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WHALE RESEARCH (Nan Hauser, Cook Islands)
Since 1998 Nan Hauser has been working every season on Rarotonga as a whale researcher. Her main purpose there was and still is to understand the whales of Oceania better and to conserve and protect them. Because of their mayor presence around those islands she focusses on humpback whales, the conducted research has a great variety though.
In 2016 I could work as a fulltime research assistant in Nan's team for the four months of the season and in 2017 I returned for six weeks to help with the ongoing research.
Every possible day we try to spend on the boat to collect as much data as possible. This includes the following:
- Finding the whales thanks to reports from fishermen or people on land, hydrophone recording or our own observation
- Recording a detailed description of the day every minute on a voice recorder. Because of these later transcribed voicelogs we can remember the details of the day and match all the collected data to our observation
- Taking ID photos of the underside of the whale's fluke and from both sides of their dorsal fin
- Capturing as much footage (film, photos, drone) of the whales as possible for awareness purposes (like documentaries, the whale museum, ...), behavioural analyses and identification of individuals
- Recording their song and vocalization with a hydrophone for later analyses and as a tool to find the whale during the research day
- Identifying the individuals by memorizing characteristics during the research day as good as possible for behaviour recognition, dominance and other observations
- Recording diving times of the calves to estimate their age
- Observing the animal's behaviour towards other boats to conclude the right proposals for laws and regulations of whale watching and other boat traffics
- Collecting slaughterd skin in the whale's footprint for later DNA analyses, stable isotope analyses, blue carbon and many more purposes
- Collecting sperm, feces, regurgitated milk and other samples for later analyses in the laboratory
- Our main focus lies on humpback whales but if we find other species we try to collect as much data on them as possible. During my time in the team we also saw one species of beaked whales and the resident mixed pod of spinner and fraser's dolphins
Sometimes the boat would have too many people on bord, for example when guest scientists or film crews join the team. At least one of us assistants stays on land then and helps the boat from "landbased". This includes riding around the island and assisting the team on the water to localize, count and analyze the whales. While sometimes it is hard to see the blows of the whales from a rocking boat with 360° view and a very low point of view it is easier to recognize the animals from land with raised elevation, 180° view and a stable ground to stand on. We then guide the boat towards the whales via radio.
Boat days need a lot of preparation before hand, like charging electronic gear, labeling skin sample bags, getting all gear together and many more. After a day on the boat all the data needs to be downloaded, the equipment carefuly cleaned, samples stored and many other things.
On days of rough weather we use the time in the office to catch up on transcribing voice logs, saving data, filling data tables, analyzing footage, etc. My additional personal task during the 2016 season was to sort and organize all ID pictures of all years of research to create fluke catalogues.
Sometimes we go to research related meetings around the island. Nan gives talks in schools, for students or in her whale museum (where we also help out if necessary). We hold events to present the research to the public, to the locals and to the fishermen.
Next to research related obligations we also work on many tasks around the house, clean boats, run erands, prepare food, etc.
Days in the research team start between 7.30am and 8.30am. The end of the day depends of the activities during the day but being finished before 6pm is unusual, days till 10pm nothing special. We work 7 days a week.
NUMBER OF WEEKS: 4 months (2016) + 6 weeks (2017)
- Professional research practises and the work around the data collection
- Many facts, details and what's unknown about whales, especially humpback whales
- Filming methods and how to behave around a film crew
- Working in a research team, including having own tasks, cooperating, taking responsibility, etc.
- Helping with not research related tasks, seeing what needs to be done, being available and flexible
The time as a research assistant shaped and improved me and my knowledge in many ways. Mainly of course scientifically but also personally. I will keep coming back to the team in the following years if possible, my assistant colleagues will stay good friends, also for later collaboration and Nan will always be an idol, inspiration, motivation, friend, boss and hopefully later colleague for me.
Proyecto iSharkfin (BIOMOL, Universidad Veritas, San José, Costa Rica)
CITES (Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species) is trying to conserve several species of sharks as their populations are declining and their survival is under threat. Problematic is controlling the killing of these species as identifying the traded sharks fins is very difficult. To wnable more to correctly identify species and thus enforce the trade regulations CITES and others developed a software called iSharkfin. By marking certain points on the picture of a shark fin the program is supposed to name the species of this shark. Now the problem is that this program doesn't work properly. It is maily made for pictures of wet fins but many times the analyzation of dry fins is acquired. Also even wet fins aren't always correctly identified. In the lab BIOMOL of the Universidad Veritas the professor Sebastian Hernandez and his team are trying to proove the misfunction of the program and to develop a better software.
My part of the project was to take pictures of some shark fins, to take tissue samples, to sort all available images in our database by country for analyzable fins, then to identify those with the software iSharkfin and finally compare the result with the actual species (known because of DNA analyses and the professional knowledge of Sebastian). In the end we had more than 3000 analyzed fin pictures and shocking results. For more detailed inforation please read the paper the is going to be published by the professor. I also prepared the usable pictures for a software engeneer to create a better working program.
