Animal Bioacoustics

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Animal Bioacoustics

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#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!

#ASA168

Before I went to ASA last week, I had this grand idea that I would do a sort of journal-blog thing, where I’d periodically write little snippets about what was going on and how I was feeling. I started off really well, too, but all of it basically went out the window when Holger came to pick me up Sunday morning.

Let me preface this post by saying that most of the other members of ORCAA have been to a big conference before, including this one last year. This was my first—I had given poster presentations at small symposia, but nothing like this. It was also my first proper presentation.

The first thing you have to realize about ASA is that it’s the Acoustical Society of America. This means that any field that has anything to do with acoustics is invited. Biomedical acoustics, architectural acoustics, musical acoustics…these are just a few of the technical committees represented at this conference. It’s overwhelming. Mostly I hung around with the Animal Bioacoustics crew, which of course makes sense—this is most of what our lab does. I met tons of amazing people: other students, post-docs, researchers, professors. I even reconnected with several people from my old lab, the Cornell Bioacoustics Research Program.

My talk was on Monday, in the first session. I honestly don’t remember giving it, except for the point when my slides skipped too far ahead too quickly and when Niki dropped her cup and made me laugh. I was told it went well, though. I do remember answering questions, and feeling like I was able to respond to whatever was thrown at me without embarrassing myself. I even worked in a great response involving natural selection.

The nice thing about having your talk in the first session on the first day is that you have the rest of the conference to relax. The bad thing about having your talk in the first session on the first day is that people don’t always make it to see you. Many friends I made throughout the week didn’t get the chance to see me speak, and nor did one of the best connections I made during the week, Andrea Simmons. Andrea has been doing frog bioacoustics work at Brown for a long time, and I got to talk to her about both her work and mine on the last day I was there. She seemed very interested in what I’m doing, especially moving forward with the work I’m planning for my Ph.D. She also wants to come out and record our invasive bullfrogs with her array!

There were so many amazing talks given by tons of amazing researchers. I learned about horseshoe bats and their weird head movements. I learned about greater prairie chicken vocalizations. I even learned about frog-biting midges that are attracted to their prey through mating calls! And oh, the things people are doing with marine mammals! Marine mammal researchers get the coolest toys, I swear. Arrays and tags and three-dimensional plots of dives…so cool!

The entire experience was overwhelming, intense, and immensely gratifying. I felt humbled to be a part of such an amazing group of researchers, and proud and grateful to be welcomed among them. You only get one first big conference, and I like to think I nailed this one.

I’ve made a Storify of my tweets and others from the conference that you can see here. There was a budding and tight-knit social media presence at the meeting this year, which was great to see; a lot of the friends I made were made through Twitter! Other awesome ASA Storify collections can be found here by Ben Taft, and here by Will Slaton (two of my fellow live-tweeters).

 

This is what France sounds like

Last week I attended the 5th Biologging Science Symposium in Strasbourg, France (Yes, France!! All thanks to student travel awards from the OSU Mastin Travel Award, the Hatfield Student Organization, and the conference itself).

Pretend this is me in front of my poster at the conference instead of a giant wine  barrel.

Of course being in France, all posters were hung on huge barrels of wine! (Sadly, not actually…)

OSU had quite the showing. Almost all the PI’s from the Marine Mammal Institute were there, plus Dr. Rob Suryan from Hatfield’s Seabird Oceanography Lab, and Shea Steingass and I as student presenters. I presented a poster on my master’s research, and the poster sessions (all 4 of them!) were super productive. I was able to meet people from the Marine Mammal Commission who were interested in my work and suggested some research grants I could apply for to conduct future field work. I got feedback from my collaborator David (the raccoons in chimney guy) on my analysis and got to hang out at his exhibitor booth like a cool kid. And I got to talk with leading dive physiology researchers from Scripps Institute of Oceanograpy about how to use my tag to study specific physiological responses to extended deep dives. I think my favorite part was meeting Dr. Gerald “Jerry” Kooyman, the inventor of time-depth recorders, and hearing him say he thought my research was awesome.

