A small fish across a big pond: From Belfast to Tokyo!

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In the Okinawa themed bar, Tachikawa with most of the biologging team (left to right, Itsumi Nakamura, Yuuki Watanabe, Natasha Phillips (me), Nicholas Payne, Jonathan Houghton, Nobuo Kokobun and Dale Kikuchi)

Unravelling the ecology of marine predators such as ocean sunfish requires a range of techniques and skills. Parallel efforts by researchers in the UK and Japan have employed stable isotopes (diet) and data logger technology (behaviour, energetics) to conduct initial studies of ocean sunfish, but rather than work in isolation and risk re-inventing the wheel, we have turned potential competitors into valued collaborators!

With generous funding from the DAIWA Foundation (www.dajf.org.uk), I have been able to set up a mini sunfish symposium (with matching t-shirts)! My supervisor Dr Houghton and myself have travelled 6000 miles to Japan to meet with some of the best researchers in the world. We have been lucky enough to hold talks with Yuuki Wanatabe, Akinori Takahashi, Nicholas Payne, Itsumi Nakamura, Taiki Adachi and many more incredible researchers to discuss Manbo (or sunfish), bio-logging, analysis and much, much more.

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Ocean sunfish in the aquarium at Sunshine City

For two and half weeks I am to be based in Tokyo at the National Polar Research Institute and yesterday I was lucky enough to present my research to the group at my first international conference, the mini Sunfish Symposium! To have feedback on my PhD plans from such an audience was an incredible opportunity, and they have been so kind as to provide helpful suggestions and ideas to improve my project.

Aside from improving collaborative links between the UK and Japan, and gaining amazing support and advice for my project, this trip has also helped improve my confidence hugely and I cannot recommend enough the value of arranging such research exchanges. Yes, funding is tight and getting time off is not always easy, but there are lots of travel grants available to researchers across the academic spectrum. My PhD is generously supported by the FSBI, but I had no funding spare for research trips like this, however there is money available from many places to help set up international research. There is nothing like a face to face meeting or drinks after work to help get new collaborations up and running!

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Cycling trips around local parks (bonsai garden!) and more drinks in the bar…

If anyone is struggling to find funding for travel grants, particularly in the marine sector, please get in touch as I have had a few small successes recently and a long list of potential travel grants that might be of use.

If you would like to discuss Manbo, travel or Tokyo, please send me a line!

Tweet: @sunfishresearch

Email: nphillips01@qub.ac.uk

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