Women on the Move: Technology and Animal Tracking, Part I: Sea
engineering, and math - also known as STEM. These women scientists track animals across the land, sea, and the sky. Today, we're going to dive into how and why scientists track aquatic species. My name is Shelby. I'm a marine mammal scientist and intern at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. My pronouns are she/her/hers, and I will be your host for today. This is the first webinar out of a series of three leading up to Earth Day this Friday.
This series was made possible by the American Women's History Initiative and is a collaborative event between the Smithsonian's National Zoological Park and Conservation Biology Institute, Smithsonian Environmental Research Center, and Smithsonian's Earth Optimism Initiative. As we begin this event we would like to acknowledge that our digital and non-digital spaces are meeting across indigenous lands of various native peoples. Specifically, we would like to acknowledge the Piscataway Conoy tribe, Accohannock tribe, and the Esselen tribe whose peoples were the original stewards of the lands which are now known as Washington DC, Maryland, and Big Sur, California. We gratefully acknowledge the native peoples on whose ancestral homelands we gather as well as the diverse and vibrant native communities who live here today. We are grateful for their past and continued stewardship of the land. Today, we will travel
from where I am at the National Zoo in Washington DC to the Eastern coast to Maryland and then all the way to the Western coast of California to meet two amazing women who track aquatic species. During this program, you will gain knowledge of wildlife in wild places, understand the roles of two Smithsonian women in STEM, and learn how tracking is saving these animals. Before we say hello to our guests, you will see two polls launch up onto your screen. While you take some time to answer these polls, I will go over the format of our program today. This webinar is live captioned. You'll want to locate that "CC" button at the bottom of the screen for those to appear. We have both English and Spanish captioning available for this webinar series.
You will also notice this program is being interpreted in American Sign Language. This feature is best viewed from a desktop computer instead of a tablet or phone. If you're having trouble with either service, please chat with us so that we can assist you. Remember, this is a webinar
so we cannot see or hear you. However, we encourage you to engage with us in a number of ways. You already saw that we will be launching polls throughout the program. Additionally, you'll see that the question and answer function is open. Please use the Q&A anytime to ask questions of our guests. Try to keep your questions on topic. You can check under the "my questions" column to see if your question has already been answered. Today's program will be about 40 minutes with an additional 15 minutes at the end for a live question and answer session. There, we will answer
as many questions as time allows. Educators, if you are streaming for a whole class be sure to keep your keyboard close to chime in on their behalf. Lastly, you'll see the chat is open to message us, but first let's take a look at the answer to your polls. Wow! Looks like most of you wanted to live in the ocean. A lot of us would love to have gills
to breathe underwater. I know, I would, too. Now I want you to find that chat feature and tell me where you're joining us from, as well as your guesses for the answer to this joke. While you do that, I want to quickly introduce you to my team who is helping behind the scenes - Erika, Kaden, Hanna, and Shellie are here from the National Zoo answering your questions. We also have a special chat expert - Karen McDonald, who is the head of STEM program coordination at the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center. Also joining us from the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center is Lexi who's going to be helping us out. You may see some responses from them in the chat and in the Q&A. Wow, we have people
joining from all over! Lake Tahoe, California. West Virginia. Wisconsin. Maryland. I'm so excited and happy to have everybody. Wow, Netherlands. That's so far away. We're so happy that you're here. Now I'm gonna throw up the answer to the that joke. I hope everybody put their guesses in. Fish keep their money in a riverbank. Okay, so once again welcome to "Women on the Move!" Do you know what you want to be when you grow up? Do you have a favorite animal or animals that you might like to work with? The scientists we're going to meet today work with aquatic animals or species that live in water habitats. Not long ago, many women and girls were told that they couldn't be a scientist or study animals.
Today, only a third of all scientists are women which is why it's extra special that we have two amazing women here in STEM to talk with us about how they became scientists studying whales and river herring. All the way from the Smithsonian's Environmental Research Center out in Maryland, I am thrilled to welcome Kim Richie to the program. Hi, Kim and welcome to Women on the Move! Would you like to introduce yourself? >>Kim: Hey, Shelby. Thanks for having me. I'm Kim Richie. I am a fisheries conservation technician at SERC as well as a data manager for the ACT Network or Atlantic Cooperative Telemetry Network. >>Shelby: Oh, cool. Thank you so much for joining us today. So that's a super long title. Let's break that down a little bit. You said you were a fisheries research technician. I assume that has something to do with fish, right?
