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 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).
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!!
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.
…that I would grow up to be a pseudo computer nerd doing stuff related to animals. (sarcasm…)
I was recently reminded of the online game Neopets*. Anyone out there remember this game? Mom – do you remember me playing it?
It was sort of like a computer based Tomogatchi and Pokemon hybrid. You had pets, that were cute and colorful and had names. You had to take care of them, and you could play games with them. You’d collect points (Neocoins) that you could use to buy things for your pet, all that good stuff. You could also have a store in the Marketplace where you could sell extra stuff you had, or buy from others. This is where I should have known I was going to grow up to be a giant dork who finds joy in creating things on computers. I LOVED working on my storefront. I loved teaching myself HTML. Then I could have the coolest fonts (WordArt anyone?), sweet backgrounds, terrible color combinations.
For many of you, this may also remind you of Myspace…another great venue for my web customizing talents. I was pretty late to the Myspace game, but when I did, I made sure to try and have the MOST personal and customized page.
So what does any of this have to do with marine bioacoustics? Um…nothing really? I was just having a lot of fun making some animated spectrograms (see here for the HOW TO – thanks MicheW!) and I think that is what got me thinking about all this. Plus Samara said she remembers this too, so I’m not the only one.
*this is somewhat deceiving. I made it sound like someone else reminded me of Neopets. That’s not true. Ah the pitfalls of passive voice. I (me, Selene) remembered Neopets all on my own. I’m not sure why or how. But then I ended up googling it and it still exists and here we are, and I’m writing this, fighting the urge to make an account again.
Last week I got to spend a week offshore, participating in the last field season (what?!) of the SOCAL-BRS project. This was a bittersweet week, to say the least. I’ve been involved with this project since before I even started grad school (see here and here for my blogs on it the last two years). It’s a long-term project (2010-2017) so I’m not sure I ever realized I wouldn’t be spending a week or two every summer, offshore of Southern California doing awesome whale tagging and behavioral response research. But, here I am, back at home, and that’s it! We still have a year of analysis left (already counting down to the analysis meeting in December!) so more science is still to come. But this week was a great time to reminisce and reflect how things have changed for myself and others on the project.
First off, there are at least 5 BRS babies. Never saw that coming! Everyone is a bit more sun damaged (despite our best efforts) and a bit more grey. I went from being a nervous, naive, some-what-lost-soul trying to find my way in the acoustics world to a full blown bioacoustician (is it ok to call myself that?). Although this research is not directly related to my PhD….it is in a system I work in regularly, with collaborators I love working with, can learn so much from, and want to keep working with, so it’s a week well spent.
That SOCAL Magic
While I had an amazing few weeks of field work for my own PhD research earlier this summer, this past week provided something a little different. It served as a reminder of the wonder, the inherent magic, that comes from working with animals out on the water.
I saw more marine wildlife in one week then I have ever seen in my life. I saw no less than 12 species (blue, fin, humpback, sperm and killer whales, common (x2 species), bottlenose, and Risso’s dolphins, California sea lions, elephant seals, and harbor seals) of marine mammals. And I not only got a glimpse of them, but got to enjoy them. From watching blue whales up close from the RHIBs, to seeing common dolphins sprint away from killer whales, to hearing bottlenose dolphins whistling while bow riding. Each day reminded me why I LOVE what I do. (Oh, and maybe I was simply less stressed because my entire dissertation didn’t depend on if I could get the stupid QUEphone to work the way I wanted it to…)
Don’t get me wrong, I love sitting in the lab. Discovering new calls, answering questions through detailed analyses, and playing with shiny new yellow AUVs. But I also just love being outside, and enjoying that offshore world. No cell service, seeing Risso’s buzzes come through in real time on the towed array, catching my limit of rockfish in the evenings, hearing the elephant seals calling on the Channel Islands.
I guess the simple point of this blog is to share that contentment, and again that wonder, that I enjoy while thinking back on the last week. Till the next adventure….
