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Otago researchers to showcase marine mammal research at international conference

Clocktower clock

Monday 2 December 2013 11:38am

An impressive line-up of University of Otago scientists will present their research on marine mammals on the world stage next week in Dunedin.

The University of Otago is hosting the 20th Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals, bringing together almost 1100 delegates and 24 exhibitors from more than 30 countries – including 29 scientists from Otago. This is the first time the biennial conference has been held in Australasia, and it is also believed to be the largest conference Dunedin has seen in a decade. The conference begins on Monday 9 December and runs to Friday 13 December.

One of the organisers, Dr Bruce Robertson, from the Department of Zoology, says the strong depth and breadth of marine mammal research at the University of Otago will be highlighted, with Otago scientists making important contributions to the science and management of New Zealand’s dolphins, whales, fur seals and sea lions.

Dr Bruce Robertson

“The strength of marine mammal research at Otago is a real draw-card, and is the main reason why the University was awarded the hosting rights to what is probably one of the largest conferences to be held by the University,” he says.

Among the 350 research talks and 400 posters, Otago scientists will present on a wide range of marine mammals including dolphins, whales, and sea lions. Topics include sperm whale vocalisations in Tonga; the palaeontology of baleen whales of ancient New Zealand; the impact of historical hunting on New Zealand sea lions; the presence of tusks in prehistoric New Zealand dolphins; success of marine-protected areas in dolphin conservation; fishing impacts on female juvenile New Zealand sea lions; modelling of New Zealand sea lion population growth; and solutions to marine mammal bycatch.

Two Otago University marine mammal experts are among the nine keynote speakers presenting in the Dunedin Town Hall, addressing the main theme of the conference: Marine mammal conservation; science making a difference.

Drawing from his 30 years of cetacean research, Professor Steve Dawson of Marine Sciences at Otago will highlight the issues facing New Zealand’s “hobbit” dolphins – the Hector’s and Maui’s dolphins. Nationwide, the species is predicted to continue to decline and unless urgent action is taken, Maui’s dolphin is likely to become the next dolphin to reach extinction.

Dr Robertson will discuss stakeholder efforts to stop New Zealand sea lions being drowned in the trawl nets of the sub-Antarctic squid fishery around the Auckland Islands. With the sea lion population declining by 40% over the past decade, the New Zealand Government has put in place a number of mitigation measures. On the back of these changes, fisheries managers recently concluded that squid fishing is no longer impacting on the sea lions. Dr Robertson will show that unfortunately, evidence to support this claim is lacking.

Other keynote speakers from other institutes will explore how to succeed at marine mammal conservation (Dr Barbara Taylor from the South West Fisheries Science Center); management of Australian sea lion deaths in a shark gillnet fishery (Dr Simon Goldsworthy South Australian Research and Development Institute); the role of science and international collaboration in (vaquita) dolphin conservation in the Gulf of California (Lorenzo Rojas-Bracho from Nacional de Ecología y Cambio Climático in Mexico); conservation of marine mammals in the 21st century (Andrew Read from Duke University); and the interaction between science and politics in New Zealand (former Dunedin North Labour MP and former Government Minister Pete Hodgson). Two award winners will also present keynote talks on their research on the impact of climate change on polar bears (Ian Stirling from the University of Alberta), and habitat use in Stellar sea lions (Gina Himes-Boor from Montana State University).

Other Otago research presentation topics include bottlenose dolphin breeding and survival in Fiordland; male behaviour of spinner dolphins in Egypt; distribution of New Zealand blue whales; calving in New Zealand southern right whales; Hector’s dolphin distributions; impacts of human-induced sound on whales and dolphins; impact of tourism and research on dolphins in Egypt; tourism impacts on Fiordland dolphins; dolphin tooth morphology; dietary analysis of New Zealand sea lions; Hector’s dolphin diet and habitat selection and southern right whale breeding at the Auckland Islands.

For further information, contact

Dr Bruce Robertson
Department of Zoology
Mob 64 21 279 4110

Associate Professor Liz Slooten
Mob 64 27 447 4418

A list of Otago experts available for media comment is available elsewhere on this website.

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