>>Kim: Yeah, absolutely. I get to play with fish for my job, but basically I'm responsible for conducting the field work in... to do the research for the projects that we're funded for. >>Shelby: Very cool, and then you also mention the Atlantic Cooperative Telemetry Network. So, what do you do for them? >>Kim: Yeah, so I'm a data manager that helps facilitate data sharing between different researchers so in my network there's researchers from Maine all the way down to North Carolina, so if you look at that map it's those kind of green dots sort of the Mid-Atlantic Northeast United States and then I connect researchers um within that network as well as networks, you know, in Canada and down to Florida to help facilitate data sharing. >>Shelby: Wow, that's awesome. That's such a huge area and that sounds
super important. Fun! We're going to dive deeper into how you track fish in a little bit, but first let's talk a little bit about how you got here. Did you know you always wanted to study animals? >>Kim: I think I always knew that I wanted, you know, I liked being outside. I liked working with animals. Um, so when I was little, you know, like everybody else I would go hiking in the woods with my grandfather, you know, I grew up riding horses, but I think my true passion kind of grew in college and then later, like you Shelby, I was actually an intern at SERC and I started working with blue crabs and that kind of really just grew my passion into the aquatic side of research and you know studying animal movement and here I am today - a staff member at SERC. That's awesome! So you talked about spending a lot of time outdoors with your grandpa. Um, did you have any women mentors growing up that led you to study science? >>Kim: I did. Um, I grew... I came
from a family with really strong women who always, you know, wanted you to, you know, be what you can be and don't... don't let fear kind of stop you from doing what you want to do and just enjoy working. >>Shelby: Awesome. That's really cool, and um, do you work with any women though now in your current job that you get to do science with? >>Kim: I certainly do. Um, I do look up to my uh, women co-workers and then as well as, you know, there are definitely still a lot of men in the field but it is...
there's a lot more females, you know, coming along the way, too. >>Shelby: Oh, cool. Well, so you get to work with a bunch of different women which is really cool um and now that you're seeing more and more women hop into uh this kind of research how does it feel to be a potential role model for these women and girls interested in pursuing a career in STEM? >>Kim: It's a true privilege. Each woman's path to research is very different and mine is, you know, different from everybody else's so I really enjoy sharing that with them. One of my favorite parts about kind of mentoring interns is you know watching them kind of grow along their career path and you know see where they go down the future.
>>Shelby: That's awesome. That's such a cool story, and I'm so excited to learn more about your career now. You mentioned earlier the Atlantic Cooperative Telemetry Network collects data on many different aquatic species. So what species do you work with specifically as a fisheries technician? >>Kim: Yeah, so my lab works with a bunch of different species. We've tracked cownose rays and sharks all the way down to blue crabs but our current research is working with river herring who are a migratory species. Um, the term is just collectively for two different species that, as you can see,
look very similar, um, alewife and blueback hearing. >>Shelby: Wow, they look so similar. That's amazing that you can even tell them apart. Audience, do you notice any differences? Why don't you put them in the chat. I noticed some differences myself, for example the colors are a little bit different.
Um, Kim, will you tell us how you can tell the difference? >>Kim: Sure, yeah, it can certainly be tricky. Um, some of my co-workers that see them on a day-to-day basis are better at it than I am but alewife tend to have a little bit thicker of a body, as you can kind of see from the picture. They also have a bigger eye and their lower bottom lip kind of protrudes out more than on a blueback, and alewife also prefer a little bit colder water than blueback, so alewife kind of show up in the river before the blueback show up. >>Shelby: That's awesome. We have lots of those same observations coming through. People are saying "yes, they look thicker", "they have the different colorations". Thank you so much for telling us how you figure that out.
So Kim, why are you interested in tracking these two species in particular? >>Kim: So, uh river herring are an important part of the ecosystem. Uh, they're an important food source for many other predatory species such as birds or larger fish. They also can provide nutrients and um, they're even more special because they, you know, do occupy fresh water systems as well as the ocean so it's really kind of across all areas. >>Shelby: Yeah, that's super special. So they're an important source of food for really special animals in our ecosystem. Um, why are they coming in to the oceans and the river though in the first place? I mean into the river from the oceans, excuse me. >>Kim: Yeah, so they spend their adult life in the ocean and then when they are spawning or having babies um they migrate to fresh water you know, rivers and streams and, you know, kind of estuaries to spawn. >>Shelby: Wow, that sounds like a really big trip. Hey audience, do you know of
any other animals that live and breed in two different locations? I'll give you a hint... our second guest today studies some animals that migrate and have babies in different places, too. Put your guesses in the chat. Olivia is saying salmon. Ducks. Lots of people are saying salmon. I'm so happy everybody's... whales. That's awesome. Frogs maybe. These are all great guesses
All right friends let's see the answer of just a few animals that also migrate and breed. You were right with salmon, migratory birds, and whales are all examples of animals that migrate between two different habitats. Kim, besides river herring be being super cool and important for the ecosystem, why are you tracking them? >>Kim: So we're tracking them because their population crashed in the 1970s and that almost put them on the endangered species list, so we want to learn more about their habitat and, you know, how their population is doing so we can help protect them. >>Shelby: Oh my goodness, that's super serious. So I know that when a species declines
it can have bad effects on other species in the ecosystem. For example, it would mess up the entire food web because eagles wouldn't have something to eat. What caused this decline though? >>Kim: Sadly we have. People have. Um, adult fish that are out in the ocean are caught as bycatch or basically non-targeted fish when you're you know out fishing for say salmon or other species but the other major impact was you know the building of dams that happened, you know, not as much now. Most of them were pre-existing, but dams were a big detriment to their population. >>Shelby: Wow, and you can see some examples of a dam on the screen here. So, students why do you think dams would be an issue for the river herring? Put your guesses, or a scientist would say "hypotheses" in the chat.
