I’m happy to report (I’ll be it a bit late) that the OBH (Ocean Bottom Hydrophone… for those of you just joining us) has been safely recovered! It is now snugly packed on board the R/V Araon and prepared for transport back to NOAA. Our first attempt to contact our instrument was a success (we sang to it, it sang back… how I love acoustics); however, the glorious sunshine that graced us during our recovery was unfortunately accompanied by 45-knot winds. The ship, which is large and generally stable, pitched in the wind. Our instrument is robust, but not unbreakable, and requires hoisting onto the deck via an onboard winch once it appears at the oceans surface. This translates to a lot of potential swinging – particularly in choppy seas. As usual the crew of the R/V Araon did not disappoint. They recommended a delay, and the recovery was postponed.
What was not postponed, however, was our end of research cruise celebration. Despite the delay our research team was treated to a feast! Korean wine, sashimi and tempura, even chocolate cakes were served. We ate until we could not eat any more, and made merry in the mess hall until our sides split from laughing (ok, there may have been some dancing in the lounge as well, a cap with a beard knit into it, and Christmas carols). It was a glorious way to celebrate the ‘almost end of cruise’.
While the following day’s 8 AM recovery seemed early given the night’s festivities, the entire operation went off without incident. Our instrument appeared as predicted after the release command was sent, and the crew deftly maneuvered her onboard (despite another pick up in the wind). For me, the moment was one of blissful relief. This was my first large-scale recovery (of what I hope will be many). This trip was a gift and an opportunity, to successfully accomplish my mission was glorious. Further, the anticipation for seeing the instrument when she appeared from ~1000 m depth had been building for months. When it was finally placed on board I completely forgot about the lack of sleep. It was amazing. I was struck by how little bio-fouling took place (although admittedly the instrument was well beyond the photic zone), other than a thin film and what appeared to be a handful of deep water limpets.
By comparison, the OBS (Ocean Bottom Seismometer) recovery was significantly more dramatic. Two OBS’s were deployed last year, both locations are currently covered in ice. To recover our instruments the R/V Araon’s ice breaking capabilities were put into full use. The ship was used to break, and then clear, a hole in the ice directly above where the OBS was deployed. Nature abhors a vacuum, so as soon as the ice was cleared (which took hours) it would quickly drift back into position. Despite this, the ship’s captain managed to clear an opening in the ice about the size of a small lake. this required copious amounts of circular ice breaking, the ship track lines were dizzying. The operation, however, was brilliantly executed. The OBS was released directly into the center of the clearing (much to our relief).
Overall we successfully recovered one OBS, one OBH, deployed ~20 CTD casts (more if you consider that at times we deployed two separate instruments), and we successfully deployed to 500 m oceanographic mooring. Most of this was done in close proximity to the Drygalski Ice Tongue, which lived up in full to its reputation.
While our team was able to ride the euphoria of a successful mission for some time, I must admit the days following the end of the cruise were hard. Brett, the Kiwi scientist from NIWA (National Institute of Water and Atmosphere) joined us on the Araon for the duration of the cruise, but would not sail back with us. Similarly to our Italian colleagues Brett left via helicopter and disappeared across the ice. It strikes me as somewhat ironic that in a landscape that exists at such a large scale, that relationships here are formed so quickly. It’s a silly metaphor but I suppose this is not altogether unlike the ice itself, which freezes quickly (pancake ice anyone?), but has the potential to stay intact for many years. In any case we returned to the mouth of Terra Nova bay and bid a rushed goodbye to our dear friend. I hope he makes it home in time for Christmas.
As for the rest of our team? We’ll spend Christmas on the ship. We should be back in Lyttelton, New Zealand by December 27th, and will disembark shortly therafter. For now, we have a new group of Korean scientists on the ship. They have been at Jang Bogo for various durations, some only a week, others as much as a year! Additionally, we have a new group of Italian scientists from Mario Zuchelli Station who are in transit home. I’d thought my Italian lessons were over… I suppose we’ll have to see.
More on Christmas and the northbound transit soon!
Your Antarctic Correspondent,
**Disclaimer — This post was written a few days ago… but due to lack of internet I wasn’t able to post it. Stay tuned for notes on how Christmas turned out, and what our return to New Zealand looked like**
Since we are between terms at OSU, this month I will share a bit of extracurricular reading . I recently picked up “Blue Mind” by Dr. Wallace “J” Nichols. Dr. Nichols created the blue mind project to explore why humans love being near the water and how it influences our cognition.
I am particularly interested in Dr. Wallace’s suggestion of “neuroconservation”, that is, the idea that neuroscience can be a tool to identify why humans have an affinity towards the ocean and nature, and then use that understanding to influence people to protect and conserve natural resources.
