Assiniboine Park Conservancy actively partners with other conservation and research organizations, fostering collaborations such as the one with Ocean Wise.

Over the past three years, the Zoo has welcomed youth and young professionals from Ocean Wise’s Ocean Pathway (formerly Direct Action) program.

This national service-learning program connects Canadian youth and young professionals with experts in marine and aquatic conservation organizations, empowering them through experiences in conservation initiatives, adventurous opportunities for fieldwork, professional research projects, and educational and outreach programs.

Ferris Kerr was the 2023 Ocean Wise Ocean Pathways participant at the Zoo. As a marine biology and science communications student at Dalhousie University, Ferris worked primarily with the Beluga Bits project with the Conservation and Research team. From audience engagement to research innovation, Ferris used their visual arts, science communications and technical photography background to expand Beluga Bits for all cetacean appreciators. 

Beluga Bits is a citizen-science-based project on acquiring data on the Western Hudson Bay beluga whales that summer in the Churchill River estuary.

Our goal is to learn if the same whales return every year, and if so, how many and for how long. Non-invasive 360° footage will help us understand and manage beluga within Hudson Bay while also gaining valuable data on this entire ecosystem.

Ferris and Seal

Ferris’s role included adapting 360° Beluga footage into virtual reality by producing a Meta Oculus account for the public to explore. The uploaded footage is available to anyone with a Meta Quest headset. Beluga Bits footage is now accessible to schools, researchers, and the public in ways never previously used. 

Testing the camera

In association with the VR project, Ferris also conducted 360° test shoots in the Zoo’s seal pools to ensure streamlined and clear videography in the field as well as new static filming techniques. In addition, Ferris also worked on the science communications side of Beluga Bits by creating a new project logo and designing and writing a storymap website

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Ferris shared with us the impact of their time here. 

How did your time at the Zoo grow your skills and give you new opportunities?

APC has been my first introduction to research innovation and a career in marine biology. As I return to complete my degree, I feel like I’ve seen a possible future for myself through the projects I’ve completed and the coworkers I’ve met. Working on Beluga Bits meant focusing on both the technical and communications side of science; my skills as a science communicator, youth educator, and graphics artist have all evolved during my time here.

What will you take with you from this opportunity into your future endeavours?

As I leave for Halifax, my time at the Zoo won’t just be a reminder of what I’m working towards as a student and marine biologist, but also as a reminder of why. The creatures I’ve met while working here and while visiting Churchill have given me perspective on the vast levels of niches and creatures out there. The career possibilities and experiences along the way are endless!

Our collaborative endeavours aim to contribute to the broader mission of supporting the betterment of animals in our care, assisting conservation efforts in the wild, and fostering impactful relationships within the conservation community.

Read more about past Ocean Wise Ocean Pathways participants:

Sara Wolowich Brown – 2021

Samantha Gaitens – 2022