I'm going to take a second to read. Susan says it might be too high. Ian says it might be difficult for them to travel. Too high to jump over. They can't migrate. Wow, everybody. You've got... hit the nail right on the head. That's correct. It creates a potential roadblock and the herring can't get to where they need to go to breed and to spawn. Isn't that right, Kim? >>Kim: Yeah, that's exactly right. Um, dams definitely impede their uh movement upstream and that that contributes to the trouble, the struggles, for them to spawn which is why we study their migration to see if they're able to move around the dam and then you know act kind of normally. Um sometimes, you know, work can also... our research also helps contribute to see, you know, is it important if we, if we decided to move the dam would that actually be beneficial or not so our work currently on the Patapsco River in you know the Baltimore area this is, the the video you were looking at was actually Bloede dam which had been removed, so our research is studying you know the effects of that dam removal, you know, if their, if their response is going well. >>Shelby: Awesome. So one option is to remove the dam altogether
um but I have actually heard of something called a "fish ladder" could you talk about that a little bit? >>Kim: Sure, um sometimes different dams will have these fish ladders built into them that can be successful. They're not always successful depending on their construction, but it is definitely more effective to just not have a dam so the fish can, you know, act in their normal natural habitat. >>Shelby: That's really cool, though. I think that's such a creative tool that we could possibly use, either removing the dam to help the fish migrate or even a fish ladder. So everybody, I want you to put on your scientist hat. I'm going to put a poll up on the screen. If you discovered
that river herring were not able to make it past a dam, what would you do to fix it? A) We have leave the dam as it is. B) Put in some fish ladders, or C) safely blow up the dam to remove it. I'm going to give you a few more moments here and we'll close the poll in five, four, three, two, one. Let's see. Wow, lots of you guys said to put in fish ladders, but I know one thing that I would want to do would be to safely blow up the dam. That's so great. Does that actually happen, Kim? >>Kim: Yeah, it does. There is a lot of dams being removed, you can see in this video. This is Bloede dam that I had just talked about, um and it came out in the winter of 2018, um so our... like I was saying, our project kind of is looking how the fish are, you know, using the habitat below where the dam was and now are they using the habitat above where the dam is and yes, they are. We have um successfully, you know, found
fish above in the, in the newly river stretch that they weren't able to access before. >>Shelby: That's amazing, and I'm so happy that you were able to figure that out otherwise we would have had no clue. So you're studying river herring because they're ecologically important and they've also become endangered, close to endangered, due to human actions. The research and work that you do
can help us decide if dams need to be changed or removed so that we can bring the species back. I'm so excited to explore the technology in just how you monitor the river herring, Kim. We'll talk about that later. Isa asked exactly how you track them, which we'll get that, to there, that in a second, but before we do that let's swim back out into the ocean just like the river herring after spawning and see how our next guest tracks a much bigger aquatic animal out there. Now we'll travel all the way across America to meet our other researcher Sarah Mallette.
Hi, Sarah. Welcome to Women on the Move! Can you introduce yourself? >>Sarah: Um, yes. My name is Sarah and I'm a PhD student at George Mason University and also a visiting scientist at SERC. I'm currently conducting marine mammal research from Big Sur, California. >>Shelby: Oh my gosh, so Sarah studies marine mammals. Friends, do you know what the largest marine mammal in the world is? Put it in the chat. I know there's lots to choose from, so let's take some guesses here. I'm going to start reading answers. A blue whale,
blue whales, oh I'm hearing a lot of blue whales. Humpback whales, whale sharks, let's see... It is a blue whale. That's so good everyone. So Sarah, do you study blue whales? No I don't study blue whales, um but I, um, blue whales are a type of baleen whale which is what I focus on for my research.
>>Shelby: Amazing. Um, you mentioned the word baleen. For those of us who maybe haven't heard that word before can you explain what a baleen whale is? >>Sarah: Sure, so basically um baleen is a filter feeding mechanism to filter out small prey such as phytoplankton, fish, and krill, which is a shrimp like animal. If you take a look at your fingernails and rub one with another finger along your thumbnail, for example, this same material is what baleen is made out of and it feels very similar. However, baleen is much larger and it's organized into plates as you can see in this image on the left and these um, these plates is the mechanism that... which um allows the animal to filter out that, um the prey species, um so basically you know, simply put, baleens...
baleen whales, they open their mouths, they scoop up water, and in this process they push out that water leaving the small prey uh remaining in which they then eat. >>Shelby: Oh my goodness. Sounds like they might have some bad table manners spitting out all the water. That's so cool that we have so much in common. Both of us having this fingernail-like material, but what about whales with sharp pointy teeth? They don't filter feed their food, do they? >>Sarah: No, they don't. So toothed whales they... instead of baleen uh baleen plates they have teeth just
like us and these teeth are used for grasping their prey and so holding on tight to the prey and depending upon what they're eating, for example squid versus fish, the size and the shape of their teeth can be very different. For example a sperm whale which has much larger teeth versus a harbor porpoise which have very small, conical teeth or cone-like shaped teeth. So it's a different feeding strategy compared to filter feeding baleen whales. >>Shelby: Very cool. I bet a lot of us are learning that there's both baleen and toothed whales out there and they have different kinds of feeding strategies based on their prey. So students, feel your teeth with your tongue. Are they hard?
