New Video: The Dolphin and the Sound

As you know, I’m fortunate enough to be sister to the amazing wildlife film-maker Lisa Marley.  I’ve written about her documentary on Scottish raptor poisonings here previously (and incidentally, this work is currently touring the film festivals – scroll to the end for details!).  But in June, we actually worked together on a short film project as part of the Aquatic Noise 2016 conference I attended in Dublin.

The conference held a public evening involving short lectures around the theme of underwater noise, and also invited submission of videos on this topic.  Lisa and I worked together to create a short film describing the effects of human noise on coastal dolphins, similar to the idea of my 3MT speech – but with much cooler visuals than just me standing on a stage!

I wonder if anyone recognises the locations involved in this production?  Suggestions on a postcard please…!

So now I have a professional video to highlight my research AND had the awesome experience of working on a creative project with my sister.  And all without a single sibling squabble to be seen!


“Red Sky on the Black Isle” lastest screenings:

  • Hebrides International Film Festival (on Lewis, Harris, Uist and Barra; UK):  14-17 September 2016
  • Aberdeen Film Festival (UK):  17 October 2016
  • Festival de Menigoute (France):  27 October 2016

Follow the film’s Facebook page for more updates!

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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.

Red Sky on the Black Isle

In 2014, 22 birds of prey including 16 red kites were found dead in one small area of the Black Isle in Scotland.  One year on, their story has not been forgotten.  Portrayed in a short film by wildlife film-maker Lisa Marley, Red Sky on the Black Isle uses a combination of interviews with locals, beautiful landscape shots, and bird close-ups to tell their tale.

I won’t go on to describe how amazing the film is (I’d much rather you watched it and saw for yourself!).  But being the proud sister, I will showcase some of the media attention Lisa has received as a result of her film.

These include a mix of film reviews and news items praising her handiwork, along with articles showing a renewed outcry from conservation groups demanding to know why this case has never been solved.  The film was also recently shown at an international scientific conference in Spain dedicated to red kite research and conservation.  It seems pretty safe to say that this film has ruffled a few feathers and stirred up some discussion – exactly what a good documentary is supposed to do 🙂

Red_Sky_Official_Poster
Those of you lucky enough to be in Edinburgh this week have the opportunity to view her film on the big screen!  The aptly (but coincidentally) named Raptor Filmz Short Scottish Film Festival aims to promote and encourage film making in and about Scotland.  It will be screening Red Sky on the Black Isle on 5th February 2016.  Check out the Raptor Filmz Facebook page for more information on location, schedule, and tickets.

For those of you who are unable to view attend, don’t worry – you can still find Lisa on Twitter and Vimeo to follow her work.

Watch This Space film magazine

http://www.watchthisspacefilmmagazine.co.uk/2015/10/28/red-sky-on-the-black-isle-2015/

Press and Journal newspaper

https://www.pressandjournal.co.uk/fp/news/highlands/732865/black-isle-raptor-deaths-back-in-the-spotlight-in-new-short-film/

Evening Express newspaper

http://www.pressreader.com/uk/the-press-and-journal-aberdeenshire/20151026

Red Kite II International Symposium 2015

http://redkitesymposium2015.com/program/

Raptor Persecution Scotland website

https://raptorpersecutionscotland.wordpress.com/2015/10/22/red-sky-on-the-black-isle-new-film-on-the-ross-shire-massacre/

Raptor Politics website

http://raptorpolitics.org.uk/2015/10/23/the-red-sky-on-the-black-isle-new-film-about-the-poisoning-of-16-red-kites-and-several-buzzards-in-2014/

 

Famous Last Words

FameLab Australia Final

MC Robyn Williams revs up the crowd at the FameLab Australia Final 2015 (Photo: OK White Lane)

My last post spoke of my experience competing in the WA State Heat of FameLab.  Although I was delighted to be voted the Peoples Choice by audience vote, unfortunately only the winner and runner-up of each state heat progress to the National Final.

