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).
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.
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.
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.
The ice has grown thinner, the ship has grown boisterous with passengers, and with the exception of a few errant edits to cruise reports our scientific mission is complete. But the journey is not over; I still have a few days in New Zealand to tell you about, and a 30 hour transit home. Plus… we celebrated Christmas on the ship!
When I first started this trip I spelled out the cast of characters on the ship (my beloved Kiwi pilots, my Italian roommate Ombretta and her ocean acidification project). Well, the curtain has risen and fallen a few times on the passengers of the R/V Araon and it’s time for a new update. After our research cruise the R/V Araon returned to Terra Nova Bay to retrieve the scientists and crew that had overwintered there (that’s right, a year at Jang Bogo station). We also picked up a handful of KOPRI geoscientists who had spent the Austral spring at the base (and found a stunning meteorite!) to transit them back to Christchurch as well. The meteorite, which I feel privileged to have seen with my own eyes, is said to be the largest ever found by a Korean scientist and one of the largest in the world. It’s retrieval is exciting news in the geoscience world – history in the making.
In addition to our Korean colleagues, however, we picked up Scottish volcanologist John Smellie (if you aren’t immediately impressed with a volcanologist in Antarctica let me remind you that this man studies volcanic eruptions underneath the ice), and a motley crew of nine geologists, biologists, and zoologists and one fine soldier from Italy’s Mario Zucchelli Station,. Remember how I said the ship had become boisterous? You can imagine why.
Thanks to the graciousness of documentary filmmaker/marine zoologists Roberto Palozzi I resumed my Italian lessons (grazie mille, Roberto). Thanks to the sheer charisma of Nicoletta Ademolla I now have a sincere dream to study the vocal behavior of Adelie penguins (not forgetting of course the Weddell Seals). And thanks to my friend Arnold Rakaj I will forever look out for eels in shallow freshwater streams (although he is a marine ecologist by training, studying plankton… not eels). I won’t go into the specialties and details of all of the PNRA team, but suffice it to say that I was extremely impressed with the breadth and range of their work… I’d even go so far as to say envious. A comprehensive seal reproduction study which includes live captures and the weighing of seal pups? Yes, I would like to be included, of course. Oh you need a bioacoustician? I just happen to be one. I just need a few more weeks to improve my Italian.
I’ve mentioned in the past that every scientific mission is accompanied by a personal one. When I traveled to Glacier Bay this past summer one of my primary goals was to build a relationship with the landscape and the community. I did not have the same expectation of my time in Antarctica. I admit I’d cast the landscape as a barren bedfellow, and anticipated my time on the ship to be filled with solitude. I can happily admit that I was wrong. Relationships are forged in unlikely places, professionally and personally. While I thoroughly anticipated feeling scientifically awakened and inspired by the scenery, I’m pleased to report that it was in the conversations with the passengers on board the ship that I truly began to build collaborations.
But enough on the value of science and relationships… I want to tell you about Christmas.
Christmas in Korea is celebrated largely on Christmas Eve — which was amenable to our schedule given that we were slated to arrive in Lyttelton, NZ on Christmas morning. Christmas Eve we were treated to an early Korean Christmas dinner, complete with wine and roasted nuts for a bit of flair. Our five o’clock meal, however, was complimented by a midnight meal. The chef onboard the R/V Araon graciously agreed to turn over his kitchen (and his pantry) for the evening so that we might make Christmas Spaghetti. Let by Chef Roberto (though admittedly I may have tried to mutiny once or twice) we cooked three dishes, complimented by Italian cheese and salami courtesy of Mario Zucchelli Station. The evening was completed once Santa Claus himself (Kiwi Engineer Chris) made an appearance, passing out candies, and asking us all what we wanted for Christmas.
It was glorious, and festive, and fitting for our last night on the ship.
I realize that unlike previous posts that this entry lacks much sincere scientific merit. However, one of the things that was emphasized on the ship, and throughout my training as an ecologist, is the importance of balancing work and life. Nowhere does this seem more critical than transiting to and from the bottom of the world, where the lines are blurred. Following Christmas we docked in Lyttelton Harbor near Christchurch, New Zealand marking the end of my journey through the Southern Ocean. Bittersweet.