Are they soft? Do you think you would be a baleen whale or a toothed whale? I think I'd be a toothed whale because I've got some pretty hard teeth to grab different food instead of filter feeding. So Sarah, did you always know you wanted to study whales when you were growing up? >>Sarah: No, I knew I was interested in science. I was intrigued by species and ecosystems. Growing up I was surrounded by nature and I grew up going out on the boat to desolate barrier islands on the Eastern shore of Virginia, going fishing, crabbing with my family and playing in the mud, so I've always been an observer. I like watching things around me, how species interact, how they feed, the timing of when they're in an area, and both of my parents are also in the environmental field so they provided opportunities for me to gain experience working on various environmental and wildlife conservation projects at early age. >>Shelby: Oh, cool. So are there a lot of women like you that are studying marine mammals? >>Sarah: Um yes, actually. I um, I get to work with many fantastic women who are researchers just like myself.
>>Shelby: That's great. I'm so happy to hear that. I studied marine mammals myself and specifically I studied bottlenose dolphins in Florida. What species are you currently focused on tracking? >>Sarah: So I mainly focus on humpback, minke, uh fin whales, North Atlantic right whales, and um sei whales as well, but a variety of different baleen whale species. >>Shelby: Wow, they're all super cool. You can see just a few of them up here on the screen. So friends, Sarah has a fun fact for us. I'm going to launch a poll here. Which of these species that Sarah works with is not actually a whale? Your options are a humpback whale, a killer whale, a gray whale, or a right whale.
You guys can think about it if you're in a class together. I'm going to close the poll in a few minutes, seconds here. Five, four, three, two, one. Let's see what you guys thought. We had a lot of people saying killer whale.
The next second guess was a right whale, so Sarah, what's the correct answer to this poll? Good job, um the correct answer is B) killer whale. So killer whales are not actually whales but part of the dolphin family. >>Shelby: That's awesome. Everybody has a fun fact to tell people now after this program. So Sarah, why are you tracking all of these different species in the first place? >>Sarah: The whales face many threats and unfortunately most are related to humans. They overlap in areas where... in coastal areas where there's a lot of human use such as fishing and shipping and early on whales were hunted for um, by humans for food and their blubber was...
their blubber or fat was used for oil and their bones and teeth were used for various purposes including art, another word is scrimshaw, and therefore populations were decimated from hunting and are now in the process of recovering from low numbers and, at least for some species, so today they face other human related threats - boat strikes and entanglement and fishing gear are leading causes of baleen whale death and injury, and they travel these long distances and depending upon the species um, they can be constantly exposed to human use um, such as shipping and entanglements and wind energy along the entire path so we track whales to find ways to protect them. >>Shelby: Awesome. That, yeah it sounds like really important work. So way back when in, historically speaking, they were hunted for their blubber or their fat for oil, and then other parts were used. We don't do that anymore today but now we have these big vessels shipping all these different um things around the world for us and nets that they can get tangled up in and then they can also sometimes get into a collision with the boat. So Sarah, how do we help protect the whales? How do we fix this?
>>Sarah: So one of the ways is understanding when and where whales are located, their movement patterns and how they use these areas of high human use and that way we can then direct management action our priorities to these times and these places. So, for example, we can establish marine protected areas or strict fishing in areas when endangered whales are known to occur in high numbers, reduce the likelihood of becoming entangled or struck by vessels. >>Shelby: Yeah, so it sounds like you take the research that you do, figuring out when and where whales are, and then you take that information to lawmakers like congress people here in DC where I am, and what those people can do then is help to establish these protected areas where whales can be safe, or they can create laws to help protect the whales from harm. Is that right? >>Sarah: That's exactly right, Shelby. >>Shelby: Awesome. Nibal says that it sounds very fun to study whales and animals.
Both you and Kim track these aquatic species, so that we know where they go and so that they can help, you can help protect them in their habitats. Let's learn a little bit more about how you track them. So both of your research projects go towards saving the species that you work with, which is amazing, but I bet it can be really tricky studying animals that live in the water. Put in the chat friends - what do you think might make Kim and Sarah's job tracking animals in the water so hard to do. I can think so of some myself but let's see what you guys have to say.
Olivia says the ocean is so big. That is exactly right, Olivia. Isabella says there's so many fish. Hard to know which ones you're looking for. The animals might hide because they're under water. It's difficult to see the animals. They might get scared. Might be hard to install the trackers themselves. These are all great ideas friends.
