PHATS goes large !
PHATS summer student heads to Islay with SMRU
Grey seals are big, wild animals and can be very challenging (and massively rewarding) to work with. It’s easy to forget that when you’re just working with samples in the lab. One of the big males we tagged on this trip was nearly 2 metres long and almost 200kg. We think it’s really important that people doing lab work with grey seal samples see, where possible, the challenges of obtaining those samples so that they have an appreciation of how precious they are and how important it is to get the lab work right.
That means one of Sonia’s first experiences with us has been to join some of the fieldwork undertaken by our collaborators at SMRU. She experienced first hand the logistics of planning the trip (what’s the wind direction; when is low tide; where is the lunch box, tea and biscuits; how can we protect the gear from horizontal rain and still get an accurate glucose reading?), the boat work (can I stand up? is everything lashed to the deck? how to work efficiently when wearing a dry suit and life jacket) and what it’s like to be a scientist working with grey seals.
Sonia did a great job and got really stuck in helping out. She took over from me as the person responsible for handing tubes, swabs and tags to the right person at the right time so I was chief note taker for the group. She said it was just like being part of a National Geographic documentary.
In addition to the blubber samples, these animals were tagged to learn more about where they go so that that information can be used for marine planning. Some of the tags also collect information for the Met Office. So, for a short field trip of only five days, we are able to learn an awful lot about the ecology, physiology and health of the seals, and collect information that helps predict weather patterns and climate to maximise the information we get from the animals we work with. Now we’re back to the labs to prepare the slides to investigate the blubber cell structure.
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