Animal Bioacoustics

Technology. Ecology. Noise

Animal Bioacoustics

Call me Jonesy

Wow! Summer winded down quickly. It felt like a lot of time spent writing, some exciting and stressful glider piloting, and I wrapped it up with 2 weeks on the water in Southern California working on the SOCAL BRS project. (You can read a public summary of the project here).

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Pretty morning at Santa Catalina Island

I’ve talked about this project before, and this was my 4th summer on the R/V Truth. This leg ended up a bit frustrating in the fact that the animals were more difficult to find and work with than past years. We didn’t observe the distribution of whales we typically do, and we suspect this has something to do with the abnormally warm waters off Southern California this summer.

For example we barely saw any Risso’s dolphins, where typically there are tons around Santa Catalina Island. And the blue and fin whales typically found feeding right in the LA shipping channel weren’t where we expected them. Instead we found them quite a bit further offshore near Santa Barbara Island. AND we saw schools on schools on schools of yellowfin!! (I think……I may edit this in a day or two…anyway I’d never seen so many leaping fish!) EDIT: Yellowfin tun and maybe some small bonitos and maybe some bluefin.

Always Learning

For me the trip was still a great learning experience. I got to use some new tools and learn some new skills, including running the sound propagation software we use in setting up a CEE (Controlled Exposure Experiment), running the sound source that projects the sound playback, and deploying and recording from sonobuoys, little one-time use floating recorders designed to listen for subs, but also work for whales.

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Mapping how sound likely propagates through the Southern California Bight in August.

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My acoustic set up. Sonobuoy detector, sonobuoy recorder, and directions of course.

 

 

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People started to refer to me as Jonesy. I embraced it whole-heartedly.

 

 

Soundbites for the week of Sept 28 – Oct 2

What’s that, you say? Has Soundbites returned? Indeed it has! After a long hiatus for the summer, Soundbites is returning this term to provide you with all the latest and greatest bioacoustics news, bite-sized! 

Phantom road experiment reveals noise degrades habitatman do I like this experiment. As all of the ORCAA students could tell you, sometimes it’s hard to differentiate the effects of noise from general habitat degradation. These researchers set up a “phantom road” made of speakers and found evidence of avoidance and decreased body condition in birds.

Gorillas change vocalizations based on audience effects, not environmental factorsI don’t get to write about gorilla vocalizations very often! These researchers wanted to test the acoustic adaptation hypothesis to see if both mountain and lowland gorillas changed their vocalizations to maximize transmission in their cluttered (physically and acoustically) environment. Instead, the gorillas changed their vocalization based on social cues, like nearest neighbors and visual separation.

Traffic noise impacts zebra finch embryos and nestlingsthe authors set out to distinguish the impacts of noise from other habitat variables by using captive zebra finches. High-noise groups had higher embryo mortality and slower nestling growth, and noise also was found to possibly exacerbate stressed animals further and contribute to reduced parental care.

Fun link of the weekacoustic scientists recently shattered the world record for longest echo. In Scotland, there are long tunnels that used to be used for oil storage. A gun shot echoed for a ridiculous 112 seconds!

Fieldwork success!

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

NRS09 coming up.

NRS09 coming up. (Photo: Onye Ahanotu)

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

Replacing the acoustic release batteries.

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

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

Attaching the replacement hydrophone.

Attaching the replacement hydrophone.

Preparing the lander for re-deployment.

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ready to re-deploy NRS09.

The whole crew ready to re-deploy NRS09.

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

Sending NRS09 back into the ocean.

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

Divas of the Deep

Instructions how to keep your breath longer.

This summer I spent a long time underwater. Not only for work, not just for fun. For debriefing and peace of mind. The last couple of months, swimming has been my way of being with myself and thinking freely about life, cheese, and sperm whales. While performing long dives down to a few meters of depth, I have been thinking about the sperm whales’ amazing ability to dive so deep and for so long.

Even though marine mammals breathe air, just like us, some species are able to keep their breath underwater for longer than two hours and others can go down to 3 Km deep!

How do they do it?

I do not do scuba diving anymore and I am happy that I do not have to tolerate the suffocating, funky smelling, and how-do-I-get–out-of-this wet-suit. I love keeping my eyes wide open where the seawater is clear enough to make the use of mask or goggles unnecessary. This way I feel like a natural part of the mysterious sea world. The indescribable sensation of flying underwater can only be compared with a couple other feelings. Nevertheless, I admit to struggle, like any other human, with a couple of issues.