So we're going to go back to our first guest that we spoke to today,. Kim, what is your biggest challenge tracking animals in the water? >>Kim: I mean the comments really kind of nailed it. They kind of hit all the points, but one of our biggest issues is that you know river herring when they're in the rivers, the rivers can be murky. It's hard to see. You could be standing on the riverbank and you might not see anything so one might assume
that they're not there, but that could be untrue because they could just be, you know, either hiding because it's murky water or that they're just, you know, upriver hiding in a deep hole. >>Shelby: So it could be really hard to find them. You're, you know, you're not going to be fishing like normal, so how do you catch the fish then to track them? >>Kim: Yeah, so we use a method called "electrofishing" um which, you know, we have a boat that kind of looks a little funny to, you know, see it driving down the road but it's basically it sends out an electric current into the water that kind of just quickly stuns the fish. It doesn't hurt them. Um but, it just stuns them as like, you know, they kind of
stop moving. They float or kind of jump to the surface as you can see in the video, and they're stunned for a couple of seconds. We try to net them as quickly as possible. Then they go into the boat um onto a lot... into a live well, you know, that's getting pumped with oxygen so that they can, you know, kind of recover and then they swim around normally. >>Shelby: That's really cool. I've never heard of this kind of fishing before. Um, so Kim mentioned that, you know, they're tracking these fish in the river before they go back out to the ocean so Sarah, what kind of challenges do you have tracking whales that are out in the ocean? >>Sarah: So one of our biggest challenges is actually locating the whales in the first place. Um, the whales migrate all over the ocean and they stay underwater for very long periods of time in some cases and for some species, so even though they may be much bigger than river herring they can be very tough to find for these reasons. >>Shelby: So what happens when you do find them?
>>Sarah: So there are different options for tracking whales and each has their advantages and disadvantages. Um you can track whales by sight, so observing and taking pictures, by sound, so listening for them as they communicate with others, or with trackers similar to what Kim mentioned with the river herring. Um, so basically attaching tags to the animal. So most of my work focuses on tracking whales by sight, that is conducting surveys by plane, boat, and examining whales and dolphins that wash up on the beach which we call "stranded" specimens. >>Shelby: Very cool. So Sarah's not using tracking devices like Kim will use. So Kim, what kind of tracking device and technology do you primarily use? >>Kim: We primarily use um acoustic tags, so these are battery operated tags uh in the river herring we're using like the kind of the third one from the left, that smaller one with the little white tape on it. These are acoustic tags and they're battery powered and they're waterproof so they get
implanted into the fish. >>Shelby: Oh my gosh, they are super super tiny. So how do you get the trackers into the fish? >>Kim: Yeah, so we, I talked about what electro- fishing is. So basically when we have the fish onboard they're in a live well that you can kind of see in this video. They come out of the live well. They go onto what is, you know, a surgery table um, and that's, you know, kind of still... they're partly submerged in water so that way their gills can stay wet and then we just make a tiny little incision, insert the tag into their body cavity, and then we'll do like a quick stitch just so that it can heal nicely and it doesn't seem to affect their movement or anything because it's not too heavy for them, and then they just get released. >>Shelby: Oh my goodness, so it's like you're
a fish doctor as well! So once they get in the water then how does that acoustic tag work? So I said that the tags are battery operated so they send out these acoustic signals that are picked up by acoustic receivers and those receivers are kind of deployed all over the world. If you remember that map that you kind of showed in the beginning. Basically this fish, or whichever species has a tag in it, swims by any receiver and that receiver picks up the signal from the tag and, you know, leaves it, you know, what time it is, what the tag number is, and then that information can be downloaded it, downloaded, and then processed to figure out what species or what tags went by. >>Shelby: And you mentioned that these tags are waterproof and battery powered. We have a question here from Denise. How long does a tracker last? >>Kim: So it kind of varies. Um, the picture with all the tags, the smaller the tag the smaller the battery. So like the tags that we're using, um will last maybe a year but some of the larger tags that you would put in like sharks or even whales, they can go up to 10 years. >>Shelby: Still that's a lot
of information that you can get from these fish in just a year because they're going to migrate into the river and back out into the ocean, so they'll be all over the place. >>Kim: That's what we hope. >>Shelby: So you're getting information from all over the world with these acoustic receiving stations. Um, what sort of animals are you also tracking that migrate all over the world? >>Kim: Um, so we did a large project on cownose rays and some of those rays actually had 10-year tags put in them, so we have tracked their movements from, you know, the Chesapeake Bay all the way down to Florida. They... we call them kind of like snowbirds so that they like to go to Florida for the winter when it's warm and then they come up to the Chesapeake Bay, you know, in the spring to spawn and raise their young and hang out and then they'll go back again to Florida in the wintertime. >>Shelby: Very cool. So these animals can travel all over the world just like the whales can. So Sarah,
since you're not using tracking devices, how does watching the whales from boats and airplanes help you monitor them? >>Sarah: So um, we... from... basically there are several ways to track whales, um such as from planes and boats like you mentioned, and that allows us to document the location, um the date and the time of where a whale was observed, its behavior such as whether the animal is feeding or if it had calves with it, and it also allows us to take pictures to identify species, in some cases individuals. So collecting images of distinguishing features on, for example, the tail or a dorsal fin of a humpback whale. These features are so unique that they're like human fingerprints, so we can... this... we use this technique to track whales across their migratory routes between cold water feeding areas and southern warm water calving areas, and because most whales migrate these long distances, documenting when and where and also what species of whales are present, this helps us put into protection different, basically different places and different times um where, that they are present. So, for example, areas where the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale
