Animal Bioacoustics

Technology. Ecology. Noise

Animal Bioacoustics

Sea Trials

          As with many things in life, fieldwork often doesn’t go as planned. But this is easy to forget when plans are made on tight timelines – we need everyone (including mother nature) to accommodate our schedule. As a marine scientist, nearly all of my fieldwork requires coordinating with vessels to reach different parts of the ocean. Sometimes these vessels are small, such as a fishing boat not meant to head very far from shore, but more often my work takes me out to sea overnight for which larger ships must be contracted.

          There are many, many moving pieces (literally and figuratively) that must be considered when organizing a voyage on a ship. Everyone on board has a job, and for the most part, I always assume that if they do their job and I do mine everything will go according to plan.

 But of course that is a ridiculous thing to assume.

           In late March I flew to Mississippi to join a NOAA ship on a transit to Woods Hole, MA. During the trip north, the plan was to swap out both NRS06 (in the Gulf) and NRS07 (on the East Coast of Florida). Unfortunately, from the get-go we ran into problems.

Part 1: The sewage tank delay
          For the first two weeks of the trip we sat at the dock in Pascagoula because sewage holding tank needed to be patched, painted, and tested. Not only was this problematic because it meant that there was a issue with the ship and we were losing valuable days at sea, but it also meant that I was on my own in small-town Mississippi until we got underway.
          At first I stayed hopeful that our departure was imminent; I was able to hitch a ride into town with the crew for most meals, and I took some time to organize my mooring gear and explore the abandoned Navy Base where the ship was docked. Turns out abandoned Navy Bases are only good for a few hours of exploring…so by day five I was desperate to get a rental car so I didn’t have to rely on everyone else’s schedule. Thankfully, after calling three offices I finally found a car and was on my own (morale improved considerably).
          The next week and change consisted of me hunting down high-speed wifi and southern food. I quickly learned coffee shops are hard to come by on the Gulf Coast, but I tried to make an adventure out of it. I saw two wild alligators, ate more gulf shrimp than I can count, learned about the history of the Gulf Coast, Mardi Gras, and the damage (and subsequent rebuilding) that followed Hurricane Katrina. I avoided a flash flood, tried “cajun sushi”, and consumed more BBQ chicken than someone who considers themselves a vegetarian should admit…

Study break at the beach in Biloxi, MS

          So it wasn’t all misery, but still I was ready to get going. On day 14, just when I was about to give-up and fly back to Oregon, we finally got the OK to cast off from the pier and head out to sea. The next morning we arrived on the site of NRS06, and even though it took all day to complete the hydrophone swap I was thrilled. Things were finally looking up – one hydrophone in the water, one to go, and we were on our way out of the gulf!

Preparing NRS06 for deployment

Alas, it was too good to be true.

Part 2: The weather delay
          Even when everyone on board does their job and the ship is fully functional, weather remains out of our control. A storm system was hovering right in our path north, and by the time we reached the location of NRS07 the seas were too big and choppy to complete the swap. For the safety of the ship and everyone on board, we had to get away from the storm. So we continued on our journey north, battling our way out of high wind and waves. If you’ve ever spent time on a ship before, you know that being tossed around by the sea is not very much fun. Even at top speed we could not travel quickly, and a full week into the journey we hadn’t even crossed the Mason-Dixon line.

Sunset at sea after the storm passed

Part 3: The ship damage

On day 22 (a full week after I was supposed to be back in Oregon already) the weather finally improved. I had come to terms with the delays and was ready to get to Woods Hole say hello to my friends and colleagues there, and then head home. But we couldn’t catch a break. In the middle of the night, there was a problem with the engine and we lost control of one of the screws (there are usually two propelling the boat). With only half power and still hundreds of miles to go, a decision was made to head to the nearest port for repairs. Then, about 4 hours later, a small smoky fire was discovered in the engine room and the ship sprung into action to control the damage. Thankfully no one was hurt, and we spent the next 24 hours slowly making our way towards Charleston, SC.

Since we already passed both NRS mooring sites, my job onboard was essentially finished. So, already over a week behind schedule to return to Oregon, I decided to cut my losses and leave the ship in Charleston. I booked the latest flight I could find for the next day.