Biologging is all about putting tags on animals and studying their behavior, whether it’s large-scale migrations, fine scale flight, foraging kinematics, or vocal production and communication. There were countless interesting research presentations and I was able to make some great new connections, but all week something felt like it was missing. Acoustics!! This was my first major conference that was not all acoustics, all the time, and I have to say there were moments sitting in a talk I found myself wishing for more dB’s. Don’t get me wrong, I am so thankful I was able to attend and I learned a ton. But to satisfy the acoustician in me, I recorded all over Strasbourg and now I’ll share with you the sounds of France! Or, at least a small subset recorded by your’s truly.

Free beer to anyone who makes the sounds into spectrograms and leaves them in the comments!

Siren and street sounds from outside my apartment window:

 

Inside the conference center during an oral presentation:

 

The tram that got us all over town:

 

Some performers at the open-air market:

 

The hum of a coffee break at the conference:

 

The bell’s of the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg:

 

 

 

 

 

Busy Week: Conferences, Programing, and the Sounds of Home!

Fall is here, the weather is cooling down, the leaves will soon start changing color, and the ORCAA students are back in class. I’ve spent the past few months collecting fieldwork data, doing extensive literature reviews, and taking over as the Hatfield Student Organization (HsO) social coordinator here in Newport.

However, my last week of summer before officially starting my graduate career was spent attending conferences and networking with others in my field. Last week I was lucky enough to sit on an impact panel for a joint Conference with Oregon Wave Energy Trust (OWET) and Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center (NMREC) with Barbara Lagerquist to represent Bruce Mate (Director of the Marine Mammal Institute here at Oregon State). Wave energy technology is new and evolving in its applicability, viability, and potential impacts. Very little information is available on environmental effects, and in some cases, no baseline information exists – which is where one of the main goals of my graduate research comes into play! The objective of this workshop was to identify studies that should be conducted to properly determine potential effects from power generating buoys on marine mammals of the Oregon coast, with emphasis on cetaceans, like my study species, the harbor porpoise. Special emphasis was put on the acoustic output from both the installation and operation of wave energy buoys (the two phases could be quite different acoustically), monitoring marine mammal behavior, detection of buoys by cetaceans, and the use of acoustic deterrence devices to prevent cetacean collisions and/or entanglements. Nonetheless, workshop participants included marine mammal biologists, marine acousticians, and representatives from the wave energy industry and regulatory agencies, so it was a great chance for me to Network! And if that wasn’t enough, Hatfield hosted Dr. Jens Koblitz last Thursday, who gave a presentation on Static Acoustic Monitoring of the Baltic Sea Harbor Propoise (SAMBAH), which is a multinational project with the primary goal of estimating the abundance and spatial-temporal distribution of the critically endangered Baltic Sea harbor porpoise. Check out the research here!

While spending a week with experts in my field was fun, it is now time to make the transition into the school year! Like most first year graduate students, I’m learning that organizing one’s free time is critical for first year students, and that probably won’t change throughout one’s graduate studies and after. I’m also learning the responsibilities of graduate school seem to be more task oriented then time oriented, and it seems that the designated task for me this quarter is learning programing! However, I am not alone! Fellow ORCAA students, Danielle and Michelle, will be joining me on the journey of learning Matlab. Without a doubt, if you’re at the beginning of your research career in the field of bioacoustics, learning Matlab is certainly one of the most useful things you could possibly learn. But as a first year, first term graduate student, Matlab will be joined with its programing friends R (a statistical computing program) and GIS (a computer system designed to create spatial or geographic data) on my course schedule. Check back next month to get an update on my sanity! 🙂

