You may find this difficult to believe, but now that I’ve reviewed an entire year’s worth of data from Alaska’s Beaufort Sea I can say with great confidence (and no scientific evidence) that Marvin the Martian was in fact a bearded seal.  If you don’t believe me I encourage you to listen to this sound and tell me that when he’s hanging out in his PJ’s on Mars that this isn’t exactly what’s coming out of our little Martian friend’s mouth.Marvin_the_Martian.svg

While of course I’m being facetious, it is only to a point.  The scary alien sound effects that have been ingrained in pop culture are made manifest in the Arctic soundscape.  While the stoic images of starkly white sea ice may elicit feelings of cold noiselessness, underneath that sea ice it is loud.

In collaboration with the NOAA/PMEL a calibrated autonomous underwater hydrophone package (AUH) was deployed at the continental shelf break approximately 50 miles off the of the coast of Alaska in the Beaufort Sea.  Using the AUH we were able to record continuously for an entire year (as my lab mate Amanda tweeted once she was done analyzing beluga calls “I’ve officially finished analyzing 8,760 hours of Arctic #bioacoustics data”). For the acoustic buffs out there, the AUH was able to precisely record underwater ambient sound levels with 16 bits resolution (i.e., with 96 dB dynamic range) in the 10 Hz to 2,500 Hz frequency range. For the non-acoustics buffs out there this means that we could record sounds ranging from just below the low end of human hearing to about the pitch of a high whistle (think a little girl whistling Andy Griffith).

This was my first foray into Arctic acoustics, and I was properly daunted.  My experience to this point has been strictly working on acoustics collected in Southeast Alaska that had concomitant visual observations.  There were only three species my hydrophones were likely to detect- humpback whales, killer whales, and harbor seals.  In the Arctic, however, there are many species (we detected bowhead whales, killer whales, humpback whales, beluga whales, ribbon seals, ringed seals, AND bearded seals).  Furthermore the sound of the ice itself is deafening!  It whistles, whines, creaks, groans, and pops- making this critical abiotic feature a character in its own right.

Bearded_Seal-Spectrogram-croppedThe Arctic is known to be visually “other-worldly” and I cannot emphasize enough how this is made manifest acoustically.  For the spectrogram savvy this is a spectrogram of  Marvin the Martia… I mean two bearded seals. FYI- this spectrogram was generated from the afore referenced sound file. For those less familiar with a spectrogram, a spectrogram is a visual representation of sound.  Time is along the x-axis, and frequency (which we related to pitch) along the y-axis.  The colors represent energy (or as we manifest, volume).  The brighter the color the louder the sound.  By generating spectrograms it allows researchers (like the PI’s, technicians, and of course grad students) here at ORCAA to classify caller species, to classify call types, and to gain a better understanding of who is utilizing the marine habitat and when.  In the case of this Arctic data set I enlisted the advice of Arctic expert Kate Stafford at the University of Washington Applied Physics Lab to help me classify some of the more obscure files.  She generously pointed me toward an excellent new publication which enabled me to compare the spectrograms that I was generating with those from known species.

Despite the many resources (publications, lab mates, experts in the field) I was still unable to identify all of the calls to species.  Many calls were graded, others obscured by the sound of airguns (possibly more on the topic of airguns in the future), and still others vocalizations obscured by the sound of ice.  Given that the goal of the project is to monitor long-term changes and trends in the Arctic underwater ambient sound field I understand that this is a cursory first pass at an incredibly rich data set.  With as many hours as have yet to make their way into our lab I can’t help but imagine… who other than Marvin we might find there.

Last Thursday marked our labs first successful DMON (Digital Acoustic Monitor) deployment of the spring! The DMON is a passive acoustic instrument that is capable of recording and processing audio in real-time. Friday, May 16th, a single DMON was deployed off the coast of central Oregon to target the acoustic signatures and monitor the occurrence of several high frequency odontocetes (specifically porpoise and dolphin), for frequencies up to 150Khz. Although abundant in the coastal environment of the central Oregon coast, because of their skittish nature, little is known on the behavior of harbor porpoise. Passive acoustic monitoring is an ideal method for collecting information on their presence and vocalization behavior with little habitat disturbance. In light of the planned development for wave energy converter (WEC) testing at the south energy test site (SETS) as part of the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center’s (NMREC) grid connected full scale facility off South Beach, OR, this project is focused on gathering baseline data on high frequency odontocetes using the area. With this information we plan to assess the impact of WEC testing activities as the SETS facility is brought on line.

Pretty Cool Stuff! Fortunately, I will be deploying and analyzing data all summer alongside with Joe Haxel, who is a Research Associate for the Cooperative Institute for Marine Resources Studies at Oregon State University and the NOAA /Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory Acoustics Program.

