Category Archives: PhD Life

SMM 2017 Conference Presentation

I’m now safely home after attending the Society for Marine Mammalogy’s biennial conference in Halifax, Nova Scotia.  It was an amazing eight days of conference talks and workshops, interspersed with plenty of networking.  As well as meeting lots of interesting new people, it was particularly wonderful to catch up with so many old friends.  Totally worth the 35hrs of one-way travel and 12hr time difference jetlag!

I’m currently preparing a detailed conference report for the Journal of Animal Ecology’s blog, but in the meantime I wanted to make my conference presentation available online.  To download a PDF version, click here.  The full abstract is provided below.  Feedback welcome!

SMM 2017 - Sarah Marley

Acoustic habitats and behavioural responses of bottlenose dolphins in Western Australia

Marley, S.A., Salgado Kent, C.P., Erbe, C., Parnum, I.M. and Parsons, M.J.G.

As human activities continue to expand across the marine environment, anthropogenic ocean noise is also rapidly increasing.  This is of concern to acoustically-specialised species, particularly those displaying a high degree of habitat overlap with anthropogenic activities, such as bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops sp.).  There is a need to describe the soundscape of coastal dolphin habitats and examine how prominent anthropogenic noise sources may impact these animals.  The Swan River in Western Australia flows through the state capital of Perth, containing over 1.4 million people, and consequently experiences a range of anthropogenic activities.  However, the river is also extensively used by a resident community of Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (T. aduncus).  Autonomous underwater acoustic recorders were used to collect data throughout the Swan River, which were analysed via weekly spectrograms, power spectrum density percentile plots, octave-band levels, broadband noise levels, and generalised estimating equations.  Land-based theodolite tracking at two sites provided information on vessel traffic and dolphin behaviour, which were assessed using generalised additive models and Markov chains.  Acoustic datasets collected from 2005 to 2015 indicated that the Swan River was comprised of multiple acoustic habitats, each with its own characteristic soundscape and temporal patterns in underwater noise.  The ‘noisiest’ site from an anthropogenic perspective and in relation to dolphin communications was the Fremantle Inner Harbour (mean broadband noise level: 106 dB re 1 µPa rms [10 Hz – 11 kHz]).  Theodolite tracking at this site found that dolphins remained present during periods of high vessel traffic.  However, behavioural observations indicated significant alterations to dolphin movement speeds and activity states at high vessel densities.  Furthermore, whistle characteristics varied in conditions of high broadband noise.  This work suggests that dolphins maintain occupancy at key foraging sites within the Swan River despite the presence of vessels, but alter their behaviour in periods of high vessel traffic.

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New paper: Behavioural and acoustical responses of dolphins to vessel traffic and noise

Last night, my sixth (and final) PhD paper was published in the journal Scientific Reports!

In earlier papers, I established that the Swan River is a pretty noisy place.  One of the noisiest sites from an anthropogenic perspective is the Fremantle Inner Harbour, which experiences high levels of vessel traffic.  However, during my initial visual observations I discovered that dolphins continued using the harbour, even though it was a busy noisy environment.  So in this latest paper, I searched for evidence of dolphins responding to boats and noise at a subtler scale.

To do this, I used a combination of visual and acoustic monitoring techniques.  I found that dolphins significantly increased their movement speeds when vessel traffic occurred at high levels.  Similarly, dolphins also changed their behavioural budgets at high vessel densities, spending more time travelling and less time resting or socialising.

I monitored dolphin movement speeds and behaviours, to see how these changed as vessel traffic increased

I also looked for acoustic responses, by measuring nine characteristics to describe the shape and frequencies of dolphin whistles in different noise scenarios.  I found that all nine of these characteristics varied with increasing levels of broadband noise, and that the response was particularly strong for low-frequency noise.

I used nine characteristics to describe dolphin whistles

I’ve spoken before about the importance of scientific publishing, in terms of career brownie points for researchers.  So I’m pretty chuffed to have completed publishing my PhD!  To view the full list of papers from this and other projects, check out my Publications page.  Now to deal with all the ‘leftover’ PhD data that I collected, but didn’t get around to including!

Introducing Dr Marley!

Last week, I received official notification that my PhD was conferred!  In normal-speak, this means that Curtin University has fully accepted my PhD and that I can now use my new title!

In a nice coincidence, that same day my printed and bound thesis copies were ready for collection.  So I had the double pleasure of holding my academic babies AND referring to myself as Dr Sarah Marley!

In that moment, all I could remember were the highlights and golden times.  The amazing experiences, friends and discoveries that happened along the way.  The opportunity to do something novel and exciting.  I was reminded of how happy I was to start my PhD, giving my top three reasons for doing so to be curiosity, love of research, and enjoyment of being challenged.  And although the end of the PhD was certainly challenging, when I was holding the final, finished project as an official Dr of Dolphins, all I could think was:

Totally. Worth. It.

