A Lesson in Patience

Take a poll of a hundred marine mammal biologists and chances are that not a single one will tell you that studying marine mammals is easy. One thing I’ve learned first hand about marine mammal research is that it takes a lot of people and a lot of paperwork to get a project going. And one thing I’ve currently been dealing with is permitting.

Now, let me just say that permits exist for VERY good reasons – marine mammals need these extra layers of protection when it comes to research. And honestly, I don’t mind filling out permit modification requests and typing up protocols to send to the marine mammal head honchos for approval. However, it appears that maybe I underestimated the timetable associated with permit modification requests and protocol approvals. Oopsie.

I made the trip from Syracuse to California about three weeks ago with every intention of starting data collection on April 15th. This year, the plan was to go out to Elkhorn Slough (a narrow inlet in Monterey Bay), make underwater recordings of individual male harbor seal vocalizations, and take pictures of hauled out males to do some morphometrics.

Harbor Seals in Elkhorn Slough, CA (Photo: L. Matthews)

Harbor Seals in Elkhorn Slough, CA (Photo: L. Matthews)

Luckily, over this past year, I’ve been able to team up with Jim Harvey at Moss Landing Marine Lab to be added as a co-investigator on his existing harbor seal permit. Jim Harvey is basically THE go-to guy when it comes to west coast harbor seal research. We thought that we’d gotten in all the necessary paperwork on time for my anticipated start date, but it turns out that there’s been a surge of permit applications, the permit office is a bit overwhelmed, and ours isn’t exactly at the top of the list. It’s currently April 25th and I’ve yet to collect any data. *sigh* So much for that April 15th start date.

In the meantime, I’ll play with my equipment and scope out my field site and make every possible preparation for data collection so that when I get the green light, I’ll be all set. From what I’ve read and from what people have told me, the males vocalize through the end of May. Seems like I’ve still got a good chunk of time to get a good chunk of data.

So yeah, it’s definitely not easy – I knew this from the beginning. But it’s definitely going to be worth it. Can’t wait to get out there and make some recordings! Any day now, I’m sure. Fingers crossed.

Cute little harbor seal face (Photo: L. Matthews)

Cute little harbor seal face (Photo: L. Matthews)

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