During the months of June - September 2014, Katrina Nikolich lead a team of researchers from Western Washington University to Hornby Island to study of the mating calls of male harbour seals. This project is for Kat's MSc in marine mammal biology.
We think her topic is really interesting because although harbour seals are common animals in our region, very little is known about them. Kat's study also included observations of boat traffic in the area, and to our knowledge this has never been directly studied. There is always more to learn!
Hornby Island Diving assisted with the project by providing local support and logistics, e.g. we helped Kat deploy and retrieve her hydrophone. She is currently hard at work analyzing her data, and we are eager to see her results.
Here are a few words from Kat, describing her project:
'I study the language of harbour seals; more specifically, I study their mating calls, and how noise from boats can impact the way they talk to one another in the breeding season. This past summer, I listened to the seals near Heron Rocks all summer using a hydrophone that Hornby Island Diving helped me deploy on the seabed. Along with three teams of dedicated interns, I also observed the seals and their environment from shore. I collected data on how many seals there were and what they were doing, as well as observing the boat traffic. From my underwater recordings, I've heard a number of different calls that I believe are harbour seals, which would greatly expand our knowledge of the seal vocabulary (so far, scientists only recognize one call - I've heard a dozen!). I've also noticed that the seals call only at night, when there is less boat traffic. Just as we prefer not to strain our voices by talking over loud music, harbour seals wait until the ruckus of fishing boats, ferries and tugboats has calmed down before starting up their chorus. This information will help to improve our understanding of seal mating behaviour and perhaps reveal never-before-described calls. My results may also suggest that routing larger ships through Georgia Strait, such as cruise ships and cargo ships that travel at night, could seriously impact the seals' ability to communicate.'