Animal Bioacoustics

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Hurry up and wait

I’m sitting at my desk, while delightful Niki is out on the water to deploy Will and Otis, Jr. So I figured I should maybe write a blog.

Niki…ready and waiting! Look at that sun!! (not seen…fairly large swell for such a small boat….)

Niki is helping me out (SO MUCH) by going out and being my acoustician on the water – actually deploying the gliders while I am stuck at my computer piloting them. She has the help of the awesome Jim and Doug from the Oregon Coast Aquarium dive team, and their wonderful, fast boat, the Gracie Lynn.

We got up nice and early and got to the lab before first light to load the truck and transport the gliders to the South Beach Marina (such a long drive…not). Here I ran some self-tests on both gliders, connected to them via serial connection. Of course what should have taken 45 mins took 1.5 hours, but that’s science! We loaded everything up and off they headed – straight west about 35 miles off shore, to get the gliders over deep water.

We are conducting a short engineering test before the gliders head to the Gulf of Mexico for their summer field work. Otis Jr is new (to replace our beloved SG608, Otis), and his PAM system needs to be tested. Will got new batteries after his flight  in Catalina last summer, so we want to test that he is all in good working shape too (his weight is slightly different now so gotta check how he flies.)

So why hurry up and wait? Well the last few weeks have been crazy hectic trying to get SG639 set up and tested, with LOTS of issues. We are in a time crunch to get the gliders shipped to Louisiana before the June cruise. So we got them ready for the test flight (rush rush rush) and then we had to wait for a weather window to actually deploy them because, well, weather on the Oregon Coast in April (wait wait wait).

But today we got a window. And fingers crossed we will recover on Sunday (its just a short test).

Niki took pics of me in action…this was my favorite obviously because it is so flattering. Also, yes we were wearing the same jacket. Lab sharing at its best.

Through Passionate Eyes…

Hello ORCAA enthusiasts!

This is going to be a different blog post than what you usually read, and it’s also the first one I’ve ever written. I hope you enjoy it!

My name is Ciera Edison and I am currently an undergraduate in the department of Fisheries and Wildlife at Oregon State University. But I’m going to rewind a bit. From a very young age I was obsessed with marine mammals. At eight years old my parents took me to SeaWorld where my future was decided. I knew from the moment I walked into that facility that I wanted a job with marine mammals. When I came back to Washington after that trip, I was a changed kid. I started doing research to see what my impact on the environment was, and wanted to do everything in my power to help minimize it. Over the next ten years, before heading off to college, I spent time volunteering at the Seattle Aquarium, PAWS wildlife rehabilitation center, beach naturalist programs, and multiple beach clean ups. I did anything to get closer to my favorite animals and help spread the word about human impacts. The Fisheries and Wildlife department was the perfect fit for me. The past three years have only solidified my dream, my passion, my desire to become a marine mammal biologist.

Simply taking classes was not enough for me. I became a volunteer mammologist at the Oregon Coast Aquarium and even president of The Fisheries and Wildlife Club. But going into my senior year (WOO!) I wanted to do more. The department offers a Mentor-Mentee program that allows students to work with grad students on their research. Obviously, I have no problem with volunteering my time which is why I contacted ORCAA Lab Ph.D. student Selene Fregosi. I was thrilled to hear back from her that she not only welcomed my help with her data, but was willing to act as my supervisor for research credits.

To assist in her research, I spend about 9 hours a week (usually more) running programs and recording any noises that I hear. Through this data processing my goal is to identify not only the species present in the Catalina Basin, but how often they are there (looking at it hour by hour). My inner child came out when I heard my first blue whale, then humpbacks, and even more when I heard sea lions barking (SEA LIONS, something we were not expecting at all)! Every day when I get done with my work the first thing my friends and family ask is “What did you hear today?!” Since January, I have been like a sponge soaking up everything I can. I have gone through ups and downs this term (my computer loves to crash on me while I’m in the middle of logging data), but overall I have thoroughly enjoyed my time. What more could I ask for!

