If someone had of said to me that I would be a cetologist one day, I wouldn’t have believed you. Four years ago, I didn’t even know what cetology was! For the benefit of complete understanding, here is the definition:
[ see-tol-uh-jee ]
the branch of zoology dealing with whales and dolphins.
I have always had a deep love for whales, dolphins and porpoises. I’m the girl that cries uncontrollably whenever she sees a whale swimming on television, and don’t get me started on how I crumble when I see cetaceans in the wild! But I never thought I would end up studying a local population of cetaceans and to be actively contributing to the science of a threatened species.
So how did it all start?
I was studying a FdSc Animal Science degree at university and to pass my second year, I had to complete a Personal Research Project. This project meant choosing a species (wild or captive) and formulating a method to answer a question. I knew I wanted to study a wild species. I wanted to conduct a project that would mean something; to actually contribute to science. I had been introduced to our local population of harbour porpoises a couple of years prior and immediately became obsessed with the fact that I could drive 20 minutes down the road and watch beautiful wild marine mammals.
After some conversations with my lecturers at the university, we decided I should study the porpoises.
I would study the harbour porpoise presence and behaviour in the waters off Berry Head and record how marine vessels were impacting their behaviour. To say that I was excited to do this would be an understatement. I knew it would be a challenge, but I felt an instant passion and enthusiasm for this project.
After agreeing the method and formulating the data collection forms, it was time to get to work! I conducted land-based surveys and clocked up 40 hours of observations over the summer of 2017. I recorded wild porpoise behaviours and logged hundreds of marine vessels.
The next step was to analyse the results, and this is where it got exciting! It turns out that I had some extremely interesting results. In fact, the project went so well and was of such a high quality that I had my findings published in the 2019 edition of the peer-reviewed journal ‘Ocean and Coastal Management’. In brief, it turns out that as numbers of marine vessels in the study area increase, the incidences of harbour porpoise presence and behaviours reduce. AKA: more boats, fewer porpoises. I also shared my research and some prestigious animal science conferences including the ASAB Easter Conference and the Mammal Society Student Conference.
That was it. I was hooked. I continued to study the harbour porpoises for my final year dissertation project and co-founded Operation Cetacean with my partner. Operation Cetacean is a project that we run in our free time, supported by several incredibly passionate volunteers. We continue the research I began in 2017 in the pursuit to gain as much understanding as possibly about the harbour porpoises that frequent the coast of Torbay. With this information we hope to better protect this species from anthropogenic threats. We run this project on pure passion and from our own wallets, and we collaborate with some amazing organizations such as The Seal Project.
We have started data collection again this month and have many projects in mind for the future. We have an ongoing dorsal fin identification project running in the background and soon will be joining the amazing Seal Project on boat surveys around Torbay. We give public talks and actively engage in educating the public about the importance of conserving the cetaceans in our local area. Additionally, we collect data on deceased cetaceans and report our findings to the appropriate authorities.
If you want to learn more about Operation Cetacean and our research, please explore the many platforms and resources we have on offer!
2018/19 Research Article