*Not A Human

Pressure, oxygen and temperature limit my expanding politics while in this wet world.

You have certainly noticed that the deeper you go in the sea the higher the pressure. Specifically, the pressure by the water to any object is called hydrostatic and increases by 14.5 pounds per square inch (psi) (=1 atmosphere) every 10m you dive deeper. You can quickly feel this pressure in your eardrums once you are 3-4 meters deep. Can you even imagine the pressure down at 2000 m?! Let me help you. It is estimated that at that depth the weight of the water becomes as heavy as two baby elephants (~200Kg) balancing on a postage stamp. If you have ever seen the squished styrofoam cups that return from our visits to 1500m with submergence vehicles, now you know what happened to them.  It wasn’t exactly an elephant that sat on them but close…

Results from hitchhiking on a CTD.

Results from hitchhiking on a CTD.

The decrease of water temperature as I dive down is also a limitation. Luckily, all the cheese consumption I have been persistently investing on has helped me create this fine layer of fat tissue that makes me unbeatable to the cool (Mediterranean) water temperatures for long periods. Fortunately for human life, my fatty layer is thin enough, but unfortunately insufficient for whale depths.

While I move deeper into the darkness of the ocean there are more obstacles to encounter. Despite my healthy lifestyle, I am in need of oxygen less than a minute after I submerge myself. My lungs can only store a certain amount of air (probably a bit less than 5 liters) dependent on my age, physical size (consequently my lung size), and my fitness state. Even though I exercise a lot, I do not smoke, and I am tall, still my lung capacity does not allow me to stay underwater for as long as I desire. Specifically, no more than about 40 seconds. My body requires fuels for my brain and internal organs during a dive to the abyss. Or even, down to 7 meters and back.

Well it is actually not that bad, if you think that we can keep our breath for longer underwater than on air pressure. While submerged in cold water, instinctively decreases our heart rate and metabolism for saving up oxygen. Marine mammals use the same trick. The best example is the Weddell seals; during their deep dives their heart rate decreases down to four beats/minute!

"Haven't felt my heart for 15 sec. I am worried."

“Haven’t felt my heart for 15 sec. I am worried.”

Whales have managed to succeed on everything that I suck at (besides slack line).

First of all the fat. They have a thick layer of fatty tissue under their skin, called blubber. It functions as the best thermoisolating material. Keeps their body temperature from dropping dramatically when the environmental temperature falls under what they can tolerate. See, fat is good. Go on, have that piece of brie.

Sperm whales and beaked whales do not crack under great pressure, as humans literally, and often metaphorically, do. In contrast, they thrive where the conditions are unbearable for other whale species. They have adapted in the extreme conditions of the deep seas and that pays them off with food. It gives them access to the bathypelagic squid to fill their demanding bellies. It resembles an all-you can-eat buffet where you are the only client.

Any psychological boosting, power phrases, meditation, or confidence injections prove to be useless towards their achievements. What helps them instead, is primarily their flexibility. Their rib cage can fold in to avoid crushing from the high pressure. Both the rib cage and lungs collapse every time the animal dives 2 Km down and then recover when it comes back at the surface. If you thought your routine is tough, now you may reconsider.

It is easy to understand how that works by the following image.

Ouch

Ouch

In practice though, the sperm whale in action does not show any indications of being collapsed at great depths. Its skin and the whole body look smooth and perfectly well shaped without any evident ruptures or deformations. Yeah, there is proof of that. A lucky NOAA group incidentally captured a sperm whale on camera while sampling with an ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) at 600m depth. Check their reactions, surprised indeed.

These deep divers are known to remove the 90% of air from their body, by exhaling it before the dive, to be easier to simply sink down, dealing this way with buoyancy issues. Footage has proven that some marine mammals hardly move while they sink. They gently slide into the water, heads down, without even moving a muscle. You can imagine how much oxygen the muscles would require to move that giant tail…

For the same conserving purpose, marine mammals choose to “unplug” some of their internal organs and functions that are not vital during their long journey to the sea bottom. Who needs digestion, liver and kidneys while hunting…?!

However, they still need oxygen while down deep. They need to move around for chasing that yummy squid and their muscles require oxygen for that. Their well-hidden secret lays in their blood; they have what I call the super blood. They have a higher percentage of red blood cells where oxygen is stored, and a higher blood to body volume ratio that gives them extra storage. On top of that, there is the myoglobin. Ta-ta!