I am continuing this research through spring term where I will be presenting at RAFWE and writing my first research paper (maybe I can even get it published)! I hope to post again during spring term to share with you guys what I found.

For now, here is a spectrogram of the sea lion vocalizations! When you listen to this, it really sounds like they are barking. Pretty neat stuff!

ORCAA work in the news!

My PhD work was recently featured in a press release by the Acoustical Society of America! I just got back from the 172nd Meeting of the ASA/5th Meeting of the ASJ in Honolulu, HI. I presented on data from this glider and float deployment. Michelle and Dave were there too…representing OSU as best we could!!

Read the full article here:
https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/12/161201094452.htm

Hearing is a vital sense for marine mammals who use it to forage communicate and navigate. Many of these mammals produce specific vocalizations that can be used to identify the species and track their locations via acoustic monitoring. Traditionally scientists have used underwater microphones to listen for marine mammals either on the seafloor or towed behind a boat. But now scientists can use autonomous underwater vehicles gliders and floats specially equipped with hydrophones to listen to marine mammals in ways impossible until now.

Goodbye Glacier Bay

The 2016 Alaskan field season is officially over. I can drag my feet and hang my head all I want, but the acoustic and behavioral data collection for 2016 is done and the process of studying for my comprehensive exams is in full swing (I’m taking a short break from outlining the management procedures of the IWC to write this blog). Admitting that I will not wake to the sound of humpback whales breathing outside my tent is a tough reality. Going a day without seeing a seal or an otter has been harder than I expected, but I realize it is time to say goodbye.

This summer was challenging, for various reasons. Year two, I think, always is. Expectations are variable, hopes run high, and the delicious satisfaction that comes with problem solving doesn’t always happen. The problems are already solved.

Despite this, the 2016 field season remains the most lucrative of my career , with hundreds of hours of data collection and a total of nearly a thousand surveys to compliment the anticipated 3,000 hours of recordings. I learned a great deal about nature, humanity, and myself, and I have high hopes that our scientific efforts will be fruitful! Further, I deepened some of my most valuable relationships (scientifically and personally) which colleagues that intend to keep for a lifetime.

But my writing this blog post doesn’t adequately paint the picture of what life felt like on the island, or why we study what we study. PBS, however, has done a pretty nice job of doing that for us. So I encourage you to watch the five-minute film below. It was produced by PBS and Alaska public media, but really it’s the brainchild of Hanna Gomes.  She did a really nice job capturing our world of Strawberry Island. I can’t think of a better way to say goodbye.

#SeaBASS2016

As a graduate student in bioacoustics, my education is interdisciplinary. Bioacoustics is a relatively small field, and (together with my peers) I am challenged to find my way through coursework in ecology, physiology, physics, oceanography, statistics, and engineering to learn the background information that I need to develop and answer research questions. While this challenge (for all young bioacousticians) presents itself a little differently at every university, the information gap is essentially the same. Hence, just over 6 years ago, Dr. Jennifer Missis-Old and Dr. Susan Parks recognized a need to fill this gap for graduate students in bioacoustics and created SeaBASS, a BioAcoustics Summer School.

This year, for the 4th iteration of the week-long program, I was lucky to have the opportunity to attend SeaBASS. I first heard about SeaBASS as a research assistant in Dr. Sofie Van Parijs’s passive acoustics group at the Northeast Fisheries Science Center, but the workshop is limited to graduate students only so I had to wait until I was officially enrolled in grad school to apply. My ORCAA lab-mates, Niki, Selene, and Michelle are all alumni of SeaBASS (read Miche’s re-cap from 2014 here) so by the time I was preparing for my trip to upstate NY this summer to attend, I had a pretty good idea of what was to come.