Ph-inishe-D: PhD Submitted!

The sun is shining, the sky is brighter, the birds are singing…

Since I submitted my PhD for examination, the world has become a happier place.

I actually submitted just over five weeks ago, but only now am I really starting to feel human again.  Part of the reason for this was that submission took place two weeks after I finished writing the thesis, thanks to an unforeseen administrative error.  This resulted in me turning up at uni, support squad in tow, and being told that I wasn’t allowed to submit.  Hello world crashing down…  But t went in, eventually.

PhD submission day, complete with support crew and toy dolphins! (Note, this was taken prior to submission debacle - hence manic expression of relief on my face)

PhD submission day, complete with support crew and toy dolphins!  (Note, this was taken prior to submission debacle, hence manic expression of relief on my face)

The other reason for my vacant expression of the past few weeks is that completing a PhD is exhausting.

I’ve seen my fiance finish his PhD.  I’ve seen some of my best friends finish their PhDs.  I’ve seen my officemates finish their PhDs.  I thought I had a pretty good idea of what to expect.  But it’s a unique experience, individually tailored, and nothing can really prepare you for The End.  I still can’t particularly face writing about it now (why burst this happiness bubble?), but one day I’ll explain the whole thing in detail.  Probably after I’ve dealt with the eventual examiner comments.

So now for my long-awaited period of rest and relaxation!  Well, not quite…

I’ve spent the past six weeks on a Publication Scholarship, which essentially means the uni has been paying me to turn my thesis chapters into scientific publications.  One is submitted, another two should sneak in this week, and the final paper is due for submission in April.  Around this, I have also been working on grant applications, giving presentations, submitting conference abstracts, preparing for a trip to Europe, and attending a surprising number of meetings.  The last has actually been the most daunting – after several months of PhD lockdown, limited social interaction and working from home, it’s weird having to converse with dozens of people at once.  This combined with the ‘mushy brain syndrome‘ typical of recently-submitted PhD students has left me with a strong need to lie down in a dark room after meetings.  But I’m slowly improving.  And as much as I love my PhD project (no, I didn’t end up hating it!), it is actually quite nice to work on other things and bounce between different research projects.

Now I just need to keep my fingers crossed for some successful grant applications so this research can continue…

Conference Attendance – Aquatic Noise 2016

Last month I had the privilege of flying to Dublin to attend this year’s “Effects of Noise on Aquatic Life” conference, also known as Aquatic Noise 2016.  Not only was I able to present the first two chapters of my PhD thesis, but I was able to contribute to the conference itself as part of the Media Committee.

Members of CMST attending the Aquatic Noise 2016 Conference in Dublin

Members of CMST attending the Aquatic Noise 2016 Conference in Dublin

Over 300 people from 23 countries attended the week-long conference, including representatives from universities, government research institutions, fisheries, and industry groups.  Talks were given regarding a variety of acoustic topics, including descriptions of noise sources, sound propagation analyses, and the responses of numerous animal species.  Conference attendees also included ten members of my lab, the Centre for Marine Science and Technology (CMST).  It was great to head overseas as a team, presenting our research to an international audience!

Poster PicMy talk was part of the student speed sessions – five minutes to describe our research and findings, followed by an evening poster session where we had the chance to answer questions, engage in discussions, and network.  I feel the talk went well, despite my nerves.  I’m much more used to interactive presentations involving members of the public than presenting to seasoned professional scientists.  But even without any audience participation, dramatic displays or unexpected explosions, I think I did alright!  You can view my poster by clicking here:  Marley AN2016 Poster.

Marley Dolphin Presentation AN2016

Being on the Media Committee meant I was part of a team responsible for promoting the conference, particularly our public evening.  This was attended by over 70 members of the public, who had an evening of lectures and short videos (more about this in my next post!).  I was also involved in live-tweeting the conference.  This was a way of extending the conference reach to the masses, scientists or otherwise, by posting summaries of each talk on Twitter under the conference hashtag.  I’ve now summarised each day of talks as a separate story using a combination of Tweets from myself and other conference attendees, which are available for anyone to read using the links below:

https://storify.com/sarahmarley86/aquatic-noise-2016-day-1

https://storify.com/sarahmarley86/an2016-effects-of-noise-on-behaviour-and-physiolog

https://storify.com/sarahmarley86/aquatic-noise-2016-day-3

https://storify.com/sarahmarley86/aquatic-noise-2016-day-4

https://storify.com/sarahmarley86/aquatic-noise-2016-day-5

Guest Blogger for University of St Andrews

A few weeks ago, I was chatting with Sonja Heinrich, the coordinator of the Masters program I undertook at the University of St Andrews.  She was really interested to hear of my science communication experiences, and invited me to write a guest blog post for the Masters website about winning the 3-Minute-Thesis (3MT) competition.

Field Trip to the Isle of Mull (April 2009)

Field Trip to the Isle of Mull (April 2009)

The guest post itself is up on the St Andrews Postgraduate blog.  But I thought this would also be a good opportunity to talk about my experience on the Masters.

