling practices of sharks for catch-and-release fisheries, fisheries research, and aquarium-based animal care. This year’s symposium “WAZE to Improve Conservation” will be streamed as a webinar.
The team is also gearing up for 21st Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals: Bridging the Past Toward the Future on December 13–18 to present their research at four different venues. The conference will attract more than 3,000 marine mammal scientists, managers, and policy makers from over 30 countries to engage in interdisciplinary dialogue on the world’s most pressing marine science and conservation issues as they relate to marine mammals.