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.
A few weeks ago I wrote to you about my upcoming trip to Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve and my big “Solo” adventure into the great Alaskan Wilderness. Well I’m happy to report the trip was an enormous success and — like so many endeavors in science — all of my “solo” work was accomplished through collaboration.
The purpose of the trip was threefold (1) familiarize myself with Glacier Bay and the surrounding community, (2) identify a viable field site that would enable Leanna and I to meet our dissertation goals, and (3) to build and maintain relationships (with the area and with the people). In short, my goal was all about getting my feet wet in the world of Glacier Bay research, which as it turned out was an extremely easy to accomplish literally and figuratively — Southeast Alaska is very very wet.
The nearest airport to Glacier Bay is in the diminuative village of Gustavus (small town, big character). Living in Juneau off and on for years I’d heard a lot about this tiny place — slow bicycle races and town-wide pancake breakfasts on the Fourth of July, a community garden that would make most Alaskans blush. With a population that ranges from 350-600 (with an influx of seasonal workers in the summer) Gustavus isn’t exactly what you’d call a city, even by Alaskan standards… and it’s not so easy to get there.
I traveled via shuttle from Corvallis to PDX (nothing new here) and hopped a flight to SeaTac Airport where I settled in for a cozy overnight on an airport bench. It felt very familiar. Traveling to and from Southeast Alaska (for less than a small fortune) requires patience, a little bit of traveler’s tenacity, and typically an overnight in Seattle. Sipping an evening tea and looking around the airport I was not the only one with Xtra-Tuffs on bunking down for the night… there were quite a few of us headed home.
A 6-hour layover in Juneau was just enough time for coffee with University of Alaska- Fairbanks PhD student and humpback whale biologist Suzie Teerlink, who filled me in on some of the details of her citizen science initiatives, whale watch cooperative efforts, and some of the in’s and out’s of her Juneau fluke ID project. My first foray into humpback whale research was working with Suzie on some of these projects in their infancy, and was exciting to see how much they’d grown! We wrapped up our reunion with a quick hike before heading over to Wings of Alaska and boarding the 6-seater Cessna 207 turboprop aircraft that would safely transport me over over the mountains and fjords and set me down in Gustavus, AK. There I was warmly greeted by the Park whale biologist (and co-PI on our project) Chris Gabriele.
Over the next few days I had the chance to meet a number of the Park Staff (fisheries biologists, bear biologists, research technicians, administrators and more!), and importantly Chris and I had the opportunity to talk (face-to-face) about humpback whale non-song vocalizations — also called social sounds — produced in Southeast Alaska. Chris and her colleague Lauren Wild of the Sitka Sound Science Center have a new study coming out in the Journal of the Canadian Acoustics Associations on the acoustic properties and usage patterns of the humpback whale “whup” call. The call (which can be heard here), which is a putative contact call, plays a large role in my research past and present. I hope to build off of the work they began at the Park to understand more about how humpback whale use this and other vocalizations, as well as how vessel noise may change vocal behavior (including producing the “whup” call) or limit acoustic communication space. More details on that, and the first chapter of my dissertation, in my next blog post.
Back to the trip, I would be remiss if I led you to believe that we spent all of our time talking (remember goals 1 & 2!). While initially we didn’t think we’d have access to a boat (hence my initial decision to camp on the island for a few days), much to my excitement the Park research boat R/V Capelin came available. My second day in the Park was spent on the water scouting for field sites, measuring bottom depths, marking waypoints for locations of interest, and kayaking through non-motorized waterways to scope out potential field sites. I’m happy to report that we found one! After eliminating what looked to be a lovely cliff (with lots of blind spots and bear scat), and a good hike around Bartlet Cove where the Park’s current hydrophone is deployed (and where vessels transit daily), it was the north east tip of Strawberry Island that made the final cut. It might not look like much in the photos (did I mention that Glacier Bay is part of a rain forest?), but I think it’s exactly the spot we’re looking for.