NUMBER OF WEEKS: 8
- Importance of professional naming and sorting of the database
- How to take usable pictures of shark fins
- How to take tissue samples (in our case from the tongue)
- Using the software iSharkfin
- Record keeping in EXCEL files
- Programming EXCEL to generate results of the data including creating graphs
- International professional cooperation to receive pictures of shark fins
I took a lot of responsibility in this project and was thus able to decide how to work and how to get to the aquired results. In the end creating scientifically usable data was a very exiting experience. Also working daily in t he laboratory with the professor and other students was interesting. I could observe their work including polymerase chain reaction, gelelectrophorese and the computer modelling of Sphyrna lewini (the Scalloped hammerhead shark) in 3D.
Proyecto BRUVS: Baited Remote Underwater Video Stations (CIMAR, Universidad de Costa Rica, San José, Costa Rica)
The project BRUVS is run in the CIMAR by Mario Espinoza, professor for marine biology at the Universidad de Costa Rica. It's purpose is to investigate if there is an immense difference between the analyzable biodiversity on recorded videos compared to observed live assesments by divers. Therefore video stations - some with bait, some without - were deployed for one to two hours during field trips on the pacific coast of Costa Rica. At the same places divers assessed the different species of fish in surveys. Back in the office those videos now need to be analyzed to compare the results in the end.
Next to some helping in field trio preparation my main participation to the project was analyzing those videos. The software we used is called "Event Measure". Any time a new species appears or appears in a new number it is marked in the video and identified to species level.
NUMBER OF WEEKS: 7
- Use of the software "Event Measure"
- Identification of fish
- Many latin names of local species
- Keeping record in an EXCEL file
- Keeping record in a research book
- preparation and handeling of HOBOs (sensors of light intensity and temperature, launched with the video stations)
It was very interesting to work in such a basuc and very professional scientific project. Learning as well those species as the methodology used to investigate was broadening my knowledge by far.
En Busca del Pez Sierra: Sawfish project (CIMAR, Universidad de Costa Rica, Costa Rica)
Sawfish are native to the waters of Costa Rica but their numbers are greatly declining. Now that they are at risk of extinction, the program "En Busca del Pez Sierra" (Searching for the sawfish) tries to conserve them by understanding their population status, by engaging the local community and by avoiding unneccessary deaths for example due to bycatch. The progran is run by Mario Espinoza, a professor at the Universidad de Costa Rica, and his team within in research centre CIMAR. The project consists of three phases for the population assesment: a first step is interviewing locals, e.g. fishermen, to understand where sawfish are seen and if their abundance is under change. Secondly the team goes on field trips to look woth their own eyes for sawfish and to understand their habitat. And thirdly a new method is going to be used: Environmental DNA. This basically means testing for sawfish DNA in water samples. In the meanwhile constant public work is done to create awareness for the protection of these species.
I was working with Mario Espinoza and therefore able to assist in this project. I could help preparing equipment for fieldtrips and thus understand the planing of the research. I also accompanied the team to a festival on the World Ocean Day. We had a information stoll where we presented the project to visitors - kids as well as many adults.
NUMBER OF DAYS: ~6
- How to plan a field trip: accurate preparation is important to use the limited time in the field effeciently
- The biology of sawfish
- Importance of raising awareness
- How to motivate visitors to look at your project by showing them hands-on exhibits
- The methodology of a research project: phase planning
PERSONAL COMMENT: Especially learning about the methodology of a univeristary research project was an eyeopening experience!
WHALE RESEARCH (Nan Hauser, Cook Islands)
During the whale season 2016 I'm helping now Nan Hauser as part of her team with whale research on Rarotonga.
As we are really busy during this time and as it's sensitive to share research related information I'm not going to post about our work here myself so to see what we are doing just check out our pages, we sometimes even post about our activities:
Claus hat am kommentiert:
Guter Hinweis von Amelie in ihrem anderen Blog "Unsere Erde":
"Über eine Erwähnung in einer Doku bin ich auf ein unglaubliches Projekt gestoßen: Der mittlerweile 22 jährige Holländer Boyan Slat ist mit seinem Projekt „The Ocean Cleanup“ auf dem besten Weg, unsere Meere effektiv von Plastik zu säubern. Umwerfend, genial, wichtig und realistisch!!! Unbedingt ansehen: www.theoceancleanup.com"
Amelie Laute hat am kommentiert:
Danke, das stimmt, das passt auch hier gut her! Unbedingt ansehen ;)
SCHOOL PRESENTATIONS (Ministry of Marine Resources, Cook Islands)
One of the local primary schools, the Avarua School, asked the Ministry of Marine Resources to contribute to their educational program as their topic for this term is marine related. We got divided into groups for the junior, intermediate and senior students. My part was to teach the intermediate pupils (year 4, 5 and 6) with Ngere and Teina. We decided it would be the best, if we start with a presentation of all of us together to give all kids an overview of the main three topics: beach, lagoon and open ocean. As all three year had different main focusses we went into the classes seperately afterwards. Ngere chose for teaching year 4 about the beach, Teina held presentations to year 5 about the lagoon and my topic was the ocean when I was talking to year 6.
Already in our overview presentation my part was to talk about this part of marine education. Before going to the school we had a few days time so I was able to do research by asking colleagues and in the internet to prepare a proper presentation where I'm absolutely familiar with the content. I had to gain most of the knowledge first myself before talking to the children.
The first presentation was about general things about the ocean - what we can find in the sea (living and non-living things) and how it affects us (including advantages/disadvantages, how we use the ocean, our safety, threats for the ocean and how to protect it).
