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21st Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals

As Told By Amelia Johnson

21st Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals

San Francisco, California
December 13-18, 2015
Amelia Johnson

This past fall I traveled from my home institution, the University of North Carolina Wilmington, to participate in a transient study program at UAA called Semester by the Bay at the Kachemak Bay Campus in Homer, AK. The main goal of this program was to offer biology and marine biology students hands-on research opportunities. The campus's close proximity to Kachemak Bay facilitated an abundance of field experiences through coursework. I was very fortunate to study marine biology in an area so rich in productivity and biodiversity as Kachemak Bay. 

The marine mammal biology course provided not only information on some of the inhabitants of Alaska's waters, but also a chance to interact and study them during fieldtrips. We were able to go on a Kenai Fjords tour, photograph beluga whales in Cook Inlet, and study sea otter behavior on Kachemak Bay alongside top marine mammal researchers. Of the two professors, Marc Webber was an author of the textbook we used, and Dr. Debbie Tobin studied marine mammals for both her masters and PhD degrees. In skeletal articulation, I had the chance to work with Lee Post, also known as "The Bone Man," to put together a beluga whale skeleton that is now on display at the college. Other classes that were available included marine biology, ichthyology, and scientific illustration. 

In addition to these specialized courses, students were presented with multiple internship opportunities for course credit. I participated in a killer and humpback whale photo-identification internship with Eye of the Whale Research and the North Gulf Oceanic Society. With this internship, I had the chance to go on a weeklong research expedition to Prince William Sound to find and photograph whales. Throughout the semester, I was able take photos on Kachemak Bay and create an identification catalog of humpback whales for the area. This internship led me to a Southern Resident killer whale acoustic analysis internship next summer at NOAA's Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Seattle, Washington. 

At the end of the semester, Dr. Debbie Tobin and Marc Webber encouraged me to attend the 21st Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals in San Francisco, CA. While I was there, I had the chance to learn about cutting-edge research being conducted around the world, meet some of the leading marine mammal biology researchers, and talk with other students about their experiences. One afternoon, Marc Webber invited me to assist in his harbor porpoise photo-identification research. As we walked across the Golden Gate Bridge, I photographed the porpoises as they swam underneath the bridge while Professor Webber explained the process to three visiting dolphin researchers from Cambodia. 

The Semester by the Bay program was a trip of a lifetime with all of the amazing animal encounters and beautiful surroundings. The experience that I have gained over the course of the semester will help me become a stronger graduate school candidate. Being able to participate in this program and live in Alaska has been a pleasure. 

-Amelia Johnson


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