Holly HenninHolly Hennin holds an eider in this photo taken on East Bay Island, located in the northern section of Hudson Bay.

Biology student thrives on last-minute Arctic adventure

Holly Hennin thought she was going to have a nice, quiet, and uneventful summer in her office writing about her findings on the common eider, a large sea duck known to inhabit the cooler northern regions of the planet.

A doctoral student in biology, Hennin has spent her last two summers on East Bay Island, a tiny piece of land in an inlet on the south east side of Southampton Island, located in the northern section of Hudson Bay. She studies eiders in order to better understand their chances for successful reproduction, and was planning on analyzing two summers' worth of data for her dissertation, which she hopes to defend next year.

Her plans, however, were unexpectedly but happily interrupted when she got a last minute call in June from her academic supervisor Oliver Love asking her to drop what she was doing, fly up to the island and fill in for another student from Queen’s University who fell ill and had to be flown out.

“I was like, of course, I’d love to go!” said Hennin, who spent the next several days making travel arrangements for the four-flight journey.

When she landed on the mainland a few days later, she was greeted by Dr. Love, who had walked about five kilometers over the ice from East Bay Island to meet her. The two exchanged pleasantries and then Love got on the plane to come home to Windsor, while Hennin made the trek back across the ice to the remote island camp.

“We spoke for about 10 minutes and then I was off,” said Hennin, who spent the next 10 days at the camp, which consists of a cabin that sleeps eight, a research cabin, a cooking tent and an outhouse.

Hennin’s work involves analyzing the blood from eiders for triglycerides and a hormone called corticosterone. Both are indicators of fat levels and energetics in the birds, which migrate from Greenland to the Southampton area for their summer reproductive season.

“They have to accumulate enough fat before they can lay their eggs because they fast through their entire incubation period, which is about a month,” she explained.

Hennin will discuss her adventure today on Research Matters, a weekly talk show that focuses on the work of University of Windsor researchers and airs every Thursday at 4:30 p.m. on CJAM 99.1 FM.

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Editor's note: this is one of a series of articles about students who were engaged in cool research projects and other scholarly activities this summer.