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Marine mammal research in the 21st century: big data, big animals, and big issues

Tuesday, November 26, 2013 - 11:00
Dr. Andrew Trites, UBC Fisheries Centre, Department of Zoology, UBC
Statistics Seminar
Room 4192, Earth Sciences Building, 2207 Main Mall


Abstract:  Historically marine mammals were hunted for their valuable meat, oil and fur; or were culled to reduce perceived competition with fisheries.  Today, marine mammals are protected in most parts of the world from the effects of fishing, hunting, shipping, oil exploration, and other disturbances. Marine mammal research has therefore been placing greater emphasis in recent years on assessing the needs of marine mammals and the ability of marine mammals to meet them.  This includes identifying critical habitat needed by marine mammals to survive; documenting how and where they find their food; and estimating their energy requirements.  Much of this information is being gathered using tracking devices attached to individual animals.  However, the amount of data that an individual animal gathers has increased exponentially from a few at-sea locations per day to millions of lines of information collected as frequently as 16 times per second.  Marine mammals are now carrying cell-phone size data loggers that can record acceleration, pitch, roll, speed, time, depth, light levels, temperature, sound, and even video and still images. Unfortunately, most biologists are ill equipped to process the amount of data that is streaming onto their computers.  This seminar will focus on some of the bio-logging studies being carried out at UBC on killer whales, Steller sea lions, northern fur seals, and  Australian fur seals—and will discuss the statistical challenges of big data and the need for inter-department collaborations to resolve these and other big issues facing marine mammal conservation in the 21st century.