In the following week we separated and I held my second presentation just in front of year 6. As it is the year of the whales 2016 this was our topic. We were talking about biological facts, research strategies, the major threats for whales, why they are important for us and how to protect them. Appropriately the whole class went to the Whale & Wildlife Center here on the island the next day. I was allowed to accompany them. The kids were supposed to do some worksheets and got a little guided tour through the museum.
The third topic - biodiversity, species of the Cook Islands - needed a lot of research before and I gained a lot of knew knowledge. Finally the presentation was about biodiversity in general and than mainly about some examples of pelagic species living in the Cook Islands open ocean waters, divided into groups: Invertebrates (hyprozoa, jellyfish, squids, snails) and vertebrates (reptiles, mammals, fish). Just to give the kids an idea of how many and how different creatures are living around them in their country's ocean. Appropriate to this topic we all went on the Reef Sub, a semi-submarine boat for tourists. We looked at the reef and saw some of the fishes that we were talking about in my presentation, even though most of the pelagic species don't come this close to the shore.
It was planned and prepared to talk about a forth and last topic - the protection of the ocean. It is important to create awareness that conservation is necessary and as the kids are the future generations I really wanted to hold this presentation. But for unknown reasons the school didn't reply anymore, they probably switched their topic and so marine themes are not of request anymore.
NUMBER OF DAYS: 5 with the school, ~15 of preparation
- I gained a lot of knowledge about all the topics as I had to do research to prepare proper presentations and to be able to answer questions afterwards
- I learnt how to talk in front of a class of pupils, especially in english
- Getting to know the Whale & Wildlife Center was really interesting and I started to volunteer there after our visit so that I could learn even more about whales and biodiversity on the Cooks
- Even though I couldn't stay in the observation basement for too long because of getting sick the Reef Sub was a good experience
- I learnt how the school system here on the island works
WATER SAMPLING (Ministry of Marine Resources, Cook Islands)
Once a month the sea water all around Rarotonga and some of the other islands has to be tested to control the quality. On Tuesday two workers of the NES (National Environment Service) and me drove one around the island and stopped on eleven sites to take the samples. A few things needed to be done: Recording the staion (weather condition, time, current, clarity of the water, etc.). Measuring the water with sensors (salinity, ph level, temperature, amount of oxygen, etc.). Taking water samples in two to three cans for later examination.
Back in the Ministry the chilled samples were processed, my part was to test the turbidity. I cleaned the examination container, filled it with the samples, put it in the light testing machine and measured three times. Later on we entered the average data in the water sampling table.
NUMBER OF DAYS: 1
- How to take water samples
- What's important for water quality testing
- How to measure the turbidity
STRATEGIC PLANING MEETING (Ministry of Marine Resources, Cook Islands)
Last week we had an over-eight-hours-meeting to discuss about a strategic plan for the Ministry for the next fife years, means what's our goal and how do we reach that.
We met in the Rarotongan Resort in a big conference room. First we were listening to several different speakers talking about the principles that we have to consider in our planning. Afterwards we started evaluating the current situation of the Ministry in groups using the SWOT method (Strengths/Weaknesses/Opportunities/Threats). Thus we created awareness where change needs to be done and on what we can built. We had a few more group discussions and collective talks, making ourselves more conscious about our visions and tasks.
The following day the directors met again to develop the final strategic plan for the next fife years by using our brainstorming of the day before.
NUMBER OF DAYS: 1
- Plans like this have to be made by the whole team to get the average opinion and not just by some directors
- There's eight values that are important for us as a public servant: the HISTAREE values (Honesty, Impartiality, Service, Transparency, Accountability, Respect, Effectiveness and Efficiency)
- You need to evaluate weaknesses and threats to be able to built on your strengths and to use your opportunities
- These are the important features, a strategic plan has to be: SMART (Smart, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, Time-bound)
It is really interesting to be part of such an important process. I was allowed to comment on the planning of a part of the government of a nation. It felt like a great honour!
NEWSPAPER ARTICLE (Te Ipukarea Society, Cook Islands)
The TIS (Te Ipukarea Society) is a Non-Governmental Organisation for environmental protection here in the Cook Islands. I offered them my help and so they asked me to write a newspaper article. This is, what was published in the Cook Islands News:
Pacific dedicates year to whales
Saturday May 21, 2016 Written by Published in Local
The Pacific Islands have dedicated the year 2016 to the whales to raise awareness and help in their protection.
More than 30 different kinds of whales are known in Oceania and at least 26 of them are observed in the waters of the Cook Islands. Most of the species are endangered because the globally intense whaling of the past brought them close to extinction. They are now recovering but very slowly as there are many threats to their population growth.
Because this year has been designated to the conservation of whales, the Cook Islands is getting more active. Two main steps are taking place to support whale conservation in the Cook Islands. The first is to enact some relevant legislation and the second is to develop an education programme to create some awareness in our community.
In 2001 our whole Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) was declared a protection area for all cetacean (whales and dolphins) species, but no legislation was put in place to support this declaration. Now, 15 years later, the Ministry of Marine Resources and the National Environmental Service are in the process of formulating legislation.