Part 4: The pilot boat
          The dock we were scheduled to tie up at in Charleston, SC was up the Cooper River, so a pilot and tug boat would have to escort the ship to the pier. Keeping with the trend of the voyage, our trip up the river was delayed by a few hours (for reasons unbeknownst to me…I didn’t even ask). These hours were the difference between me being able to fly back to Oregon that day or needing to wait for the next morning. I couldn’t take no for an answer and knowing that our pilot for the day would have to be shuttled to the ship from shore, I asked if I could hitch a ride back to land in his place. Luckily my wish was granted and a few hours later I was sitting in the Charleston airport waiting for my flight home. Ironically, my flight into Portland met tailwinds at 34,000 ft and landed almost an hour early.

My view from the pilot boat after leaving the Gunter

Part 5: Feeling thankful

          As a scientist it’s easy to take for granted all of the pieces that go into a trip to sea. It is not news to me that often problems arise and plans must be change. I used to sail with a captain that would tell us, “this is the plan we will deviate from”. Although, collectively, I’ve spent over a year of my life at sea, before this trip I had not found myself in the midst of so many subsequent set-backs. I could say “well that really sucked” and close the books and be done with it. Or I could embrace the tragic comedy of Murphy’s Law and appreciate that I accomplished half of my scientific mission, made it home safely, and now only have 7 states to visit before I’ve been to all 50.

Home team

Grad school isn’t all work….sometimes it means taking off a Friday afternoon and rooting for the home team. Go Beavs!!


more science next time 🙂

All is NOT calm

Well, this post is LOOONNGGG overdue. But that happens right? It’s still a story worth telling 🙂

I haven’t posted in a while, so lets touch base on the last three months of my grad school life. Michelle mentioned that many in our lab attended the Biennial Meeting for the Society for Marine Mammalogy. It was crazy, but awesome. I gave a talk on my master’s work and was the most nervous I have ever been to give a talk…biggest audience, TWO screens, up on a podium. EEK. I think it went ok though. And the best part of all was that my dad snuck in to watch. And more importantly he refrained from asking a question and embarrassing me.

Getting grilled cheese sandwiches and a PBR with my dad after my talk.

Getting grilled cheese sandwiches and a PBR with my dad after my talk.

But that wasn’t even the point of this blog. I just had to brag about my dad coming to my talk because how many grad students get to say that??

Winter Fieldwork

You all know I work on gliders (and here, and here, and here) by now, right? (note to self – write a blog post on HOW exactly gliders work).

Well, I do. And two parts of my PhD are to compare gliders to QUEphone floats, and to work out density estimation from a glider. To do this, we need to fly gliders and floats at the same time, and we need to fly them in a place where we have known locations of animals (which we get from other hydrophones using localization…I’m sure Michelle will talk about this some day soon). Then we can figure out how far away each instrument can hear the animal, and then we do a bunch of stats, and voila! All the world’s problems are solved.

So to get the known locations of animals, we are doing two sets of field work – one using a permanent hydrophone array of bottom-mounted hydrophones called SCORE, owned and operated by the U.S. Navy, and one this summer…more later. These hydrophones were originally setup up, and are still used, for Naval training purposes, but guess what, they also hear whales. Now the M3R program of the Navy Marine Species Monitoring program can use these recordings for studying marine mammals on the training ranges. Anyway, for us to get to use it, we had to do it in the very brief window between Christmas and New Years.

The cool logo on our ship

The cool logo on our ship

Deployment – Dec 20

Right after the marine mammal conference, I went home to my parents house for a day, then flew down to San Diego, Haru, Alex, and I went out on the deployment, and things went mostly as expected. We were only able to deploy one glider because one had an antenna issue, but we also got two floats out. Yay!

Alex readying the gear on deployment day. San Diego sunshine abounds.

Alex readying the gear on deployment day. San Diego sunshine abounds.

Flight time – All good UNTIL Dec 30 – when we started to have communication issues with the glider…that we COULD NOT RESOLVE. The glider was trying to call the base station, we could see the lights on the modem lighting up, but it could not connect. Come to find out, as phone lines are being updated, sometimes this happens, and there was NOTHING WE COULD DO ABOUT IT. But the glider is still flying we know that, that’s good.