IMG_0077 IMG_0079 Dmon device!  

While a full-depth analysis of last week’s data hasn’t yet been accomplished, I was able to take a quick peek and MAN IT LOOKS GOOD! Both harbor porpoise and killer whale vocalizations were identified – sound bites and spectrograms will be coming soon!

Finally, All of this wouldn’t be accomplished without our friendly Newport neighbors, Marine Discovery Tours, who offer narrated ocean and bay cruises with naturalist guides and have the finest accommodations for viewing whales and other sea life.

Memory storage capacity on the high frequency DMON mooring is limited by the high sample rate (~480 Khz) and we therefore record on a 10% duty cycle which simply means “deploy, leave for 7 days, recover, charge, and redeploy” schedule.

Without the help of Marine Discovery Tours, we would not be able to deploy and recover so frequently! So if you plan on taking a trip or a visit to the Oregon Coast, you might want check out what trips are available to see our beloved Oregon marine life, and you never know, if you’re lucky you might just book the trip with all the DMON action and see it first hand!

Some assistance from the Marine Discovery crew!

I’ll be back with a full update on what the ORCAA lab has discovered from our DMONS in August! In the meantime, make sure you follow ORCAALab on Twitter for updates!

Soundbites is a (hopefully) weekly feature of the coolest, newest bioacoustics, soundscape, and acoustic research, in bite-size form. Plus other cool stuff having to do with sound.

Anthropogenic noise has an impact on spider behaviorinvertebrates are often overlooked in the anthropogenic noise discussion, but it turns out that intermediate levels of noise can impact prey-detection behavior detrimentally in the garden spider.

Cardinals detect differences in vocalizations adjusted for noisewe do a lot of work on how animals adjust their calls based on anthropogenic noise, but not always on the response of conspecifics to those adjusted calls. Here, cardinals give stronger territorial responses to non-adjusted calls, but lose the ability to distinguish as the environment gets noisier.

A couple of weeks ago, the 2nd International Conference on Environmental Interactions of Marine Renewable Energy Technologies happened in Scotland, and it turns out a few of their talks had to do with marine mammals and noise. Here’s one of them.

Tracking porpoises with underwater arrays is possible: researchers set out see if they can track porpoises by listening to their clicks with an array of hydrophones, and it turns out it worked really well! This has great management implications for figuring out behavior in certain settings.

Fun link of the week: what does the fox actually  say? Hank Green and SciShow give us the scoop.

 

 

I am going to start with a stereotype. The term stereotype is derived from the Greek words στερεός (stereos), meaning “firm, solid” and τύπος (typos), meaning “impression,” hence “solid impression”. The stereotype of Greeks relating the definition of every word to Greek origin. I know, stereotype in the stereotype, right? The Matryoshka Principle (MP) in effect!

Some people like to generalize a lot. Most of us criticize this behavior but overall it is hard to avoid it. Stereotypes result from peoples’ effort to understand the world by categorizing. As long as the stereotypes are not accompanied by prejudicial or discriminatory reactions I can, sarcastically, use them and self-stereotype.

Stereotype that does NOT apply
Stereotype that does NOT apply

 

I enjoy looking into the history, the origin of things, the etymology of words. The word itself derives from the Greek word ἐτυμολογία, etymologia, from ἔτυμον, etymon, meaning “true sense” and the suffix -logia, denoting “the study of”. MP again!

I regularly (quite always) find myself asking people, especially here in the US, where they come from. Where they originally come from, you know, not where they were born but their ancestors origin. In the case that I cannot directly ask people questions, I ask myself.

Where my studies’ subjects come from, where and when cetecean and bioacoustic rese

Roman copy in marble of a Greek bronze bust of Aristotle by Lysippus, c. 330 BCE.
Roman copy in marble of a Greek bronze bust of Aristotle by Lysippus, c. 330 BCE.

arch was initiated. You would (not) be surprised to discover that Cetology (from κῆτος, kētos, “whale”; and -λογία, -logia), has Greek origin, and I am not just referring to the word. It was 2364 years ago when the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle published the History of Animals. He was only 34 when he wrote these 10 books! I don’t want to make any comparisons here, it would be inaccurate because I am also younger (!!!!), but just for reference: I struggle with just one publication.

Aristotle was the first to study and record dolphins (from Greek δελφίς (delphís), “dolphin”, related to the Greek δελφύς (delphus), “womb” and referred to as “a ‘fish’ with a womb”) and dolphin behavior. He made observations, he took notes and then he scientifically published them. He even reported his methods! Sounds like what everybody does, right? Well yes, but not 2.5 thousand years ago! It is also startling that he came up with 2 common research methods used nowadays in cetology: photo-identification and tagging. He did not have a camera or any tag equipment, but he collaborated with the fishermen and they would create artificial notches on the dorsal fins of the dolphins that were entangled alive in their fishing nets and then they were able to identify different individuals, monitor their movements and get information on their age and span of their lives.

