SEA Days: Birds of A Feather

Every month, the third Saturday is a special day at Birch Aquarium: SEA Days!

As the tagline suggests, SEA Days are always full of  “Science, Exploration and Adventure.” Visitors and members can meet a Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego or local researcher and get hands-on with science, participate in activity stations, and get creative with a thematic craft.

Name: Kate Lyn Sheehan

Hometown: Amherst, New Hampshire

Schooling Background:

B.S. University of South Alabama – Mobile, AL

M.S. Dauphin Island Sea Lab & University of South Alabama – Dauphin Island, AL Ph.D. Clemson University, Clemson, SC

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Kate Lyn Sheehan holds a cormorant.

1 word to describe a characteristic a scientist must have: persistent

How does bird research affect a person’s everyday life?

Bird research informs conservation of birds and many regulations have been developed to protect birds from potential harm. Examples include windmill regulations, pending solar regulations, oil and gas rig industry regulations, and more. In many places along the coast, beaches are closed during bird and turtle breeding seasons so that people and their pets cannot disturb the nests of endangered and threatened wildlife species. There are also entire islands that are off-limits to people because of their role as breeding habitats for rare and threatened bird species.

How did you decide to work on this particular issue?

Birds are important predators in coastal and terrestrial food webs. Many birds migrate and forage in a large assortment of habitats. By studying the parasites and diseases that birds carry, I can better understand the health of the habitats where birds live and the health impacts that their infectious agents impose on individual birds and bird populations. In doing this, I can study both the bird populations and the places where they forage. A common practice for conservation targets not just a particular species, but the habitat where many important species lives, and my research will help inform conservationists and wildlife managers where their efforts should be focused.

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How do you predict the story of birds will change in the future?

The bird species that my research is focused on include coastal birds and seabirds. As coastal development and urbanization increases, it will become even more important to develop effective habitat management strategies that account for coastal bird conservation. Further, as the marine food web changes with human induced impacts to fisheries and climate, the prey available to seabirds will change. These bird species area already in decline, and it is likely that they will be a major factor impacting our future domestic and international fisheries management goals.

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Scripps Institution of Oceanography UC San Diego