Marine mammal research program motivates UT student in her studies

February 1, 2012 | Research, UToday
By Nicolette Jett

Sydni Coleman, left, and Mallory Messenger, volunteers for the Cetacean Sanctuary Research Project, watched striped dolphins in the Mediterranean Sea last summer.

Summer vacation for some students means sleeping in, soaking up the sun, and staying up all night, but for one University of Toledo student, summers are filled with long hours of hands-on research out at sea.

Sydni Coleman, 22, a senior majoring in biology in the UT Honors College, has spent the past two summers conducting marine mammal research in the Mediterranean Sea through Tethys Research Institute, a nonprofit organization for the study and conservation of the marine environment. The research was conducted on board Pelagos, the whale and dolphin research vessel used by Tethys to carry out its Cetacean Sanctuary Research Project.

In 2011, Coleman spent six weeks aboard Pelagos as a volunteer and research assistant experiencing a variety of fieldwork techniques, including acoustic and visual detection of cetaceans, sperm whale acoustic tracking, photo identification, photogrammetry sampling with laser range finder, respiration data collection for behavioral studies, and logger data entry.

Sydni Coleman used the hydrophone, an underwater microphone, to listen for animals and noise pollution produced by boats, and recorded the information with location and environmental conditions.

“By having the opportunity to study marine mammals in the field, I was able to participate in and appreciate the process of obtaining knowledge through research. I’ve come to realize that all aspects of life are intertwined and have been able to open my eyes to areas of life that I never knew existed,” Coleman said.

“This was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I am thankful I have gotten the chance to discover the particular avenue I wish to pursue in order to leave my mark on the world.”

Coleman presented her research, “Dolphins at Breakfast, Fin Whales at Lunch, Sperm Whales at Dinner: Marine Mammal Research in the Mediterranean Sea,” at an Honors College brown-bag seminar last semester.

“An important part of the research process is presenting your findings to the world at large. The Honors College brown-bag seminars give our students a chance to do that, to showcase their research to their fellow students and the public,” said Dr. Tom Barden, dean of the UT Honors College. “Ms. Coleman’s marine mammal research is exciting science and it’s also fascinating because she’s doing it in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Italy. Her work fits The University of Toledo’s new emphasis on international study and research.

“She is a wonderful and dedicated student. We’re very proud of her,” Barden said.

Coleman, a native of Perrysburg, is expected to graduate in May with her bachelor’s degree in biology.

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