Last week I attended the UK and Ireland Regional Student Chapter of the Society of Marine Mammology’s 2020 conference (UKIRSC20). Okay, so it’s not the catchiest acronym, but it was a good time!
This is the first conference I’ve been to since the ASAB Easter Conference in 2018, and the first one I’ve presented at. Presenting was a suggestion by my supervisor and despite my reflex reaction of ‘no thanks, that sounds terrible’, I submitted an abstract for a five minute speed talk. Just a glutton for punishment I guess.
The talks at the conference were split into four sessions – Physiology & Genetics, Marine Mammals & Human Interactions, Acoustics, and Foraging Ecology & Population Biology.
The projects presented were varied. In the physiology session I was very interested by Eva-Maria Bønnelycke’s introduction of her Master’s work on using near-infrared spectroscopy to monitor anaesthesia in seals. After my time at Zeehondencentrum Pieterburen I could see immediately how useful this would be as a tool for surgery in rehabilitation centres, as well as in the field for research.
In human interactions James Robbins gave an excellent presentation on his PhD studying large whales ship strikes, and Cian Luck on his work estimating seal bycatch from rubbish (sorry, limited) data – both of which very deservedly won awards at the end of the conference. Talking about Cian’s work really made me reflect on how different attitudes to seals are within the UK and Ireland over very small spatial scales depending on fisheries and aquaculture in certain areas, as also seen around Scottish salmon farms, and I don’t envy the at times hostile environment he has to work in.
My talk was in the Acoustics session at the start of the second day. Usually I prefer to get in early and have these things over with, but in this case it turned out to be a blessing to have a day to get to know people and see some examples. I was particularly glad I wasn’t the only Masters student presenting plans for research that I haven’t started yet!
For most of the acoustics session I was a little busy either being nervous or relieved my presentation was over. Everyone did brilliantly though and gave me a few ideas on how to take my own project further and really make the most of acoustic data.
In Foraging Ecology & Population Biology I particularly enjoyed Maeva Terrapon’s work on humpback whale foraging ecology that revealed very different patterns in habitat use by whales in two nearby, but separate feeding grounds.
There were also brilliant talks by invited speakers – a highlight for me was Dr Simon Berrow from the Irish Whale and Dolphin Trust talking about marine mammal consultancy and combining academia with non-academia in your career.
Additionally I attended a grant-writing workshop by Dr Joanne O’Brien and obviously social events like the conference dinner! It was brilliant to be surrounded by like-minded people in a very friendly environment and have the opportunity to learn about everyone’s research.
I don’t envy the committee’s task in organising the conference at all but they did a wonderful job, even sorting out discounts on accommodation and transport. I’m especially grateful they made it so easy to organise as an attendee, since it came on the heels of a few deadlines for me.
Hopefully next year I’ll have some results to present!