Maybe NERC underestimated the power of social media and the playground-humour of the British public when the on-line poll to name its latest polar research ship delivered the winner “Boaty McBoatface”.
A decade or so ago, had the Royal Institute of Navigation run a competition to name the greatest navigator, suggestions would have included Columbus, Magellan and da Gama. But since Air Commodore Pinky Grocott inspired the creation of the Animal Navigation Group (ANG), “Birdy McBirdface” is now in the frame. April will see animal navigation experts gather for the ninth RIN international conference on animal navigation. RIN 16 will cover Orientation & Navigation in Birds, Humans & Other Animals. The list of topics is intriguing: Orientation, Migration, Neurobiology, Behavioural Ecology, Spatial Cognition, Spin Chemistry, Sensory Physiology, Physics and Bionav.
Perhaps the biggest contribution the ANG has made to the Institute has been a friendly reminder of how little we know. Navigation practitioners and technologist tend to feel they are “winning” and approaching a state of total knowledge. Our scientists, on the other hand, are besotted with “the arch wherethrough gleams that untravelled world” and if they drag some slightly complacent navigators with them it is no bad thing. Animal studies have helped our understanding of cognition and the workings of the human brain. This has led to research in new materials and sensors: the world of complex polymers and quantum effects.
I cannot compete with such intellect. (At one conference I tried to pass myself off as an expert in Crustacean Navigation having just travelled from Charing-crustacean to Kings-crustacean on the Northern Line.)
And regarding Birdy McBirdface, perhaps we now have a name for the Arctic tern, the emblem of the Institute.
RIN 16. Orientation & Navigation Birds, Humans & Other Animals. Royal Holloway College, London. 13 to 15 April . Conference and Events Manager, Sally-Anne Cooke. 44 (0) 20 7591 3135. firstname.lastname@example.org