 While, I’ve had a busy transition from conference season to classes starting up, my alma mater, Purdue University, has been celebrating Homecoming Week, which I was unfortunately able to attend. However, the university decided to send me a message just to let me know it was still thinking of me. As I was commuting to class this morning, I was listening to NPR, and heard that a “soundscape ecologist” has installed microphones around the world so he can capture the planet’s noises. Brian Pijanowski a “soundscape ecologist” at Purdue University, studies how environmental sounds interact, and he believes listening to the world can clue us in to the changing state of the natural world. Pijanowski has spent years traveling the globe and installing microphones everywhere from the rain forests of Borneo and Costa Rica to the Sonoran Desert and the streets of Chicago. His travels are part of an ambitious project in which he will record every sound the planet makes. Soon, sensors in Indiana will go online, and his collection of microphones will record oceans, birdsongs, insects, animals, traffic and every other sound on Earth for a full year. ISNT BIOACOUSTICS WAY COOL?!? You guys can read the full story Here. I couldn’t find yesterday’s podcast, perhaps it isn’t uploaded yet (?), Ill keep an eye out, but here is the first NPR podcast on the research from a few years ago. Finally, the researchers have created a 5-minute time-lapse audio and visual video of a full day’s soundscape where I did my undergraduate fieldwork at the Purdue Wildlife Area in Tippecanoe County, Indiana. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7PB65l9c8NM

 Well ORCAA readers that’s all for now, if anyone needs me Ill be hanging with my best friends, R, GIS, and Matlab. Until next time! Cheers!

Robofrogs ATTACK!

I didn’t post a Soundbites this week because I was very busy on Wednesday doing something very important, so I thought I’d talk about that instead.

I had the great pleasure this past Wednesday of attending a satellite symposium of the International Society of Behavioral Ecology entitled Contemporary Research on Anuran Communication. Translated, that means that I got to go to a day of honoring some of the great minds in the field of frog communication.

The symposium was in New York City, at Hunter College, so I flew in on Tuesday to stay with a medical student friend who lives in the area. You might say that it seems a little excessive to fly across the country for one day, but 1) it’s not often that everyone in such a small field gets together, and 2) I have enough friends on the East Coast that I can justify a trip to see both the conference and them.

It’s taken me until today to let my brain digest all of the information it received on Wednesday, but I’m now in a position to tell you all about the highlights of the day, and all the amazing stuff that’s being done in frog communication these days!

Highlight the first: ROBOTIC TUNGARA FROGS (go watch this video, it is the best, I promise). Ryan Taylor at Salisbury University has done an amazing project with tungara frogs to see what kind of impact the visual signal of the vocal sac inflating has on female choice. See, sometimes male tungara frogs will involuntarily add a “chuck” sound to the end of their “whine” call, and this “chuck” is irresistible to the ladies. But if that “chuck” sound comes too long after the whine, it’s not appealing anymore. Additionally, inflation of the vocal sac isn’t attractive to females without any sound associated with it. But when you link the distant “chuck” to the “whine” by the inflation of the vocal sac between the two sounds (with the help of the amazing ROBOFROG!), suddenly it’s appealing again! The inflation of the vocal sac is acting as a kind of link to keep the female’s interest! So acoustic communication can be augmented by visual communication.

They didn’t make the robofrogs attack anyone or anything, though, to my great disappointment.

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Image courtesy of Lindsey Thurman.

Highlight the second: Susan Herrick‘s awesome talk on acoustic niche partitioning with green frogs and bullfrogs. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we hate bullfrogs for being ridiculously invasive, but where Susan does her research, they’re native. The two species call in the same frequency range, so there isn’t any partitioning there, and their breeding seasons fall during the same period of time. Bullfrogs are acoustically and physically dominant, so it falls to the green frogs to find ways to not overlap with bullfrog calls. It turns out that they’ll call in between bullfrog bouts and calls with surprising accuracy: they (statistically significantly) avoid overlapping with bullfrogs so they can be heard. It was a really awesome example of temporal acoustic niche partitioning.

Highlight the third: I MET MARK BEE. And shook his hand. And he said my study species (Pacific chorus frogs, Pseudacris regilla) are really interesting and he’s been meaning to do work on them!  His 2007 paper has been incredibly influential on my own research, and it was such a cool moment to actually say hello to him.

The honorees (5 of 6): Darcy Kelly, Kent Wells, Walter Hodl, Peter Narins, and Carl Gerhardt. Not pictured: Albert Feng.

The honorees (5 of 6): Darcy Kelly, Kent Wells, Walter Hodl, Peter Narins, and Carl Gerhardt. Not pictured: Albert Feng.