are known to seasonally feed and calve in these areas boats must slow down to reduce the risk of running into a whale, which has been a major problem for the conservation of the species, and one other thing that we do is we take pictures of any injuries such as entanglements in rope or boat strikes to monitor their condition over time. >>Shelby: Wow, that's really fascinating how you said it's the markings on their flukes, or their tail, can be like a fingerprint. You also mentioned a dorsal fin, so for everybody that might not know that's the fin that's on their back, right? So that can be as distinctive as a fingerprint, too? >>Sarah: That's right. >>Shelby: Wow, that's really cool. It sounds like you're doing a lot of different things all at the same time. You're first finding the whales, you're taking their gps coordinates, you're taking their picture and you're writing down all the different behaviors and what they're doing in an area so that then you can create those laws like slowing down in these special areas for these protected whales. It's a lot to keep track of. >>Sarah: It is, but I bet you can do it, too. >>Shelby: Really? So that sounds like a lot of fun everybody. Let's try
some photo ID. On the screen there's a picture of some flukes that we need to find the match to. These photos were taken in different areas and many years in between so it might be a little tricky. Can you guys guess which fluke pair you need to match the one in the top left hand corner? I'll let you think about it. Sarah, what do we need to pay attention to here as we're trying to do photo ID? >>Sarah: So you would like to take a, um along the trailing edge of the fluke so um the inner most part there can be different types of uh shapes, so they can have like these little scalloped notches out of the um, out of that trailing edge. You can see the tips of the of the fluke they can be different shapes, um more narrow or wider. The coloration um, so how much black compared to white and scars along those fluke blades are important to keep track of. >>Shelby: All right everybody.
Hopefully Sarah has helped give you a few hints here. I'm going to close the poll in five, four, three, two, one. Let's see our answers. Lots of people are saying D. So Sarah, what do you think the answer is? >>Sarah: That's correct, D. >>Shelby: Awesome, good job everyone. So everybody, today we have learned that Kim used electronic acoustic tags to track herring during their migration spawn in the rivers while Sarah relies on photo ID and mapping techniques to track where the whales travel, different methods for monitoring two different aquatic specie. We have now reached the question and answer answer portion of our program. I know some folks may need to go so
we will launch our closing polls now before we jump into this Q&A. Keep those questions coming. To start things off, I'm going to ask both of you, do you have any advice for young girls who are interested in STEM topics and who want to become researchers like you someday? >>Kim: Sure, yeah. I think, I think the most important thing is to do something, do what makes you happy even if it's, you know, not something that, you know, even if you're a little scared that it might not fit or that you don't feel like you belong just do whatever makes you happy and even if you head down one road you can always kind of divert off of it and head down another path. >>Shelby: Yeah, you can always change your mind. Sarah, do you have any advice? >>Sarah: Yeah, absolutely um I'd say get experience in the field through internships, volunteer positions, to figure out what you are really interested in and also importantly what you do not like in a particular position.
Um, I participated in an amazing program for the Smithsonian Mason School of Conservation and also worked at a Smithsonian facility down in Florida to work with coral reefs and both were really fantastic opportunities. Um, so I would say, you know, get experience in the field but also connect with a mentor. Find a role model that shares similar interests and ask for their advice along the way. Um as I mentioned I had the privilege of working with many amazing role models, but these people helped me navigate through opportunities um, determine which skill sets are most important, it would be most useful for becoming successful in my field.
>>Shelby: Okay. Yeah, those are all really good points of advice. One thing that I'd like to say as well, just like Kim, is find out what you like to do and if it makes you happy just to pursue it, and I know that I have had a really fun time doing internships like Sarah suggested so these are all great points of advice. So let's hop into our Q&A here. I know we have lots and lots of questions that people are asking. So first, Kim this one's for you. Allie has a question about the dams. They said "How is a dam helpful?" >>Kim: So I think there's, you know, kind of many different reasons. It can be used
to control flooding, um you know, back in probably the 1900s they were built to, you know, for mills to make flour. They were built to do energy. A lot of kind of different resources that now we have more modern technology to create or make and so a lot of the dams that people are kind of, you know, trying to research about removing is because they're kind of inoperable or they're just, you know, kind of decaying at this point but at one time they did have a purpose. >>Shelby: So at one time they were helpful but now we, as we have done more research, and research like what you're doing, you found out that maybe they weren't as helpful as they once were and need to be changed or removed. That makes a lot of sense. Um, our next question is from Olivia. So Sarah, they're asking when you're tracking the whales where are you seeing them going? Well, it depends upon the species but for baleen whales they tend to feed in high latitudes so for example in the Gulf of Maine or Bay of Fundy there's really cold nutrient rich water in the northern latitudes, so they feed there and they move South to calving areas in more tropical waters such as off of um, for right whales off of Florida or for humpback whales off of Cape Verde Islands and in the Caribbean, so basically tropical water. So they're moving from cold waters down to warm waters to to feed and to calf. >>Shelby: Awesome. That's really cool and it's also
neat that it depends on the species where they're going. They're not all going to the same place. So our next question is really good. It's from Sophie. Kim, what happens when birds eat tagged herring? Can they get... can they poop the tag out? >>Kim: Essentially, yes. Um, there is a company that has created tags that actually have the tag number changes if the animal has been digested, which is super cool. We unfortunately have not had the funds to purchase such a tag but there definitely are different tags out there that you can kind of track the predators as well as the prey, but essentially if our tag is lost it's just kind of a part of doing research. >>Shelby: Okay, and if a predator eats
the fish that's been tagged, does that tracker hurt the predator in any way? >>Kim: Nope. Uh, they're all coated with kind of a special coating that it just it kind of doesn't even know that it's there. >>Shelby: Okay, awesome. So Braylon has a question for you Kim, as well. They want to know "What is your favorite sea animal to study?" >>Kim: Ooh, that is a good question. Um, I did really enjoy tracking the cownose rays.
