Spotlight on Young Researchers: Anna Schleimer

 

In high school, Anna Schleimer thought everything there was to know in science was already known. When she discovered how many unanswered questions there still are, curiosity drove her to become a researcher. The Luxembourg national is now in the 1st year of her AFR PhD, in what is not your most common topic: As a marine biologist, Anna studies fin whales as part of her joint PhD at University of Groningen and University of St Andrews.

“Our knowledge about these animals is surprisingly sparse and we still do not know where they go in winter and where their calves are born”, Anna says about fin whales.

Fin whales are the second largest mammals in the world, outsized only by the blue whale. With only an estimated 50,000 – 90,000 fin whales left in the world, they are an endangered species, a consequence of intensive whale hunting in the past. According to WWF, nearly 750,000 animals were killed in areas of the Southern Hemisphere alone between 1904 and 1979.

Four fin whales recorded from bird’s eye view as part of the MICS (Mingan Island Cetacean Study) Anna is working on for her PhD. Copyright: ROM (Royal Ontario Museum) and MICS (Mingan Island Cetacean Study).

Field work only a small part of the work

“Against all expectations, I do not spend all day on a boat watching whales”, Anna says, adding: “While I do have two months of field work in summer when I will get to do boat surveys in Canada during which we collect photo-identification pictures and biopsy samples, I spend the other ten months of the year in the office analysing the data.”

In the first part of her PhD, Anna will study the population structure of fin whales in the North Atlantic, aiming to find out if all fin whales in the North Atlantic belong to one single, large population, or rather multiple small populations. This part of the project will help ensure the effective management of fin whales in the North Atlantic. Anna elaborates:

“In the other part of the PhD, I focus on the fin whales that aggregate every summer in the Gulf of St Lawrence by estimating abundance and survival from 2010 to 2016. In recent years, field researchers have noted alarmingly low numbers of calves in the area, which could be an indication for changes either in pregnancy rates or in calf mortality.

“I will analyse levels of progesterone in blubber samples to investigate if there have been any changes in pregnancy rates over the past years which could explain these observations.”

Working with highly elusive animals

Anna points out that even a seemingly easy task, such as estimating how abundant an animal is becomes a statistical challenge when working with animals as elusive as marine mammals:

“Working with marine mammals can be very challenging, because they are long-lived and far-ranging mammals that hide mostly below the water surface. The researcher only gets a brief glimpse, maybe enough to take a photograph, collect a sample or attach a tag, in order to learn more about them. I like the challenge and it makes every study unique.” 

"This was a unique encounter with a humpback whale while I conducted field work with my collaborators from MICS."

So why did Anna become a researcher? “In high school I was under the impression that we know everything there is to know in science. Little did I know how many open questions there are still left unanswered”, Anna says and adds: “So it is mainly out of curiosity that I chose the path of researcher in order to contribute to the increasing body of knowledge in biology and ecology.”

Luxembourg has a marine biology association

In addition to her PhD studies, Anna is the co-founder and Vice President of the Luxembourgish marine biology association ODYSSEA. She founded the association in 2013 with three fellow marine biologists – the goal is to promote marine research, conservation and awareness in Luxembourg:

“If Luxembourg can have an established space mining programme, then why not also a marine biology institute? The value of research lies beyond its economic value and I hope the diversity of research topics will keep growing in Luxembourg.”

Anna points out that even Luxembourg, despite being a landlocked country, has a very strong link to the oceans and that the country participates in conventions and conferences, such as the International Whaling Commission (IWC), the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), and the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS).

Ensuring research drives policies

The PhD is only the beginning of Anna’s career as a marine biologist, long-term she hopes to be able to help ensure research findings are actually applied:

“Like every researcher, I would like to see my work put to some use and it would be a great achievement if findings from my research had a direct impact on policies and management of fin whale populations in the North Atlantic. Long-term I would like to get more involved in the decision-making process to make sure the full potential of scientific findings is used to drive policies.”

"This photo was taken during the 65th Meeting of the International Whaling Commission in Slovenia. Along with Dr Pierre Gallego, we represented Luxembourg at this meeting."
"This is me giving a talk at the annual conference of the European Cetacean Society in Madeira in 2016."

