On Tuesday, Rachel and I discussed the papers I’d read over the weekend, and what the process was like to actually start a serious experiment. We also talked about the meaning of the data, and what one would have to prove in order ot draw any sort of conclusion from a dataset. What I ended up doing that day was coming up with my own “mini-experiment” to do. Since Rachel’s experiment relies on a large assortment of variables, but I wouldn’t have the time or data set to analyze them all, I decided that I would start looking at the movement of the seals when the car approaches and leaves, and use the data we have on their pups to classify their pups’ chances at life. Unfortunately, due to the wildly variable conditions in the ocean, and the small chances of ever seeing the pup again after it has gone to sea, I decided that I wouldn’t look at long term survival of the pups. Essentially, I decided to judge the movement of the mothers and the weight of their pups to see if there was a relationship. The rest of the day was spent talking about the papers we read, which were about the behaviors of seals in northern England to similar experiments involving RC cars and noises. They identified a number of problems in their experiments, all of which Rachel adapted hers to solve (for example, they had a problem positioning the camera on the car correctly, as they couldn’t see where it was pointed, and the couldn’t adjust it separately from the car – Rachel and I have a first-person view live through the camera and a pan/tilt mount). There was a lot of statistical analysis, but in the end they concluded that, yes, there was a statisically significant difference between seal behaviors. They chose to use ‘pup checks’ as their personality trait (which we are not using, because elephant seals are complicated and move a lot and don’t always have pups), and determined that the females did check at different rates between when the car was there and when it wasn’t, and differently between individual seals. They also confirmed that the results were consistent over time, which was a big deal for marine mammal behavioral research, showing that individual differences were due to the seals, not random behaviors on a given day. Anyway, Rachel and I used the chance to talk about the meaningfulness of the experiments, and how there was an entire paper that only came to the conclusion that, yes, the reponses were due to differences between seals.
On Thursday, I went to the lab ready to start compiling a spreadsheet for my mini experiment. I thought that would take an hour, or maybe two, but it ended up taking the entire day. I basically made a spreadsheet with the names, tag #s, and pup tag #s. I had to painstakingly go through every record of every sighting of every seal we’ve tested on, and record their pups.
My video is coming along nicely 🙂