With a field site decided (Goal 2, check!) one of the last things I was hoping to accomplish on my trip was to familiarize myself with the area, both terrestrial and aquatic. I was fortunate to spend another day on the water with Chris during one of her many whale surveys. It was a great opportunity to view whale behavior in the Park, which I’d anticipated would be different than the behavior I’d observed in Juneau or in Frederick Sound (and qualitatively, it was different); but it also gave me the chance to see more of the Park wildlife (otters! so many otters!) and get a feel for how operations work there. Part of getting familiar with an area involves knowing how to have the least negative impact both ecologically and culturally.
I took a camper orientation which gave me some good tips on how to minimize my impact on the island, but I also spent some time walking through the exhibits and chatting with Park employees, trying to get a feel for both the scientific community at the Park and the rich cultural heritage of the native people in the area. Long before Glacier Bay became a national park it was the ancestral home to the Huna Tlingit people. Near the end of the Little Ice age the glaciers (of which there are MANY) surged forward and the Tlingit were forced to abandon their settlements in the bay and move across Icy Straight to establish a new village. To the Huna Tlingit, Glacier Bay remains their home. In Barlett Cove (where the Park headquarters and the Glacier Bay Lodge are located) the presence of the Tlingit culture is palpable. A Tlingit canoe is on display and current plans are underway for a Tlingit Tribal House.
In what I thought was a poignant manifestation of the culture of science alongside the culture of people, on the same path as the canoe is a structure housing the recently re-articulated skeleton of a humpback whale named Snow, who was struck by a vessel in the Park in 2007. Snow’s bones were buried, cleaned, sent to Maine for articulation and organization, and then finally returned to the Park for the final installation. In a “Alaska’s such a small place” sort of way, one of my first field technicians, Linsday Neilson, was on the articulation team. The skeleton was complete by the time I arrived, but I did manage to catch her for a long overdue hug on the dock.
My last day in the Park I headed out early (5am early) and was fortunate enough to catch a ride on the small cruise ship the Baranof Dream which was headed up-bay toward the glaciers. I spent the day on the boat as a tourist admiring the spectacular scenery and mingling with the passengers. I spent the following two days as the “marine-biologist in residence”, giving talks about our research in the Park, pointing out wildlife, and harkening back to my days as a naturalist in Juneau (the killer whales were certainly a highlight too).
After a few days on the boat, I disembarked in my hometown Juneau, Alaska, exhausted, happy, inspired, a little damp and ready to go home….
But c’mon this is Alaska, you never get out that easy!!! Despite my efforts to leave straight away I ended up with an extra day in Juneau, and while I won’t go into the details of how the extra 36 hours went (that’ll have to be another blog post) you can see from the photo that it turned out pretty well. Until next time!
***Follow my monthly blog posts here, or check out my personal blog mfournet.wordpress.com for a comprehensive look at my research world***
It’s Summertime here at ORCAA and in case you haven’t noticed that means fieldwork. We’ve got Amanda eavesdropping on porpoise here in Oregon, Selene is tagging whales in California (yawn, who would want to do that I ask, green with envy), Niki (while not technically in the field) is reporting to us from the turquoise Mediterranean, and our honorary labmate Leanna is in full blown seal tagging development. I am, admittedly, not spending my summer in the field this year (probably just as well… I need some time at home with my data, my dogs and my sunflowers: read about previous summer field adventures during my M.S. here) that doesn’t mean that I’m going to disappoint you. While my 2014 summer field season may be short, it’s just the beginning for 2014.
Solo, Southeast, Social Sounds
For those of you who don’t know me, I finished my M.S. here at OSU in the Oceanography department. I received an M.S. in Marine Resource Management with a focus on conservation. I studied humpback whale communication in Southeast Alaska (you can read my M.S. thesis here). I moved to Juneau in 2007 after traveling through wet sunny tropical Central America. I thought Alaska was going to be a brief pit stop on my way to tropical living. Little did I know that 7 years later I’d still be working in the inside passage, that it would have slowly become home to me, or that I somehow would have become a cold-weather biologist (I blame it on the whales).
