Science Horizons intern: Eric Brunsdon

As a small boy Eric Brunsdon was always flipping over rocks to see what creepy crawly creatures lived below. In the scenic small town of Hampton, NB, he captured tadpoles in puddles to raise in fish tanks and watched their tiny limbs develop. So when he grew up it was not such a giant leap to become a salmon specialist. He is now employed as a fish biologist by the Atlantic Salmon Federation in Saint Andrews, NB. However, career paths are not always straight and his was no different. The first scientist from his family, the Hampton-born biologist initially studied business at the University of New Brunswick’s Fredericton campus. But within two years he decided that he should follow his love for animals - particularly those of the cold-blooded variety. The once proud owner of a “Pacman” South American horned frog, smallish boas and pythons, and the owner still of a Kingsnake, Eric switched from business to biology.

Eric BrundsonLinley Jesson, a University of New Brunswick plant biologist and Eric’s independent studies advisor, persuaded him to pursue a Master’s degree, and he went on to study at Montreal’s Concordia University. Under professors James Grant and Dylan Fraser, his research focussed on Atlantic salmon ecology and conservation, especially fish interactions and habitat preferences. “I honestly have a passion for reptiles and amphibians,” says Eric. “But I chose Atlantic salmon research because of its importance economically and culturally.”

Eric’s career path took another turn when he was hired through Environment Canada’s Science Horizons internship program as an environmental technician at Eastern Charlotte Waterways Inc. in Black Harbour, NB. He worked there for a year, delighted to be back in his home province. “The skills I learned at Eastern Charlotte Waterways and the people I met were directly responsible for me being hired at the Atlantic Salmon Federation,” Eric says. “There is no way they would have hired me with very little job experience and living in Montreal.” Competition is fierce for fish biologist jobs in Canada.

I am happy to keep taking on these really smart people like Eric who is a phenomenal analyst. One of the best things is that it opened my eyes to what we need in that role and how people can use computer programs to analyze data effectively.

- Donald Killorn, Executive Director, Eastern Charlotte Waterways.

Work at Eastern Charlotte Waterways, a not-for-profit research organization, introduced Eric to crucial habitat issues affecting marine life. His main project work was in the field of noise pollution in the Bay of Fundy and how that noise could affect marine animals, especially whales. Led by the group’s Executive Director Donald Killorn, the study quantified noise levels in five areas in the Bay of Fundy, examining various noise sources, such as ferries, fishing vessels, and wind. Eric was responsible for data organization, analysis and report writing. He co-authored the report The Coastal Soundscape of the Outer Bay of Fundy, published in April, 2016.

Eastern Charlotte Waterways has hired four interns through the Science Horizons programs since 2012. Killorn says each one has contributed important skills to the organization. “I am happy to keep taking on these really smart people like Eric who is a phenomenal analyst. One of the best things is that it opened my eyes to what we need in that role and how people can use computer programs to analyze data effectively.” The Coastal Soundscape report was an extraordinary achievement for a small non-governmental organization, he adds. Eric says the report increased public awareness of underwater noise pollution. “I’d always thought of noise pollution as random loud blasts, not as constant white noise in the background,” he says. “But ambient noise really affects communication too.”

Offered a full time job at Eastern Charlotte Waterways when he completed his internship, Eric instead accepted a job at the Atlantic Salmon Federation where he had wanted to work for some time. The internship was a stepping stone to his dream job, he says happily. Soon he expects to be assessing the impact of aquaculture escapees upon wild salmon populations - “I’m still getting my feet wet.”

The Coastal Soundscape of the Outer Bay of Fundy report is considered the first comprehensive study of noise levels in the Bay of Fundy’s busy coastal waters that include the Port of St. John and various smaller ports. The report noted that the global fishing fleet has increased by a factor of four since 1992 and that deep-water ambient noise levels have risen at a rate of 3-5 decibels per decade over the past 50 years.

In the summer, the Bay of Fundy is home to many marine animals whose lives can be affected by underwater noise which travels four times more quickly in water than in air. Visitors to the bay include Humpback, Finback, and Minke whales, as well as endangered North Atlantic Right whales. For many marine mammals, sound is the preferred way of communication and navigation. Noise pollution seriously limits the abilities of animals to locate prey, mates and predators.

Noise frequency is important as well. For example, lower frequency calls made by baleen whales are similar to sounds emitted by large shipping vessels. Data collected by hydrophones revealed a considerable variation in noise levels, depending on shipping schedules, ferry routes, fishing seasons, topography and the Bay of Fundy’s famous tides. On average, ambient noise levels did not exceed maximums set by the European Union’s Marine Strategy Framework Directives but these levels were sometimes exceeded during peak shipping periods. The report’s authors recommended yearly monitoring of underwater sound in the bay as well as more work on marine animal habitat ranges and communications.

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