Or so I thought…

But a couple of weeks after the State Heat, I received a phonecall from FameLab Australia organiser Chris Hodge, inviting me back to present again as the British Council Wildcard entrant.  So I made it to the Final by a fluke!

Sussing out the Competition

The FameLab Australia Final involved entrants from New South Wales, Victoria, ACT, Queensland and Western Australia.  A mix of PhD students, post-docs, and scientists-with-real-jobs we covered a range of subjects from coughing guinea pigs to spider behaviour, gut bacteria to brain function, biofuel to artificial intelligence.  A mysterious group of people at the best of times, especially when most of us had never met before!

I had the chance to suss out one of the competitors, David Farmer, on a radio interview with ABC Melbourne presenter Lindy Burns.  Ironically, when discussing the Australian competition, the station had managed to select two Scottish people to interview.  So this combined with dolphins, lasers and squishy brains made for some great banter in a pretty unique interview!

With competitors like that, it was obviously going to be some stiff competition…

Love and Science

Media trainer Malcolm Love (far left) with some of the FameLab Australia 2015 finalists

Media trainer Malcolm Love (far left) with some of the FameLab Australia 2015 finalists (Photo:  OK White Lane)

The lead-up to the National Final included two days of media training with science communication guru Malcolm Love.  Chief Trainer of FameLab International, Malcolm was originally a freelance journalist in South America before working for the BBC as a producer on features and documentaries for over 20 years.  He is now a specialist in the public engagement of science, giving lectures on the subject at the University of West England and providing training for a range of science-stakeholders, as well as hosting his own weekly radio show “Love and Science“.  So this guy knows what he’s talking about.

In the training, we covered a variety of topics including body language, story-telling and interview tips.  But one of the best things about it was interacting with people who love science communication.  Many scientists still hold onto a fear of presenting to the public, and worry about “dumbing down” their research or coming across as boring.  But all the participants were obviously people who were passionate about their research, and it is hard not to get swept up in that kind of enthusiasm!  So it was an awesome two days of being a science geek with other science geeks and discussing how to turn other people into science geeks too!

The Final

Nothing like a bad dolphin joke to kick-start your presentation...  (Photo:  OK White Lane)

Nothing like a bad dolphin joke to kick-start your presentation… (Photo: OK White Lane)

A sell-out event with over 200 people in attendance, the final was a bit more nerve-wracking than the state heat.  But I always tell presenters that you just have to try changing the nervous energy into excited energy, so when I stepped up to the spotlight I tried to remember my own advice.  Unfortunately, I still felt my performance lacked the right mix of enthusiasm – even as I was speaking, I knew it sounded over-rehersed.  So although the crowd laughed in the right spots and seemed keen, I knew it wouldn’t be a winning presentation.  But that’s okay – there will be others!

Science is a serious business - need to work on that intense expression!  (Photo:  Ok White Lane)

Science is a serious business – need to work on that intense expression! (Photo: Ok White Lane)

The overall winner of FameLab Australia 2015 was Dr Sandip Kamath, with Dr David Farmer coming a close second.  Sandip is studying shellfish allergies at James Cook University, and spoke of his ambition to help people overcome these reactions – with the help of Mr Pinchy the lobster, his side-kick slash prop.  David moved away from squishy brains and lasers to give a fascinating description of his research at the Florey Institute of Neuroscience, investigating the cough reflex and brainstem function.  To see photos from the night, check out the British Council Flickr Page.

And, of course, we all had fun celebrating at the FameLab after-party!  The official function was in the WA Maritime Museum, with some speeches and lots of well-wishers…  But the scientists and British Council crew headed out into Fremantle to celebrate afterwards!  After all, we’re twelve of the top young science communicators in the country!