One unusual word for human, a tremendous offer for beaked whales!

Myoglobin, such a mouth filling word, is a protein in the animals’ muscles that stores oxygen and is responsible for making active muscles look red and sometimes even black. For the diving animals, myoglobin is 10 times more concentrated than in human. Too much of this protein could cause health implications to people mainly because of low viscosity, causing clogging and sticking together. A recent scientific discovery showed that in beaked whales, this crazy amount of myoglobin is functioning because it is positively charged. According to the laws of attraction (opposites attract and likes repel) the myoglobin particles manage to keep from sticking with each other and any circulation clogging is avoided.

I would be happy to announce that the sperm whales are the Kings of the Abyss. Yeah, that would give me immense satisfaction. However, beaked whales beat them to that. They get down to almost 3000 meters, about 1000m deeper than the Kings of my Heart do. They win, not only more of that elusive squid, and our admiration, but also the highest levels of myoglobin.

At these great depths, where any kind of light can only be bioluminescence produced by fish or other invertebrates, the sperm and beaked whales use their spectacular biosonars to “see”, making the deep oceans into Operas of Clicks. They are the Divas of the Deep for a reason.

If you want to learn 80 sec more about underwater fireworks (bioluminescence) don’t miss this video.


To return where I started from, I am going to take you for a swim. Not just a usual swim in the clear, turquoise, crystal calm, and safe Aegean Sea. We are going night swimming. The whole sea is dark and the whales cannot even see their own tails; we struggle to see if any swimming suits are on. The water is dark as the night. A starry night. Swimming at a beach on the western part of the island of Lesvos (home of the Department of Marine Sciences of the University of the Aegean), we feel like Divas while playing with the underwater stars. Every little movement causes the water to sparkle, and produces hundreds of tiny shiny tails just like shooting stars. Little planktonic organisms almost invisible to bare eye, produce bioluminescence when excited and make our experience exciting. Truly magical!

Until… you step on a sea urchin.

Ouch.

Back to the lab

Since getting back to Corvallis, the glamour of my research has decidedly declined. However, as you may know, only a small part of bioacoustics research takes place in the field – mostly it takes place in front of a computer. And that’s where I am now.

This month I’ve been looking through some recordings from three different deep-water Atlantic mooring sites to compare drivers and levels of noise. Passive acoustic archival research is different from other types of data collection because we (the researchers) are not out in the field during recording. Our instruments record all sounds and then part of the analysis process is looking and listening to see what went on. Paging through years of recordings can be a tedious process, but from time to time I find something unusual and exciting like this noise recorded on Halloween night!

Halloween Noise

Halloween noise!

 

GEMS girls in action!

GEMS girls in action!

I did get out of the office for an afternoon this week to talk to the Girls in Engineering and Marine Science Camp (GEMS) hosted by the Oregon Coast STEM Hub. The two-day camp was organized to expose middle school girls to STEM-related careers. I spoke to the group towards the end of the camp, and despite being exhausted from two full days of science and an aquarium sleepover, they were a great audience!

Reporting for Duty

I’m going to take a page out of Danielle’s blog/book this week…and talk about thinking.

About one year and 3 weeks ago, Danielle touched on the value of taking time to just think. Not day-dreaming just thinking about all of the Patagonia jackets I want to buy, but thinking about my project, my science, what….and why…I’m actually doing…and doing it.

Since I defended my Master’s in May, life has been a whirlwind. I had a few travel plans for the summer (a conference in July and some field work coming up in a week), there were gliders to be piloted (in Newport and the Gulf of Mexico), I needed to finish up my manuscript of my master’s research and submit it (still in progress…), and there were reports – oh reports – to be written.