Emotion, as he explains in the first section of “Blue mind”, dictates the decisions we make – and exposure to the natural world creates positive emotions. For example, simply being in the presence of water can help relax the mind and body, while movement such as swimming can magnify this effect even further. Specifically, Dr. Nichols explains, the human body’s natural boyancy in water creates a powerful pressure that eases circulation and increases oxygen intake, relaxing the mind and reducing stress. Do we choose to do better when we feel better? Logically, that seems reasonable and as a marine scientist I hope that “neuroconservation” can be a means to direct passive ocean enjoyment into attention towards and participation in active conservation efforts.
As a researcher, part of my job is to engage the public with my work — which is not always easy. “Blue mind” considers the use of psychological techniques in public outreach. Could strategies currently used in advertising for consumer goods be applied towards conservation awareness? I am inspired by the possibilities for aquariums, preserves, and beaches to improve education and visitor engagement.
What do you think about using neuroscience for conservation? Would you read “Blue mind”?
…A question that sometimes occurs when I tell people that I study the sounds of the whales. Still, my very close non-scientists friends do think that I try to talk to dolphins. This might not be accurate since my research equipment and purpose of my study do not allow anything like this, but essentially I do try to spy on their “conversations”.
One of the functions of sound in dolphins and whales is communication. Communication is a keyword in bioacoustics and is defined as being “the transmission of a signal from one organism to another such that the sender benefits from the response of the recipient”. There are different purposes that it serves living organisms and different ways to express it.
A primary purpose of communication is to attract and repel. Plants use chemical signals that get transmitted through the air or their roots, people use the smell of pheromones to attract each other, and skunks use the same signal to repel. Dogs and foxes use face and body gestures to express submission and aggression. Elephants use touch interlinking their trunks as a means of close communication. Especially for attracting mates, vision (peacock elaborated feathers) and sound (bird songs) are both very useful.
Though the most common well-known animal communication signal heard by humans is the bird song, there are all sorts of animals that rely on their hearing and vocal ability to succeed and survive. Whales, the modern giants, appear to be experts in the art of sound communication with different species each having their own sounds. They use these sounds to navigate, locate and capture prey, communicate about the environment and the availability of food or predators, and to attract mates or repel competitors.
Such acoustic signals may be (a) instinctive that is genetically programmed or (b) learned from others through social learning.
Social learning is the information moving through communication from one organism to another. This information then passing on is what we call culture. Without this transfer there would be no life, no evolution, no biology. Culture is why we have the Parthenon, the South Park, boy bands and the MIT. What you read, like this blog, that you may pass it on is culture.
Cultural transmission, the social learning from conspecifics is believed to occur in a number of groups of animals, including primates, cetaceans and birds, elephants and bats. Cultural traits can be passed through different paths.
Cultural transmission can be done vertically: from parents to offspring, obliquely: from the previous generation via non related individuals to younger individuals, or horizontally: between unrelated individuals from similar age classes or within generations.
Of the several types of social learning which have been recognized, imitation is particularly significant for the propagation of culture. Humans can imitate new sounds and learn how to use them correctly in social situations. This is called vocal learning which is considered to be one of the foundations of language.
My favorite example of imitation in the animal kingdom is the lyrebird of S. Australia, which has an unbelievable capacity for mimicry. During the breeding season in South Australia, the male lyrebirds spend six hours a day calling, doing their best to attract the ladies. They have the most complex syrinx (vocal organ in birds), and they make a remarkable use of it!
I know I am repeating myself since I have posted a video of the lyrebird before but this time the famous mime has enriched its repertoire with more sounds that will make you wonder how and why… Check out the lyrebird’s latest hits here.
Next I would like you to meet Luna, another excellent mime; Luna is a male orphan killer whale. Luna has been all alone since the age of two, living off the coast of Vancouver Island, Canada. There, in 2001, Luna became popular for getting in close proximity to people, interacting with local boaters and perfectly mimicking boat noises. A tragic result of this interaction was the tragic death of Luna in 2006 due to a tugboat collision!
Culture, through social learning, has been studied and papers have been published mainly in only four species of cetaceans: (1) the humpback whale, (2) the sperm whale, (3) the killer whale, and (4) the bottlenose dolphin.
Humpback: the Diva
Humpbacks are the most popular singers of probably all the non-human mammals. They have even released CDs with their songs ! When we think of whale songs the humpback is what we have in mind. They represent the best understood horizontal culture of cetaceans.
