Science for a Blue Planet

Featuring cutting-edge work, discoveries, and challenges of our scientists, our partners, and the larger conservation science community.

Science News: How Our Science Protects Wildlife

Do Protected Areas Actually Protect?

Point Blue Avian Ecologist Mark Dettling performing a bird survey in Pinnacles National Park. Credit: Megan Elrod.

We need effective conservation measures that will help threatened bird populations recover, survive, and thrive alongside human communities. Many of us assume that protected areas, such as local, regional, and national parks, are one such measure and Point Blue Avian Ecologist Mark Dettling recently published a study to explore our assumption. Using long-term data on population trends–from a monitoring collaboration with the National Park Service’s Inventory and Monitoring Program based out of our Palomarin Field Station–we found that 9 out of the 14 bird species we studied were doing better within protected areas than outside of them. Three species had about the same population trends both within protected areas and outside of them, and only two species–Olive-sided Flycatchers and Black-headed Grosbeaks–fared worse within the protected areas. This study leads us to conclude that protecting lands is an effective conservation practice for many species, but we need to dig deeper into the ecology of the outlier species in order to ensure they can have healthy populations as well. This study also illustrates the value of decades-long data sets which were needed to see accurate population trends. Learn more by viewing the publication brief and a recent news story.

First Ever Global Count of a Wide-Ranging Mammal

Weddell Seal in Antarctica. Credit: Michelle LaRue/University of Minnesota.

How do you count an animal that numbers in the hundreds of thousands, whose range covers thousands of miles, and who lives in one of the most inaccessible and inhospitable places on the planet? It takes cutting-edge technology and a village (or more like a medium-size city!)… and until now, no one had done it. We teamed up with scientists from the University of Minnesota, over 350,000 citizen scientists, and other key partners to publish a direct population estimate for the global distribution of Weddell seals in Antarctica. Accurate baseline population counts help us understand how climate change and other factors are affecting species so we can devise appropriate conservation strategies. This research was published in the prestigious journal Science Advances. In addition to this first-of-its-kind population count study, we co-published another paper on two species of seals, showing key differences in the ecology of each. In terms of their diet and breeding habitat, the crabeater seal is more of a specialist, and the Weddell seal is more of a generalist. This suggests that the Weddell seals are more likely to fare better in the face of changing conditions, such as food availability. The new information in both of these studies will help inform Marine Protected Area boundaries to help conserve these species in a changing climate. It will also help inform fishing regulations that affect marine food webs. (In addition to the links above, you can also access our publication briefs at

Saving Whales: A Good News-Bad News Sandwich

A feeding frenzy near the Farallon Islands National Wildlife Refuge with whales, gulls, and sea lions. Credit: Mike Johns/Point Blue.

Effectively saving whales from being killed by ship strikes has to be a group effort between scientists, ocean managers, and the industries that use the ocean for transport. And on that front, there’s good news and bad news. Part of the good news is that in some places this cooperation is improving! Our partners at NOAA are using our science to expand areas where ships need to slow to avoid killing whales and request extended shipping lanes near Point Conception that help keep ships away from high-use whale areas. The bad news is that we still need higher participation from shipping companies to make sure whale populations recover and remain healthy. Point Blue recently published a disheartening study led by Cotton Rockwood showing that voluntary programs to slow ship speeds in order to reduce striking and killing endangered whales were not proving to be effective. On the other hand, we modeled what would happen if participation increased and the results showed there is an opportunity for much greater success if more ships cooperated. For this reason, we suggested that a mandatory ship speed reduction program may be needed if whales continued to die at the rate we were seeing. The other part of the good news is that we are seeing an incentive-driven program moving in the right direction with those shipping companies that enroll in the program. In addition, since 2018 (which is when our dataset ended for our recently published study), we are seeing a rise in participation in the voluntary programs. We’re still a long way from the 90% participation that we need, but we hope to get there with continued persistence and collaboration.

News Bites

For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow. Nadav Nur, Point Blue’s Quantitative Ecology Program Director, was recently elected as a fellow of the American Ornithological Society. This is a great honor and reflects the admiration and respect that Nadav holds among professional ornithologists.

Good News for Meadows. The Sierra Meadows Partnership, which Point Blue chairs, is on track to meet or even exceed our goal of conserving 30,000 acres of Sierra meadows by 2030, with nearly 9,000 acres of restoration and over 4,500 acres of meadow conservation projects currently being planned or implemented. Read more in our recent blog post.

RAY Fellow to Antarctica. We’re excited to have RAY Diversity Fellow Danny Khor join Point Blue’s Antarctica team this year. They will travel to, assist with, and learn about our long-term study of Adélie penguins along the Ross Sea. Partnering with the RAY Diversity Fellowship program is helping us improve science and conservation at Point Blue and beyond by making it more inclusive.

Water, Grasslands, and Conservation in CA’s Central Valley. California’s Central Valley is a complicated place for water, wildlife, and agricultural management. Learn more about our work to balance the water needs of birds and people in this recent article.


Find recordings of our past events on our events page.

Point Blue’s 43rd Annual Rich Stallcup Bird-A-Thon. The country’s longest-running Bird-A-Thon is happening until October 15th. There’s still time to join, form, or donate to a team! Visit to do any of the above and help us reach our goal of raising $90K for conservation.
Photo: 2020 Krill it Up team. Credit: Point Blue.


Live from the Lab: Inside Access to ACCESS. Wednesday, October 20, 2021, 11-11:15 am on Instagram Live. Join Marine Lab Assistants Diana and Joycelyn as they share their experiences on the recent research cruise with ACCESS Oceans. Come learn how researchers collect zooplankton samples in the ocean. Mark your calendars and join us on our Instagram page.
Photo: Joycelyn Ho, marine lab research assistant, working on the September 2021 ACCESS partnership cruise. Credit: ACCESS partnership.

The Real “Shark Week.” Wednesday, October 27, 2021, 11-11:30am on Facebook Live. Fall is an exciting season on the Farallon Islands National Wildlife Refuge, one of our longest running field research sites. One of the many seasonal activities that we monitor at this time of year is great white shark activity! Join Point Blue Farallon Program Leader Pete Warzybok in the Farallon Lighthouse lookout, learn about how and why we monitor sharks, and if you’re really lucky, witness one live. RSVP on our Facebook event page and we will post the video after on our oceans and event web pages.
Photo: White Shark. Credit: NOAA, GFNMS.

Live from Palomarin: Fall with the New Crew. Thursday, October 29, 2021, 10:30-11 am on Facebook Live. Join Lead Bird Bander Mike Mahoney and Bird Banding Apprentice Wren Leader to explore what birds are coming through our nets this fall. RSVP here.
Photo: Fall Bird Banding Apprentice Wren Leader safely holding a Warbling Vireo. Credit: Mike Mahoney/Point Blue.


Live from the Lab: Copepods. Thursday, November 18, 2021, 11-11:15am on Instagram Live. How do copepods, the fleas of the sea, cope with a changing climate? These crustaceans are small but far from simple. Find out more when you join us and learn about this abundant, important zooplankton! Mark your calendars and join us on our Instagram page.
Photo: Copepod with eggs. Credit: Matt Wilson/Jay Clark, NOAA NMFS AFSC.