[MARMAM] Call for applicants for a funded PhD project: population assessments for insular cetaceans in the Main Hawaiian Islands

Lars Bejder lbejder at hawaii.edu
Mon Aug 24 16:39:51 PDT 2020

*Call for applicants for a funded PhD project: population assessments for
insular cetaceans in the Main Hawaiian Islands*

The Marine Mammal Research Program at the Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine
Biology, NOAA Fisheries’ Pacific Island Fisheries Science Center and
Cascadia Research Collective are seeking applicants for a PhD project that
aims to improve population assessments for insular cetaceans in the Main
Hawaiian Islands (MHI).

Applicants must have strong analytical skillsets and, ideally, strong
coding experience in areas pertaining to machine-learning and artificial
intelligence. The successful candidate will be provided with full tuition
costs and a PhD stipend for four years at the University of Hawaiʻi, funded
by the NOAA Fisheries QUEST program (see below). As the fellowship is
intended to create a pipeline into NOAA Fisheries, the supported student *must
be a U.S. citizen*.


Hawaiʻi’s unique ecosystems support insular (island-associated) populations
of several cetacean species that are otherwise considered to have pelagic
distributions.  To date, five species with island-associated stocks in the
Main Hawaiian Islands are recognized within the NMFS Stock Assessment
Reports, including spinner, pantropical spotted, and bottlenose dolphins,
false killer whales and melon-headed whales, and others are likely to be
recognized in the coming years as additional genetic, movement, abundance,
and demographic data become available. Assessments of insular cetaceans are
challenged by the distribution of these stocks, as typical large-scale
line-transect surveys used for surveying cetaceans over large areas are
inappropriate and yield insufficient sightings to conduct robust abundance
analyses.  Further, many of these island-associated stocks overlap with
pelagic populations.

PIFSC and CRC have been conducting surveys near each of the MHI for over a
decade and have amassed a large sighting, individual photo-ID, and
telemetry dataset for over a dozen species. To date, these data have been
essential for evaluating population structure and range and have provided
the data needed to conduct mark-recapture abundance estimates for some
insular stocks, including MHI insular false killer whales (Bradford et al.
2017) and bottlenose dolphins (Van Cise et al. *in review, *Baird et al.
2009).  However, nonsystematic data collection and the significant time
investment to maintain photo-ID catalogs for some species have meant that
the data do not readily fit within NOAA’s other assessment frameworks. This
PhD project will aim to adapt existing or develop new analytical tools to
allow for greater use of this type of non-systematic data commonly
collected by CRC, PIFSC, and other research partners in order to help the
PIFSC fill assessment gaps for several insular populations.  The specific
approach and species chosen will be determined based on the qualifications
and interests of the selected graduate student and in collaboration with
the MMRP, PIFSC and CRC partners, though will generally include the
elements described below.

This project will aim to use a rich sighting, photo, and telemetry dataset
from one or more species to develop and validate new analytical approaches
that do not require such a rich dataset for use on the other species.
Projects may include:

·       Development and application of artificial intelligence and machine
learning approaches for photo-ID matching or other analyses.

·       Development of advanced statistical approaches to modeling species
abundance and range using survey datasets with non-systematic effort,
possibly including use of encounter-only models to assess population
abundance, with validation of those models using the photo-ID and telemetry
data available for those species.

·       Examining the sensitivity of resulting abundance and other
demographic parameter estimates to various data types, data distribution
through time, and other factors that may influence population demographics.

We encourage applicants with strong coding and statistical skills to apply.
The successful graduate student will most likely use large datasets
collected from false killer whales, rough-toothed or spotted dolphins,
though data from a number of other species are also available for
development, testing, and validation of approaches.

The project is well-suited to a PhD project given the need to explore a
variety of analytical frameworks, understand the nature of large and
complex datasets, and develop and validate approaches that can be used in
an assessment context. The student will be well-supported by a highly
quantitative team at the University of Hawaiʻi and PIFSC and the successful
student will contribute directly to NOAA Fisheries assessment needs.

The Quantitative Ecology and Socioeconomics Training (QUEST) program is
designed to prepare the next generation of assessment scientists for
careers in fisheries or protected species population assessment, ecosystem
assessment, and marine resource economics. The PIFSC QUEST program supports
graduate fellowships for students working toward such quantitative fields,
with the goal of building capacity for the PIFSC workforce to meet its
science requirements under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and
Management Act, Marine Mammal Protection Act, and Endangered Species Act.
QUEST students collaborate with PIFSC researchers to develop student
capabilities and skills directly related to mission needs. The QUEST
student will work closely with a PIFSC work-group (in this case the
Cetacean Research Program within the Protected Species Division) and will
be expected to spend a portion of each year (generally summer, though this
is flexible) working at PIFSC. As the fellowship is intended to create a
pipeline into NOAA Fisheries, the supported student must be a U.S.

*To apply*:

Candidates should submit the following materials via email to
lbejder at hawaii.edu in a single PDF document, with the file name
“YourLastName_QUEST_PhD.pdf” and the subject heading “QUEST PhD
application” by 1 October, 2020:

1)         Brief introductory cover letter (maximum of 1 page)

2)         Two statements covering (maximum 1 page each):

a)         Provide an overview of your quantitative skillsets, analytical
skillsets and/or coding experience in areas pertaining to machine-learning
and artificial intelligence.

b)         What you hope to gain through a graduate school experience

3)         Your CV

The chosen candidate would then apply (in December 2020) for entrance into
a PhD program with the Marine Mammal Research Program at the Hawaii
Institute of Marine Biology at the University of Hawaii – with a start date
in August 2021.
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