Every time I come to blog I can’t remember how much I’ve talked about what my PhD will be about. I feel like I haven’t really, because I don’t even know that well yet! (That is where this whole idea of thinking comes in right now)

The basics, though, are that I’m part of a large scale monitoring project involving flying gliders outfitted with passive acoustic recorders in several different naval training ranges around the Pacific. All of these glider flights are funded NAVFAC, aka the operational U.S. Navy. They want to know what cetaceans are in the areas the use, and when. We have to answer their basic monitoring questions, and then I will get to use this HUGE dataset to do something for my PhD. But first, we have to answer those questions. And that is done in the form of a report. The thing about these reports are that they have deadlines. Very strict deadlines. And they are all stacked on top of each other. So since May it was – analyze MIRC, submit MIRC draft, get MIRC draft edits, revise MIRC draft, submit MIRC draft to Navy, get Navy edits back, submit MIRC final. Then lets put in the exact same thing for HRC (Hawaii) and go over it again:

Analyze MIRC, submit MIRC draft, analyze HRC, get MIRC edits, revise MIRC, submit HRC draft, submit MIRC draft to Navy, get HRC edits, revise HRC draft, get MIRC edits, submit HRC draft to Navy, revise MIRC, submit MIRC final, get HRC edits back – ok – this is where we are at…..now waiting a bit…oh and the Washington and Alaska and other Hawaii reports are do mid September and October and November.

All this happened in a matter of 3 months. That may seem like a lot of time, but please remember all the other stuff going on. Anyway, I’m losing focus here, the point of all of this is that since finishing my Master’s and shifting my focus to my PhD, I haven’t had a chance to stop and THINK. And that is what I’m tasking myself with for the next little while. It’s easy to get caught up in the “putting out fires” way of working. One deadline to the next. But I have to stop right now and think about what I am actually doing. I am a graduate student. I’m learning to be a scientist. And I need to spend some time coming up with the questions that will ultimately make up my dissertation.

So with that, I am ending this blog as the stream of conscious that it is. And there are no pictures. And I’m sorry.

 

SUBMITTED.

Hello, blog friends! I know I have been absent lately (and I know how much you miss Soundbites, I promise I’ll be bringing them back come fall term…). But I thought I’d check in quickly and report the successful submission of my first-ever academic paper!

This is a big deal for me. As someone who came from a non-science background, I didn’t really understand how important it is to get your name on something in a journal. And when I started in grad school, I figured I wouldn’t be publishing until I had finished my masters research, since the project was big.

Thankfully, Holger and Tiffany included me on a side project involving red-legged frogs, and I got to take point on it. So after several weeks and months of this:

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(image copyright Jorge Cham, PhD Comics)

we finally ended up with a manuscript and some figures worthy of submission. And after a last crunchtime effort by Holger and I this afternoon, we got it out the door just in time for me to go on vacation to Europe for two weeks!

The relief is palpable.

I have really enjoyed having this project be my first manuscript submission, as I have a lot of intellectual investment in it but pretty much no emotional investment (unlike my thesis, which is my baby). Failures during the writing process were easier to learn from, and successes were great.

So keep your eyes peeled…we just have to go through review…and then, fingers crossed, PUBLICATION!

An Office with a View

The pleasure from working during the summer is certainly underestimated.

You can ask any student from our ORCAA Lab to confirm. Michelle currently sleeps next to breathing/breaching humpbacks in Alaska; Samara was surveying on a grandiose NOAA vessel doing the infamous turtle rodeos; Selene is preparing for a Californian whale tagging survey-cutting edge marine mammal work; Danielle is enjoying the process of fulfilling and submitting a publication after having spent months with cute little singing frogs.

However, I do admit that not everyone’s summer work can be as XXX (exotic, exciting, exquisite) as a marine scientist’s / bioacoustician’s can. Fortunately, the seas and the oceans of the world remain largely unexplored waiting for us to discover during our summer expeditions.

Adventure is clearly, what a scientist is after. In my case, the adventure starts on a boat while on a dolphin/whale quest, looking for marine life, reading the weather and the surface of the sea, translating the animals’ behavior or the sounds they make, getting the right shot of the dorsal fin or the fluke. However, excitement can also be derived while in the lab, from a simple statistical analysis. There is a certain type of agony during the testing of a model and while anticipating different relationships between variables measured and observed, or estimating population sizes.

Part 1
My summer 2015 adventure takes place in the island of Zakynthos, in Greece.

Close to the (Greek) West Coast

Close to the (Greek) West Coast

Unlike last year, the Ionian Sea has been the setting for my 2015 fieldwork. The Ionian embraces the western part of Greece, is a sea that is shared with Italy, and is home to the group of islands called Eptanisa (=SevenIslands). Corfu, Lefkada, Kefalonia, Zakynthos, Paksoi, Kythira, Ithaki, are the biggest jewels laid on the clear turquoise waters of  the Ionian. Green themselves, the islands are covered with luscious pine forests and are a spectacular destination for every yachtsman (or sea-camper) that respects himself.

