Citizen science and social media impact of ecological research: (VII) A first-person perspective of a student researching with MUCRU

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Augusta 2016 field team: Mia Lybkær and Prof. Peter T. Madsen (Marine Bioacoustics Lab, Aarhus University)
with MUCRU researchers Dr. Fredrick Christiansen and Prof. Lars Bejder

Background

Welcome! This is the seventh and final post in our blog series: “Citizen science and social media impact of ecological research: Study on southern right whales in South West Australia“. In the blog series, we give a citizen science perspective of our collaborative study, with the Marine Bioacoustics Lab from University of Aarhus, Denmark, on southern right whales to help you understand the work done by marine biologists in the field. Please see bottom of this blog post for an overview of all the blogs in the series. This seventh post gives a first-person perspective from a student from Aarhus University researching with Mucru in Augusta, South-West Australia. The overall aim of developing this blog series is to explore possibilities for communication of marine research activities and study the role of social media and citizen science in ecological research.

(7/7) A first-person perspective of a student researching with MUCRU

Introduction

Hi! My name is Mia and I am a master’s student at Aarhus University in Denmark. I was a part of the research team in Augusta, where we worked to collect data on southern right whales. The objective for me was to get data for my master’s project, where I am going to analyse acoustic and behavioural data for the mom calf pairs in this area.

It is the first time I have participated in field work abroad and it has been an extremely rewarding experience to be a part of the team here in Australia. Some of my roles during the time in the field has been to assist in spotting the whales, getting the gear ready for tagging and doing the focal follow once the whales have been tagged. The first couple of times on the water I used to get to know my way around the boat and the different tasks for collecting data (and how to avoid getting sea sick!). Needless to say I was extremely tired the first days of working. When back from the field I was responsible for offloading, and backing up the data from all the tags and the video from the cameras.

Taking active part in the field work has given me valuable insight into what it takes to plan and execute data collection in the field. It was both important to make sure every single piece of the gear was ready and working, but just as important was the interaction with the local community, as their information about the annual whale migration was very valuable.

Bioacoustics study on Southern Right Whales

I am now back at university in Denmark where I have started the process of analysing the data collected by the Dtags and the drone. From the Dtags movement and sound data can be extracted and this data provides us with information on the frequency and amplitude of the vocal sounds produced by mother and calf while interacting. But it also makes us able to answer questions about respiration and suckling rates as well as the orientation and movements of the mother. The video below is an example of how the behaviour of the large southern right whales can be investigated. By deploying Dtags with suction cups, both sound and movement can be collected, and the video includes a sound bite from one of these tags which has captured the calls a southern right whale mother. The drone footage also provides insights related to the acoustic behaviour of the mom-calf pairs, and drones are one of the technologies that are quickly becoming an integral part of whale research.

Video: A sound bite of  the behaviour of southern right whales in Augusta.

The image below extracts an example of the information collected from the Dtags, showing the dive profile with movement in the water (pitch and roll). This is a very typical diving pattern for the mom; 8-10 minutes dive time and 3-4 minutes surface time.

Dive profile of Southern Right Whales in Augusta

Dive profile of Southern Right Whales in Augusta

Another example of the type of information that can be extracted from the Dtags is the sound, which can be inspected visually using a spectrogram. Together with the jerk, which shows the change in acceleration, this is a useful way of collecting information of the respiration rate, sound production and behaviour of the animals.

Image2 respiration

Respiration rate, sound production and behaviour of Southern Right Whales (acoustic spectrogram)

The contents of this post have been written and provided by Mia Lybkær, Aarhus University

Conclusions from this blog series
In September 2016, I (Victor Alvarez) summarised my participation in this project in a short presentation entitled: “MUCRU from the field: Research on Southern Right Whales in South West Australia in 7 images”.

Writing this blog series and editing the contents have required a large number of out-of-work hours and learning about social media analytics, wordpress blogging, photography and video edition, together with the contributions from local volunteer Michelle Keppel, Aarhus University student Mia Lybkær, MUCRU researcher Dr. Fredrik Christiansen and project leaders Prof. Lars Bejder and Peter T. Madsen.

This blog series has been created with two goals in mind: contributing with lay communication about our marine research activities, as well as laying the ground to study how media and citizen science can be effectively used to informing and engaging the local and wider communities.

With the help of the Office of Marketing, Communications and Advancement at Murdoch University, the studies conducted by MUCRU have been disseminated worldwide and followed from news channels and social media.

My participation and the learning taken from this project have been very rewarding. Not only it has given me a unique chance to share the experience of whale research with MUCRU, but it has also boosted my current interest for nature photography, as well as citizen science and communication related with conservation of our wildlife and natural environment. My final -blog- wish is that the contents we have created for this series will be informative, useful, instructive or entertaining for some of you.

Thank you so much for reading it,
Dr. Victor Alvarez

Photo Credit: xuezx

Photo Credit: xuezx

You can navigate through the other sections of this blog series via the below links:

Citizen science and social media impact of ecological research: Study on southern right whales in South West Australia

MUCRU will conduct a new study in Southern Right Whales in Augusta starting in August 2017. You will be able to follow this and other exciting research from this website, or subscribing to our FacebookTwitter and Youtube channels:

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All the best!

Victor Alvarez PhD
Victor Alvarez PhD
Senior Research Fellow at Murdoch University, Western Australia
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