I haven’t posted in a week? Poor blogging, Selene!
Ok as promised, I wanted to post about what our day-to-day life has been like out here. Amazingly, today is our last day! I am on shore right now, making small adjustments to glider that we will pick up at noon. The rest of the team is out picking up the DASBRs and QUEphone. They will come in, we will unload gear, then go back out to get the glider.
After almost two weeks of going out everyday, we got the system down pretty well. We got stronger, and faster, and spirits remained high throughout!
Days start early – up around 5 am, for a 5:30 departure. 3 of the crew went out each day, because there wasn’t really room on the boat for 4 + all the gear, and that way we had a person on land who could give us instrument locations if we had trouble finding them.
Our main objective was to pick up all our floating/drifting recorders, and move them back up current (to the southwest) so they could drift over our moored instruments, and along the glider path, again over 24 hours.
We started each morning with an empty deck (except for a few empty tubs where line goes).
It took about 1:15 to transit out to where the instruments were floating. We had GPS coordinates for about where they were, and then half of them also had these really awesome dog trackers attached to the mast. When we were within 3 miles, the handheld receiver would point us in the direction of that “dog”. They are made for hunting, so if the floats didn’t move very fast it would alert us that our “dog” had “treed a quarry.” That was always good for a laugh. Then, using those to get to the general area, we could use relative positions of the others to find them. Some days lighting was better than others, but we always found them eventually.
Once we found an instrument, we marked its recovery location, and started to pull line. This was the fun part 🙂 the DASBRs have a surface float, and then 100 m of line down to a weight. Near the bottom of that is the two hydrophones, and depending on the type of DASBR, somewhere in there is the recording device and batteries. We all decided on our favorite and least favorite types of line to pull, and we’d share the work so it never seemed that bad! Each one took about 15 min to recover.
Every other day we recovered the QUEphone as well. It was drifting at 500 m, where the currents were slower, so it took two days to pass the HARPs. For that, Haru would text us when it surfaced, at about 8:00, then we would go grab it. Easy peasy.
After everything was loaded in the boat, we would head down to our deployment location.
We made minor adjustments to the deployment location each day, after looking at the currents from the day before. Everything stayed in formation as best as we hoped…which was awesome! The formation is critical to us being able to localize the animals we record. Heading to the deployment location took about 30 mins, where we would then drive from point to point making a rectangle. Letting the line out was super fun (compared to pulling it). If we had the QUEphone we would chuck it (gently of course) into the water, and head back in, another 1:30 transit.
While we were out there we did our part to collect mylar balloons we encountered (Please think twice about purchasing them…they don’t break down for a VERY LONG TIME and all that shiny plastic and string can look like a tasty treat to marine life). We also collected water samples in the vicinity of animals, for our the Cetacean Conservation and Genetics Lab at OSU, for an eDNA project Holger is working on with them.
We usually got back to the lab in early afternoon, again with an empty deck. Afternoons were filled with looking at instrument paths, planning for the next day, starting to look at data, discussing science, celebrating the good news for the Vaquita, and sometimes taking naps 🙂
It’s Day 7, and I’ve got the morning off from going out on the boat, so I figured I could do a little blog updating. Jay, Holger, and Danielle are out on the small boat today, and Dave sadly left us to go back to Oregon yesterday.
Most important update – we HAVE drank/ate? affogato’s!! On Friday evening we walked into town for a fancy dinner out, to Two Harbors FINEST (and only) dining establishment, the Harbor Reef Restaurant. Jay was thoughtful enough to ask the waitress if she could make affogato’s for dessert, and once he explained what they were (espresso over ice cream) she said “No problem!” It was the perfect way to wrap up our first week here. (EDIT: I did not, in fact, have any of the affogato. I don’t like coffee. I was called out for this shortly after posting. I apologize for my deception)
Second most important update – we’ve got a QUEphone in the water!! (or maybe more important?)