Published 27 April 2017

Anna is also the co-founder and Vice President of the Luxembourgish marine biology association ODYSSEA.

RELATED PROGRAMMES

About Spotlight on Young Researchers

Spotlight on Young Researchers is an FNR initiative to highlight early career researchers across the world who have a connection to Luxembourg. This article is the 8th in a series of around 20 articles, which will be published on a weekly basis. You can see more articles below as and when they are published.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Are you what you eat?

Cardiometabolic complications threaten health and reduce life expectancy. In Luxembourg, 1 in 3 people have metabolic syndrome, as a risk factor for cardiometabolic complications such as obesity, high blood sugar and cholesterol, as well as hypertension. Science has shown a link between what we eat and our health – nutritionists are now investigating how dietary strategies could prevent these health complications.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Adham Ayman Al-Sayyad

Adham Ayman Al-Sayyad is a PhD researcher working on multidisciplinary cross-border project. In our article, we explore the Egyptian national’s research around the topic of laser beam joining; why his next step post-PhD would be to spend some time working in industry to understand his research topic from new angles; and his passion for bridging cultures to bring people together.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Eva Lagunas

Eva Lagunas has always been curious about technology, even building her own makeshift smartphone when she was a child. A couple of degrees later, the Spanish national set her sights on coming to Luxembourg, family in tow, to take up a Postdoc position at the University of Luxembourg’s Interdisciplinary Centre for Security, Reliability and Trust (SnT). Now, she feels lucky to spend her time researching satellite communications in the 5G era.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Pit Ullmann

Pit Ullmann’s interest in natural sciences was piqued in high school. The Luxembourg national went on to study molecular biology at the University of Innsbruck and then found himself desiring a job that would be both interdisciplinary and diversified – fast forward and Pit is now completing his AFR PhD at the University of Luxembourg, where his research group studies why and how colon cancer develops and spreads.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Towards predicting ageing-related diseases

A rapid increase in both life expectancy and global population size has led to a rise in the prevalence of chronic ageing-associated diseases. Brain and heart age-associated diseases including hypertension, stroke, heart failure, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases are leading causes of mortality and disability worldwide. Researchers are working on much-needed ways to predict these diseases.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Ernesto Gargiulo

Ernesto Gargiulo has always had a curious and inquisitive disposition, which as a child saw him spending hours outdoors, in a quest to discover. At University, Ernesto’s attention turned to oncology. Set on applying and strengthening his knowledge, the Italian national embarked on a PhD at the Luxembourg Institute of Health (LIH), where he works on characterising exosomes, small extracellular vesicles, linked to cancer development, progression and chemo-resistance.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Michel Thill

For his part-time AFR PhD in Political Science with Ghent University’s Conflict Research Group, Michel Thill researches a little-studied subject: everyday policing practices and interactions between police and people in Bukavu, a provincial capital in the East of the Democratic Republic of Congo. We spoke to the Luxembourg national about insatiable curiosity being a virtue for researchers; the experiences gained during his PhD; and why his research subject is important.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Gilles Tossing

Gilles Tossing’s fascination for the human brain – and why it sometimes fails – led him to the path of research. Now in the second year of his AFR PhD at Université de Montréal in Canada, the Luxembourg national investigates neurodegenerative diseases, with the aim of improving treatments for those affected.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Max Hilaire Wolter

During his Bachelor studies in physics and photovoltaics at the University of Luxembourg, Max Hilaire Wolter was exposed to live-action research for the first time. The experience left such a positive impression that Max proactively sought out to return to the same lab for a PhD after completing his Master’s studies abroad. We spoke to the Luxembourg national about why research is fun, solar cells and the importance of science outreach.

Spotlight on Young Researchers: Zhe Liu

Zhe Liu’s passion for research grew from a desire to find out how things work and why. Considering himself as a ‘Luxembourg-made Chinese researcher’, Zhe came to Luxembourg in 2011 for his AFR PhD, a project for which he later won an FNR Award for ‘Outstanding PhD Thesis’ in 2016.

This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you agree to the use of cookies for analytics purposes. Find out more in our Privacy Statement