Seal of Approval


What is a pirate’s favorite statistical program? R! Alas, I am not a pirate.

Since the last post I’ve spent a lot of my time working on statistical analyses of my parasite experiment using a program called R. The program is extremely useful (not just for corny jokes) but I’m still a relative newbie and the smallest successes in R still feel like huge accomplishments.

I’ve returned to the small student city of Groningen and feel right back at home.

Desk work is as much a part of science as field and lab work. It happened recently that the others in my lab group were out on the mudflats doing hours of heavy lifting; meanwhile I was in the office giving my brain a statistical workout. In the evening they came back completely exhausted, and apparently rather jealous of me for having been comfortably seated all day. Meanwhile, I envied them for having gotten to experience the lovely weather instead of stats! But it’s all just a part of the research cycle.

At the Netherlands Annual Ecology Meeting, presenting some of my results during the poster session.

So far, it looks like the invasive parasite Mytilicola orientalis does have some sort of negative effect on the mussels they infect but the details of those effects aren’t all clear yet. I’ll continue working on other analyses and hope to get a clearer grasp on what the data mean. Like Melissa before me, I had the chance to share early results in a poster presentation, a great chance to network and discuss.

Once again, a fence (and my knowledge that these are wild animals) 
stood between me and my urge to snuggle the seals.

One highlight of my spring was an official visit to the seal rescue and rehabilitation facility in Groningen province. The Zeehondencrèche takes in sick and stranded harbor seals and grey seals to treat their ills and then return them to the wild. The harbor seal in particular was once threatened with extinction in this region, but thanks to a ban on hunting, a reduction in pollution, and rescue efforts such as these they have seen a huge recovery. The facility furthermore provides a wonderful opportunity for research and for public education. If you’ve been following the news, you may be reminded of the unusually high numbers of California sea lion strandings recently. Scientists suspect that young sea lions are malnourished as a result of a shift in the fish they feed on. Luckily, no similar crisis has hit northern Europe (here the biggest threat is probably a disease outbreak), but the possibility of such occurrences are one reason to continue protecting seals.

I didn’t get around to visiting the tulip fields and baby farm animals outside the city,
but even in the center signs of spring are everywhere.

I’m also taking classes again this semester, starting with “Advanced Genetic Population Modeling.” I have virtually no background in this field so it was challenging right off the bat, but totally fascinating as well. Using known genetic data – for example from humpback whales – it is possible to use modeling to answer questions about the state of a population. Among other things, researchers are working on understanding how different humpback populations are connected. From learning the theory to puzzling with the modeling program, it was a whole new perspective for me. 

At the Rijksmuseum, hats worn by 17th century Dutch whalers and a painting of a whale oil refinery.

Sound like a hodgepodge of activities? It felt like it too! On top of the work keeping me busy, several of my friends in the US made the happy decision to spend spring break visiting me here. From tasting-testing gourmet cheeses and visiting craft breweries, to exploring the museums of Amsterdam, it was a great excuse to play tourist, and the perfect way to welcome spring.

What better way to catch up on the haps with old friends than while celebrating King’s Day?

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