All posts by fmc64

Secret lives of killer whales explored

A series of recording devices will be deployed in Antarctica this summer to explore the secret lives of killer whales in an unprecedented monitoring programme.

University of Canterbury PhD student Alexa Hasselman is preparing for her first Antarctic field season with Gateway Antarctica this summer. In an expansion of Gateway Antarctica’s ongoing Antarctic top predator programme in the Ross Sea  the recording devices  will monitor the species for four-weeks,  24 hours a day.

As top predators, killer whales are sentinels for the Ross Sea ecosystem. More specifically, tracking their interactions with one commercially important prey species in particular, the toothfish, is critical to supporting the recently announced Ross Sea region Marine Protected Area (MPA) established under the auspices of CCAMLR.

Gateway Antarctica’s work is leading the effort to meet New Zealand’s commitment to study top predators such as killer whales under that agreement. Alexa’s work adds a key capability  says  field team leader Dr Regina Eisert,  who is Alexa’s supervisor at Gateway Antarctica.

“Establishing a passive acoustic monitoring network is a critical step in getting the data we need to effectively protect the Ross Sea.” 

The research team includes two acoustics experts, Dr Andrew Wright, also of Gateway Antarctica, and UC’s College of Engineering Associate Professor Dr Michael Hayes.

Alexa says the New Zealand-made devices will be recording the sounds made by killer whales, and other marine mammals, for several weeks at multiple locations.

“The recorded sounds give us the ability to study animals all day and night, even at times when we cannot be in the field. This will provide a comprehensive record of the various patterns of the whales’ movements, and explore whether Antarctic killer whales have a regular daily schedule.”

In addition to supporting the MPA, this information will direct other work by Gateway Antarctica, specifically the deployment of non-invasive satellite transmitters onto the whales.

The wider initiative, funded through United Nations Environment Programme and a Pew Marine Conservation Fellowship to Dr Eisert, aims to provide further information about the ecology of Antarctic killer whales and other top marine predators, and the connectivity between the Ross Sea and New Zealand.

Whales, dolphins and porpoises – sleeping with half a brain

Every wondered how and where whales, dolphins and porpoises sleep?

New work by Gateway Antarctica’s Andrew Wright released this week reveals, for the first time, sleeping during diving in harbour porpoises. Part of his PhD work in Denmark before coming to the University of Canterbury, Andrew attached behavioural loggers to porpoises and found a new type of dive in the data obtained. The dives are slow, low energy and low in echolocation clicks – the biosonar that porpoises use to find food.

Cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises), sleep with only half their brain at a time because they spend their lives underwater and must return to the surface to breathe. This unusual behaviour is also seen in many migrating birds that sleep on the wing. Yet life underwater means that we know little about sleeping in wild cetaceans. Applying behavioural criteria for sleep developed in terrestrial mammals to behavioural data from tags, Andrew identified a roughly semi-circular dive form that measured up. Stereotypical in not only dive shape, but also the swimming movements throughout the dive, the dives are typically quiet. This discovery means raises the possibility that animals sleeping at depth might be more susceptible to becoming entangled in fishing nets set at those depths because they are not echolocating.

The work raises some interesting possibilities for resolving the conflict between fishermen and cetaceans around the world, including New Zealand’s own Maui dolphin. For example, it may be possible to reduce entanglement rates if fishermen can avoid setting nets at the depths that the porpoises and dolphins sleep at.

“Although the dives make up less than 10% of all the activities for each animal, even small reductions in fisheries bycatch can make a big difference to the long-term survival of many endangered cetacean species,” notes Andrew.

However, the finding also has implications for scientists themselves. The use of passive acoustic monitoring technologies are becoming commonplace. Detecting marine mammal sounds as the whales and dolphins swim past, such devices were thought to be able to detect all porpoises as they were believed to produce clicks at all times. However, the existence of quiet dives means than not all animals will necessarily be detected. This means the finding also has implications for industries relying upon passive acoustic monitoring to protect marine mammals from harmful effects, such as the oil and gas industry.

Worried about crap marks?

Ekant Veer 170628Associate Prof Ekant Veer deserves the title of role model –  he’s won awards for lecturer of the year, for his teaching and he’s got a great reputation when it comes to championing wellbeing. He also calls a spade a spade. Read on for his advice on any ‘crap marks’ that you’re worried about – and if you’ve still got exams on the go, this might just bring you some perspective and courage. 