Zakynthos, where my story sets, is the favorite hatchery for the Mediterranean loggerhead sea turtle. More than 1200 sea turtle nests are found and monitored every summer around the beaches of Laganas Bay. The mother turtles, just like the hordes of tourists, love the long and wide, white fine-sand beaches and lay there their eggs. Since this area is of high ecological importance for this endangered species, the last 16 years, at this corner of the world it was established the National Marine Park of Zakynthos for the conservation of this living “dinosaur” species (sea turtles first appeared 180 million years ago while dinosaurs were still alive).

First fossil of a sea turtle (Archelon ischyros) 4.5 m long, found in N. Dakota, exhibited in the Yale Peabody Museum, Yale University

First fossil of a sea turtle (Archelon ischyros) 4.5 m long, found in N. Dakota, exhibited in the Yale Peabody Museum, Yale University

 

Oh sea turtles! They have been my very first marine-species-love (first loves never die) and I spent several years working on the conservation of these animals. It has been heart-warming to meet them again.

Besides the sea turtle population status, the Marine Park, the governmental body that manages the protected area, is interested in assessing the status of all marine life within this habitat. Thus, they funded a big study that encompasses the benthic communities, fisheries, megafauna, water quality, shore erosion and the monitoring of all the factors that determine the conservation status of a marine area.

Together with a splendid team from the University of the Aegean and the Department of Marine Science, we designed and implemented a field study to assess the conservation status of the cetacean species encountered within and around the Marine Protected Area (MPA).

Meet the team
The project manager, with whom we designed the fieldwork, is Vasilis Trygonis. Vasilis has a mighty mind and organizing skills that made the project happen against all odds. Vasilis is an engineer that can get into anything and fix everything that requires fixing. Such a pleasure to work with this inspiring mind.

Vasilis

Vasilis

Our skillful captain, Olympos Andreadis, comes from the island of Chios, a place that produces the finest Captains in the world. Olympos flew us on the waves and elegantly drove us close to the dolphins. He would also provid a surprising amount of snacks while at sea!

Captain Olympos

Captain Olympos

Sevi Kapota, our MSc student, field assistant, and dolphin enthusiast contributed with her bright character and her excellent data entry qualities. On top of her photography abilities.

Sevi and her pretty smile

Sevi and her pretty smile

The captain came with his vessel. We had a small zodiac that typically hosted four people and equipment. By equipment, I mean loads of water and snacks, sunscreens, hats, sunglasses, four different cameras, binos, GPSs, data loggers, and 2 sets of hydrophones.

We spent a week at Zakynthos. The warmest week of history. At least my history.

Our days would start while it was still night. The alarm was going off at 5 am and we were on the boat by 6 am. While the sun was not yet up the sky, burning our skin and dazzling our minds. Besides being cooler, during the early morning hours, the sea tended to be calmer and welcoming to our objectives. We had a natural and obligatory 2 pm threshold at sea. A local northwesterly wind would force us out of the water as soon as the sun was unbearable. Thank you God Poseidon!

For our visual surveys, we split the horizon in two and the visual observers shared a view of 180 degrees. During every dolphin encounter we would record in detail: the group consistency, the number of individuals and species, behavior, group direction and speed, and demographic info.

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With Eva, our visual observer guest star. Last day smiles

At the same time we also practiced our auditory ability with the marvelous (and my personal very favorite) technology of dipping hydrophones. We would systematically stop the boat, turn the engines off, throw the hydrophone into the water and listen to the deep blue. Sometimes dolphin voices would reach my ears in forms of whistles and clicks. We often used this method as a trustworthy alarm that what we are seeking is not too far away.

On duty

Me on duty

In the meanwhile we were also recording the weather conditions (cloud cover, sea state, wave and swell height, wind speed, glare, etc) once per hour, or every time the weather would change, since it’s a factor that affects our ability to visually detect the animals in certain distances. On top of that, we implemented a fine scale recording of all anthropogenic pressures to the environment such as litter, fisheries and shipping activity, oil or other kind of pollution, and anything that could be a threat to marine life.

In contrast to what people had previously told us we had several sightings and acoustic recordings of big groups of dolphins. Striped dolphins seem to surround the deeper offshore MPA. Also they surrounded our boat dozens of times to show off their acrobatic skills and their radiant elegance. Every sighting was a joy for the eye and the soul and enriched our knowledge for the cetacean presence in that area.