Recovery – Scheduled for Jan 4

Alex and I were slated to fly down from Portland to San Diego, head out early in the morning on the 4th (it takes us about 7 hours by boat to get to where the stuff was), and try to find the glider, that will surface for about 15 mins, every 5 hours, in 12 foot seas, within 2 km of a particular point.

So already, I’m NOT feeling super optimistic about it. Oh and then the offshore weather forecast is bad. Real bad. Like we might get down there, head out of the bay, and have to turn around. I was thinking if we pushed it back we might have a better chance of fixing the communication problem and find a better weather window, but remember, we are working on a typically ACTIVE Navy Range, we have to get our gear out of there before they start training again. So lets go forward as planned.

Wake up Sunday morning, Alex is going to drive from Newport to Corvallis in our rental car, so we can drive to the airport for our midday flight. Guess what. It snowed. Our rental car wouldn’t make it over the coast range. SO. We reschedule our flight for later. Alex gets a ride over the hill from Haru, who has a truck. We take my Subaru to the airport. WORST DRIVE EVER. Corvallis snow melted, Portland was in a full on ice storm. Cars sliding off the road everywhere, somehow we make it (Thank you Remy Lebeau…my car).

Oh but wait, halfway there, I get a text message that our flight has been cancelled. Alaska automatically re-routes me: Portland to LA, LA to Seattle, Seattle to San Diego..midday on the 4th. REMEMBER we need to get our stuff on the 4th. The weather forecast has gotten worse for later in the week…Monday is our only chance. Oh and bonus, Alex got rerouted as well…for Tuesday the 5th, at 7pm, direct flight Portland to San Diego. SUPER GREAT!

And it begins...

And it begins…

But don’t worry, I’ve got a plan. We fly to LA, just to LA, we rent a car there, we drive the two hours to San Diego, its all good. Granted, the LA flight is from 8-10, so we would get down to San Diego by about 1 am, but we would make it to the boat for our scheduled departure at 4. So ok…lets do it.

So we call Alaska, and we wait on hold, while driving through ice, for like 45 minutes. Finally we get through to this very nice woman, who fixes everything (oh and we have to run all our travel through our accounting people too, on a Sunday night, so there are lots of calls being made). Alex and I, both on the flight to LA. Great.

We get to Portland, we park, we check in for our flights, we go to Enterprise to switch our car reservation to LA. We wait. Guess what…LA flight is delayed. Yup. Ok, we board, only an hour late. Then we sit. On the tarmac, while the de-ice the plane. Yup. I’m a west coast girl, born and raised….this is all so weird to me!!!!!!

So we make it to LA. Midnight. We sit. On the runway. For an hour. Because our gate had an oil leak. YUP. ok…we get off. its 1:00. Remember, we are supposed to be at the base at 3:30, to meet our escort to the boat at 4. It takes 2 hours to drive from LA to San Diego. So we’ve got 2.5 hours. WE MIGHT MAKE IT!!!

The enterprise shuttle is late. Its supposed to come every 10 mins, its too far to walk (45 mins, we mapped it). It comes…1:30. We get to Enterprise. WE SPRINT OFF THE BUS to beat everyone else on it (it was very crowded because we weren’t the only travelers with issues).

The rental car shuttle arrived! This is what you look like after traveling for 12 hours and you've still got 3 to go. The guy in the back is my favorite...

The rental car shuttle arrived! This is what you look like after traveling for 12 hours and you’ve still got 3 to go. The guy in the back is my favorite…

We get our car. its 1:45. We start driving. Thankfully I used to live in Southern California so at least I know where we are going. Plus Alex helps me navigate. We text the boat crew…we will be a little late. Forget checking in to our hotel, we are going straight to the base. YAY WE MAKE IT TO THE BASE AT 3:45!! Did I mention its raining now, and again the glider isn’t really communicating so we will be finding a needle in a hay-stack of waves. But we actually made it to San Diego.

Then we sleep. The AMAZING crew had our beds all made 🙂

—took a break from writing this blog post to get free cake—

Ok, so we sleep, for a while, till like 7 or 8, then my phone starts beeping. The crew says we are getting close. We discuss where exactly we are heading. We are super far offshore BUT we have this super cool satellite phone wi-fi hub thing that can forward sat phone texts and calls to my regular phone wherever I am on the boat (WHAAAATTT). Haru is giving me up dated info on the floats. AND. WHAT. MIRACLE. THE GLIDER CALLED IN. Oh side note, it is super rough and I’m looking at computer screens at this point and repeating over and over in my head “dont throw up dont throw up dont throw up”.