The males produce series of vocalizations that form songs used in sexual selection (through mate attraction and/or male social sorting). Their songs are very complex and can be heard mainly in breeding grounds and whales can hear them up to 10 km (about 6 miles) away. Whales sing the same song for hours and hours. Populations within an ocean basin have similar songs with this similarity dependent on geographical distance between populations.
Humpbacks can change their song after hearing other songs. A terrific example takes place in the southern ocean where the songs are horizontally transmitted from eastern Australia in the west across the region to French Polynesia in the east. The songs have been documented radiating repeatedly across the region from west to east, usually over a period of two years. The result: soon the song that was recorded on the east region is now fully replaced by the west region hit. This seems to me to be really similar to our music culture transmission.
Killer whales: The Intellectuals
The Sea Pandas (as some marketing teams have proposed renaming killer whales to help promote their conservation) are highly social.
The populations off the west coast of Canada have been studied for decades and are divided in different ‘‘types’’: the residents, transients and offshores. These 3 different types have diverse feeding preferences and subsequent vocalizations. The residents feed on fish and are highly vocal, the transients feed on marine mammals and are much quieter to not reveal their presence to their prey that has good hearing abilities. The offshores are also highly vocal and feed on sharks and rays.
Killer whales that are separated by great geographical distances have completely different dialects. An analysis of Icelandic and Norwegian killer whale pods revealed that the Icelandic population made 24 different calls and the Norwegian whales made 23 different calls, but the two populations did not share any of the same calls.
Besides dialects, killer whales have been shown to learn vocalizations from other species. Yes, they speak foreign languages! At a water facility, where they socialized with bottlenose dolphins, they changed the types of sounds they made to resemble those of their neighbors.
If I was not so enthusiastic about the sperm whales, killer whales would definitely receive most of my scientific admiration. They have evolved outstanding sophisticated hunting techniques and their vocal behavior is impressive, being specific to certain groups and passed across generations. Killer whales are great examples of cultural organisms.
Keeping these animals in captivity sounds like even less of a good idea now, right?
Bottlenose dolphins: the Eponymous
Bottlenose dolphins are well known for their signature whistles. They have stereotypical signatures attributed to each individual that work as their name. This helps to maintain contact between mom and calf or between individuals in a group. Each bottlenose dolphin has its own unique whistle and it uses it to broadcast their location and identity to others.
Most of the characteristic whistles are usually fixed for all the lifetime of the dolphin. However in some cases, when a male dolphin leaves mom and joins with other males to form an alliance (which might last for decade), their distinctive whistles converge and become very similar. So the longer they stay together the more similar their whistles become. Based on the same reasoning, I can’t understand why my English accent is still the same after three years living in USA!
Sperm whales: the Bignose
Sperm whales are among the loudest animals on Earth, and my favorite (not sure if I have already mentioned my preference). They owe this to their huge nose which functions as a massive click producer. They also have the biggest brain. They produce a variety of loud and distinctive types of clicks for different functions. One of these types of vocalizations is called coda. It is stereotypical patterns of clicks resembling Morse code, and frequently serves social purposes. Codas are usually heard when the group of animals rest or socialize at the surface of the ocean. Similar codas used by one group may help maintain group cohesion after its members are done feeding.
It is thought that each sperm whale has its own individually distinctive coda pattern and it has been reported that groups within one geographic area tend to have more similar codas than groups from further away. The “five regular” call is one of the few codas that all sperm whale groups around the globe use in their regional dialects; while the “plus one” type seems to be specific to Mediterranean inhabitants. These vocal behaviors are transmitted vertically, and loosing members of the population may seriously impact the transmission of this cultural trait that carries important information content vital for the survival of the population.
We don’t need to watch Interstellar to search for life in different solar systems and unknown worlds. Like Anne Stevenson said: “the sea is as near as we come to another world”. The ocean is vast largely undiscovered. We can consider the open sea an intriguing new wet universe. In interstellar, communication or miscommunication played an important role and turned out to be vital for rescuing the world. Father and daughter that could not directly speak to each other used binary code to transmit their messages through different dimensions. The cetaceans also transmit their messages through codes that we try to identify and understand. It is vital for their world to be able to use these sounds to communicate. You can correctly guess that we are using their home for our anthropocentric purposes and we are being very noisy neighbors, polluting their ocean and impacting their survival. This can be changed… If you are looking for New Years resolutions…
Like in the movie, it’s not Them that will help us save the world. No external factors are required, all the power is in us!
Happy, quiet and peaceful holidays to y’all!!
This post was inspired by the presentation that me and Selene gave on Saturday 12/13/2014 for the Oregon Chapter of the American Cetacean Society entitled: “Do you speak whale?”.