So now, as Sandip flies to the UK to compete in the FameLab International Final at the Cheltenham Science Festival, for the rest of us it is back down to Earth.  I’m back in a world of fieldwork, marking student assignments, and desperately trying to finish the first scientific paper of my PhD.  I can see all my new sci comm pals talking about the same reality bump on Twitter.  But to be honest, getting back to research is quite exciting enough… for now!

Intro to Underwater Acoustics: Two dolphins walk into a bar…

One of the things many scientists find challenging is how to explain their research in an interesting manner.

It’s one thing preparing your research for academic publications – there is a recognised structure to follow, certain items to always include, and feedback from co-authors and reviewers to improve your writing.  But presenting that same information to the general public is a whole other ball game.  How do you keep a class of undergraduates interested for a whole 2hr lecture on underwater acoustics?  How do you encourage community volunteers to develop scientific thinking skills?  How do you explain your research to media personnel in a way that makes it exciting and worth sharing?

These are problems that I find really interesting.  Obviously traditional science communication (academic publications and presenting at scientific conferences) is important.  But I’ve spoken before of the importance of also becoming a virtual scientist, and learning new science communication techniques to promote your research.  So I was pretty chuffed last week to find myself at a day-long workshop on “Science Communication and Presentation Skills” as part of FameLab Australia.

Bringing Science into the Spotlight

Taking the Stage at FameLab Australia WA Competition

Taking the Stage at FameLab Australia WA Competition to discuss underwater acoustics

FameLab is one of the world’s leading science communication competitions.  It aims to get people “talking science” by mentoring young scientists and engineers to turn them into awesome communicators.  Similar to the 3-Minute-Thesis Competition (3MT), speakers are given only 3mins to explain their area of research – no powerpoint, no labcoats, no jargon!  Organised by the British Council, there are over 45 countries participating in the event, having their own national finals to determine their competitors for the final FameLab International Competition in the UK.

I was encouraged by Curtin University to enter, so went along last Thursday to the workshop, which culminated in the WA State Finals that evening.  The workshop was held by three local science communicators – Emma Donnelly (Science Outreach Coordinator; Curtin University), Sarah Lau (Communication Managed; ChemCentre), and Renae Sayers (Theatre and Events Coordinator; Scitech).  We spent an amazing day bouncing around between flaming hands, personal brands, communication platforms, and vocal toolboxes.  It was like a step back into my former Science Presenter life…  If I could find a way to incorporate explosions, liquid nitrogen, and / or flaming limbs into my dolphin presentations, I would be complete!

Like Taking a Keyboard from a Baby

For my talk, I really wanted to get people thinking about underwater soundscapes.  To do this, I wanted to use an example that people could relate to – and since I knew my audience would majorly consist of young to middle-aged adults, I figured comparing the underwater environment to a bar would be a pretty nifty metaphor! Almost everyone in the audience had probably experienced the masking effects of background noise in a pub at some point, so it nicely familiarised the problem faced by dolphins.

How do a keyboard and a martini glass explain underwater noise?

How do a keyboard and a martini glass explain underwater noise?

But how to illustrate this on stage?  FameLab requires the use of a prop, which I struggled with for a while.  I got a friend to record some bar sounds from his weekend exploits, but playing them on stage quickly became a logistical pain.  The rules didn’t allow me to use the FameLab sound system, and bringing my own wasn’t feasible.

But a brainwave on the treadmill (I often problem-solve whilst walking) reminded me of the last time I was babysitting.  Owen wandered over to the electric keyboard, switched it on, and pressed the ‘random filler’ option to churn out some beats before dancing around in circles for ten minutes.

Random cheesy filler music would make a great bar-sounds alternative – loud enough to make the point, whilst being tacky enough to be funny.  Win!

Two Dolphins Walk into a Bar…

The resultant talk wasn’t filmed as part of FameLab, but Phil managed to catch the talk on his phone.  The volume is a bit low, but still gives a pretty good video of my performance!

