Student Profile: David Yurkowski

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OTN HQP Dave Yurkowski describes his first trip to Sable Island off the coast of Nova Scotia back in January

Report prepared by Dave Yurkowski

David Yurkowski travelled to Sable Island, NS in January to assist Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO – Bedford Institute of Oceanography) with their long-term population study on grey seals dating back to the 1960’s and retrieving satellite tags from tagged adults. This time of year marks the critical pupping and breeding period for this population of grey seals and with an estimated population size of 500,000, Sable Island is completely engulfed with grey seals ranging from the shorelines on the beaches to the dunes in the middle of the island. Adult males and females continually return to the island at this time including some that were instrumented with satellite tags in June, which are then retrieved for data analysis.

“I was able to take part in the capturing and handling process of a 210kg adult female, a much larger seal than what I have experience with – the Arctic ringed seal where adults average 60-70kg. The experience of handling, immobilizing and retrieving a satellite tag off a large phocid is greatly beneficial to my career in marine mammal research.”

A critical aspect of the fieldwork entailed brand re-sighting where they searched for and acquired data on branded (marked) adult females that are currently nursing their pups. After the pup has been weaned (~3 weeks after birth), the weight and sex of the pup is recorded to gain insight into the life-history of that particular female, and altogether provide vital information into grey seal population assessment analysis.

“The capturing and handling of grey seal pups – who, in most cases are similar to the size of adult ringed seals – was a great experience.”

Dave describes participating in the branding (marking) process of 700 pups for DFO’s ongoing population study as both incredible and strenuous. He gained invaluable experience administering diazepam via the extradural vein, which he had not yet previously done and is a common technique among marine mammal researchers handling and restraining phocid seals. The experience handling that many seals within a field season is an extremely unique opportunity.

“Although exhausting – I can’t remember the last time I’ve been that physically tired, but no pain, no gain – this experience will undoubtedly enhance my career in marine mammal scientific research.”

The Ocean Tracking Network provides ample opportunity for its student researchers to network, collaborate and perform field work in novel environments between arenas (Arctic, Atlantic and Pacific), which can be vital to early career researchers by broadening their research interests and scope. Dave’s participation in the fieldwork on Sable Island was supported by the Ocean tracking Network.

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