It was over two decades ago that Jim Darling and Andrew Trites while traveling on a bus discussed the concept of a symposium for anyone interested in marine mammals in British Columbia. They thought at that time that the growing popularity of marine mammals among researchers, whale watching and ecotour companies, the Vancouver Aquarium and the general public warranted a regular session to learn and speak on the topic. With a legacy from a family in Victoria to the West Coast Whale Research Foundation (now Pacific WildLife Foundation), the first Marine Mammal Symposium was born. Two decades on, and the symposium has grown from about 35 people in the first year to over 120 people this past weekend.
I found the symposium inspiring from all the enthusiasm in the room. There were graduate students and professors, whale watching guides and owners, ecotour operators and naturalists, Vancouver Aquarium donors, biologists and interpreters, non-profit organizations, and several people from the Pacific WildLife Foundation including PWLF Fellow Andrew Trites and Associate Kate Keogh who have organized the event with students and staff at the UBC Aquatic Ecosystems Research Laboratory for many years. Thanks to UBC and Andrew’s team, the event has now reached the ripe old age of 20 years.
Dr. Trites organizes the symposium so that there are many speakers on diverse talks. Some of the talks this year dwelled on topics such as hybridization in harbour porpoises, fin whale occurrence in BC, entanglement occurrences, echolocation, diseases, stranding response and sighting networks, energetics of sea lions and fur seals, diet, a new skeleton project, and seals and sea lions at the Vancouver Aquarium. The symposium is also a social event where anyone interested in marine mammals can mingle among colleagues and friends. Next year’s event will be held in November at UBC. We will have details on our web site.