"Tursiops Wins Again!" - Lyn Beazley presents me as the FameLab WA People's Choice winner

“Tursiops Wins Again!” – Lyn Beazley presents me as the FameLab WA People’s Choice winner

I was delighted to be awarded People’s Choice by audience vote, but unfortunately I didn’t make it through to the Australian Finals.  The judges consoled me afterwards by saying that it was my lack of results rather than my performance which hindered my progression to the next round, and strongly encouraged me to come back next year.  Although, as a friend kindly pointed out, it means I got the votes of 200 audience members as opposed to 3 judges!

Regardless, I still enjoyed the whole experience!  I always enjoy the chance to talk about dolphins and get people excited in science!  And it was a wonderful opportunity to meet some fellow science enthusiasts whilst flexing my science communication skills.  Plus applause isn’t something you get often in research, so that was pretty appreciated!

A massive congrats go to Amber Beavis (WA Museum) and David Gozzard (UWA) who were the winner and runner-up for the WA competition.  I can’t wait to see you guys at the Australian final down at Fremantle in May!

Any More Talks?

But looking at the birthday card I got from the department this week, perhaps I should be focusing more on my research for a while – I appear to be getting a bit of a reputation 😛

Sarah's Birthday Card 2015

And the winner of the 3-Minute-Thesis competition is…

3MT Trans-Tasman Competition 2014 Sarah Marley and Rosanna Stevens

3MT Trans-Tasman 2014 Sarah Marley and Rosanna Stevens

…  Sarah Marley from Curtin University

When I heard those words, my heart stopped.  I did the “shocked-actress-wins-award” face.  I hugged my friends sitting on either side.  I repeatedly gasped “oh my goodness“.  I may have even made a rather embarrassing Oscar-worthy acceptance speech.  Now over a week later and I am still riding the high 🙂

View the talk below:

Now let’s back up a bit.

The 3-Minute-Thesis (3MT) competition was developed by the University of Queensland back in 2008.  It was intended to be an exercise in communication for graduate students, giving them just three minutes to explain their PhD to a generalist audience.  Since then, the competition has expanded to universities around the world.

I’ve known about this competition for a couple of years now, after seeing various friends compete to present their own PhD at other universities.  I couldn’t wait to become a student myself and give it a go!  So when Curtin University emailed around to announce that registration was open for the 2014 competition I immediately sat down, wrote my talk in 20mins, and started practicing!

The Curtin heats were a couple of months ago, where I surprised myself by not only making it through to the Curtin Final top ten but also by winning my heat.  “A great start,” I thought.  “Now back to fieldwork!” as I prepared for the second trip up to the Kimberleys.  A few weeks later, I made the special one-night-only trip back from Broome to Perth for the Curtin Final, and won both the Final and the People’s Choice award!  Certainly justified the trip down!

All the competitors from the 3MT Trans-Tasman 2014 competition at UWA

All the competitors from the 3MT Trans-Tasman 2014 competition at UWA

But the Trans-Tasman Competition was the hardest yet.  I was competing with winners, so you can imagine that the standard of talks was extremely high!  Most amazing of all was the team spirit – everyone was so nice to each other!  After every presentation, the speaker would return to the “green room” amid cheers and high fives from their opposition 🙂  It was a great vibe!

Then it was time to give my talk…

Not a stutter in sight!  Quite different to a couple of years ago...

Not a stutter in sight! Quite different to 4 yrs ago…

As I stepped on stage, I felt such a buzz.  I love the work that I do, and the opportunity to talk about it always gets me excited!  Quite a far cry from four years ago, when I could barely give a short talk to a group of friends without blushing and stuttering my way through the presentation.  So I felt a certain glow of accomplishment at having enjoyed something that just a few years would have terrified me!

From a happy glow to radiating surprise, I was ecstatic to be chosen as winner of the 3MT – but the whole experience was a delight!  From the thrill of presenting to the team spirit backstage to the happiness of making new friends, the whole 3MT journey has been a blast.  If you ever have the opportunity to take part I would thoroughly encourage you to do so!  Even if you’re not confident of your presenting skills, just ask yourself – when will you get a better opportunity to try?

