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This week, the students took a break from observing the sea lions to consider some of the bigger questions which strike at the core of LAVA-Lobos: Why is it important to understand how humans impact animals? Why should we study sea lions in particular? What is the value of this research? In the Charles Darwin Foundation Centro para la Educación Ambiental de Jacinto Gordillo, we started a discussion with the students about the above questions and more. The students were engaged and eager to think about why their contribution to the project was important, bringing up the importance of sea lions here on San Cristóbal, the potential use of results for future management plans of the sea lions, and the dissemination of information about the sea lions to the community.

One of the other topics we addressed was the natural history of sea lions. Although the students are becoming experts on the protocol, it’s important that they’re also knowledgeable about the animals that they’re studying – the Zalophus wollebaeki sea lion. For example, after seeing some pregnant females during observations as well as some young pups, some of the students were interested in the sea lions’ reproductive cycles. We explained that mothers carry usually one pup at a time for a gestation period of 11 months, and that young lobos can nurse up to three years – although ultimately only 2/3 of pups survive. It was great to see that the students were so enthusiastic to learn about these and lots of other “fun facts” about the lobos, which are beneficial not only for student learning, but also so that students can explain things to interested onlookers who approach them on the beach.

We also had the chance to talk with the students about the importance of data in scientific research. After the students complete hundreds of observations on the lobos here, the data is sent to UPenn for analysis. However, our team wanted to ensure that the students could visualize and present some of the data themselves, which is valuable for comprehension and could be used towards the end of the project when they present their work to the community. In groups, the students worked together to create graphs to compare the sea lions’ assay reactions at the four beaches where they have been studying the sea lions. The room was full of calculators being pulled out, disputes about which data point was correct, and ultimately, four well-done graphs. As the project goes on, the students will add data to the graph every session from the previous session to get a better sense of how their data changes over time.

Unfortunately, on Friday, we also bid farewell to Maddie Tilyou, one of the four members of the “Galapagang” working this summer in San Cristobal, as she left for Australia to begin her semester. The students gave her a heartfelt send off on Thursday as we tossed a Frisbee on the beach while devouring baked goods. After a week of thinking about the value of this project and the importance of accurate data collection, we feel lucky to be working with a group of such committed and thoughtful students!

Sophia Simon