As an important stakeholder, Te Ipukarea Society has assisted by attending public consultations and providing input and recommendations on the draft guidelines for whale watching. Legislation should be signed off this year, possibly by the end of July. There are also plans to establish a Cetacean Committee to help with establishing what we hope will only need to be voluntary guidelines for people involved in whale watching and research.
There are also plans for an education program in the local schools. All of us, government and non-government alike, consider it important to make our young people aware of the current situation of “our” whales to enable them to protect these animals in their future. Depending on the childrens’ level of knowledge we will focus the education programme accordingly.
Because whales are such an iconic animal, we are expecting to easily be able to capture the students’ attention. The presentations will be a welcome variety in their class and whales are a really fascinating topic, as some of the information below can show us.
The family of the cetaceans belongs to the class of animals known as mammals, the group of invertebrates with hair, warm blood, live birthing and breast-feeding their babies with milk. We humans are mammals as well, so we are more closely related to whales than fish are!
The theory of evolution suggests that 50 million years ago a small land-living animal with four legs decided to live more and more in the water and over the thousands of years evolved to become the types of whales we se today.
Now many different species exist, some of them specialised on eating small “shrimps” called krill, some of them armed for hunting fish, seals or penguins. The most common whale in our waters is the humpback whale. It is one of the species filtering the water for krill and can eat 1.6 tons a day! That makes them grow up to 16 meters long, the flipper alone is three times as long as an average human!
And these are just a few facts about the fascinating giants.
But whales are dangerously depleted in numbers due to hunting and other threats. Some nations, such as Japan and Norway, and Iceland, continue to hunt whales despite international condemnation. To conserve whales they need protection and this is the awareness we want to give to our children.
A secure future for the whales, other marine life, and biological diversity in general helps ensure a secure future for us all!
NUMBER OF DAYS: 1
- It is really easy to be that important that you can write something for the local newspaper, because not much is happening
- MMR was concerned after the article was published because of minor content mistakes and because I didn't tell them. So I learnt that I need to communicate with the Ministry first, before I do things like that and that such an article is something seriously official.
When I wrote the article i didn't even think about talking to MMR about it, I thought "it's not their business what I'm doing in my free time in an NGO". But now I'm aware, that I'm dealing with maybe confidential information in the Ministry and that everything about them needs to be confirmed by them first. It was a really good lesson!
PORT SAMPLING (Ministry of Marine Resources, Cook Islands)
One task of the Ministry is to sample the catch that the fishers bring ashore. Last week I was able to join Georgia and AJ from the offshore division to have a look how that works. Early in the morning on of the three longline fishing boats of the commercial fishing company Ocean Fresh had arrived in the wharf after fife days on the sea and when we came at 8am to their storage house, where the sampling takes place, we already missed to first truck load. So we just had two more arriving. Every single fish had to be measured and weighed. One of our two workers measured and called out the number and the abbreviation of the fish species to the coworker who wrote it in a specific list. It were many fish and a lot of them were over 1 meter in length, some even 1.5 meters and more. They had caught different species of tuna (Albacore, Bigeye, Yellowfin and Skipjack), ma'i ma'i (= dolphinfish) and wahoos. The whole procedure took just about 1.5 hours. Afterwards we drove to the wharf and AJ showed me around the fishing vessel with which they had caught these fish.
NUMBER OF DAYS: 1
- Every fish commerciallt caught in the Cook Island waters should be recorded by the Ministry of Marine Resources itself
- You need abbreviation of the fish and a routine of measurement and co-working to make the process as fast as possible
- Within fife days a longlining vessel catches a lot of fish with big sizes
- The life on a fishing vessel has to be rough but somehow pure and with hard work according to the appearance of the boat
It was highly impressive, how many and how bis these fish were! And it's just a small company! They fish the ocean empty if they take so many out every time and from every vessel around the world. I knew that in theory, but seeing this catch made it realizable and shocking.
WORKING WITH FADS (Ministry of Marine Resources, Cook Islands)
FAD is the abbreviation for Fish Aggregating Device. These are floating objects without any specification and they are used by fishermen because of gathering fish. In general every floating object in the ocean attracts especially small fish, they expect the possibility feeding on algae growing on it. And bigger fish are attracted by the small fish, so around these FADs you have a increased accumulation of species of interest. There is two different kinds: Free floating FADs, as thousands released into the open ocean, drifting around, accessible because of GPS markers and intensely used by Purse Seining Vessels to locate and catch big schools of e.g. tuna. The second kind of FADs are the anchored ones, attached to the ground at a specific point not too far from shore. These are mainly used by local fishermen. And these are the ones that have to be controlled and maybe repaired every two weeks by people from the MMR.
One week ago and yesterday again I had the opportunity to join them at the work that this team is doing when they go to check the FADs. Both times we drove out on the ocean with little boats to a specific FAD around the island that needed work to be done. The first time the sea conditions were quite rough and it wasn't to easy to get used to the strong movements of the waves and the boat. The second time is was a lot more calm and so more enjoyable. It appeared that finding the Device is not always possible. They are anchored but their exact position can still vary because of stronger currents. And it seems to be difficult to detect the little black flag in front of the wavy waters. As soon as we found and reached one FAD we jumped with fins and snorkel in the water and attached the floating objects (bamboo frames with netting or palm leaves) to the anchored buoys. When the work was done the guys did a bit of fishing to bring something for lunch. Then it was time to leave and the boat jumped over the waves back into the harbor. I was even allowed to drive for a while.
