“Science Sunday” might sound daunting to those unaccustomed to scientific practices and vernacular, but the Seymour Marine Discovery Center’s (SMDC) membership and donor stewardship manager Katherine Moore explained that science doesn’t always have to evoke anxiety.
“[Science Sunday] is an opportunity for marine scientists, conservationists and environmentalists to bring their current research and topics to the public in an entertaining and easily understood format,” Moore said.
Since the event’s inception five years ago, the SMDC has held Science Sunday every third Sunday of the month, allowing over 50 scientists to share topics they have researched. These topics range from the scarcity of sand as a natural resource to the consequences of large predator loss on ecosystems worldwide.
UC Santa Cruz professor Marc Mangel gave SMDC’s January lecture and discussed his experience serving as an independent scientific expert in an international case between Japan and Australia.
In 1946, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) signed the international Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. In 1982, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) legally suspended all whaling activity with the exception of nations whaling for scientific purposes, and in 1986, Japan allowed for the continuation of whaling under this premise. However, the treaty did not specify what connotes “scientific purposes,” and Australia said Japan used this ambiguity to its benefit.
“It can’t be science if it can’t change your mind,” Mangel said at Sunday’s event. Mangel explained in the case that science involves a hypothesis, a way to test that hypothesis and in examining the result, having the capability of changing minds.
With the restrictions given by the IWC, Mangel concluded Japan needed to examine its whaling practices and amend its practices based on the exponential amount of whales dying.
With this conclusion and Mangel’s scientific expertise, Japan’s whaling activities were dubbed unscientific and therefore unlawful according to the restrictions given by the IWC.
When the lecture ended, Santa Cruz resident JT Verbeck expressed her gratitude for the program.
“I wish they were doing it twice a month. I’ve been coming for two or three years,” Verbeck said. “It’s just a part of lifelong learning in a community that is just so essential to the health of the community.”
This month’s event will be led by researcher and Año Nuevo Island Natural Reserve Director Patrick Robinson on Feb. 15. Robinson’s latest research focuses on elephant seals and their at-sea behavior, which he admits can be pretty tough to track.
“It’s fairly difficult to study them,” Robinson said. “It’s not exactly like following a lion around and watching it kill a wildebeest. They’re traveling thousands of kilometers and hundreds of meters deep into the ocean, so any human ability to follow them just wouldn’t cut it.”
Robinson and other researchers like him have dedicated their careers to studying the behavior of marine animals. A relatively new technology called “biotagging” is making it easier to learn about these animals and bring that information to the public.
The tags are miniature electronic sensors that allow researchers to learn about marine animals and the ocean itself. One of several tags placed on the elephant seals, the Conductivity Temperature Depth tag uses satellite sensors and serves as an oceanic thermometer and blueprint for oceanographers.
With similar technologies, Robinson can study swimming and foraging patterns of marine animals, which he will discuss in-depth on Sunday.
“It’s great to share the information we collect to the general public,” Robinson said. “A lot of the research that gets done is just put in scientific journals and not a whole lot of people have access to those or read them regularly, so it’s nice to update people with the latest and greatest.”