I couldn't leave Scotland without heading to Edinburgh. I only had a few hours, but I fell in love.
We started the journey from Glasgow to Edinburgh by train. Once in Edinburgh, we hiked what felt like a thousand stairs to the Edinburgh Castle.
We adventured around the castle for a couple of hours, looking at Mary Queen of Scots memorabilia and talking our professor, Dr. Parsons, out of several large souvenirs.
Next, we were on to The Whiskey Experience on the Royal Mile.
We were put inside of a giant whiskey barrel and taken on a short roller coaster-like ride. On the ride, a ghost told us all about how whiskey was made- including the glowing bubbles pictured below.
Once our coaster ride was complete, we were given scratch cards that gave off the scent of each region's whiskey to pick what we wanted to taste. We watched video clips about each region before deciding.
We were taken into a dark room to make our decision. The lights went out and circles of each color appeared. We placed our glasses on the color dot of the whiskey we wanted to try. I chose Speyside.
We were then walked into the largest whiskey collection in the world to add ice or water to our whiskey.
Once we finished our whiskey event, we headed back to Glasgow and grabbed dinner at a local pizzeria. With our bellies full we went back to our hotels, ready to go our separate ways.
And with that, it was done. Everyone began departing after breakfast, leaving with a collection of memories that will never be forgotten. With so many things to say, I figured thank you was a good start.
Thank you to Millport, you challenged me to climb every rock I could find, to ask anyone and everyone to fill out the survey, to laugh until my ribs hurt, and to put my phone down so I can enjoy the moment. Thank you to everyone who helped change my heart and my perspective. I'm forever thankful for all of the lessons learned this week that will carry over into the rest of my life.
The next step is to get started on my undergraduate research project and to take on my senior year of college!
This is it!
This morning we ventured to town to collect surveys for the last time. We had responses from the world's leading Basking shark expert and from a former Basking shark hunter. We had several tourists and an abundance of locals.
Below are a few of the findings from the survey given out.
1. Did you know you can find Basking sharks in local waters?
This question was important in establishing whether or not there was public knowledge of Basking sharks. Of the 46 responses, 74% knew there were Basking sharks, and 26% said they were not aware.
2. Do you know what a Basking shark looks like?
69% said yes, 31% said no.
3. What do you think Basking Sharks eat? Check out the chart below to see the responses.
I was surprised to see how many people picked small fish. Although the majority of people picked the correct answers (micro animals and micro plants), it was interesting to get responses in the other categories.
4. On a scale of 0-10, how dangerous do you think Basking Sharks are?
This top row of this chart represents the scale 0-10, while the bottom represents the number of responses for each number.
5. Do you think reporting Basking Shark sightings could help with Basking Shark conservation? How likely?
This last question made me especially emotional when I started crunching the data. Even the person who said he thought Basking Sharks ate people said reporting the sightings could help conservation. It was such a cool feeling to see the support from strangers.
The findings of our survey were simple: people don't know much about Basking sharks. A lot of people weren't sure how large they are, where they can be found, what they eat, or how dangerous they are to people. This proves that there's a need for more communication about Basking sharks.
One thing I'd like to further research would be to see if there is a correlation between the people who thought Basking Sharks ate fish, seals, and other animals and how dangerous they thought basking sharks were.
This survey was such a fun way to break into the science field. It allowed me to combine my communication experience with my passion for science and sharks. It also helped me find a passion I didn't know I had for communicating science in a way anyone could understand.
Today consisted of a quick morning lecture on seal conservation. Following the lectures, we grouped into our International Whaling Commission teams. I was part of team Japan, which was pro-whaling. At 7:00 we all gathered in the common room to begin hashing out what new rules we wanted to establish.
The instructions were simple: create any rule you want and get it passed with over half approval. We were allowed to amend the proposed bills will anything- sabotage was encouraged.