NUMBER OF DAYS: 2
- What is a FAD, what's its purpose?
- How to repair, install the floating objects
- Even if everything is anchored and locatable with GPS it is still difficult to find what your searching for on the wide open waters of the ocean. How is that going to be with something that drifts or even swims?
- How to drive a boat
- Working on the sea confronts you with unfamiliar circumstances that make the job harder: water is not the prime element of human to move in, we are better in doing things by walking; rough sea conditions cause seasickness
It is wonderful, not just to sit in an office but actually drive on a boat out there. Even if I don't like wavy conditions (I got dizzy the first time, but at least not nauseous or sick), it is an amazing work environment: In the background you always see the island Rarotonga and you're surrounded by the blue ocean. Especially as soon as you're swimming it is breathtaking how deep blue the water is and I could dive there and watch all the fish for ages.
PUBLIC TALK ABOUT PURSE SEINING (Ministry of Marine Resources, Cook Islands)
The topic purse seining is controversial here on the island at the moment. European commercial fishing companies try to get the permission to practice this fishing method in the Cook Islands waters. The government is mainly open to this idea. But big part of the people doesn't support it, which leads to discontent and demonstrations. As a result a public talk was organised, in which the Prime Minister Henry Puna, the MMR secretary Ben Ponia and the traditional Maori leaders explained their supportive point of view. Afterwards everybody of the audience had the opportunity to express their opinion. The main argument of the government is the big chance of income of the purse seining, the fact, that over fishing is not preventable, just because it's banned in one single EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone, waters belonging to the nation CI) and that their is still quite stable stocks of skipjack tuna, the main target species of this fishing method. In the statements of the public some of them agreed with purse seining but talked about concers, e.g. that more restrictions and regulations are necessary to be able to allow them purse seining in the Cook Islands to guarantee sustainability. Or that the FADs (Fish Aggregating Devices) are the problem, because there is no selection of fish anymore, to much by-catching is caused. But a lot of opinions were also strictly against the allowance. Other fishing methods would be more sustainable and generate enough money, most of the money wouldn't do to the CI but to Europe anyway, their was scientific proof, that the fish stocks are drastically decreasing and just because other countries gave the permission doesn't mean that we don't have any responsibility for the stocks of fish in our water anymore. These were some examples of the arguments. The opinions were mostly quite expressive and it didn't seem to be possible to find a conclusive agreement between the expectations of the public and the intention of the leaders.
NUMBER OF DAYS: 1
- The intentions of the public and the government can differ a lot, even though the government should represent the will of the people
- Purse Seining has advantages but also important disadvantages
- It is important to have talks between the two parties to avoid too much discontent and o get to compromises as a conclusion
The statements of the politicians seemed to me quite one-sided. They were obviously hiding the other side, the disadvantages, to image purse seining
as good as possible. This made their statements unrealistic and not convincing to me. It was interesting to see, that some facts they were talking about turned out to be even wrong or misleading, like the comparison of our EEZ to the regulations of the literally linking nation Kiribati. It is hard to trust. But it was great to see, that the politicians show the will to communicate with the public, even if this idea was created because of the pressure of demonstrations. In my opinion, talks like that should take place more often. And in my opinion the politicians should take the concerns of the people serious, they are reasonable, and put strong regulative legislation in place before allowing anybody to come into this part of the big and vulnerable open ocean to guarantee sustainability!
REPORT FOR 2014/2015: DATA COLLECTION, CORRECTION AND CONNECTION (Whale research with Nan Hauser, Cook Islands)
To stay officially recognised and acknowledged from time to
time Nan needs to write reports about her work to give it to governmental
divisions and organisations. Because of her soon departure to the States for
two months she wanted to finish the report for the years 2014 and 2015 before.
That means all the necessary documents have to be collected.
The main challenge. Data is saved on several different hard drives and sticks,
it is not always sure how the files are called and which documents even first
need to be created. Problem here is that many different people are working on
the data entry during the year and communication does not always work as taught
in the books.
Is the document found it needs to be corrected and edited.
In official scientific reports it is unacceptable to have spelling mistakes or colloquial
language. The editing has to be consistent. Important is also to check not to
have any data gaps or mistakes to have a fully correct report in the end.
Hereby we mainly used the written recordings voice logs. During the whale
season every detail is recorded, these informations are essential.
When all the documents are collected and corrected they need
to be formatted into PDFs. It takes a lot of time dealing with problems about
opening and reverting files because of computer abilities. Apple or Windows, Excel,
Word and others can challenge your patients immensely. Finally all parts of the
report have to be printed, ordered and bound bounded. The PDF files need to be
connected to have a digital version of the report.
After many hours of searching, editing and converting we
finished the Report 2014/2015 with the following contents:
- Report cover
- Summary text
- Tables with data about whale sightings from 1998 to 2015
- Tables of the DNA samples of 2013, 2014 and 2015
- Old and new regulations about whale watching
- Satellite-Tagging report of 2014
- Statistics and diagrams
- Four of Nan’s scientific paper published during these two years
- Information about the project “Fish Carbon”
- Oceania Humpback whale recovery plan
Now Nan can give this summary of her work to the government
to be able to receive funding and permissions.
