The Society for Marine Mammology’s 22nd Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals, the largest gathering of marine mammal scientists in the world. What an incredibly exciting place to be for a small researcher from Europe. From the reception on the first day, I started matching faces to names from some really interesting papers. So many people from so many places, all gathered together to share in their passion for marine mammals, what a sight.
Halifax was an incredibly welcoming city and the organisation committee did an amazing job at getting everything to run smoothly. I was even lucky enough to get a full week of sunny weather and walk along the wild Canadian Ocean, the perfect place to talk about whales and dolphins. As I enjoyed the infamous Canadian friendliness, I learnt about the research being conducted in Cameroon, Chile, Australia and the Arctic. Despite the excitement of learning about all these incredible projects, I quickly came to realise that one key point stood out : our oceans are in trouble and marine mammals are facing their greatest threat so far … us. After all, I was also there to talk about our work on the detrimental effects of heavy boat traffic on bottlenose dolphin behaviour and suggest that the population in the Istanbul straight be protected. However, knowing that so soon after loosing the Baiji, we are so very close to saying goodbye to the Vaquita and so many others are not far behind was a sobering experience. From ship strikes on blue whales to entangled right whales, the giants of the sea are far from safe. Now is the time to do something about it, we cannot afford to wait anymore.
Thankfully for us and for our oceans, there are many dedicated people out there, from researchers to companies, governmental officials and volunteers. Representatives from all these fields were found at the conference and we all shared our experiences and ideas on how to help protect the animals we love. Ongoing research on special fishing gear to limit entanglement in America promises to help reduce mortality in large whales. Increased education and outreach combined with the establishment of protected areas has already started to help the African manatee. It is refreshing to see that there are people like us out there, trying to reach the same goal : a clean, safe ocean for all. After my talk on our bottlenose dolphins, several people approached me and we discussed new venues for collaboration and techniques to better our research and impact.
I learnt so much during my week in Canada and met many inspiring people I look forward to working with in the future. I also came back with a better understanding of how important everyone is to the future of marine mammals and the role research should play in promoting action. Every little effort matters and we are all in this together, research can only succeed if all of society backs it. Our oceans need us, our oceans need you.