As expected, the week was packed. I flew to the East Coast a few days early to visit our fearless ORCAA leader, Holger, at the Bioacoustics Research Program at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, so I was lucky to be somewhat adjusted to EST by the time I arrived at Syracuse on Sunday afternoon. After exploring the campus, it was time for official SeaBASS programming to begin. Our first class, an “Introduction to Acoustics and Proportion”, began early on Monday morning. In the afternoon and through the rest of the week we also learned about active acoustics (creating a sound in the water and using the echo to detect animals or other things) and marine mammal physiology, echolocation, communication, and behavior. We also heard about passive acoustics (listening to existing underwater sounds), including the different types of technology being used and its application for population density estimation. On Friday afternoon, the final lecture covered the effects of noise on marine mammals.

Some SeaBASS-ers testing the hypothesis that humans are capable of echolocation.

In addition to the class lectures given by each instructor, we also heard individual opinions about “hot topics” in bioacoustics. This session was my favorite part of the week because we (the students) had the opportunity to hear from a number of accomplished scientists about what they believe are the most pressing issues in the field. Unlike a conference or seminar, these short talks introduced (or reinforced) ideas from researchers in an informal setting, and among our small group it was easy to hear impressions from other SeaBASS-ers afterward. As a student I spend a lot of my time working alone, my ORCAA labmates are focused on related projects, but we do not overlap completely. The best part of SeaBASS was sharing ideas, experiences, and general camaraderie with other students that are tackling questions very similar to my own.

SeaBASS 2016

Although a full week of class would be plenty to take in by itself, our evenings were also filled with activities. We (students) shared posters (this was mine) about our individual research projects, listened to advice about life as a researcher in the field, attended a Syracuse Chiefs baseball game, and at the end of each day reflected on our new knowledge and experiences over pints. So, needless to say, I returned home to Oregon completely exhausted, but also with refreshed excitement about my place in the small world of bioacoustics research.

Luckily we had beautiful weather for the baseball game!

Adrift in a sea of noise

I’ll be talking about my research on the radio this Sunday (2/28/16) at 1900 PST  – stream the show online at http://kbvr.com/listen

Repost from: Inspiration Dissemination Inspiring Stories From Oregon State Graduate Students on KBVR FM

“Imagine walking around your neighborhood in a dense fog as night settles in; you may be familiar with the layout, but everything seems different. Innocuous obstacles like low-hanging tree branches and broken sidewalks become invisible right until you stumble upon them. You must be extra vigilant in order to avoid blindly injuring yourself as visibility drops.

For many humans, sight is our most valuable sense, but for marine mammals like dolphins, whales, and seals, their hearing is most precious. As sound travels better through water than air, the ocean is already a noisy place with atmospheric activity and other animals passing around, but their senses have had millions of years to evolve in such an environment. Unfortunately, because of an increased human presence in the ocean, like a fog bank rolling in, the ocean is getting noisier and putting these already threatened animals in danger.

Samara ready to deploy a hydrophone

Samara Haver, a Masters student of Holger Klinck in Wildlife Science is interested in knowing about how the noise is affecting marine life. To do this, she must first characterize the ocean soundscape with hydrophones (pictured right) situated in various parts of the globe. With these data, she hopes to understand how loud the ocean is, how much noisier it’s getting, and where the noise is coming from. Tune in on Sunday, February 28th at 7PM PST on 88.7 FM in Corvallis or stream us online at http://kbvr.com/listen to hear Samara’s journey into the sounds of science.

Full Circle

“It takes two to speak the truth: one to speak and another to hear”

-Henry David Thoreau 

As a bioacoustician this is one of my favorite quotes.  Admittedly I’ve been including it somewhat frequently lately in various things that I’m working on (preamble to a future dissertation perhaps?). The goal of my work is fundamentally to describe something true to the world. It is important to note that while I believe my research is novel, I am under no illusion that the phenomenon that I’m describing is new. Whales have been communicating since long before I dropped my hydrophones to the bottom of the ocean, and they will continue producing sound long after we stop listening, but for the small part that I play in understanding the role of sound in lives humpback whales I’m content to let them speak while I hear.