So, I’m headed to Glacier Bay National Park on Monday to scope out a field site for my dissertation research. For my dissertation I’ll be investigating the use of social sounds in humpback whales (how do social sounds fit into the general repertoire of humpback whales?) and what impact noise has on social calling behavior (Lombard effect in migratory corridors has been documented in Australian humpbacks , what might vessel noise do to calling rates on a foraging ground?). For this study I’m paired up with our own seal enthusiast Leanna Matthews (see her previous post for details on the other side of seal research), who will be looking at the impact of noise on harbor seals. We’ll be sharing a field site, and more importantly we’ll be sharing a bottom mounted hydrophone array that we intend to use to localize vocalizing animals. Concurrent with our acoustic deployment we’ll be making visual observations with a theodolite from a nearby elevated platform. My job next week, is to investigate potential field sites, with elevated observing options, calm waters, seals, whales, and a sleeping location as far away from the bears as possible. Should be easy right?
The glorious part? I’m taking the trip Northward alone- Solo. Though I will be well tended to by GLBA biologist Christine Gabriele, if the weather holds I’ll be spending a night, or two, alone at our potential field camp. Hiking around the island, observing whales and seals, and breathing in the cold wet Alaskan air all by my lonesome. Call me old fashioned, but I still think that seeing an area is the best way to choose a field camp. I’ve done my research, looked at velocity charts, bathymetry charts, and topo maps… but without seeing it, listening to it, and being there I don’t feel prepared to set our precious hydrophones on the bottom on the ocean and hope for the best. So, solo I go.
But… like I said earlier, this short trip (a week total) is just the start my 2014 field season.
I think secretly every biologist imagines the day that something like this happens to them:
Brilliant Super Scientist (a.k.a Holger) *on phone*: Good morning! Did I wake you?
Me: No of course not (I’ve been awake for at least 15 minutes, and you don’t know I’m in my pajamas. Who makes work phone calls before 8am?).
Brilliant Super Scientist: Good. Do you want to go to Antarctica?
Me: Yes. Yes I do.
This actually happened. I’m going to Antarctica! This November I will head as far South as you can get. I’ll be joining a crew of scientists on the Korean icebreaker the R/V Araon as we head southbound from New Zealand toward the Ross Sea. My role will be the recovery of a U.S. hydrophone that was deployed in the area last year. The hydrophone was deployed as part of an interdisciplinary project to track oceanographic and geologic (namely glaciers) conditions in the Antarctic. The ocean is a noisy place, and lots of features biotic and abiotic contribute to the ocean soundscape. Human activity in the Southern Ocean is limited… making it an ideal place to use acoustics to study natural phenomena like ice (and whales… lets not forget that there are lots and lots of whales in Antarctica).
We will be at sea for almost a month, with a stop at one of the the Korean Research Stations at the midway point. I don’t know all the details yet, but rest assured there will be many stories to tell. Lastly, while this isn’t technically a “solo” expedition, I will be the only one from my lab and possibly one of the few native English speakers on the boat. I spent the evening listening to Korean phrases, luckily I have a few months left to figure out how to say hello.
In short, it’s going to be a big field year for me. Followed up by an intensive field season in the summers of 2015 & 2016 (with interns! I love interns!)- and all it cold weather places. If you pair my upcoming trips with my past year of Arctic data analysis (Marvin The Martian was a Bearded Seal… remember?) then I suppose my dreams of becoming a tropical bioacoustician are out… or are they?
***all cartoons reprinted from www.michw.com an excellent blog about science, and comics***
And the living is not necessarily easy but certainly more easily entertaining. Besides the wedding season it’s also conference season. All the lab-mates travel on the other edge of the country (USA) for summer schools, meetings, exciting field trips and pilot classes (stay tuned and Selene has some stories to tell). I made it to the other end of the Atlantic and all the way to my beloved motherland. My first time participating at the Underwater Acoustics meeting, an international conference that took place at the Island of Rhodes in Greece, just a few days after the meeting of the Acoustical Society of America that took place at Rhode Island in USA. Appears that the islands of roses (Rhodes derives from the Greek: rhodo which means rose) were acoustically active this summer. Coincidences are fun.
Four exciting projects were presented by OSU people.