So now we’ve got a glider location, but we are a couple miles away and we don’t know how long it will stay at the surface. I go to lay down for a few minutes while we move towards it. The captain comes into the server room where are temporary bunks are. “Uh….I think I see it…”

I jump up. Run outside. There it is, sitting in a kelp patty. Just sitting there. I suddenly do not feel sick. I hug the boat captain (I can’t help it).

Then the fun begins, because its so rough and we are on a pretty big ship we deploy a little RHIB (all black, Navy style) off the back of the boat and go out to pick it up.

I'm literally cradling the glider in my lap so the antenna doesn't get broken in our bouncy ride back to the ship.

I’m literally cradling the glider in my lap so the antenna doesn’t get broken in our bouncy ride back to the ship. If anyone has anything to say about how it doesn’t look that rough…you can go next time. This was the only photo where we weren’t lost behind a swell.

All is calm (NOT), all is bright. This photo does not do justice to the "washing-machine" of seas.

All is calm (NOT), all is bright. This photo does not do justice to the “washing-machine” of seas.

The rest is somewhat less memorable. The floats were easy to find, the sun came out and I lay on the back deck soaking it up, the crew made dinner, we drove in, got to the hotel at 8 am the next morning, had a mimosa, slept, packed everything the next day, and flew home.


The end.

This turned out a lot longer than I anticipated, and perhaps the stress and anxiety and then happiness did not come through this…but writing about it brought back some heart racing…so trust me…it was stressful. But it all worked out. Yippee!! Now I can’t wait to look at these data and actually do something with it.

Plus..serious shout out to Alex, hes glider tech/pilot/friend I could have out there.


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

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 to hear Samara’s journey into the sounds of science.

Finding something true

The ORCAA Lab recently returned from the Society for Marine Mammalogy’s (SMM) Biennial Meeting in San Francisco.  It was a whirlwind to say the least. Of the 2,600+ marine mammal scientists, professionals, and students in attendance I’d be pretty surprised if more than 10 or 15 escaped the week’s activity without feeling exhausted. This was my first SMM conference and I found myself feeling uncharacteristically nervous.


L-R: Selene Fregosi, Samara Haver, Niki Diogou, and me (Michelle Fournet). ORCAA represents at SMM.

All of the graduate students in our lab were slated to give either a talk (Myself, Selene, and Samara) or a poster (Niki). We were part of a much larger contingent of researchers from Oregon State (both NOAA and the Marine Mammal Institute) and in such had ample encouragement and feedback on our research and presentations; but this didn’t seem to curb my butterflies.

My talk “Temporal stability of North Pacific humpback whale non-song vocalizations at the decadal scale” is the culmination of the first chapter of my PhD dissertation, and while the title might not convey the scope of what I’m trying to understand about animal communication I knew that I had 12 minutes at this conference to do just that. This talk was my first chance to stand up in front of a room of my peers and tell them something true that I had discovered.

Unequivocoal truth is hard to identify in science. As the questions that we ask grown more complicated, and the body of known scientific literature grows, the ‘simple’ phenomena left for discovery become harder and harder to find. In my dissertation I ask the question: what impact does large vessel noise have on humpback whale acoustic behavior? That is not a simple question. Further, it doesn’t begin to encompass whether that impact if negative, positive, or insignificant. My hope, is that as I sift through the steps to collect the data, ask the question, and analyze the results that I’ll have not only the quantitative skill set to tease out the truth, but the ecological acumen to interpret it in a meaningful way.

But I digress.


Me (Michelle) giving my talk at the Society for Marine Mammalogy’s Biennial Meeting in San Francisco.

Before I can dive into these complicated questions I wanted to ask a simple one. Are non-song calls stable over time? Over the past eight years I’ve had the good fortune of collaborating with an increasing number of marine mammalogists.  From these collaborations (and my own field work) I was able to compile a data set of non-song vocalizations in Southeast Alaska that span from 1976 to 2015. Using some simple methods (looking, listening), and some slightly more complicated statistical methods (see my previous publication here) I was able to say definitively that, yes, these calls are stable over time.