In his writings, he correctly claimed that dolphins were mammals, he observed that they bore their live young and suckled them, breathed air and communicated by underwater sounds:

“The dolphin has a blow and lungs… it sleeps with the snout above the water and when it sleeps, snores. None produces any eggs but they give birth directly to an embryo like in the case of human and the viviparous quadrupeds.  The gestation period lasts for 10 months and gives birth in the summer. The dolphins produce milk and they suckle the young which they accompany for long periods. The caring for their young is remarkable. The young grow up fast and becomes adult at the age of 10 years old. It lives for many years, even above 25 or 30The voice of the dolphin in air is like that of the human in that they can pronounce vowels and combinations of vowels, but have difficulties with the consonants.” (Aristotle, HISTORIA ANIMALIUM, 350 BC)

It is interesting to think how much more information we have (or have not) acquired the last couple thousands of years. Especially as far as acoustics are concerned as it was not before the 1950s when new observations were made. In 1949, William E. Schevill and B. Lawrence used their hydrophones (from Greek ὕδωρ = water and φωνή = sound) into the Saguenay River of Quebec to make the first underwater recordings of the sound of cetaceans, belugas in this case, in the wild.

The use of hydrophones started at wartime too, used during WWII by

Passive Aquatic Listener (PAL): my hydrophone to eavesdrop the sperm whales and the dolphins at the Gulf of Alaska and the Greek Seas.
Passive Aquatic Listener (PAL): my hydrophone to eavesdrop the sperm whales and the dolphins at the Gulf of Alaska and the Greek Seas.

the submarines to detect underwater targets. Since it became declassified and available, it has been widely used today to study the underwater soundscapes and reveal a non-Silent World. While Jacques-Yves Cousteau’s title was a misnomer, Professor Huxley, in 1869, stated in his essay on the “Physical Basis of Life”:

“The wonderful noonday silence of a tropical forest, is, after all, due only to the dullness of our hearing; and could our ears catch the murmur of these tiny maelstroms, as they whirl in the innumerable myriads of living cells which constitute each tree, we should be stunned, as with the roar of a great city.”

making a point on the information we can get from soundscapes and the essentiality of the right equipment. Thus hydrophones become a favorite tool for cetologists and bioacousticians to record, understand and accurately study the charismatic marine-megafauna.

Being able to hear the whales and dolphins “voices”, opened a discussion whether these intelligent animals can actually talk, use their sounds to communicate with each other in a language context. I’m not sure which is the answer but I don’t see why we should give such an anthropocentric meaning to their vocalizations just to consider them intelligent and worthy of our protection and conservation efforts…

But the languages have further significance even within the human society. Anthropologists, linguists and psychologists have done research around the world and looked into many different languages to understand the importance of the use of certain languages and words in our minds performance. Results of these studies show that the words and language that we use represent and  shape what and how we think. Thus who we are! Very cool research has shown that human languages shape the way we think about space, time, colors, and objects.  Just like what cetaceans do using sound to navigate and locate food over long distances!

In fact, an interesting example of how  words change the way we view the world is this one of Shakespeare who is known to have created a whole bunch of new words and phrases  that have unarguably affected the way we sense our surroundings. “It’s all Greek to me” has been introduced by him, but I know that after reading this post this phrase has no use for you! In fact Greek is not really that hard, of medium difficulty. After 44 posts you will be proficient…

I will close by quoting Marcel Proust  who said that the real voyage of discovery doesn’t consist in seeking new landscapes but having new eyes. And to paraphrase that, as far as my field of studies is concerned, the voyage of discovery consists in seeking soundscapes instead of landscapes, in listening to the deep sea, deep listening and understanding what we hear of the sounds in the oceans.

Every fourth week of the month I will be sharing with you, thoughts, ideas, everyday lessons and concerns, more related to bioacoustics than the Greek language 😉

 

 

Soundbites is a (hopefully) weekly feature of the coolest, newest bioacoustics, soundscape, and acoustic research, in bite-size form. Plus other cool stuff having to do with sound.

Frogs change calling time in response to traffic noise: species with high peak frequency didn’t care about traffic noise, but species with low peak frequency optimized their calling to fall in lulls of traffic noise to avoid masking.

Researchers need to consider the costs of response to anthropogenic noise as well as benefits: we tend to focus only on the benefits of changing vocalizations in response to noise, but costs like increased predation risk, reduced transmission distance, and information loss need to be considered to get a balanced picture of trade-offs.

Fun link of the weekNPR looks at the technology and design behind the latest Godzilla’s roar (which in the past was done with a resin-coated leather glove against a double bass). With the emphasis on sounds recorded at higher frequencies, my guess is they got some high-pitched animal sound in there and slowed it down… thoughts?