Don’t fret though, fearless readers, There’s one more post before I end this story, because New Zealand was glorious.
Classes have started again here at OSU. I know this is old news for those east coast universities that start classes in late August or early September, but here in Ye Olde Oregon fall starts late… so school starts late. As a PhD student I’m no longer required to take classes at the university, and having just pushed the paperwork through on our National Park Service Grant I will soon be exclusively a GRA (graduate research assistant) and will no longer be required to teach courses either. For now, however, I am both student and teacher — taking classes and teaching them.
I love teaching. Rare for many researchers I know, but for me – true. I find it helps me to synthesize my thoughts, to approach science creatively and simply, and to consistently reference back to the basics. In my tenure as a graduate student at OSU I’ve been privileged to both TA and instruct classes in basic biology, ecology, intro to anatomy, physiology and the disease, marine biology, marine mammal science, marine habitats, and (my all time favorite) field sampling. FW255 — field sampling — is a required course for all of our Fisheries and Wildlife undergraduate students; I’ve been a GTA (graduate teaching assistant) under the brilliant and compassionate guidance of biological oceanographer and community ecologist Dr. Doug Reese for four quarters. The course gives students the opportunity (under the instructors’ guidance) to design and execute field studies at the Finley Wildlife Refuge. Courses range from comparing predator habitat use, to investigating the impacts of beaver dams on water clarity, to chronicling avian community structure. I know. Our students are impressive, creative, young minds.
For my part I see participating in this course as an opportunity to introduce undergraduate students to acoustic ecology. In my tenure I’ve guided students through studies that seek to aquatically detect amphibian species, investigate the impact of diel vs. nocturnal raptors on songbird communities, and studies that use acoustics (playbacks and recordings in this case) to test for territorial responses of red-winged blackbirds to encroaching yellow-headed blackbirds. Currently we’re starting up two playback studies; one study uses acoustic playbacks to investigate the impact of raptors on waterfowl, the other which will asses behavioral responses of elk to breeding calls (assuming we can find the elk — backup plan includes tracking elk and using trail cams. No student left behind here).
While there’s a lot to love about teaching this class (I spend two days a week hiking through a wildlife refuge looking for animals, I can pay my rent each month), there are a few things that really strike me as I start up my fourth quarter interacting with out students in the field. First, I have a lot to learn. Whenever I start to feel like I understand something in its entirety, be it about ecology or about bioacoustics, a student asks me a question I don’t know the answer to. I then go home, look it up, and learn something for the both of us. It is simultaneously refreshing, inspiring, and humbling. Good qualities for any PhD student to embody.
Second, teaching is valuable. While I believe that my research has, and will continue to have an impact of the world around me, when I teach I can see the impact. My students start the quarter not knowing how to do something (“What is a quadrat?”), perhaps lacking direction (a.k.a. don’t know how to operate a GPS), and are sometimes a little short in the inspiration department (“What study do you think I should do, Michelle?”), but when then leave? By the time my students hand in their final papers — a full scale research paper, intro, methods, results, & discussions, stats and all — I can see that they have changed (“We used a one square meter quadrat to investigate insect biodiversity between the upland forest and the agricultural lowland riparian zone”). Further, the relationships that I see unfolding in our class between the students and their groups, and the students and Doug and myself, are proof to me that doing science is a powerful tonic for a healthy life. Not everyone loves teaching, not everyone gets it, but for me (at least for now) it’s nourishing to put big picture impacts into real world perspective.
So yes, I am a teacher. Yes, I am a student. The teacher is a student & the students are the teachers.
But enough with philosophy (Niki’s really much better at that than I am). While 99% of the time I love teaching… no one can deny that this is also true. Cross your fingers and I may just graduate some day.
Last week I attended the 5th Biologging Science Symposium in Strasbourg, France (Yes, France!! All thanks to student travel awards from the OSU Mastin Travel Award, the Hatfield Student Organization, and the conference itself).