Further, I was able to demonstrate that they are stable in different ways. While nearly all described call types were detected across the data set some calls were infrequently used but highly stereotyped, in that their acoustic parameters (pitch, duration, bandwidth, etc.) changed very little over time. Other calls were highly variable, but persistent; meaning that while there was more variability in the acoustic parameters (i.e. some were higher in pitch, or had wider bandwidths) the call type was extremely common throughout all four decades of the study. I proposed that this difference – persistence versus stereotypy – may imply something different about the function of the call.

One of the elements of this study that I love, is its simplicity. While certainly the study is rigorous – many thousands of hours of recordings were sifted through, calls measured and extracted, and a three-part classification method was used to reduce observer bias in determining call types – the study in its most basic form is about listening for something consistent over time… and finding it.

One of my first ecology professors are the University of Alaska once told me, good science should be elegant. I don’t know if my study fits this criteria or not but at the very least it was well received at the conference. Admittedly, this may be in part to a fairly substantial technical snafu that forced me to make a somewhat ridiculous public speaking choice on the day of the talk. On my third slide I have a series of recordings of non-song vocalizations that I intended to play for the audience. When I tapped the ‘play’ button of the first sound… nothing happened. So I swallowed my pride and my humility opened my mouth and imitated the four sounds; the fourth sound is a feeding call that you can listen to below.( I’m closing my eyes and reliving the pounding heart experience of producing this sound to an audience of 200 of my most impressive peers… remember those butterflies I mentioned earlier?).

By the time I’d finished, the audience was clapping (I think there may have been a few hoots out there as well), and my already rosy cheeks were a deep shade of red. But the show must go on (I was only in the introduction after all). I finished my talk with time for questions and applause. I was rewarded with multiple collaboration meetings, a few good laughs (Ocean Alliance’s Andy Rogan even bought me a beer), and an award from the Society itself… for best doctoral presentation.


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.


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.


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).


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.


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



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

Forward Progress

So….Guess what? I figured out my dissertation!

Well, not really. Not the whole thing. But I finally feel like I have sort of the start of an idea of a plan. Yesterday I gave a talk at the Marine Mammal Institute Brownbag series at Hatfield Marine Science Center. I took this opportunity to try and sketch out what I will be focusing on the next few years.


I got some great feedback that will really help me going forward. For example:

The problems you discuss seem similar to problems that were worked out for visual surveys in the past. That would be a great place to start in your literature search.

Great point! That’s kind of what I was trying to convey…so yay!

Well. If I’ve got one thing to say. It’s a lot. 

Again…I agree. I hadn’t realized how big it all seemed until I got it all out there. But it’s a highly collaborative project, so I think it will be doable? And I’m sure things will get tweaked. But I do need to be reasonable here.

You really nerded out up there. 

Heck yes I did! Gliders! Woo!

**I paraphrased all of these so I won’t put the names of who they were from 🙂 I think I got the gist of what they meant?



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:


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:


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!

Soundbites for the week of Oct. 5 – 9

Soundbites is your weekly dose of the newest, coolest bioacoustics news, plus other fun stuff, all in bite-size form. A day late and a dollar short this week, folks. Blame my thesis…

Guys, I haven’t got a lot of new bioacoustics news for you this week. I got a great Google alert about a paper called “Not so sexy sounds”, but then my computer thought the link was corrupted and I couldn’t get it for you.

Noise impacts nestling begging in tree swallowsanthropogenic noise has different impacts depending on the species, which is why it’s important to keep studying its effects. Here, tree swallow nestlings increased amplitude and frequency in their begging calls when exposed to white noise; also, when exposed to feeding calls at noisy nests, parents responded with less feeding than at control nests. So noise changed the behavior of both parents and nestlings, and while they were able to compensate and no one was left hungry, it’s not clear if there’s a threshold above which this wouldn’t work anymore.

Fun link of the week: here’s a weird one for you. I was thinking about the acoustics and soundscapes of fall and somehow I ended up googling “pumpkin instrument”. There is an entire musical group devoted to making instruments out of vegetables. They are called, appropriately, the Vegetable Orchestra. Here is a video of them recording one of their albums:

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


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