But work on your potential acceptance speech beforehand, and practice your photo face:

Me laughing manically as I receive my giant novelty cheque from sponsor James Mercer.  Sorry James...

Me laughing manically as I receive my giant novelty cheque from sponsor James Mercer. Sorry James…

Now all that is left is for me to thank my partner, my friends, my family, my university, the organisers, the sponsors, the judges, the competitors, the audience, the backstage staff, my high school science teacher, my pets…

Listening to the Sound of Success!

Two different projects came to fruition last week, neatly coming in time for my birthday!  Not so sure about the ageing part, but it was definitely good timing on the research outcomes!

From listening for dolphins…

Earlier this month I spent a morning out on the river with the ‘Destination WA‘ TV crew, filming a short segment about the Swan River dolphins.  We spent a lovely few hours out on the Swan River Trust boat Kwilana (Noongar for ‘dolphin’) whilst the team did interviews with myself, Delphine Chabanne (Murdoch University), Marnie Giroud (SRT), and Jennie Hunt (Dolphin Watch).

It was really interesting to see ‘behind the scenes’ for the filming process, especially given the great camaraderie of the TV crew!

… to interpreting blue whales!

Non-song vocalisations of pygmy blue whalesAnother project success last week was finding out that our paper “Non-song vocalizations of pygmy blue whales in Geographe Bay, Western Australia ” had been published online by the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America!  This study used simultaneous land-based visual observations and underwater acoustic recordings to examine the communication of pygmy blue whales.

These animals are famed for their songs, made up of repeated patterns of notes.  But in this study, we focused on the non-song sounds produced by pygmy blue whales and found six different vocalisations – five of which had never been described for this population before!  Hopefully this will help inform passive-acoustic monitoring for the species.

And as for ‘Older and Wiser’?

Well, that remains to be seen!  But entering 28 as a PhD Student, TV Star, and three-times Published Scientific Author isn’t a bad way to start 😉

Event: Come say hello at Fremantle Maritime Day!

Maritime DayThis Saturday, Fremantle Port is hosting the Maritime Day Expo down at Victoria Quay in Fremantle.  And yours truly will be there helping out at the Coastal and Estuarine Dolphin Project (CEDP) stall!  So come down, have a chat, and check out our Fin-Matching and What’s that Sound? games, research progress, and general dolphin info!

There will also be free harbour boat rides, a Svitzer tug on show, the guided missile frigate HMAS Sydney open for visiting, a Navy vs Port cook-off, kids activities, live bands and other entertainment on offer.  The CEDP stall will be down in B Shed, along with over 40 other maritime displays and career stalls.  For the full program of what’s on, click here.

The event itself is open to the public from 10am – 4pm, and my stall shift is from 12-2pm.  So come say hello 🙂

Our supercool "Listening to Dolphins" poster for the Maritime Day Expo in Fremantle

Our supercool “Listening to Dolphins” poster for the Maritime Day Expo in Fremantle

The Importance of Attending Conferences

In December 2013, the Society for Marine Mammalogy will be holding its biennial conference on the biology of marine mammals in Dunedin, New Zealand.  Last Friday, I was notified that I am lucky enough to be presenting at the conference!  But why are conferences such a big deal?

What is the SMM conference?

The Society for Marine Mammalogy (SMM) biennial conference is a gathering of marine mammal scientists from around the world, with the goal of enhancing collaboration, sharing ideas, and improving the quality of research on marine mammals.  Every SMM conference has a fantastic turnout, with hundreds of scientists in attendance.  This year promises to be no different, with over 1000 abstracts for talks and posters being submitted.  Unfortunately, about 20% of these were rejected.  But 200 talks and 400 posters have been accepted for the event.

What will I be presenting?