The debate started with my team, Japan, saying we wanted the ability to whale more frequently for science and for our culture. We argued that the Japanese have been eating whales since 9,000 B.C. This stopped or a brief period of time before being resumed in 1945 as commercial whaling. It also ensures a meat supply. We argued we would have a hard time feeding our people if we stopped whaling. We also brought up that the United States were the ones who pressured the Japanese to stop whaling because if we didn't they would impose economic sanctions. We asked for an increased cultural catch provision and a lift of the moratorium, which is a stringent catch quota, so that we could keep the population at a sustainable level while still whaling.
We were immediately shut down and told that nothing we put through would be approved. This meant we would need to add amendments to other teams in order to get anything passed.
The other teams consisted of North Korea, Barbados, Norway, Denmark, and Australia. North Korea's plans were also immediately foiled. Barbados started off productive, but didn't have enough money to really contribute enough for the other countries to help them.
In the end, we were able to pass more laws allowing sustainable whaling, and we all agreed to help Barbados survey the water around them.
The transect practical was essentially being on the lookout for cetaceans, porpoises, whales, and birds at different spots of the boat. We took turns standing in three different spots on the boat for 45 minutes each with our partners. Unfortunately, we only saw one porpoise and one dolphin on our excursion. We did see several birds while we were on the main deck of the boat.
The transect survey was really difficult to me. It wasn't hard, but it was daunting because I was scared I would miss something. It was easy in theory but it was frustrating waiting for something to pop up in the water near the boat.
Not all was lost though- we were able to spot several different species of birds, including the Common Guillemot, Shag, Gull, and Cormorant. We also saw one Harbor Porpoise and one Common Dolphin. The Common Dolphin sighting was expected though, at this point we see Collin every day.
The later part of the day for me consisted of lectures and then running into town to get more surveys. At this point I was pushing 20 surveys with a goal of 50. It was tough to find enough people to ask, and a lot of the time when I asked for a few minutes of their time they would say no.
The acoustic practical started early on July 4th. Our team gathered around the C-Pod, a device put underwater to record underwater sounds. We spent two hours listening to C-Pod data collected all over the world with several different sounds; including seals, cetaceans, whales, boats, and more.
This was the practical I was the most worried about. I was worried I wouldn't be able to identify the sounds or where they would take place, but our instructor was amazing. I was able to compare sound files from the C-Pod and from a list of noises on the laptop provided to us. Although it was difficult to identify some of them, most of them were fairly easy to recognize.
I've attached a link to my personal favorite sound we listened to- the Weddell Seal
This activity brought so many new lessons. We headed down to the boat dock with our instructor to observe the activity around the dock. To recreate this practical you just need a pair of binoculars, a timer, and the ability to judge distance. We set up in pairs along the edge of the dock with our binoculars. We took turns every 5 minutes for a total of 10 turns. Throughout the five minutes we would look around at each quadrant in front of us from right to left with the binoculars, and then for one minute we would look without binoculars.
We consistently saw the dolphin, Colin, as well as several birds and one jellyfish.Throughout our time observing the sea state was one, and the visibility was clear. We saw cetaceans and birds the entire time. We saw mainly sailboats at turns 1-6, 9, and 10. We saw a power boat at turn 8, and no boats at turn 7.
A breakdown of the sightings each turn:
1. cetacean, jellyfish, and shag
2. two shags, a seagull and a jellyfish
3. two seagulls and a black guillemot
4. shag, cormorant, seagull
5. shag, guillemot, seagull
6. cetacean, cormorant
7. cetacean, cormorant, seagull
8. two seagulls, cormorant, black guillemot
10. cetacean, guillemot, and cormorant
On the way back from the shore observation we were told to head into the shed for a surprise- which happened to be a seal pup!
Its mother abandoned it at the boat, so the other team brought him back and transported him to a seal rehabilitation center nearby. We jokingly named him Goofy.
I want to go back to Colin the Common Dolphin for a minute though, because his situation is fascinating. Colin somehow got separated from his pod and stayed in the water by a buoy right across from the Field Studies Council (FSC) in Millport. He swims back and forth between two buoys, occasionally bow-riding boats and posing for pictures. What's interesting about Colin though, is that he has managed to communicate with Harbor Porpoises. This is something FSC is currently studying.
We headed back to the dorms for a lecture and a movie- and then got ready for the pub quiz. The pub quiz is a competition between the three universities that includes their professors. On July 4th, in Scotland, team USA won the pub quiz!