Highlight the fourth: all the little things. I got to learn a lot about frog perception and frog brains (did you know they don’t have cortices? I didn’t!), and how to test what frequency range frogs hear in. It was also amazing to be in the room with some of the greatest minds in frog communication, the researchers who started it all. The honorees were all very friendly (I got to chat with their wives a bunch) and it was both humbling and inspiring to be in the room with so many amazing people who love frog vocalizations just as much as I do.

All in all, it was a really valuable professional experience, and I made some good connections to move forward with. I look forward to presenting my own research to the people I’ve met someday!

Roses, ice and sound

Summertime!

And the living is not necessarily easy but certainly more easily entertaining. Besides the wedding season it’s also conference season. All the lab-mates travel on the other edge of the country (USA) for summer schools, meetings, exciting field trips and pilot classes (stay tuned and Selene has some stories to tell). I made it to the other end of the Atlantic and all the way to my beloved motherland. My first time participating at the Underwater Acoustics meeting, an international conference that took place at the Island of Rhodes in Greece, just a few days after the meeting of the Acoustical Society of America that took place at Rhode Island in USA. Appears that the islands of roses (Rhodes derives from the Greek: rhodo which means rose) were acoustically active this summer. Coincidences are fun.

Four exciting projects were presented by OSU people.

Haru Matsumoto, had a presentation with the imaginative title: “Antarctic’s Siren Call: The Sound of Icebergs”. I absolutely love it when people use a cool title for their scientific projects! His talk and his project was as exciting as it sounds and it was by far my personal favorite non-bioacoustics talk of the conference. Haru showed how the sound of melting icebergs affects the noise budgets in the South Pacific Ocean. The disintegration of two large icebergs at Antarctica produced low frequency sounds, so loud that they propagated and got recorded across the equator up to 8o N, 10.000 km away from the icebergs! He measured an increase of the noise level by 6 dB and 3 dB in comparison to baseline years (when the melting icebergs were absent). If 3 and 6 dB doesn’t sound like a significant increase to you then you are probably not aware of the decibel scale. This Radiolab podcast “The Walls of Jericho” will entertain you and will explain in a simple and funny way how this scale works.

Lately we have been seriously concerned about the shipping, airguns, naval sonars and other prominent man-made noise in the ocean and how they interfere with marine life. Haru’s presentation opened a window to think how a non-anthropogenic sound source can have such an impact to the marine soundscape, and potentially impact specifically the largest baleen whales (blue and fin whales) that also vocalize at low frequencies (below 100 Hz). Even though natural, the melting of the icebergs can be effected by anthropogenic activities, in particular the human induced climate variability and global warming. No need to be more specific, feel free to consider further potential ecological implications.

Bob Dziak presented, through Haru (unfortunately Bob was not able to make the Oregon-Greece 20 hours long travel), the “Sources of long-term ambient ocean sound near the Antarctic Peninsula”. Bob’s project was one step more general and inclusive. He described the contribution of a variety of sound sources to the soundscape of the frozen South. Acoustic data were collected during 4 years using 2 hydrophone arrays and the results indicate that the main factors of sound production or “noise” (depending from which point of you look at it: the biologist’s or the geophysicist’s) around the Antarctic Peninsula are the icequakes (acoustic signal derived from fracturing of large free-floating icebergs or ocean front icesheets) and the whale calls!

The whales confuse the icequakes with ice cakes!

The whales confuse the icequakes with ice cakes!

The weather conditions are too rough for sound-measurable human activities and both the blue and fin whales seem to take advantage of this human-almost-absent corner of the world. The sound of the ice breakup and grounding is clearly the most prominent sound source in the Southern Ocean Basin but it varies seasonally. Bob’s presentation (same as Haru’s) made me switch my perception of summer and winter for a bit. In Antarctica, during the austral summer the increased temperatures result increased icequakes and the release of acoustic energy. The opposite happens during the austral winter when the icesheets form, even though the wind speed increases. The giants of the Antarctic Peninsula seem to follow the freeze-thaw cycles and their peak season matches the sea-ice-cover-minimum of the austral summer. Consequently if you want to see fin and blue whales when in the North Hemisphere is still winter, chase the summer down as south as it gets…