NUMBER OF DAYS: 6
- Every detail in an official report has to be correct.
- Keeping order and continuity within all your documents is extremely helpful. Name files and images, so that they are easy to
- The whole team has to work together and in the same way with the data.
- This is how a report about whale research looks like; these are its contents and this is its purpose.
- Using computers with the same software would be handy.
- The voice logs made during the whale season are really important and have to be done properly. They are the basis of all
This project was helping me so much! With Nan I’m learning the perfect
scientific methodology of doing research. Writing reports is going to be a big
part of my career as a marine biologist and even in university you just get to
know the theoretic way of work. This is practical experience and it is creating
a wonderful basis for every job that I’ll work in. And! I even had a lot of fun
doing all that! Now I’m 100% sure I chose the right profession – this is
exactly the pathway I want to go in my future. THANK YOU SO MUCH, NAN!!!
INTRODUCTION TO NAN'S WORK WITH US EXCHANGE STUDENTS (Whale research with Nan Hauser, Cook Islands)
To get to know what Nan Hauser’s work as a marine biologist
looks like around 30 students from the States were listing to her presentation
about whale research. I was invited to take part as well. The presentation took
place in the USP (University of the Southern Pacific).
Since nearly 30 years she is working in marine biology, 18
years of that on Rarotonga with the focus on humpback whales in the area. Their
behaviour like the breeding and the singing is not fully understood so far.
Mainly interesting and important is the research about their migration routes
to protect the whales from hunting and other threats. In Nan’s many years of observing,
analysing and learning she was already successful: by proofing for example,
that the population around the Cook Islands is endangered and that they’re
migrating to special areas in Antarctica it is more difficult for Japan now to
do commercial or even scientific whaling in these regions. By showing us photos
and videos of her while working on the water it is good to imagine now, how a
day as a whale researcher looks like.
A few days later the US students and I visited Nan again to
get to know parts of her work practically while helping voluntarily. In the
beginning we did an exercise: for three minutes everybody is scientifically
observing their surroundings and afterwards sharing their result. It was
interesting to see that all students watched the landscape and birds in front
of us, none of them focussed on things behind, underneath or on top of them.
But the results were detailed. After this training we started our main project
for the day: cleaning the boat to prepare it for the whale season in July. We
pulled it onto the road and brushed, ragged and hosed all parts of it.
Additionally we had to rebuild the control panel and the engine because it will
get a new one soon, so the old one had to be removed. It was challenging with
so few knowledge about mechanics and electricity put by being patient we
managed it in the end to take all the parts off. In the afternoon the boat was
beautiful and ready to go for the up-coming season.
NUMBER OF DAYS: 2
- The work as a whale researcher seems to be as interesting as I expected.
- Observing in detail and in every direction is the main feature you need as a scientist.
- As a marine biologist you’re not just working with the animals and in the water. Proper preparation is important as the field
work and can be challenging.
PERSONAL COMMENT: Nan Hauser is a very interesting person. She has a lot of knowledge and experience,
the necessary amount of curiosity, a good way of teaching, an internationally acknowledged
scientific methodology and by working with the whales she chose one of the most
exiting fields of marine biology. I am going to learn a lot while working with
her and I am more than thankful to have the opportunity to be part of her team.
For me she is not just opening doors into the world of science but
strengthening my interest in marine science by her passion and euphoria. I feel
like living in the book “The Swarm” (“Der Schwarm”) from Frank Schaetzing. That
is really exiting!
ANNUAL SURVEY WORK (Ministry of Marine Resources, Cook Islands)
Around the main island Rarotonga the Ministry created
several marine protection areas, called Ra’ui. In these zones harvesting of
marine life is prohibited and so commercially used species like different
urchins, the snail Trochus or sea cucumbers can recover and grow sustainable populations.
Additionally a higher biodiversity is conservated and the corals are healthier.
Every year the Ministry needs to do surveys to investigate the recent conditions.
Two different groups of animals were counted and measured: invertebrates and
finfish. I was mainly part of the last few days of the invertebrate assessment.
As preparation the species needed to be
learned, including their Latin term to be able to identify them clearly and
name them properly on the record sheets. The team surveyed approximately 30
stations around the island, most of them in the lagoon and a few on the reef
top. At each location we swam or walked in teams of two persons each along
three parallel transects. These are the investigation areas and measure 40
meters length to one meter width. Every invertebrate species has to be counted,
some of them even measured and the results noted on a clipboard with waterproof
paper forms. Afterwards the habitat needs to be recorded. Finally six transects
per station are investigated. This is called one survey.
The finfish surveys are more complex because of the variety
of different fish species. It needs experience achieve high quality results. My
two colleagues Tua and Ngere did the fish counting along 40 metres and in the
width as far as you can see. You need to estimate the size, the quantity and
the distance of the animals you register. The habitat is recorded by pictures.
Every meter a frame is laid on the ground and a photo need to be taken. My
colleague Gordan and I did this less challenging job.
After the field work the data has to be entered into the
computer data base. In a special program you create the relevant folders for
each survey and type animal per animal with its exact Latin name and details.
In the end it is possible create statistics and diagrams about the population
size of the species, the biodiversity, and the age spread. You can conclude the
level of success of the Ra’ui and the possibility to harvest later on in the relevant
As comparison surveys in the non-protected parts of the
lagoon need to be done.