Soundbites is a weekly (biweekly, occasionally) feature of the coolest, newest bioacoustics, soundscape, and acoustic research, in bite-size form. Plus other cool stuff having to do with sound. Sorry I missed last week. End of term caught up with me.
Fun link of the week:those who have been following this blog for a little while know that I’m a big fan of Lord of the Rings and of movie sound design. Well, today marks the release of the last Hobbit Film, The Battle of the Five Armies. In honor of that, the video in this link’s week walks you through the sound design of the films.
We’ve departed the Jang Bogo research station with a considerably lighter ship! We unloaded countless shipping containers millions of gallons of fuel, enough food to feed a small army for years, and most of our passengers (including my favorite helicopter pilots).
We are now only seven passengers on this massive ship, with a crew of I think 35 to guide us through the Ross Sea. It is now that the actual science part of our cruise kicks in. Yesterday afternoon Jurgen (Geman geophysicist from KUM), Won Sang (KOPRI Chief scientist- geophysicist), and Sukyoung (KOPRI seismologist/environmental acoustician) and I assembled an ocean bottom seismometer (OBS) that will be deployed on the next leg of the trip (I’ll be gone by then). Today we assembled a 500m mooring that we will deploy first thing tomorrow morning. We conducted one CTD cast (to get info on the water column) at about 8pm and one more around midnight. Feeling science-y yet? Me too.
Because it’s 24 hours of daylight (bright as noon all the time) the crew is split into shifts, and if we’re willing we can do science in what should be the middle of the night, but looks just like early afternoon. We opted not to do too many middle of the night missions, but it blows my mind that we could. On board the R/V Araon we now get four meals a day. Breakfast at 7am, lunch at 11:30, dinner at 5:30 and ‘late meal’ at 10:00pm. Last night’s late meal was wonton soup in seaweed broth, and if I ever complained about the food on the ship I take it all back. It was excellent! I tried to convey my gratitude to tHe chef (one of my newest Korean friends on board the ship), but my Korean is still terrible. All I managed to say was thank you, and then bowed and smiled.
In less technical news I had one of the most amazing wildlife experiences of my life, though it will surprise you to hear that it was not with a whale but a seal! The seals here are extremely lazy, and hard to make move or even acknowledge the gigantic ship. They generally bask in the sunlight conserving energy (nice life). Because of this it’s fairly easy to walk across the ice and visit with them. Which of course we did as soon as we were able (no worries as a good ecologist I tried not to alter their behavior). Silly me forgot her camera (maybe better, the experience wasn’t about watching) but this seal was enormous! And although it didn’t move when it saw us it did something better… He began to vocalize.
Polar seals sound just like aliens (I’ve blogged about this before), it’s otherworldly. Typically they only make sounds in water but this seal starting singing/ringing/cooing on ice! It was the same type of sound I spent a year searching for when I was analyzing Arctic data but never got to see in person. To hear this kind of sound without a hydrophone, without a microphone, just to sit next to this massive seal and hear it ringing like a bell was the most amazing thing this acoustic ecologist could have possibly imagined. I nearly cried.
I did manage to make a recording of the call, but the quality is poor. I’ll try and clean it up when I come home and get it posted for all the world to hear. Needless to say now I want to study polar seal communication, and the ecology of Antarctic pinniped species.
For now a few photos of other seals will have to do, and the sound will have to follow.
After a nine day sail the R/V Araon arrived in Jang Bogo Research Station! As a first time visitor to Antarctica the view not only took my breath away, but dumbfounded me. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before, and admittedly I haven’t found the words yet to describe it- the sheer scale of the landscape leaves me at a complete loss. Luckily ORCAA sent me with a camera, which should speak a little more clearly than I can these days.
After a short stop in Terra Nova Bay on Saturday to bid our Italian colleagues goodbye the Araon spent ~48 hours breaking through 1-2m thick ice (the noise was deafening and impressive). The ship, as I’ve mentioned before, is state of the art and extremely efficient at it’s job- breaking ice. The frozen sea stretches in front of us dauntingly, but the ship is not phased as she bows over the ice which creaks and breaks under the weight of the ship, blazing our path toward the continent.
After quite some time on the ship I think both passengers and crew were eager to step onto the ice and set foot on the continent of Antarctica. Admittedly, the only thing which seemed to satiate the passengers onboard the ship were the frequent sightings of Adelie penguins, and a very long encounter with an emperor penguin that curiously watched as we stopped to rearrange our cargo deck.
While I can’t underplay the thrill of watching penguins from the ship, it did not compare to the excitement of reaching the continent itself.
