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Tagged blue whale off the coast of Southern California. Taken under NMFS permit #14534 by J. Calambokidis.

Today’s blog comes from aboard the ‘R/V’ Truth (well technically I’m at Starbucks now, yay wi-fi). I’m down in Southern California for two weeks working on the SOCAL-BRS project. This is a multi-year effort to study the behavior of marine mammals in the Southern California Bight, specifically the reactions of these protected species to specific sounds including naval sonar. All this will help regulatory agencies better understand the risks and effects of sound exposure to marine mammals so they can make more informed decisions. I’m here as an associate scientist with Southall Environmental Associates, Inc, but this project is a huge collaboration. I get to work with folks from Cascadia Research Collective, the Friedlaender Lab at OSU’s Marine Mammal InstituteMoss Landing Marine Laboratory’s Vertebrate Ecology Lab, the  Goldbogen Lab at Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station, NOAA’s Southwest Fisheries Science Center, Navy marine mammal research personnel, and of course the amazing crew from Truth Aquatics (our boat charter) out of Santa Barbara.

A tagging boat dropping off some gear.

A tagging boat dropping off some gear.

BRS stands for Behavioral Response Study. My master’s research is all on testing the potential use of a new kind of tag for these types of studies, so I’m very lucky to be participating in such a project for my third field season.  Currently, these types of studies use tags that combine fine scale  behavioral sensors and passive acoustic recorders (in our case, DTAGs developed by folks at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute) to monitor potential changes in an individual animal’s behavior in response to a controlled sound exposure projected from a boat. This project is really important for investigating exactly how marine mammals are affected by anthropogenic noise such as naval sonar.

workspace pano

The whole database set up….so many wires!

WILD in the midst of a busy afternoon: boat tracks, instrument deployments, and animal sightings!

WILD in the midst of a busy afternoon is filled with boat tracks, instrument deployments, and animal sightings!

I sort of have a bunch of jobs on the boat. My main duties are as database network manager and operation of WILD (Whale Identification and Logging Database) software that allows us to combine location data from our three research vessels, animal sightings from our visual observers, and instrument deployment from our various teams. I serve as an assistant for Chief Scientist Brandon Southall, helping him coordinate the different science teams and directing the captain when Brandon is out on one of the small boats. I help with radio telemetry, visual observations, and try my best not to get sunburnt. Oh…and this year we have a smoothie bar! So I moonlight as smoothie barista due to my incredible smoothie-making skills.

One of the perks: a sunrise over Catalina Island

One of the perks: a sunrise over Catalina Island

There is some downtime while we are on the search for whales (great time for catching up on scholarly reading!) mixed with crazy hectic long days when we’ve got multiple tags out and successful playback sequences. I just wanted to share some pictures of the daily grind, and daily gifts, for those of you who are land locked.

Check out all those links above to learn more – especially the official SOCAL-BRS’ blog.

Another great sunrise

Another great sunrise

Home for the next two weeks.

Home for the next two weeks.

Blue whale flukes

Blue whale flukes. Taken under NMFS permit #14534 by J. Calambokidis.

 

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