So, you’ve got a crap mark.

It’s happened to everyone. I’ve received bad news and I’ve been on the other side where I have to deliver bad news. It’s part of learning to know when you haven’t done well enough. There are many things you can do when you get lower marks than you expected, but I want to take a couple of tips to help you to learn the most from a bad mark.

Put things in perspective

Firstly, it’s a bad mark. You’re not dying. Even if this was the last straw and your time at uni has come to an abrupt end, it’s NOT the end. You have your whole life ahead of you – this chapter hasn’t gone the way you expected – but there’s plenty more in this life to explore. Contrary to popular belief, having good marks doesn’t make you a good person and not having a degree certainly doesn’t make you a worse person than someone who has one. Life will go on – it’s a mark, nothing more!

Walk away

Never, never, NEVER act immediately after receiving bad news. Don’t email your lecturer, don’t update social media, don’t rant to your friends. Forget about it until you can look at the feedback more objectively. For most people this is at least 24 hours. [Editor’s note: three days for me. Feel free to share your comments on this one.]

Emailing your lecturer when you’re angry, in particular, isn’t going to help you in the long run. A few years back I received an email that read “WTF man! This isn’t ok! Email me when you’ve remarked my assignment”. Not a great way to make friends and influence people.

Reflect on the feedback

You should have some feedback from your lecturer. It may be generic feedback for the class or it may be specific feedback on your work. Either way, don’t just read the feedback and argue against your lecturer in your head about why they’re wrong. Read the feedback and see where you think you’ve made mistakes and/or could have done things better. Sometimes the main reason students don’t do as well as they expect is because they simply did not answer the question. They have told me a bunch of things that are really interesting but the central focus of the test/assignment hasn’t been completed – as such, it’s impossible to give them the marks they were hoping for. This is often where students feel most aggrieved because they may have put in a ton of effort for little reward – unfortunately, effort doesn’t equal higher marks when you’ve put your effort in the wrong direction!

Contact your lecturer PROFESSIONALLY

Let’s say you’ve calmed down and reflected on the feedback and you’re still unhappy. That’s ok, it’s time to get in touch with your lecturer. They may have office hours dedicated to giving assessment feedback – go see them. If they don’t, then craft a PROFESSIONAL email to them. Here’s how I suggest you contact your lecturer:

Microsoft Word - So you've got a crap mark.docx

Hopefully your email will be replied to quickly and you get a chance to meet with your lecturer and go over the assignment. They’ll hopefully explain in more depth where you could improve. This is not a time for your demand a re-grade, but a chance for you to learn where YOU can improve. If they offer to regrade your assignment then take them up on the offer, but don’t walk into the meeting looking for a fight – work with your lecturer to improve your work.

If you act professionally, ask for advice and debate your point carefully there is every chance that your lecturer may rethink their grade, but that’s not the aim of the meeting. The aim is for you to not make the same mistakes as last time!

Reflect on the feedback and MAKE CHANGES!

The worst thing for a lecturer is not seeing students improve when you give them time, effort and encouragement. We want to see you do well! So, once you have both written and oral feedback you need to make changes. Whatever you did last time didn’t work. Start your assignments earlier and send drafts to your lecturer to get feedback. Ask questions in class (yeah, turning up to class is important!). Make sure you’re on the right track from the start and put effort into overcoming your previous failings.

Getting a bad mark is a perfect opportunity to learn. It might be your study habits, it might be your knowledge, or it might be your understanding of the question being posed. Whatever the issue is, overcome it next time. One bad grade in one assignment is not as bad as never learning from your mistakes and repeating those mistakes for the rest of your academic and professional life. Seek feedback, take it on board and improve next time. Don’t be afraid of meeting your lecturer – a lot of us a marginally normal. Some are nice. Most want to see the best for you, so take their advice to heart and do better next time!

Ekant Veer

What do you worry about when it comes to marks? What people might think? What it means for the future? Do you have your own strategies and ideas for keeping perspective, not reacting to quickly, being kind to yourself and thinking about what you can try to do differently in future? Share your ideas and comments. Kia kaha.