Seasonal Variation in Behaviors of Marine Mammals at Mystic Aquarium
Dr. Wendy Ryan, Department of Biological Sciences
Dr. Ryan's marine mammal project involves the study of seasonal changes in the behavior of sea lions and beluga whales in a zoological setting. This project began in March 2011 and is being conducted in collaboration with the Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, CT. More than nine KU undergraduates have been involved to date, with plans to recruit additional students. Dr. Ryan and the student researchers travel to Connecticut every 4-6 weeks for a full day of data collection and observation at the outdoor exhibits. Most of the students participating in this project have also developed their own research projects, ranging in topic from evaluating sea lion or beluga social interactions, to consideration of the impact of weather and day length on the animals' behavior, to a current study examining the patterns of submersion for both of these animals.
In addition to student projects, regional presentations, and the overall study of seasonal patterns, data from this project is also being used to generate educational activities for K-12 students. Samantha Santiago's project examined changes in the frequency of interactions among beluga whales with the addition of a new adult male whale. Her project then formed the foundation for an inquiry exercise for students in grades 7-9, which involves hypothesis testing using beluga behavioral data from before and after the introduction of the new whale. The student activity has been beta tested by the 7th grade students at Kutztown Area Middle School and will be submitted for publication shortly. Amanda Anastasio's project examined interactions between Steller sea lions and provided the foundation for the development of a very different exercise, a dynamic computer simulation. The Excel-based computer simulation is being developed by another KU student, Ezry St. Iago Mcrae. This simulation will allow high school and college students to explore their own research questions using actual data generated by this project. The simulation also reinforces many fundamental aspects of the scientific method and experimental design.