OSU had quite the showing. Almost all the PI’s from the Marine Mammal Institute were there, plus Dr. Rob Suryan from Hatfield’s Seabird Oceanography Lab, and Shea Steingass and I as student presenters. I presented a poster on my master’s research, and the poster sessions (all 4 of them!) were super productive. I was able to meet people from the Marine Mammal Commission who were interested in my work and suggested some research grants I could apply for to conduct future field work. I got feedback from my collaborator David (the raccoons in chimney guy) on my analysis and got to hang out at his exhibitor booth like a cool kid. And I got to talk with leading dive physiology researchers from Scripps Institute of Oceanograpy about how to use my tag to study specific physiological responses to extended deep dives. I think my favorite part was meeting Dr. Gerald “Jerry” Kooyman, the inventor of time-depth recorders, and hearing him say he thought my research was awesome.
Biologging is all about putting tags on animals and studying their behavior, whether it’s large-scale migrations, fine scale flight, foraging kinematics, or vocal production and communication. There were countless interesting research presentations and I was able to make some great new connections, but all week something felt like it was missing. Acoustics!! This was my first major conference that was not all acoustics, all the time, and I have to say there were moments sitting in a talk I found myself wishing for more dB’s. Don’t get me wrong, I am so thankful I was able to attend and I learned a ton. But to satisfy the acoustician in me, I recorded all over Strasbourg and now I’ll share with you the sounds of France! Or, at least a small subset recorded by your’s truly.
Free beer to anyone who makes the sounds into spectrograms and leaves them in the comments!
Siren and street sounds from outside my apartment window:
Inside the conference center during an oral presentation:
The tram that got us all over town:
Some performers at the open-air market:
The hum of a coffee break at the conference:
The bell’s of the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Strasbourg:
I didn’t post a Soundbites this week because I was very busy on Wednesday doing something very important, so I thought I’d talk about that instead.
I had the great pleasure this past Wednesday of attending a satellite symposium of the International Society of Behavioral Ecology entitled Contemporary Research on Anuran Communication. Translated, that means that I got to go to a day of honoring some of the great minds in the field of frog communication.
The symposium was in New York City, at Hunter College, so I flew in on Tuesday to stay with a medical student friend who lives in the area. You might say that it seems a little excessive to fly across the country for one day, but 1) it’s not often that everyone in such a small field gets together, and 2) I have enough friends on the East Coast that I can justify a trip to see both the conference and them.
It’s taken me until today to let my brain digest all of the information it received on Wednesday, but I’m now in a position to tell you all about the highlights of the day, and all the amazing stuff that’s being done in frog communication these days!
Highlight the first: ROBOTIC TUNGARA FROGS (go watch this video, it is the best, I promise). Ryan Taylor at Salisbury University has done an amazing project with tungara frogs to see what kind of impact the visual signal of the vocal sac inflating has on female choice. See, sometimes male tungara frogs will involuntarily add a “chuck” sound to the end of their “whine” call, and this “chuck” is irresistible to the ladies. But if that “chuck” sound comes too long after the whine, it’s not appealing anymore. Additionally, inflation of the vocal sac isn’t attractive to females without any sound associated with it. But when you link the distant “chuck” to the “whine” by the inflation of the vocal sac between the two sounds (with the help of the amazing ROBOFROG!), suddenly it’s appealing again! The inflation of the vocal sac is acting as a kind of link to keep the female’s interest! So acoustic communication can be augmented by visual communication.
They didn’t make the robofrogs attack anyone or anything, though, to my great disappointment.
Highlight the second: Susan Herrick‘s awesome talk on acoustic niche partitioning with green frogs and bullfrogs. Here in the Pacific Northwest, we hate bullfrogs for being ridiculously invasive, but where Susan does her research, they’re native. The two species call in the same frequency range, so there isn’t any partitioning there, and their breeding seasons fall during the same period of time. Bullfrogs are acoustically and physically dominant, so it falls to the green frogs to find ways to not overlap with bullfrog calls. It turns out that they’ll call in between bullfrog bouts and calls with surprising accuracy: they (statistically significantly) avoid overlapping with bullfrogs so they can be heard. It was a really awesome example of temporal acoustic niche partitioning.
Highlight the third: I MET MARK BEE. And shook his hand. And he said my study species (Pacific chorus frogs, Pseudacris regilla) are really interesting and he’s been meaning to do work on them! His 2007 paper has been incredibly influential on my own research, and it was such a cool moment to actually say hello to him.