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Leanna, David, and I en route to Glacier Bay on a teeny tiny airplane.

Which is why I’m writing. For the past year I’ve been writing about preparing.  Prepping instruments with the blood sweat and tears of friends and loved ones (you know I’m talking to you).  Prepping for field seasons (Oh Strawberry Island). And lastly preparing for the data to eventually come back to us. In May I wrote about the excitement and anxiety of deploying our four hydrophones in Glacier Bay National Park. Watching Snacks, Bruiser, Kenya, and Bumblebee descend to the ocean floor was nerve-wracking, but also came with a hard earned sigh of relief. Once they were sunk there was nothing left to do but wait patiently, and trust that we had done our jobs to the best of our ability.

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Bumblebee rises from the deep.

Two weeks ago, we got them back. For a full account read my science-partner-in-crime’s full account here.  The aptly named post “Things went wrong. They weren’t our fault. We fixed them anyway.” sums up the week pretty succinctly. Supported again by the rockstar crew of the M/V Lite Weight, and dragging friend/field tech/electrician David in tow Leanna, Chris and I once again assembled the dream team (minus Samara, who is a necessity for the next trip; we were seriously lacking snacks) and we managed to get four slimy, sleepy, superb hydrophones out of the water and onto dry land. While those of you who don’t work in oceanography may have taken for granted that all four hydrophones would come back, those of us who have been around the block know this isn’t always the case (ok, I’m still walking around the block… some day I’ll make it all the way around).

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Chris, Leanna and I proudly celebrating our successful recovery.

Were there problems?  Of course there were.  Did we fix them?  Sure. The good news is, that the hydrophones came back, and running in the background of my computer right now is a MatLab script converting the 15,204 .DAT files into .WAV files… so that we can begin to listen.

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Four smelly, soggy, perfect hydrophones all lined up in a row.

 

 

… and in case you were wondering, yes.  There are whale calls.

It came…from the COMPUTER!!!!!!!

I know I promised I’d be better about Soundbites. I even promised my labmates I’d be better about blogging. In my defense, I present this graph that I hastily drew today on my iPad:

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It’s a graph of how in control of my life I feel versus time in grad school. Now I’ve got two and a half years of data to back this up, so even though my sample size is n = 1, I feel pretty confident in the conclusions I’m drawing from it.

The beginning of grad school, when I first arrived but hadn’t started working yet, I felt pretty awesome. But then I started to realize how much work I had to do and how in over my head I felt, so there’s that first drop. Fieldwork was pretty up and down, followed by an alright summer and fall with more up and down fieldwork.

But with writing, it’s like I can’t get the rest of my life together to save, well, my life. Running? Out the window. Yoga? Nope. Climbing? Not on your life. Even simple walks to get outside are only done when I’m running between buildings. It’s like the only things I’m capable of are writing, sleeping, and eating, and anything else requires too much brain power to even attempt.

My advisor Tiffany mentioned that this is a common occurrence when students get to the writing phase. Usually I’m really disciplined about taking care of myself while working, but writing has just sucked that ability out of me.

So maybe the best approach is to just embrace it. Okay, the next month and a half is going to be spent existing mostly as a blob of words who occasionally eats food. Seems kind of fitting for a pre-Halloween post:

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Is this my fate? Will I be defending as a blob rather than a human?

Stay tuned…

Also, because I forgot Soundbites this week, here’s a fun link. Because I haven’t become a word blob yet.

13 of the most terrifying sounds ever recorded

Happy Halloween, all!

Experiencing Data

Any student who has worked with me knows that there are many things, sometimes conflicting, that I value about the field of wildlife science.  When running a field team I value (1) the significance of the field experience to my students, and to those with whom we regularly interact (including but not limited to the public, the community, and those of you who read our blogs), (2) the quality of the data that we collect, which ensures that the money we have been trusted with is going toward understanding something previously unknown or poorly described, and (3) the welfare of the system with which we interact.