This conference was an excellent opportunity to reunite with ORCAA’s favorite Naysa. It had been almost a year since Naysa left Newport, after her few-months stay and collaboration with the CIMRS, and it was an indescribable pleasure to spend some warm Greek time with her and watch her awesome presentation on “Acoustics as a tool to reveal population structure of the elusive blue whale”. Naysa talked about the smallest subspecies of the largest animal on earth. The pygmy blue whale. She used 5 sites in the SE Indian and the SW Pacific Oceans to collect 3 years of acoustic data to

determine the occurrence of pygmy blue whale in these locations. Apparently th

Pygmy blue whale on it's belly

Pygmy blue whale on it’s belly

is species produces 5 regionally-specific calls: the Madagascan, Sri Lankan, Australian, New Zealand and Solomon type. Naysa used an automated method (detector) and was able to detect the “Australian” and the “New Zealand” dialects at the SE Indian and the SW Pacific Oceans respectively and her results provide evidence of a previously unknown population, the latter one! Naysa’s study is an excellent example of the numerous applications of acoustics, particularly to the population and movement patterns of marine mammal species over large spatial and temporal scales. The more I enter into the acoustics field the more excited I get about the knowledge and information that the sound solely can reveal us, especially about elusive cetaceans, like Naysa’s pygmy giant.

In the Ocean it is a common truth that what the eyes cannot see the ears can hear!

After seeing Naysa’s presentation I have one technical advice for presenters. Go simple or go home! She managed with minimum text, probably no text at all, pretty slides with most of the times just one picture, to get across her messages and keep the attention of her audience! Focus on the gist of your talk and feel confident to leave the details out giving the opportunity to people to ask for them if needed.

For my presentation we move back to the North Hemisphere and head eastwards. I presented my work at the Greek seas with the title: “Passive acoustic detections of odontocetes in the Ionian and Aegean Seas, Greece”.  Even though cetology was born in Greece (as mentioned in my first post: The philosophy of sound) 2500 years ago, little research has been done in the Greek seas since then. Mainly the Ionian Sea (west of continental Greece) has been investigated and almost exclusively during the warm summer season, while the cetacean populations in the Aegean (east of continental Greece) are largely unknown. I used 2 hydrophones during 19 and 10 months to assess the seasonal occurrence of different species in these two regions and determined the seasonality of especially the sperm whales (that I particularly love, usually dream of, and I am overall obsessed with) and the delphinids. I am proud to have performed the first long-term bio-acoustic monitoring study in Greece and looking forward to going out to the clear blue Greek waters to collect ground truth data necessary that will allow us for first time to tell apart the different dolphin species that dwell the Aegean! Any funding suggestions anyone…? If you do, you are welcome to join me at an Aegean cruise chasing dolphins!

Me and my poster!

Me and my poster!

My presentation was a poster and even though I am usually not very fond of this form of communicating my work, there is no way that I could have had a better result/impact and feedback. While I was thinking that 3h of a poster session would be dull and endless, I ended up spending more than 5h chatting about gender determination, localization of my animals with one single hydrophone (!), acquiring more acoustic data, using my spectral information for species detection, and getting inspiration from wonderful colleagues coming from Italy, Australia, China, Israel, San Diego, Boston, Pennsylvania and around the globe.

Poster take home message: if the number of posters is low  (<10), dare to submit one, especially if the number of parallel oral presentations is high (>=3).

This has been a wonderful and productive meeting!  5 days of underwater acoustics bliss. Listening and talking about the sound in polar areas (always fascinating environments), about bubbles (it might not be as etheric as it sounds but still interesting), oil and gas, renewable energy, hydrophone calibration, soundscapes, ships and noise, sonars, super-cool technologies that make me want to be an engineer, a bunch of marine sound-related stuff and of course whaaaaaaaaaales! Besides the days, the nights were equally exhilarating but in a more social way.