On Thursday, Jay, Dave, and I went out at 6 with the plan of recovering 6 DASBRs, redeploying those and adding the final 2 DASBRs to the mix. (More info on DASBRs here. Drifting Acoustic Spar Buoy Recorder…I just learned a spar buoy is a long thin buoy. Fun facts!). After picking up the DASBRs, I went to prep the QUEphone for deployment, and guess what? I forgot the communication cable. I had the laptop, the battery, the spare battery, the serial cable for the computer, the alligator clips off the serial connector, but not the one connector that goes on the QUEphone’s 6-pin port. IDIOT!!!
Needless to say I was really kicking myself. BUT, Dave came to the rescue. He explained to me that of the 6 pins in the connector, its likely only one of them was needed for the communication, and using some electrical tape and a piece of wire from Jay’s toolbox, we might be able to do it. We contacted Haru (who designed the QUEphone) over the satellite phone, and he told us exactly which pin we needed to connect to. He was definitely worried about is doing this…and he emphasized how if we touch ANY OF THE OTHER PINS with the wire then we would fry the whole thing. Dave and I felt we could do it, very very carefully, and, well, the QUEphone is out there now soooo it worked!!
Dave cradled the QUEphone while I ran the self tests, then we disconnected and it sunk, like we hoped! We found out it originally didn’t sink on our first day because it was too light. It sinks by deflating a buoyancy bladder, and the settings were incorrect for our environment, it was set to deflate to 110 cc, but we needed it to deflate to 55 cc. Once we had fixed that, away it went! Woo!! My embarrassment over my packing error quickly went away. (well maybe not completely, I’m still pretty ashamed….)
Since then, the grind has begun. Every morning, out at 5:30 (we start early to beat the wind that picks up in the afternoon), pull several hundred meters of line, let out several hundred meters of line, repeat. Every other day we pick up the QUEphone and drive it back south so it can drift north again.
Glider is also still flying pretty well. So we will continue on like this. Stay tuned for “AFFOGATO – A day in the life”
I’m happy to report ALL our instruments are now in the water and happily recording marine mammals in the Catalina Basin (lots I hope!).
Day 1 we did some testing at SWFSC, and got everything prepped for our transit out to the basin. Testing went as planned, and so we loaded the boat and had some time to kill at the harbor. Ate good seafood and hung out in the sun. I got sunburned already of course.
At about 7 pm we departed San Diego Bay for our overnight transit out to the basin. We decided (we?? it was Holger’s idea…) to get up and start deploying instruments as soon as we arrived on site, which was scheduled to be 4 AM. Yup. Moonlight deployment. That was a first, but fortunately the moon was full.
The currents in this area can be complicated, so we had come with somewhat of a plan, but knew we would have to play it by ear. So when we first arrived we deployed one of Jay Barlow’s floating drifters (DASBR) and watched its drift for about an hour. We deployed the first mini-HARP at its planned location, and then after assessing the drifting buoy, we went to deploy the second mini-HARP. Fortunately we deployed it right where we thought we would! That made things for the glider much easier. After getting both HARPs in, we picked up the first DASBR and drove back south to deploy a whole array of 4 DASBRs. This is how we will localize the animals, by using triangulation of calls recorded on the different instruments.
While this was going on, I got to work prepping the QUEphone, and this is where things finally started to NOT go perfectly as planned. The first QUEphone just would not sink! Weird…wanting an expensive piece of electronic equipment to sink, but that is exactly what we wanted. The QUEphone is designed to sink up to 2000 m, and drift along with the currents for 24 hours, then come back up to the surface and check in. Well, when it stays at the surface we can’t record anything, and that is not what we want. So we brought that one back on board. Lucky for us we brought a second QUEphone just in case. Unlucky for us, it also had issues, but it had communication issues. We tried deploying this one as well, waited a while, and ended up recovering it when it too wouldn’t dive and was having iridium communication problems.