One of our aquatic new friends

One of our aquatic new friends

Besides the boat surveys we deployed two bottom moored hydrophones in distinct habitats within the MPA. These hydrophones will be continuously recording for a few months and we hope that the acoustic data will give us a better idea of the variability of the dolphins’ presence around the specific locations. Fingers crossed for the equipment to wait for us where we deployed it!

During one of the deployments, while exploring the underwater topography, a loggerhead sea turtle swam with us checking out our interference with her home. She approved of the hydrophone and swam away on her jellyfish-quest!

Part 2
Now the fieldwork is paused, until probably September, and I am stranded at the island of Serifos visiting my family and rethinking heat waves. I am finding the best office I could ever have without walls suffocating me. Sand on my feet, sea in my eyes, and deafening cicadas filling my ears. The ultimate inspiration for my research, my work and my professional motivations.

Summer office

Summer office

One does not come to the sea for niceness. One comes for life.

Happy sea days (summer)!

-Niki

 

Silver Lining

As I’ve alluded to before, we had quite a few problems getting off the ground (as is always the case when mounting a large scale field project). One of the things that I’ve learned since I started working in field biology is that these setbacks, while frustrating and often expensive, can also be unexpected boons for any project.

Take for example our theodolite. To collect behavioral data on whales from the shore we use a high-powered scope traditionally used by surveyors. This scope gives us our geographic bearing to the whale (horizontal angle), and the angle at which we are looking down at our whale from the observation tower (vertical angle).

Theodolite Cartoon

We connect this theodolite to a computer running Pythagoras, a cetacean tracking program design explicitly for shore based theodolite work. It automatically converts these angles to Cartesian coordinates using trigonometry, the curvature of the earth, and adjusts for tide height. While I’m capable of doing this calculations manually the ability of the theodolite to communicate directly with the computer greatly increases our accuracy in terms of timing, as the computer operator can click a button and instantly store the data from the theodolite.

Without going too far into the details, we had some concerns about the calibration of the instrument we had borrowed, and it was giving us some trouble prior to leaving for the field. In the spirit of prudence we decided not to risk the field season with an instrument that might have (but in retrospect did not) prove to be faulty. I conservatively opted to replace the instrument, and located a replacement theodolite at a good price; only I later discovered that the company was a front, and the deal was a sham. At this point, running out of time, I took the advice of a contractor and began investigating total stations, which are like theodolites, only they contain many more features (none of which we need). I bought one in the nick of time and hauled her up to Alaska.

At the risk of running on too long about the technical details of this last minute equipment swap I’ll jump to the end of the story. The total station didn’t communicate with the computer, the theodolite had to be sent up to Alaska (via what was a pretty comical string of communication and the hard work of my buddy Kevin who happened to be dog sitting for me at the time, and who is unbelievably reliable). The theodolite was calibrated in field, looks to be totally fine, and what we ended up with is one total station – great for surveying, doesn’t talk to computers – and a theodolite that does talk to computers. Double trouble.

The total station is finicky, sensitive, and bulky, she doesn’t like surveying from the tower (which isn’t quite stable enough for her), but she’s super precise, and does the trick if she’s on solid ground. It seemed like a waste not to use the instrument since we had her, so we put the total station down on the beach to see just what would happen if we tried to survey from there. What failed in the tower, seemed to work just fine from the ground. So we decided to keep her, and run her. We call her the TB …. Because she’s a Total Beach.

What we’re doing now is running both instruments simultaneously (something I’ve been dreaming about- remember this conversation Garcia Lab?). From the beach we conduct scan point surveys where we mark every whale in the survey area and record it’s location, group size, and group composition. While we are unable to connect the total station to the computer, we are able to manually input the data into an iPad app called TapForms. The iPad, which is wearing a Lifeproof case, can withstand the rain and weather on the beach, making it ideal for surveying in the elements. We survey in 20 minute intervals and conduct anywhere from 15-21 scan point surveys per day

Meanwhile, in the tower we have our theodolite, which we refer to as the Darling because she’s such a delight to work with (even if her battery does turn off from time to time). We use the Darling to conduct focal follows. We pick a single whale, or a group of whale travelling together, and record their fine scale behavior (blows, surfaces, dives, breaches, etc.) as they forage and move throughout our survey area.

The result is a comprehensive picture of how the distribution of whales changes in the survey area as a single whale moves within it. In my imagination (I haven’t gotten this totally plotted yet) it will look something like this.