NUMBER OF DAYS: 9
- The most important invertebrate species around Rarotonga including their Latin name and how to identify them; as well some
- The methodology of investigating populations with surveys
- Data entry in the computer system
Survey work is really interesting. You see with your own eyes the marine
life; you get a good understanding of the ecosystem of the lagoon and of the
impact of human harvesting. Because of that and because of the preparation
times around the days are diverting. Furthermore the work environment is
amazing. This is how I really like
Ngere and me started doing the control surveys now. We went to two different area that are not a protected area (Ra'ui) but with similar habitats and did the same assessment as in the areas before. Surprisingly there wasn't a big difference. This data was entered now as well and can be used in diagrams and statistic to proof the sense (or non-sense) of protection zones.
Yesterday we finished the control surveys by doing three more invertebrate-counting-stations (Reef-Benthos-Transects) and two fish surveys. We even took Teuru from the outer island Manihiki with us and as it was her first time to do survey work it was my task to teach her - she learnt fast. Afterwards we entered the data together and now the process of surveying is completely finished for the year 2016!
LOOKING BACK: Nano-Camp 2015
Every year the German TV channel 3SAT organizes a research camp for students between 16 and 18 years old. Purpose is to give young and interested pupils the possibility to get in touch with science, to film this camp and to create a 30 minutes documentary showed in television afterwards.
In 2015 the topic was marine biology: SOS in the Baltic Sea. I applied and got selected with 7 others from Germany, Austria and Switzerland. In June we all traveled up to the Baltic Sea to meet in the little town Warnemuende. For one week we camped in tents and had a tough program during the day, so that we had a look at many different aspects of marine research.
We did research diving in the harbour, we swam with seals and observed them while their trainer did an hearing experiment, we accompanied a local fishermen out on the sea an the river, we took water samples on different places and analysed them later on in various regards, we observed plankton under the microscope, we had a security training and demonstration and we were taken out on the sea with the "Elisabeth Mann Borgese". It is a large research vessel of the institution IOW (Institut fuer Ostseeforschung Warnemuende) and enables the scientific work with many different tools and methods. All of them were demonstrated to us.
Furthermore we had lectures by different scientists and professors.
Every activity was recorded by our film crew. A director organized the settings and a manager the events; everything worked perfectly as planned.
After a few months of editing the documentary was shown on TV:
For further information you can have a look at the following links:
NUMBER OF DAYS: 7
- I learnt got to know a lot of different aspects of marine research, methods, opportunities
- The experience of getting filmed at whatever you're doing is really interesting and helpful; You get used to it very quickly
- It was a great opportunity a meet interesting people, the scientists as well as the other participants
- Marine biology is really exactly what I want to do as my profession! It's my passion!
It was such a extraordinary and unique experience! Getting in touch with science that closely made me be absolutely sure that this is what I want to study. And it was also just a great week with great people: I had fun with every single one of them, we had beautiful evenings after the program on the beach or in a bar, the camping was fun, Warnemuende is charming and we were even lucky with the weather!
LOOKING BACK: Biology Seminar Evolution 2013 - 2015
As part of our graduation aver student is part of a two years practical seminar. I chose the course "biology - evolution".
Our task was to create any kind of display case to present fossils that we got recently donated to other students. First we had to learn a lot about fossils themselves, about the life in ancient times and evolution. For that we did research in books and the internet, we got a two weekends long presentation of a evolutionary biologist about taxonomy and we visited museums in Munich.
Afterwards we were able to identify most of our objects.
Furthermore we divided ourselves in different groups to work on all the tasks. My job was to create a display case with general knowledge about living fossils and a information wheel about the geological history.
In the end we had information displays about the formation of fossils, the geological timeline, the living fossils and the transitional fossils (Brueckentiere). Next to that we had created big display cases where our donated fossils are presented, well-ordered by their formation.
NUMBERS OF DAYS: 2 years
- A lot of knowledge about fossils, geological history and more
- A lot of knowledge taxonomy as we had this long workshop
- Group work is really challenging, you have to rely on others, everybody has to feel responsible and one person who is not interested is enough to ruin the whole project
- A project over such a long period of time needs to be well planned and deadlines shouldn't be prolonged
It was really difficult to manage a long term seminar when everybody is on the same level, no group leader, no final decision maker. Deadlines are hard to enforce and if you're not careful it ends up in a rush. But if everybody would put a lot of effort into the project you can achieve a lot together! It was a really good experience!
LOOKING BACK: Internship in the Bavarian state collection for paleontology and geology in Munich (Bayrische Staatssammlung fuer Palaeontologie und Geologie Muenchen)
As compulsory from the school I went to Munich for a week to join the "Bayrische Staatssammlung fuer Palaeontologie und Geologie" as an intern. They gave me the opportunity to have a look at different aspects of paleontology and geology.
I had was part of preparing a fossil (detaching petrified soil), I sorted little petrified plankton, I analysed ammonites and I helped a marine biologist growing corals and experimenting with them with different temperatures. The latter was the most interesting part, as it was marine biology and as this research was regarding to Climate Change.