Pygmy blue whale and vessel; Geographe Bay, Western Australia

Pygmy blue whale and vessel (Geographe Bay, Western Australia) – how close is too close?

I will be presenting a poster based on work by myself and colleagues at the Southwest Whale Ecology Study (SouWEST).  Check out my Projects page for more information on this group.  The poster will document the responses of pygmy blue whales to vessel traffic during their migration through Geographe Bay, Western Australia.  Understanding the impacts of anthropogenic activities on marine fauna has become of increasing concern as the human population continues to expand its activities in the marine environment.  The SMM conference will be an excellent opportunity to share our research findings with the scientific community.

What’s the point of conferences?

Of course, conferences aren’t just a way of spreading the word about your own work – they’re also a great chance to hear about developments in your field and keep up-to-date with recent research.  The best part is that if you have questions or would like to know more about any particular topic, the researchers are right there to ask!  Conferences are great networking opportunities, whether you’re a student looking for a job, a professor looking for students, or a researcher interested in finding collaborators for a particular project.  Since presentations are often discussing work at varying stages (from preliminary findings through to recently published), it is also a good chance to get some informal peer-feedback.  Plus, you often get to travel to pretty cool places!

But for me the best thing about academic conferences is this:  inspiration.  Being surrounded by passionate people, new ideas, recent discoveries…  It all acts as a massive source of motivation and encouragement to continue in what can sometimes be a difficult field.  Everyone needs a pick-me-up sometimes, and I find the buzz of conferences invigorating.

So bring on New Zealand!

The Virtual Scientist

In a survey from 2011, only 4% of Americans could name a living scientist.

Can you identify these scientists?

Can you identify these scientists?

Many people may be unable to name a living scientist.  But they certainly know where to go to find out more:  the internet.

With the words “just Google it” becoming an everyday phrase, the internet is now a place to find answers to all life’s little questions.  What was the footie score?  Where shall we go for dinner?  Which car should I buy?  It is a platform being rapidly utilised by retailers and advertising companies.  But it is also fulfilling an educational capacity, with material ranging from pre-school to post-doctoral level now widely available.

Interphobia

(yes it’s a real term – just Google it!)

Over the past couple of months, I have attended several talks encouraging scientists to fully utilise the online world.  The idea of creating an ‘online presence’ is a hot topic just now, yet many scientists and researchers are reluctant to participate.

The internet can be a scary place.  It is full of viruses, hackers, trolls and a whole range of people out to steal your money / identity / intellectual property.  It can also be ruthlessly subjected to ‘word of mouth’, with information being rapidly passed from one person to the next.  With the possibility of becoming the misquoted scientist, this can be terrifying for many researchers.

But the internet also offers substantial rewards.

Although environmental science is now being widely discussed in schools, most people over the age of 35 were never formally taught about climate change.  Rather, they have had to obtain their information from publically-accessible sources, such as newspapers, magazines, and social media.  The latter in particular is a rapidly increasing information source.  In fact, it offers the perfect opportunity to turn ‘word of mouth’ from a curse to a blessing!

How many of you check Facebook in the morning?  Have a quick look at Twitter on your break?  Perhaps you’re even one of the many who check social media before you even get out of bed?  If so many people are using social media, then why not scientists?!  The internet offers a much wider audience than previously available through academic publications, press releases or public seminars alone.

Why scientists should get online

Jo Hawkins, a digital marketing specialist, has written an excellent article giving 8 reasons why academics should invest in their online reputation.  In a nutshell, the use of online platforms are an excellent two-way street linking scientists and non-scientists.  Researchers have the opportunity to engage with the general public, contribute to education, and spread word of their research to a wide audience.  But in return, the general public get the chance to see ‘the person behind the labcoat’, easily find an accessible authority to question on topics of interest, and learn about lots of interesting projects happening around the world.  Win-win!

Science is all around us.  This week, try adding an extra dollop of it to your daily life and find at least one scientist to follow online.  Who knows what you may discover!