Visual cartoon

Pretty cool stuff right? But we’re just getting started. Once we have this visual picture we overlay our acoustic data to see if we can pinpoint which whale was vocalizing (fingers crossed it was either our focal animal, or an animal that our focal animal interacted with). By having both the broad distribution of animals and the fine scale focal follow data I can begin to investigate relationships between vocal behavior and social context, vocal behavior and foraging contexts (do lunging whales vocalize?), and ultimately I can glean something about what makes humpback whale produce these social sounds.

And it gets better…

Our area is subjected to very little vessel traffic, but we do have cruise ships that pass by predictably twice a day. By building our sampling schedule around these cruise ship arrivals and departures I can effectively ‘control’ for quiet periods and noisy ones. This gives me the opportunity to assess whether noise changes the acoustic behavior of the whales. Which is the ultimate goal of the Acoustic Spyglass project.

As one last added bonus, remember when I told you in my last post how close we’ve been able to get to the whales? This enables us to take fluke photographs as well as dorsal photographs that can be used to identify individuals that frequent our survey area. In many cases we hope to identify our focal animal. The whales in Glacier Bay are subjected to longterm monitoring by Park biologists (like my mentor and P.I. Chris Gabriele); many of these animals are of known sex and age class. While in year one our sample size many not be large enough to glean differences in behavior as a function of age or sex, after a second year of data collection we may have enough representative samples to begin investigating questions of this nature.

So while the first few weeks of our field season were… rocky. I’m happy to report that this rocky start has effectively doubled the amount of data that we’re able to collect on any given day, while simultaneously allowing me to collect behavioral data on multiple spatial scales.

While I hope this has been informative for those of you reading through this blog, I realize that the only pictures I’ve posted so far are cartoons. So, to scratch the photo itch check out the slide show of beautiful moments from our field season to date that I posted here. As lovely as these photos are, I assure you they don’t come anywhere near to the reality of just how spectacular this place and these animals really are.

Your Alaskan Correspondent,

Miche

*Note- we have not yet had any negative encounters with our neighborhood bear, though she has been visiting a little more frequently. Meanwhile our Oyster Catchers are raising a family (we have two new additions on the island) and our vole community (not pictured) is thriving.

 

The Turtle Rodeo Part II

If you read my last post, I left off on the dock in Newport, RI waiting for a storm to clear. As expected, the thunderstorms (and lightning) passed us by and we cast off our lines the next day.

Blue skies heading under the Newport bridge.

Blue skies heading under the Newport bridge.

But to our disappointment (but not lack of trying), we didn’t find many turtles during our first couple of days on the water.

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Here is the scene from the lower observation deck.

On the big eyes! I helped out the visual team during the day when we could not tow the hydrophone array.

On the big eyes! I helped out the visual team during the day when we could not tow the hydrophone array. (Photo credit: Annamaria Izzi)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But after heading north to Canadian waters our luck changed and the turtle rodeo began!

As soon as we spotted a turtle, we deployed the small boat and sent a team to bring it back to the Bigelow to be outfitted with a satellite tag.

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We had to travel pretty far off-shore to find the turtles!

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The fast rescue boat heading back to the Bigelow.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We transferred the turtles onboard very delicately in a special turtle “hammock” so that the sampling crew could get to work taking vitals and adhering the satellite tag.

Transferring a turtle to the Bigelow.

Transferring a turtle to the Bigelow. (Permit: NOAA-NEFSC-Fisheries & Oceans Canada – DFO Research Notice: M-15-07)

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Once the adhesive was dry we used the turtle hammock to release the animal back into the ocean. (Permit: NOAA-NEFSC-Fisheries & Oceans Canada – DFO Research Notice: M-15-07)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Then we were back to our lookout posts to spot the next turtle. (Photo credit: Loren Kellog)

Despite a few setbacks (there are always a few), our turtle mission was a success! At night and on bad weather days we were even able to sneak in some acoustics. In the photo below we are getting ready to deploy a HARP.

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(Photo credit: Elizabeth Broughton)

I am back in Oregon now and my summer fieldwork days are over. I am trying to motivate myself to find as much fun in writing and analysis as I did in gluing my face to binoculars in hopes of spotting the next elusive loggerhead, hearing pilot whale harmonics on the array, and enjoying the glorious show that is a sunset at sea.

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