Science on tab

Science on tab

I met people from all around the world with whom I shared scientific ideas, PhD and work related concerns, personal perspectives and liters of raki 😉 It is always good to combine work and fun. Even better when work is fun. That is certainly true for my case and I bet for my ORCAA mates too. Lucky people!

See you all again at the next Underwater Acoustics meeting in Greece.

Preparing for some underwater acoustic experiments with fellow scientists.

Preparing for some underwater experiments with fellow scientists…

Next blog-post will include some of the Greek summer sunlight, the salty flavor of the Mediterranean and the sound of cicadas.

Happy and bright summer to y’all.

 

 

SeaBASS- an insider’s perspective on bioacoustic summer school

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SeaBASS attendee and UCSD PhD student Jeremiah Karnowski experiences masking

Holger, Selene, and I spent all of last week participating in a Marine BioAcoustics Summer School (SeaBASS), hosted at the National Conference Center in Washington, D.C. (well, near D.C. – technically were were in Leesburg, Virgina just beyond the temptations of our nation’s charismatic capital city.).  I think I can safely say that we are collectively exhausted, inspired, and academically saturated.  It has been glorious. Before the glow wears off, and the social media requests from all of my new colleagues and friends stop rolling in, I thought I’d take a moment to recap the experience.

SeaBASS, for those unfamiliar, is a week long intensive bioacoustics course headed by Dr. Jennifer Miksis-Olds of the Penn State Applied Research Lab, and Dr. Susan Parks of the Syracuse University Biology Department.  The goal of SeaBASS is to “provide the opportunity for graduate students interested in pursuing careers in marine bioacoustics to develop a strong foundation in marine animal biology and acoustics, foster technical communication across disciplines, and to develop professional relationships within the field.” (Taken from the 2014 SeaBASS handbook).  To achieve this, Susan and Jenn invite experts from the field (including ORCAA’s own Dr. Holger Klinck) to give half day seminars on topics relating to underwater sound and the behavior and biology of the marine organisms who depend upon it.

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ORCAA’s Selene Fregosi, and honorary ORCAA affiliate Dave Cade (OSU CEOAS Allumni, and Standford PhD student) using acoustics to answer the question “why is the sky blue?”

Topics broadly cover the field of bioacoustics, which is simultaneously interdisciplinary and highly specific.  This year topics ranged from the fundamental physics of marine sound (taught by Dr. Adam Frankel– a fellow humpback whale specialist and senior researcher in the field of marine bioacoustics), to echolocation (taught by Dr. Laura Kleopper, powerhouse marine bioacoustics newcomer, and inspiring woman in science), with stops along the way to study Acoustic Density Estimation (SeaBASS favorite Dr. Tiago Marques, of University of St. Andrews), active acoustics (Dr. Joe Warren of Stoneybrook University), Animal Communication (Dr. Sophie Van Parijs– NOAA scientist and oft cited acoustics expert), Impacts of Noise (Susan Parks of Syracuse University), Hearing (Dr. Michelle Halverson) Passive Acoustic Monitoring (Holger Klinck, our fearless leader),  bioacoustics “Hot Topics” (Jenn Miksis-Olds), and my personal favorite Sound Production in Fishes with the Cornell Bioacoustics Research Lab’s own Dr. Aaron Rice (Holger tried to convince me to do my PhD in fish acoustics once, I laughed at him… I was so naive).

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ORCAA’s Michelle Fournet (me) sneaks a snapshot in during a SeaBASS group photo.

I have to admit I’m glad I didn’t see the line up before I got on the plane to head west.  If you’ve spent time in the field of bioacoustics most of these names you are likely familiar with, if you’re not – now’s a good time to head over to google scholar and check out their work.  The initial intimidation factor was high, but I’m pleased to say the interactions were the opposite.  All of the presenters went out of their way to interact with the students on both a professional and a personal level (I’m tempted to post karaoke photos… but I won’t… not here).  I got career advice from the greats (work-life balance anyone?  I have two dogs and a garden, I plan on keeping them once I’m done with a PhD), learned about the elusive mating habits of the wild haggis (to hear a mating call of a wild haggis click here), and made some important connections both with the presenters, that I now feel comfortable considering my colleagues, and the other students who I now consider friends.