Day 3 brought a world of new challenges. We headed out on the boat at 9:00am, just after finishing a cup of coffee. We set course for a set of rocks that were the home of a very friendly seal colony. Or so I thought.
Below are images of the seals we observed on the boat. We paired up and took turns observing different seals in the colony. The goal of this was to see if seals pay more attention when they are on the outside of the colony, as compared to the middle. We also noted the sea state, the approximate age of the seals, and how many seals were near them.
This study was important because it provides an insight into seal behavior. From here, scientists can increase knowledge on seal vigilance throughout seal colonies.
The rest of the afternoon and evening was spent at lectures, but because I had attended those lectures with my professor at my own university, I was able to go work on my mini project instead. Each student had to participate in a group of two to three to research something on the Isle of Cumbrae. I had decided to hand out graduate student Chelsea Gray's Basking shark survey. Gray is studying public perception of Basking sharks in Ireland, in hopes that Malin Head will pursue establishing a wildlife center that highlights several animals- including Basking sharks.
In order to do this, I made copies of Gray's survey and planned out a few afternoons and evenings to walk into town and ask complete strangers to answer questions like "what do Basking sharks eat?" or "have you ever seen a basking shark?". The idea is to gauge how the public feels about basking sharks, and to see what people know and what they don't know.
This evening in particular, I went out to survey people in town.
Day two brought along the first set of challenges. After breakfast we all broke out into our groups. I was in group A, meaning I was off to the shoreline to collect otter poop. After several minutes searching for a fresh 'spraint', another word for otter poop, we returned to the lab to use a pre-cleaned specimen.
Once in the lab, we divided up into pairs to look through the otter spraints. We examined spraints from Eurasian otters, looking for small vertebrae remains to identify. The samples we used were from the Isle of Gigha, where we expected to find Butterfish, Saite, and Five Bearded Rockfish vertebrae.
What we found was actually rather surprising. We were able to identify several different species of fish, which are listed below. One researcher discovered clumps of rabbit fur, which made our instructor believe that otters are feeding on rabbits by the coastline.
After the otter practical we headed back to our dorms for lunch and to take a break while the other teams finished their practicals. I took a few minutes to appreciate the rather large spiders inhabiting my windowsill because I left it open the night before. Once the practicals were over, we all headed to the lecture room to learn about acoustics with Anna McGregor. Marine mammals all communicate differently, and those sounds can be extremely unique under the water. This lecture prepared us for the practical we would have two days from then.
Following the lectures we watched Invaders of the Deep before heading back to our dorms for the night.
This section of my blog is devoted to my recent trip to Millport, Scotland on the Isle of Cumbrae. I'll be documenting some of the time I spent there researching marine mammals through a course at the Field Studies Council in Millport, in partnership with my professor, Dr. Chris Parsons. I have high expectations, but most of all I'm nervous. Science communication is an incredible field, but it can be daunting for a communication student to dabble in the science world. I hope that this week I can build my confidence both in science and in how I communicate the science I do this week.
My journey started on Saturday, June 30th, 2018. My flight was delayed several hours, and by the time I got to my seat I was exhausted. The next 8 hours consisted of several 20 minute naps before finally landing in London to board my second flight of the day. Having a serious time delay, I missed my flight and was stranded in Heathrow until they could put me on another flight. Luckily, another American student happened to also miss his flight, and we were able to grab lunch together before getting on a flight to Glasgow. The running through the airport part of our trip was over, but the stress was not.
To get to the Field Studies Council, we had to get off the plane at Glasgow, take a taxi to the train station that would take us to Largs, then take a ferry to the Isle of Cumbrae, where we'd take a bus to Millport. The ferry closed at 8:00pm, we got off our plane at 5:55pm.
Knowing we didn't have much time, we booked it to a taxi and paid more money to get to the ferry as quickly as possible. We made it just in time for the ferry to Millport and arrived at the center with time to play icebreakers with our Glasgow and Sterling counterparts.
Immediately afterward it was time to grab dinner and then head to bed before our 7:45am breakfast the next morning.