The onslaught continues: lectures, flash presentations, videos, plenaries, posters and discussions with colleagues hailing from every continent. A biennial is a vast brainstorming of the latest research and scientific advances, but it is especially an opportunity to meet with colleagues and network. Except that the latter aspect is just for us.

OK, how about a run-down of the day’s highlights!

In the ice-free arena of the Scotiabank Centre, sperm whale expert and Dalhousie University professor Hal Whitehead kicked off his presentation “Gene-culture coevolution in whales and dolphins”. A reflection on cultural transmission in toothed whales and the loss of genes.

Nigel Hussey, pulling up a heavy load. © Hussey Lab, Windsor University

Later, Nigel Hussey, a researcher from the University of Windsor, took us on a research odyssey to the Tremblay Fjord in Nunavut. Hussey’s humour-filled presentation gave insight into the vitality of this Arctic region (not to mention breathtaking photos). He advocated an ecosystemic approach to studying marine mammals: “It is obvious that we need to be open to a multi-species, ecosystemic focus and not just single-species focused research anymore”. We took over 35 minutes to explore the research conducted this summer during which tags of all sorts were placed on fish, Greenland sharks and narwhals. We will certainly continue to follow the results of this research being conducted notably in partnership with Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Ocean Wise.

Just a few individuals left…

An information kiosk on vaquitas, a small cetacean native to Mexico, taught us a very sad piece of news: there are now just 19 vaquitas left alive, whereas in May they numbered 30. The prospects are grim: vaquitas are victims of fishing nets set out for a species of fish exported exclusively to China. Illegal fishing is managed by organized crime, probably the same networks involved in drug trafficking. The only hope would be a change in mentality of the buyers in China.

J54 and J28, two southern resident killer whales. © Center for Whale Research

Closer to home, in Canadian Pacific waters, the Northeast Pacific, southern resident population of the killer whale is threatened by fishing for chinook salmon. But not because of bycatch. This killer whale population, which numbers no more than 70 to 90 individuals, feeds almost exclusively on this salmon. Better fish management could help save this iconic sub-species of killer whale.

Emergency networks

In Scotland, the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme has trained 150 volunteers in carcass sampling, enabling them to collect data from hundreds of carcasses every year.

In Senegal, a marine mammal emergencies network was created last year, and has already handled 136 cases involving 10 different species! Hundreds of fishermen have joined the network to better document cases of vulnerable marine mammals. Inspiring!

And of course there’s so much that we missed, too: presentations on sea otters, polar bears, prolactin in harbour seals, speech discrimination in pilot whales and much, much more! Once again, we will have to live with our fomo (fear of missing out).

To travel through the abstracts: the scientific programm

#SMM2017 Day 1

#SMM2017 Day 2

#SMM2017 Day 3

News - 27/10/2017

Marie-Ève Muller

Marie-Ève Muller is responsible for GREMM's communications and spokeperson for the Quebec Marine Mammal Emergencies Response Network (QMMERN). As Editor-in-Chief for Whales Online, she devours research and has an insatiable thirst for the stories of scientists and observers. Drawing from her background in literature and journalism, Marie-Ève strives to put the fragile reality of cetaceans into words and images.

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