It was really fun to kind of see their migrations, you know, all the way down to Florida every single year and then all the way back into, you know, kind of the river that we tagged them in so that was, that was a lot of fun. >>Shelby: Yeah, they're super cute, too so that would be really fun to be able to work with such a fun and cute animal. >>Kim: Yes, they have a nice smile. >>Shelby: They do. So we have a question here from Alex and Andrew. They... Sarah, they want to know if you've ever worked with vaquitas. >>Sarah: I have actually. Um, there was uh, there's only a few... so vaquita are basically a very small porpoise that live in um, a very small location in Baja, Mexico and um there's, I think there's less than uh 12 animals thought to live currently. The major problem is um fishing, them being entangled or bycaught
in fishing gear and so um in order to try to preserve the species there was attempts to um capture a few um and to keep them in captivity because there were so few animals there. They are projected to to go extinct, and so during that capture one of the animals actually died and so we... I was part of a team that went down and did necropsies, so similar to a human autopsy, to kind of figure out more about that animal and um collected some samples as well. >>Shelby: So even when an animal maybe dies for different reasons, you're able to
still get a lot of information from them and use the science to see how you can help preserve the species moving forward. So that's really, a really important part of marine science. Um, you mentioned the whales getting entangled in fishing gear you also mentioned vaquita porpoises potentially getting entangled. Do you have any tips, uh for ways people could help reduce these entanglements or things that they could do every day that might help out the whales and even river herring? >>Sarah: Sure, so it's a really complex problem. Um, you know, people love seafood so, you know,
people are catching fish who um, you know, feed mostly humans. Um, there's other other uses as well. Um, there's some new technology that's being explored now and um, they're going through various experimental trials now but there's a technology called "ropeless fishing gear" and so basically instead of lots of line in the water that the whales could then become entangled in, um instead they don't use ropes and so basically they're mounted on the sea floor and then when the fisherman wants to retrieve that gear basically they send a sound into the water and a balloon basically fills with air and brings that trap to the surface. Another thing that people could do is just, there's something called sustainable seafood and there's various initiatives to try to identify which types of fish are harvested more sustainably and so you can check out various, basically ranks of fish that are more sustainable than others and choose that fish when you go to the seafood store or restaurant so that you're making more sustainable seafood choices. >>Shelby: That's great. I know for myself I like to use the Monterey Bay Aquarium seafood watch tracker. It's an app that you can download on your phone and just like Sarah was saying it can tell you which fish are good choices versus bad choices so that we can go and have a more sustainable choice at a restaurant or when you're cooking at home. So Kim, do you have any tips or tricks for people that are trying to help protect habitats for river herring or things that they could do at home? >>Kim: Yeah, I think, you know, there's a lot of things you can do and I think one of them is just, you know, that, you know, recycle um, you know, recycling, you know, not throwing your trash, you know, into the streams and polluting the water which then also, you know, blocks up the fish ladders.
If, you know, if there's a lot of trash in a fish ladder then the water can't get through the ladder and the fish could not get up it if they were trying to use it um so just, you know, recycling and being mindful of your use of plastic. >>Shelby: Those are all great ideas. Thank you both so much. We have a bunch more questions here. Olivia is asking "What degrees do you need to be a marine biologist?" Uh, Sarah, would you like to answer that one? >>Sarah: Sure, so you can um, you know, while in high school like later in high school or um early on in your undergraduate degree you can seek out experience opportunities so you don't even necessarily need to wait to go to college to get experience in the field. It definitely really helps to have um, you know, like a bachelor's um and then that allows you to get this... a general understanding of um the various sciences and what you would like to pursue. Um, I have my masters and I'm going for my PhD, so even though it's a lot of time,
a dedication of time and money to be able to um fund that um it's not necessary but it can make um, you know, higher paying positions and you to be able to select um, you know, different specific uh projects or positions of interest a little bit easier, but sometimes having higher degrees can also overqualify you for certain positions so it really depends upon what you are interested in and again getting experience in the field. You can, you know, chat with people to see um, that you're working with to see what they have and what works best in the field that you want to pursue. >>Shelby: Yeah, and like you said earlier too, you know, getting out there. Trying different things.