 

Are you interested in sound? Want to get involved in acoustics but just don’t know how? Do you enjoy helping scientists do their work without actually being a scientist?

Then consider this your call to arms.

citizenscientists.jpg-page-001
This is me, catching frogs* and encouraging you to science hard.

Ladies and gentlemen, from the mind of the great Bryan Pijanowski, soundscape ecologist extraordinaire, I present to you: Global Soundscapes.

But let’s talk about this whole citizen science thing for a second.

Citizen science has become an amazing tool for data collection across fields. The Zooniverse is probably the best example of this with their suite of astronomy-focused sites, some of which have mobile apps to go along with them (classify galaxies on the go!); multiple papers have been published with the data. There are even trips you can take now where as part of a vacation, you can go collect information with scientists (like if you want to go diving in tropical reefs for conservation).

Soundscape ecology and bioacoustics represent two fields that are ripe with opportunities for citizen scientists. Everyone has a smartphone these days with decent enough headphones, and there is never a shortage of data when it comes to sound; often we can’t get through it all in time to finish a project, or we can’t go through it as thoroughly as we’d like. This is where citizen science comes in. When a bunch of enthusiastic amateurs sit down, complete a quick training, and start their own data collection, they can cover a lot more ground than one trained scientist, and any errors in classification will be smoothed out the more people join in.

There are a few researchers in bioacoustics and soundscape ecology who have taken advantage of this (and I’m sure I’ve missed some). Pijanowski, as mentioned above, is having people on their smartphones make a short recording of the soundscape they’re in, and then answering some simple questions about what types of species they’re hearing, or if they hear wind or rain, and how the soundscape makes them feel. Here in the ORCAA Lab, we’re concerned with mostly biotic sound, but just think how this can be extended: what about that specific sound of sitting outside at a Parisian cafe, listening to the people walking by and the church bells throughout the city? What about the sound of New York City in the summer? These places have significance as cultural soundscapes, and Pijanowski is trying to study those as well.

In addition to this awesome app, you’ve got a project by Zooniverse called Whale.fm, matching killer whale and pilot whale calls with known individuals in a database. A researcher at University of Southampton created an app just for finding cicadas. And moving back to whales, there’s an array of hydrophones in the Salish Sea where people can sit and listen for killer whales.

From the perspective of the researchers, not only is this a great way to farm out some data collection and to make connections with technology outside our field, but it is one of the best ways I can think of to get people interested in sound as a function in an ecosystem. These projects become ambassadors of the field, and give greater exposure to what we’re doing. Protecting soundscapes is only going to become important to people if we talk about it, and show how excited we are about it.

So researchers: think about ways you can integrate this into your projects! And citizen scientists, here is your notice: we need you! Go out and listen!

As your humble frog lady, I’ll be blogging regularly every third Friday. I also tweet for our lab at @ORCAALab, so go follow us for micro-updates!

*Also by catching frogs I really mean catching the one frog that jumped in front of my car, and then finding that I’d been locked in the wildlife refuge I was in. Subsequent field excursions improved dramatically.

 

It’s springtime here on the Oregon Coast.  The white-crowned sparrows are singing at the Hatfield Marine Science Center,  the seagulls are growing audacious at the sight of beach picnics and barbecues, and on top of our normal research load here at the ORCAA lab (bowhead whales, how I love thee singing on my computer screen), the field season is upon us in full force!

Part of my job over the last year has been to coordinate a marine mammal observation effort here in Oregon’s near coastal ocean.  We’ve been very fortunate to partner with a number of labs and projects — including Sarah Henkel’s Bethic Ecology Lab, Jay Peterson’s Zooplankton Ecology Project, and Rob Suryan’s Seabird Oceanography Lab — who’ve invited us to share their sea time and tag along on cruises recording marine mammals.  We’ve had some inspiring cruises (bow riding dall’s porpoise, a possible pilot whale sighting!) and a few rocky days (my stomach hasn’t forgiven the Elakha yet), and we’re not through yet.  Now that the summer season is around the corner it’s time to recruit additional observers, and get our lead observers (Amanda and Niki) up to snuff on their safety certifications.

If you’ve ever been a part of a marine research cruise, you may be familiar with the rigor of safety training.  We take safety very seriously;  as marine scientists we have a keen awareness of both the awe and danger associated with the open (or even near coastal) ocean.  All of that severity, however, doesn’t stop us from having a little fun.  As you can see by today’s photos of Amanda and Niki (a.k.a. Gumby #1 and Gumby #2).  I didn’t go through safety training myself today, but that didn’t stop my from doing a little spying.

 

More to come soon on how projects unfold here at the ORCAA lab.

Michelle