NUMBERS OF DAYS: 5
- I learnt a lot about fossils, methods of analyzing and preparation
- It was a good experience to see the daily life of a scientist, as this kind of work is realistic for a future job for me
The scientific knowledge they told me was very interesting. But what will always say in my mind and what influenced me is to see, how these scientists are working. Before this internship being a researcher was very abstract for me and even if I knew I want to study marine biology I could barely image how my daily routine could look like. This week was an eye opener!
For further interest:
LOOKING BACK: Marine Biology Special Course in Tamariu 2014
After completing my Open-Water-Diver in March 2014 in Tamariu in Spain I came back to the same diving school two month later to join a marine biology course. This certificate is part of my qualification as a research diver.
For one week two marine biologists from Germany taught us (a group of ~10 people) about the ecosystems in the sea, with special focus on the biodiversity and ecology of the Mediterranean Sea. We had a daily dive in the morning, afterwards a long theory lesson and in the afternoon another dive, where we could focus on what we've just learned from the scientists before.
We got taught about the different species of the flora and fauna, about their mechanisms of feeding and protection, about the threats affecting our sea and many more.
NUMBER OF DAYS: 7
- You have the best learning effect if you can immediately see while diving, what you just got taught in theory
- I learned a lot about taxonomy and the different species of the ocean
- Learning in a group and with having a great teacher makes it really easy
To learn in this wonderful environment of the nice little village Tamariu, in the amazing dive school "Stolli's" and with so great teachers is the best you can get, enjoyable and memorable! I got a good overview of what creatures are living in our oceans.
For further information:
LOOKING BACK: Lindau Talent Akademie 2013
The German institution Fraunhofer organizes annually a summer academy for further interested students in the age of 16/17 years. 55 pupils get selected from schools of Bavaria, Austria and Switzerland and they are participating in a learning program consisting of a preparation weekend, the two weeks main summer academy and a reflection weekend later on. In 2013 I was able to be part of that.
We were based in the Youth Hostel of Lindau, a town at the Lake Constance in Bavaria. During the day we were at the Gymnasium (like high school), where we could use all the rooms and facilities. Sometimes we did field trips.
The program was based on courses that we had to choose, I was in the biology group. Our intention was to learn about the waters of the Lake Constance (where the academy took place) and how to do aquatic research. We observed plankton under the microscope quite often, prepared presentations to hold in front of the rest of the group about different topics, visited the waterworks of this region, dissected fish, learned a lot of theory from our professor, etc. As being chosen as the group speaker of our course I had further tasks like organizing and reporting to the administration of the academy.
Apart from the daily scientific work we had addition program like daily dancing, singing, visiting a puppets theater and more.
In the end of the main academy we created a summarizing show, which we presented in front of parents and visitors on the last evening.
NUMBER OF DAYS: 18
- I gained a lot of knowledge about water itself, about the biology of the Lake Constance and about aquatic research
- I learned a new style of dancing (expression dance)
- I was impressed, how many other students actually like learning
These two weeks changed my life! I learnt a lot of biology, which was really interesting and the tough program was a great experience. But mostly amazing were the people! Meeting 54 other students with the same interest for learning and developing your scientific and mental abilities was something absolutely new for me. In school most of the pupils are interested in personal topics and hobbies like sport, etc. but not actually in the school itself. I stayed friends with most of the participants of this academy and we really enjoy meeting from time to time, talking deeply and seriously but also having fun together by sharing so many similarities.
For further information:
CONTENTS ON THIS PAGE:
It is something like a semi-scientific blog. Just recently I was told, that as a scientist you have to
record everything in detail what you’re doing. As my personal training for that
and as a symbol I decided to write in this blog. I’m going to report about the
activities that I’m doing, the experiences that I’m gaining and my personal
opinions resulting – all related to science of course.
MY PERSONAL BACKGROUND:
In June 2015 I finished my high
school graduation in Germany and since September that year I am traveling overseas. The
purpose is to gain experiences about different cultures, various jobs, to
deepen my understanding of life in a spiritual way, to meet all kind of people
and to enjoy the beauty of the world. For further information visit my travel
blog: www.permondo.com/de/tours/1521. But one of the major purposes of my trip is what I’m going to write about on
these pages: gaining scientific experiences. As soon as I return from my traveling
I am going to study marine biology.
REASONS FOR THE CHOICE OF THE PROFESSION ‘MARINE SCIENTIST’:
knowledge about our planet’s most important ecosystem I am hoping to contribute
to the protection of its inhabitants and general natural systems. It is
necessary to gain more information about this fantastic world to understand its
functions and further to create reasonable arguments for political and economic
discussions. We need to stop polluting, depleting, destroying and changing this
fragile ecosystem as it plays the most vital role in the circle of life on our
earth. No healthy oceans, no human beings! Mankind is not powerful enough to
destroy this planet - nature and evolution find ways to adapt - but we are able
to change it that drastically that we wouldn’t be able to live in our new
environment and get extinct because of our own faults. But we are also an
intelligent race, so if we use our brain capacity to think and act in a general
sustainable way we will be able to save our beautiful home! Natural science is
part of this process and here is where I want to place my support.
And fur sure I can’t deny my additional egoistic intentions:
it is unbelievably interesting and impressive to work in marine biology and I
would like to spend a big part of my life in this wonderful world of science.
According to the slogan “choose your hobby as your profession and you’ll never
have to ‘work’ again”.