Highlight the fourth: all the little things. I got to learn a lot about frog perception and frog brains (did you know they don’t have cortices? I didn’t!), and how to test what frequency range frogs hear in. It was also amazing to be in the room with some of the greatest minds in frog communication, the researchers who started it all. The honorees were all very friendly (I got to chat with their wives a bunch) and it was both humbling and inspiring to be in the room with so many amazing people who love frog vocalizations just as much as I do.
All in all, it was a really valuable professional experience, and I made some good connections to move forward with. I look forward to presenting my own research to the people I’ve met someday!
Holger, Selene, and I spent all of last week participating in a Marine BioAcoustics Summer School (SeaBASS), hosted at the National Conference Center in Washington, D.C. (well, near D.C. – technically were were in Leesburg, Virgina just beyond the temptations of our nation’s charismatic capital city.). I think I can safely say that we are collectively exhausted, inspired, and academically saturated. It has been glorious. Before the glow wears off, and the social media requests from all of my new colleagues and friends stop rolling in, I thought I’d take a moment to recap the experience.
SeaBASS, for those unfamiliar, is a week long intensive bioacoustics course headed by Dr. Jennifer Miksis-Olds of the Penn State Applied Research Lab, and Dr. Susan Parks of the Syracuse University Biology Department. The goal of SeaBASS is to “provide the opportunity for graduate students interested in pursuing careers in marine bioacoustics to develop a strong foundation in marine animal biology and acoustics, foster technical communication across disciplines, and to develop professional relationships within the field.” (Taken from the 2014 SeaBASS handbook). To achieve this, Susan and Jenn invite experts from the field (including ORCAA’s own Dr. Holger Klinck) to give half day seminars on topics relating to underwater sound and the behavior and biology of the marine organisms who depend upon it.
Topics broadly cover the field of bioacoustics, which is simultaneously interdisciplinary and highly specific. This year topics ranged from the fundamental physics of marine sound (taught by Dr. Adam Frankel– a fellow humpback whale specialist and senior researcher in the field of marine bioacoustics), to echolocation (taught by Dr. Laura Kleopper, powerhouse marine bioacoustics newcomer, and inspiring woman in science), with stops along the way to study Acoustic Density Estimation (SeaBASS favorite Dr. Tiago Marques, of University of St. Andrews), active acoustics (Dr. Joe Warren of Stoneybrook University), Animal Communication (Dr. Sophie Van Parijs– NOAA scientist and oft cited acoustics expert), Impacts of Noise (Susan Parks of Syracuse University), Hearing (Dr. Michelle Halverson) Passive Acoustic Monitoring (Holger Klinck, our fearless leader), bioacoustics “Hot Topics” (Jenn Miksis-Olds), and my personal favorite Sound Production in Fishes with the Cornell Bioacoustics Research Lab’s own Dr. Aaron Rice (Holger tried to convince me to do my PhD in fish acoustics once, I laughed at him… I was so naive).
I have to admit I’m glad I didn’t see the line up before I got on the plane to head west. If you’ve spent time in the field of bioacoustics most of these names you are likely familiar with, if you’re not – now’s a good time to head over to google scholar and check out their work. The initial intimidation factor was high, but I’m pleased to say the interactions were the opposite. All of the presenters went out of their way to interact with the students on both a professional and a personal level (I’m tempted to post karaoke photos… but I won’t… not here). I got career advice from the greats (work-life balance anyone? I have two dogs and a garden, I plan on keeping them once I’m done with a PhD), learned about the elusive mating habits of the wild haggis (to hear a mating call of a wild haggis click here), and made some important connections both with the presenters, that I now feel comfortable considering my colleagues, and the other students who I now consider friends.
I could go on for pages about my experience, I learned new material and reinforced some of the principles I’m already familiar with, I furthered my research, I drank beer while talking about acoustics (so much fun… seriously…. so much fun), and helped myself and others to find their inner spirit animal. Some of these things may not make sense to those of you who weren’t there, but the take home message is this: Marine bioacoustics is a discipline, a tool, and a community that I am increasingly excited to be a part of.