I mean, just being out in nature in general and observing and learning that way are really great ways to get started on a career to be a marine biologist or just an environmental scientist. Kim, we've got lots of questions for you. One question is "Do you ever catch fish in the dark?" >>Kim: Um we do not work too much in the dark, but the technologies that we use to track fish and watch fish certainly run in the dark. Like we have a sonar unit that, you know, runs 24 hours
a day and that can video fish at night. When we are kind of in bed sleeping it's there working for us and watching the fish move upstream. >>Shelby: That's really cool. You're using sonar technology. That's so wild to track these fish. Another question is "Have you ever worked with piranhas?" >>Kim: I have not, but that that would be an adventure. >>Shelby: That would be such an adventure. Are there any other species that you're excited to track one day?
>>Kim: That's a good question. I, you know, we've tracked a lot of things so it's, you know, interesting, you know watching where those things have gone. Um, there's some, you know, other work that we started doing with striped bass in the Chesapeake Bay. Um, juveniles whereas a lot of other people have tracked adults but we're looking at the younger ones. Some invasive species would be interesting to work with to see how they're moving and distributing themselves in a system that you might not have known prior to putting tags in them and being able to follow them.
>>Shelby: Yeah, that sounds like it will be super interesting work that you'll get to do in the future, hopefully. So we're starting to run down on time here, but Ivy has a question. "What are some challenges you have had as a woman in this kind of profession?" Kim, would you like to answer that? >>Kim: Sure. Um, you know, as a woman when you're kind of working in a male centric field finding
field gear... field gear to wear. As a plus sized woman I find it even harder to find things. You know, I don't fit into a square box that people deem, you know, people figure okay, well this is what the person should look like, so here we're going to build all these clothes to fit this ideal body but so that... that has certain... that can certainly be a challenge. >>Shelby: I didn't even think about that, you know, just certain field gear or stuff that traditionally maybe were made for men. It can be kind of difficult as a woman with different body types. Sarah, what about yourself? Have you had any challenges as a woman in this kind of profession? >>Sarah: It's kind of hard to say in comparison, you know, because I am a woman um and I haven't had to experience it in a different way but I don't feel that I've had, um... there's a lot of, particularly for marine mammal work, there's a lot of females in my field and so um I just, you know, I throughout my career I've just had, you know, immersed with other women and um alongside other women so I can't say I've had um, not many challenges, you know, stand out directly as, you know, a woman in the field. >>Shelby: Right, and I think it's so great that more and more we're seeing more and more women come into the field. I had some really fantastic role models um for myself when
I was going through my scholastic career so uh, things are just getting better and better the more of us there are, that we can support each other and help out. We have a few more questions here. People want to know "What is your favorite thing that you do for work?" Kim, how about you take this. >>Kim: Uh it's definitely the field work side of it. Um, you know, actually being out and collecting the fish and then tagging them is a lot of fun. You know, it's a little less fun doing some of the
mundane lab work but the field work is definitely the best part. >>Shelby: Yeah, that's one of my favorite parts as well. Um, Isa has a question for you as well, Kim. They want to know, "Ms. Kim, have you ever worked with women environmental engineers?" >>Kim: I personally have not. There's definitely, I mean I could definitely see that being a thing. I'm sure that when, you know, different scientists
are collaborating with engineers about removing dams and things like that, that I would hope that if there's not that... someday, you know, those positions, you know, it's a woman that they're collaborating with and you figure out the best way to, you know, make that happen but I personally have not. >>Shelby: Yeah, and we have another question here. Sarah, do whales migrate in groups? >>Sarah: Some do um and others uh migrate as single animals. Um for example gray whales on the West coast
um as they're migrating South you'll see a lot of single animals, but as they migrate back North they'll have calves with them so technically they would be considered groups so you might have, they can basically do both. >>Shelby: Interesting, and our last question here, people want to know "Is your job fun?" >>Kim: Absolutely! >>Sarah: Absolutely. I love the field work, flying planes, and on boats and seeing species that spend most of their time under water is a really amazing opportunity, so yes. >>Shelby: Well thank you so much to Kim and Sarah for joining us here on Women on the Move! Do you guys have any final words for our viewers today? >>Sarah: I'd say it's a privilege to be able to share our experience with aspiring young students and pursue your passion and um it's really great to be able to share this with um with future generations because you all will be the ones um that are that will be making a difference in the future. >>Kim: It was great chatting with you all today and as Sarah said just follow your passion and do what makes you happy.
>>Shelby: Awesome. Thank you guys so much and thank you all for joining us today and we hope you'll join us for our next installment of Women on the Move this Wednesday from 1 to 2 p.m. On Wednesday, we will be celebrating what it takes to track shorebirds with Dr. Autumn-Lynn Harrison from the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center. We encourage and welcome you to post about this
program on social media. Please tag us at these handles and use our hashtag #BecauseOfHerStory. We'd love your feedback on today's program. You'll see a survey pop up when we close the webinar. Educators, please take a few minutes to fill this out. Be sure to also check out our Smithsonian Learning Lab collection where we will have super cool activities like designing your own tracker to continue the fun and the learning.
On behalf of the Smithsonian's American Women's History Initiative, National Zoological Park and Conservation Biology Institute, Environmental Research