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Michelle Fournet and Syracuse University’s Susan Parks nestled below Jeremy Young (UH- Manoa), Cornell’s Aaron Rice, Mike Bollinger (UT- Brownsville) and Dave Cade (back, Stanford).

I could go on for pages about my experience, I learned new material and reinforced some of the principles I’m already familiar with, I furthered my research, I drank beer while talking about acoustics (so much fun… seriously…. so much fun), and helped myself and others to find their inner spirit animal.  Some of these things may not make sense to those of you who weren’t there, but the take home message is this: Marine bioacoustics is a discipline, a tool, and a community that I am increasingly excited to be a part of.

PS- Stay tuned for stories about honorary OCRAA team member and SeaBASS colleague Leanna Matthews as she makes her way to Newport to test some theories on how to get small acoustic transmitters to stick to the body of harbor seals… field trials ahead?  I think so.

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Saying goodbye is never easy. So thrilled to have met Leticaa Legat (U. of Cumbria)

 

PPS- One of the most important things I learned from SeaBASS?  The value of Twitter.  Check out our Twitter feed (@ORCAALab) for a play by play of the SeaBASS action.  Live tweeting, as it turns out, is super fun #SeaBASS2014

Marine Mammal Students of the Northwest, Unite

I scored for my first blog post…lab trips make for an easy topic.

This past weekend ORCAA (with some of our OSU marine mammal graduate student colleagues) piled into my Explorer and journeyed north to Bellingham, WA for the 18th Annual Meeting of the Northwest Student Chapter for the Society for Marine Mammalogy (mouthful!) The drive was long, and it rained the whole time, but the setting was wonderful and plenty of scientific fun was had!

ORCAA crew trying to look less serious?

ORCAA crew trying to look less more serious?

This year’s conference was hosted by the lovely folks of Western Washington University, and included students from University of British Columbia and University of Washington. We did a great job of reppin’ the orange and black, especially considering we traveled the farthest. The ORCAA ladies all gave oral presentations: Niki on sperm whales in the Gulf of Alaska, Michelle on humpback whale communication in Southeast Alaska, and myself on tagging some elephant seals. Shea Steingass of PEARL talked about hypoxia and harbor seals and Courtney Hann of the CEOAS department and Alaska Whale Foundation presented a poster of her citizen science mobile app to get the public involved in doing marine mammal science.

OSU student presenters (L to R): Courtney, Shea, me, Niki, and Michelle

OSU student presenters (L to R): Courtney, Shea, me, Niki, and Michelle

This meeting is an awesome, low-key conference for graduate and undergraduate students from universities all over the Pacific Northwest to present their research, meet and network with new friends, and catch up with familiar faces. It is especially great because  the group is almost entirely made up of students which equals a less scary, less stressful environment to practice sharing your science. I was much less nervous than I was last year; I’m happy to report that talking in front of large groups DOES  get easier with practice. I couldn’t have been more proud of our lab and fellow OSUers. Everyone did a phenomenal job!!

ShannonPoint

The impressive Shannon Point Marine Center…Anacortes, WA

Saturday’s presentations were followed by a wildlife viewing excursion on Sunday. We got to visit WWU’s beautiful Shannon Point Marine Center and took a boat tour of the gorgeous San Juan Islands on the comfy and cozy RV Zoea. Highlights included lots of harbor seals and several seabirds I wish I could identify. No killer whales but I blame Shea, she says she’s bad luck…Anyway, it was a great way to get outside and wrap up the weekend.

Wildlife viewing in the San Juan Islands!

Wildlife viewing in the San Juan Islands!

Many thanks to WWU for hosting (amazing organization by Kat and Erin) and we are pleased to announce that OSU will be hosting here in Newport in 2015. The wheels are already turning on how we can make next year even better.

Phew…that wraps up my very first blog ever; a little insight into the day-to-day lives of ORCAA students. I welcome any suggestions in the comments, I’ll be here every second Friday 🙂

Island for sale..I'm thinking about buying it.

Island for sale..I’m thinking about buying it.