PS- Stay tuned for stories about honorary OCRAA team member and SeaBASS colleague Leanna Matthews as she makes her way to Newport to test some theories on how to get small acoustic transmitters to stick to the body of harbor seals… field trials ahead? I think so.
PPS- One of the most important things I learned from SeaBASS? The value of Twitter. Check out our Twitter feed (@ORCAALab) for a play by play of the SeaBASS action. Live tweeting, as it turns out, is super fun #SeaBASS2014
It’s been a busy week! Holger and I were headed to the East Coast for a graduate summer workshop on marine bioacoustics (SeaBASS) and since we were coming all this way we decided to make a few extra business stops beforehand.
The beginning of the week took us to Manteo, North Carolina, where we met up with Dr. Becky Harrison, Assistant Coordinator of the US Fish and Wildlife’s Red Wolf Recovery Program (RWRP). Red wolves (Canis rufus) are critically endangered and can only be found in the wild in Northeastern North Carolina. About 100 wolves currently inhabit the area, all because of ongoing recovery efforts including captive breeding and release.
We’ve been talking with Becky about potentially collaborating with the RWRP to collar red wolves with our Carnivore Acoustic Tag, allowing us to learn about red wolf vocal behavior, prey preference, and even the potential impacts of noise. It was great to meet Becky and the knowledgeable field team to learn more about the program and discuss potential applications and tag development, including special considerations for red wolves and their wetland habitat. She even took us out to see a few captive individuals and see the Pocosin (I had to look up what that was). Be sure to check out RWRP to learn more about the program!!
Or should I say he is working on the tag improvements while Holger and I are improving our wildlife handling skills? There were two baby raccoons that had been trapped in David’s chimney for two days that Holger decided had to be rescued ASAP. Sometimes science has to wait!! I’m happy to report we got them out and released them last night.
**East coast bias is a term used in sports describing the phenomenon where east coast teams often receive greater respect and recognition than west coast teams. This stems from a variety of reasons including team histories and the three hour time difference. Fortunately such a bias does not seem to exist in the world of bioacoustics!
I scored for my first blog post…lab trips make for an easy topic.
This past weekend ORCAA (with some of our OSU marine mammal graduate student colleagues) piled into my Explorer and journeyed north to Bellingham, WA for the 18th Annual Meeting of theNorthwest Student Chapter for the Society for Marine Mammalogy(mouthful!) The drive was long, and it rained the whole time, but the setting was wonderful and plenty of scientific fun was had!
This year’s conference was hosted by the lovely folks of Western Washington University, and included students from University of British Columbia and University of Washington. We did a great job of reppin’ the orange and black, especially considering we traveled the farthest. The ORCAA ladies all gave oral presentations: Niki on sperm whales in the Gulf of Alaska, Michelle on humpback whale communication in Southeast Alaska, and myself on tagging some elephant seals. Shea Steingass of PEARL talked about hypoxia and harbor seals and Courtney Hann of the CEOAS department and Alaska Whale Foundation presented a poster of her citizen science mobile app to get the public involved in doing marine mammal science.
This meeting is an awesome, low-key conference for graduate and undergraduate students from universities all over the Pacific Northwest to present their research, meet and network with new friends, and catch up with familiar faces. It is especially great because the group is almost entirely made up of students which equals a less scary, less stressful environment to practice sharing your science. I was much less nervous than I was last year; I’m happy to report that talking in front of large groups DOES get easier with practice. I couldn’t have been more proud of our lab and fellow OSUers. Everyone did a phenomenal job!!
Saturday’s presentations were followed by a wildlife viewing excursion on Sunday. We got to visit WWU’s beautiful Shannon Point Marine Center and took a boat tour of the gorgeous San Juan Islands on the comfy and cozy RV Zoea. Highlights included lots of harbor seals and several seabirds I wish I could identify. No killer whales but I blame Shea, she says she’s bad luck…Anyway, it was a great way to get outside and wrap up the weekend.
Many thanks to WWU for hosting (amazing organization by Kat and Erin) and we are pleased to announce that OSU will be hosting here in Newport in 2015. The wheels are already turning on how we can make next year even better.
Phew…that wraps up my very first blog ever; a little insight into the day-to-day lives of ORCAA students. I welcome any suggestions in the comments, I’ll be here every second Friday 🙂