And last, but certainly not least, we deployed my beloved glider, SG607, aka Will. Will got a new sticker before deployment, and this deployment went super smoothly! In large part due to the big swim step on the back of the boat where we could carefully lower the glider and hold it off while we did some final tests, and also with many thanks to Anatoli Erofeev, a glider pilot in CEOAS at OSU who has basically taught me everything I know about glider piloting that isn’t in the pilot binder (which is possibly more valuable when it comes to troubleshooting 🙂
After all those (mostly) successful deployments, we headed to Wrigley Marine Science Center, where we will be based for the next two weeks. We arrived earlier than we had planned (thanks to our 4 am start…) but that was good because, well, we had A LOT of gear to unload and unpack.
So, this post is turning out to be more about Day 2 then Day 4 huh?
Well Day 3, a field team of Danielle, Jay, and Dave went out to move the 4 DASBRs back down south (They had drifted a perfect 12 km NE and needed to be reset) and deployed two more.
Day 4, Dave, Jay, and I went out and recovered/redeployed 6 DASBRs and deployed 2 more. PLUS we deployed the QUEphone – yay!!!! It worked, I’m stoked, but also very tired, and will write another post about this tomorrow.
Late lastnight, Holger, Dave Mellinger, Danielle Harris, and I arrived in San Diego to start our two week field stint where we deploy EVERY TYPE OF RECORDER EVER (not really…but close).
We are here to conduct field work for a project called a framework for cetacean density estimation using slow-moving underwater vehicles, or AFFOGATO for short. Don’t ask how that acronym came from that title…it had to be coffee themed, and it works.
This field work is just part of a larger project, looking to try and apply density estimation techniques to my favorite – gliders. We will be deploying a glider, a QUEphone, two HARPs and 8 DASBR buoys, all in the same location off of Catalina Island. We will be able to localize animals using the DASBRs, and compare recording capabilities of the glider, QUEphone, and HARPs. Similar to what we did this winter, but not on a Navy Range (not everyone has access to such a fancy set up). More detail on exactly what we are doing later.
I will be trying to update the blog regularly with going’s on of our team, but also follow along on twitter @orcaalab and #affogato. I’ll be more easily able to do quick updates there!
Off to Southwest Fisheries Science Center to unpack and test all our gear following shipment!!
Most of my time with bioacoustics, thus far, has been with playing sounds – my master’s work with an active acoustic tag – or with identifying odontocete, or toothed whale species, in glider data (typically known as high- or mid-frequency vocalizations).
For my PhD, I’ll be expanding what I know about whale acoustics and looking at baleen whales from glider and float data as well. I started into this the last few weeks and it has been fun, but definitely feels like a step back in time trying to look up literature and see what exactly I am hearing in the data – I’m not used to working with low-frequency sounds.
What do I mean with low- vs high-frequency sounds? These labels are based on human hearing (of course). Humans (babies!) can typically hear from 20 Hz (hertz) to 20 kHz (kilohertz…hertz*1000; 20 kHz = 20,000 Hz). As we get older we start to lose hearing on the higher end. But marine mammals vocalize both below and above our hearing range. The low/high delineation is “generally” accepted at 1 kHz, and typically baleen whales vocalize below this, and toothed whales vocalized above this. But remember, this is just USUALLY. There are always special cases that don’t follow the trend, and its all relative terms when calling things low and high.
This figure from Mellinger et al. 2007 is a great way of see where certain species typically vocalize. (Click he figure to link to the PDF of the paper and zoom in)
Looking at sounds
So since some whales make sounds below my hearing range, and some make sounds above, how do I hear them for analysis? Well first of usually I am identifying sounds by looking at them, at a spectrogram (we’ve posted those before right?).
Then sometimes I need to listen AND look to identify what the sound is, or gather more info about it. Wonderfully there is a work around. For really LOW sounds, you can play them faster, and then that increases the perceived frequency, so you can hear it. Vice versa, for really HIGH sounds, you can play them at half speed, which changes the perceived frequency, and then you can hear them. Does anyone remember Yakbaks? Speeding up your voice makes you sound like a chipmunk, slowing it down makes you sound like…a whale?