I studied Marine Mammal Science at the University of St Andrews from 2008-09.  It was one of the most amazing years of my life.  I attended the oldest university (and one of the most prestigious) in Scotland, made a fabulous bunch of new friends, and met my amazing partner Phil.  We watched fascinating lectures and participated in interesting labs, both taught by leaders in this field.  We sailed the West Coast of Scotland, looking for whales and dolphins.  We scrambled down cliffs, conducting population surveys of seals (which led to a near-death experience, but that’s a whole other story).  We assisted in the necropsy of a stranded porpoise (seven years later, I can still vividly remember the smell…).

My thesis project led to it’s own collection of exciting tales (locked in a forest and rescued by gypsies; hiding in the sand dunes from a gun-man; trapped in a hut by highland cattle – to name but a few!).  But it also taught me how to organise fieldwork, developed my analysis and scientific writing skills, and gave me a real taste of independent research.  There’s no question that I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for this course.

Saying goodbye to my Masters field site

Saying goodbye to my Masters field site

Masters Marine Mammal Science - Class of 2008-09

Masters Marine Mammal Science – Class of 2008-09

When I began, the Masters was only in it’s second year of existence.  Applications have now closed for the 10th year of the Masters in Marine Mammal Science!  Graduates have gone on to study PhDs, advance to post-doctorate research, or take up leading positions in government organisations.  They have dispersed all over the world, creating an amazing network of alumni.

Even after moving to Australia, I have still worked on projects with Masters alumni (it’s funny who you meet in the middle of the sea…).  One of them lives 5mins down the road!  Marine mammal science is a small world, but a pretty great one to be a part of.

Congratulations Dr Phil!

It is my pleasure to introduce to you – Dr Philippe Jean-Francois Bouchet!!!

Dr Phil Bouchet and his primary supervisor, Prof Jessica Meeuwig at Phil's graduation ceremony

Dr Phil Bouchet and his primary supervisor, Prof Jessica Meeuwig at Phil’s graduation ceremony

Two weeks ago, Phil graduated from the University of Western Australia.  He also had the honour of delivering the Valedictory Address to close his graduation ceremony:

You can read more about his thesis, publication, and PhD highlights on a specially-dedicated blog post on the Meeuwig Lab website.

Needless to say, I could not be more proud 🙂

Dr Phil Bouchet and his extremely proud partner!

Dr Phil Bouchet and his extremely proud partner!

 

Perth Research Bazaar

Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of being one of 75 researchers selected to attend the inaugural Perth Research Bazaar.

Unix and Coffee

Coding? Just add coffee…

This three-day event offered researchers of all levels and disciplines an intensive introduction to some commonly-used programming software.  We were taught the basics of Unix, Python, R, GitHub, LaTeX, NVivo, and D3 from every-day users of these tools, who were all-too-happy to share their secret tips.  So despite my “imposter syndrome” feelings about coding, I had a really great time and left feeling more confident about programming than I believed possible.

One of my favourite things about #PerthResBaz was how the group interacted through Twitter.  On the first day alone, I think I spoke with more attendees over social media than I did in person!  It allowed us to network with other Perth researchers and provided the opportunity to share our knowledge of different research tools, whilst also keeping up a running commentary on proceedings for those unable to attend.

Given this, I’ve created a Storify summary using tweets from across the three days, broken down to reflect the different sessions and software utilised by the conference.

These events are spreading throughout the world.  This year Research Bazaars were held in Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney, Auckland, Wellington, Vancouver, Oklahoma and beyond!  So if you ever get the chance, I thoroughly recommend participating.  Better yet, why not bring it to your own institution?  See the main Research Bazaar website for more details.

If this sounds too big, how about hosting a regular Hacky Hour?  These casual meetings generally involve researchers meeting up at a bar or coffee shop to help trouble-shoot each others code.  So if you feel like you need help with your programming (that you could be of assistance to someone else!), look for a Hacky Hour near you!  For those of you in Perth, there is one at Curtin University – follow @CUHackyHour on Twitter for updates!

 

Full Disclosure

Sorry, this isn’t a post divulging all my anecdotes and secrets!  It’s a quick note to point you in the direction of a new page created on this site, titled “CV“.

Here you can find links to my various online profiles listing my work / research history.  Alternatively, you can check out the slightly longer versions by viewing my full CV and Curtin University student capability statement.

Happy browsing!

Roebuck Bay - Sarah on Teena B

Filming snubfin dolphins in Roebuck Bay (Photo:  Joshua Smith)

 

First PhD Chapter Published!

After months of graft, I’m extremely chuffed to announce that my first PhD chapter has now been published online!

Chapter 1 - Marley et al 2016

To view the full article, please visit the Springer website.  If you have any issues, please contact me.

One down, one draft on supervisor’s desk, and three more to go!