The Jang Bogo research station is one of the most impressive facilities I’ve ever seen. It is outfitted to comfortably hold multiple research teams investigating a range of environmental features including space weather, geophysics and seismology, geology, and oceanography. It is also outfitted with an indoor greenhouse where salad greens are grown for consumption throughout the year, a state of the art gym (with climbing wall), an espresso bar, multiple lounges and conference rooms, wet and dry lab space, and considerable charm.
The team currently in residence at Jang Bogo are extremely gracious, and generously toured me through the facility within moments of stepping foot inside the door. The facility, which officially opened its doors last February, is nearing completion, and various research projects are currently underway. Many of the researchers currently at the base will accompany us on the return journey to Christchurch, NZ.
For now, the crew has been working round the clock (the never setting sun allows for very high productivity- human and primary) to unload supplies, scientific cargo, and fuel for the base. Tomorrow our helicopter pilots will begin flying missions as various ice dynamic studies progress, and in two days time we will set sail for our oceanographic cruise.
Soundbites is a weekly (biweekly, occasionally) feature of the coolest, newest bioacoustics, soundscape, and acoustic research, in bite-size form. Plus other cool stuff having to do with sound. Can you believe it’s already December?
Okay, so, the holiday season is upon us, and I thought I would do something a little different (mostly because end-of-term has meant I am fed up with reading papers and would rather look at holiday stuff). Today I present to you: a holiday gift guide for your favorite bioacoustician.
Species of interest cookie cutters: who doesn’t love holiday cookies? Better yet, let’s make holiday cookies in the shapes of bioacoustically relevant species! You’ve got your suite of marine mammals: seals, dolphins, and whales. Let’s throw in a bat for good measure. And of course, we can’t forget about my frogs! And let’s put a penguin in there for Michelle.
The day after tomorrow we will arrive in icy waters on the R/V Araon. It will take another few days to break
through the ice and arrive at Jang Bogo. The overarching mission of the KOPRI project is to investigate ice dynamics in the Ross Sea/ Terra Nova Bay region, with particular interest in the Drygalski Ice Tongue. We’ve just entered Antarctic waters (we passed the 60 degree parallel late last night), and we’re getting closer.
An interlude: there is a lot of time to burn on the ship. Most people spend time working (I’m writing my dissertation proposal, and processing data for my first manuscript) but in the evenings, after our daily science meeting, we watch movies. Last night we watched “The Day After Tomorrow”. The premise of the movie is far fetched- paleoclimatologist (Dennis Quaid) predicts a catastrophic climactic shift 100-1000 years in the future and it actually takes place instantaneously in the next 48 hours. Due to the melting of Antarctica the earth’s ocean has become desalinized, the Gulf Stream has cooled, and climate goes haywire throwing us into an instantaneous ice age.
Is it possible? To the best of my scientific knowledge- no. However, there’s an interesting line in the movie when Dennis Quaid (NOAA scientist) asserts, “We know that Antarctica has been melting, but no one knows how much fresh water it puts into the ocean, or understands anything about ice dynamics!” Evidently the entire fiasco could have been avoided if we just knew more about Antarctic ice!
Well, the movie had it way off, but they got one thing close to right. We are investigating ice dynamics in Antarctica. The NOAA-Pacific Marine Environmental Lab (PMEL) is part of an integrated effort to understand just that -ice dynamics in Antarctica. The hydrophone that I’m sent to recover for PMEL (in cooperation with KOPRI) has been listening to the sound of shifting ice. If you are unaware that ice makes noise, well you have been missing one of life’s great sound effects. While I haven’t had the chance to listen to Antarctic sea ice, you may remember from a previous blog post that I was part of a team that analyzed a year’s worth of acoustic data from the Arctic where winter sea ice abounds. The sea ice sings, wheezes, moans, cracks, and whirs. It sounds like an abiotic opera, and could easily be the character in a science fiction movie (Marvin the Martian was a Bearded seal… remember? Well, perhaps Sea Ice is his alien companion?).
But these squeaks, wheezes, and moans are more than the musical byproducts of ice- they are data. Sound can be used to infer the state of the ice, whether it is melting, moving, or quaking. In short, similar to using passive acoustic monitoring to understand ecosystem dynamics of baleen whale species, we can also use passive acoustic monitoring to understand something about polar ice dynamics. And if Dennis Quaid has taught us anything it’s that ignoring Antarctic sea ice could destroy Manhattan, this weekend (well… maybe not). More likely, understanding Antarctic ice dynamics will give us critical information linked to sea level rise and shifting climactic regimes. Not quite as sexy as destroying Manhattan- but equally as important.
Over and Out.
Your Antarctic Correspondent,
PS- Did I mention we passed the 60 Degree Parallel! I’m at the bottom of the world!