Sunrise surveys

Sunrise surveys (photo credit: D. Culp)

In the case of the Acoustic Spyglass Project I feel privileged interacting with the students and the community is a long term relationship.  In the past I’ve mentored students over a period of weeks, with this project I’m able to extend that duration out to a period of months or even years.  I would also hope that in reading the blog posts made by my students that the value of their experience would become… well… self evident. I won’t harp of how inspiring this summer was, or how it changed us all.  To put words to the moments we shared might cheapen them, and I’m not willing to risk it.

On the other side of things, however, is that magic science word – “data”. Yes, we had a great time and ooo-ed and aaa-ed at many many whales; but was it worth it?  Yes.  Yes it was.  We were able to exceed my data collection dreams (let’s blow that power analysis out of the water friends) with over 300 scan point surveys and over 300 focal follows.  (To be fair we had about 500 of each, but after developing an inclusion criteria some had to go).  These kind of sample sizes are often hard to obtain in the marine mammal world (my heart goes out to you folks using tag data). While I’m quick to pat my own back here, this data still has some flaws that need to be reconciled. Three hundred focal follows doesn’t mean three hundred individual animals (fear of pseudo-replication anyone?). I still need to parse out the photo identification data we collected over the summer, put my head together with Chris and Janet to see what their photo ID record from the summer looks like, and then make some decisions on the best way to dive into this (delicious) data set.

Until then however, I’m working on getting the data uploaded into ArcGIS and organized in R (deep breath Miche… programming is your friend), and guiding my senior thesis students through their own data management forays.

Coming home is a challenge, it always is. At least in this context both the data, and the field team, are able to accompany me.  For a stranger plotting these dots on maps may not feel meaningful.  When I’m able to show my team the path that a humpback whale took during a sunrise survey, however, that means something to them and to me.  Once I have it plotted?  I’ll be sure to add it to this blog post… in the hope that it may mean something to you as well.

More than just a dot on a map

More than just a dot on a map

 

Fieldwork success!

I spent this past week on Cape Cod coordinating the retrieval and redeployment of the Noise Reference Station mooring in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Last October we deployed the hydrophone (NRS09) for the first time at our long-term site, and this year we were faced with the challenge of retrieving a 700 lb mooring without any surface expression. Luckily, we had a great weather day and the process went off without a hitch!

NRS09 coming up.

NRS09 coming up. (Photo: Onye Ahanotu)

As soon as we brought the lander back on board we got to work cleaning on the (small amount of) biofouling that accumulated over the past year. I also needed the prepare the acoustic release for re-deployment. In order to retrieve a mooring without any surface expression, we needed a system that would allow us to pull up the lander from the ocean floor; an acoustic release is the perfect solution. To make the re-deployment process easier, NRS09 was designed to use a release that can be easily re-assembled and re-used for successive deployments. Below I am taking release mechanism out of the housing to replace the battery.

Replacing the acoustic release batteries.

Replacing the acoustic release batteries. (Photo: Onye Ahanotu)

Once we had the lander on board we swapped out the hydrophone and prepared the lander for re-deployment. We had to be very careful to secure any pieces that could create noise (and interfere with the ocean noise we are trying to record).

Attaching the replacement hydrophone.

Attaching the replacement hydrophone.

Preparing the lander for re-deployment.

Preparing the lander for re-deployment. (Photo: Onye Ahanotu)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ready to re-deploy NRS09.

The whole crew ready to re-deploy NRS09.

Once the lander was cleaned, acoustic release re-assembled, and new hydrophone secured we were ready to re-deploy NRS09 in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary for another year.

Sending NRS09 back into the ocean.

Sending NRS09 back into the ocean. (Photo: Onye Ahanotu)

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