Haru Matsumoto, had a presentation with the imaginative title: “Antarctic’s Siren Call: The Sound of Icebergs”. I absolutely love it when people use a cool title for their scientific projects! His talk and his project was as exciting as it sounds and it was by far my personal favorite non-bioacoustics talk of the conference. Haru showed how the sound of melting icebergs affects the noise budgets in the South Pacific Ocean. The disintegration of two large icebergs at Antarctica produced low frequency sounds, so loud that they propagated and got recorded across the equator up to 8o N, 10.000 km away from the icebergs! He measured an increase of the noise level by 6 dB and 3 dB in comparison to baseline years (when the melting icebergs were absent). If 3 and 6 dB doesn’t sound like a significant increase to you then you are probably not aware of the decibel scale. This Radiolab podcast “The Walls of Jericho” will entertain you and will explain in a simple and funny way how this scale works.
Lately we have been seriously concerned about the shipping, airguns, naval sonars and other prominent man-made noise in the ocean and how they interfere with marine life. Haru’s presentation opened a window to think how a non-anthropogenic sound source can have such an impact to the marine soundscape, and potentially impact specifically the largest baleen whales (blue and fin whales) that also vocalize at low frequencies (below 100 Hz). Even though natural, the melting of the icebergs can be effected by anthropogenic activities, in particular the human induced climate variability and global warming. No need to be more specific, feel free to consider further potential ecological implications.
Bob Dziak presented, through Haru (unfortunately Bob was not able to make the Oregon-Greece 20 hours long travel), the “Sources of long-term ambient ocean sound near the Antarctic Peninsula”. Bob’s project was one step more general and inclusive. He described the contribution of a variety of sound sources to the soundscape of the frozen South. Acoustic data were collected during 4 years using 2 hydrophone arrays and the results indicate that the main factors of sound production or “noise” (depending from which point of you look at it: the biologist’s or the geophysicist’s) around the Antarctic Peninsula are the icequakes (acoustic signal derived from fracturing of large free-floating icebergs or ocean front icesheets) and the whale calls!
The weather conditions are too rough for sound-measurable human activities and both the blue and fin whales seem to take advantage of this human-almost-absent corner of the world. The sound of the ice breakup and grounding is clearly the most prominent sound source in the Southern Ocean Basin but it varies seasonally. Bob’s presentation (same as Haru’s) made me switch my perception of summer and winter for a bit. In Antarctica, during the austral summer the increased temperatures result increased icequakes and the release of acoustic energy. The opposite happens during the austral winter when the icesheets form, even though the wind speed increases. The giants of the Antarctic Peninsula seem to follow the freeze-thaw cycles and their peak season matches the sea-ice-cover-minimum of the austral summer. Consequently if you want to see fin and blue whales when in the North Hemisphere is still winter, chase the summer down as south as it gets…
This conference was an excellent opportunity to reunite with ORCAA’s favorite Naysa. It had been almost a year since Naysa left Newport, after her few-months stay and collaboration with the CIMRS, and it was an indescribable pleasure to spend some warm Greek time with her and watch her awesome presentation on “Acoustics as a tool to reveal population structure of the elusive blue whale”. Naysa talked about the smallest subspecies of the largest animal on earth. The pygmy blue whale. She used 5 sites in the SE Indian and the SW Pacific Oceans to collect 3 years of acoustic data to
determine the occurrence of pygmy blue whale in these locations. Apparently th
is species produces 5 regionally-specific calls: the Madagascan, Sri Lankan, Australian, New Zealand and Solomon type. Naysa used an automated method (detector) and was able to detect the “Australian” and the “New Zealand” dialects at the SE Indian and the SW Pacific Oceans respectively and her results provide evidence of a previously unknown population, the latter one! Naysa’s study is an excellent example of the numerous applications of acoustics, particularly to the population and movement patterns of marine mammal species over large spatial and temporal scales. The more I enter into the acoustics field the more excited I get about the knowledge and information that the sound solely can reveal us, especially about elusive cetaceans, like Naysa’s pygmy giant.
In the Ocean it is a common truth that what the eyes cannot see the ears can hear!
After seeing Naysa’s presentation I have one technical advice for presenters. Go simple or go home! She managed with minimum text, probably no text at all, pretty slides with most of the times just one picture, to get across her messages and keep the attention of her audience! Focus on the gist of your talk and feel confident to leave the details out giving the opportunity to people to ask for them if needed.
For my presentation we move back to the North Hemisphere and head eastwards. I presented my work at the Greek seas with the title: “Passive acoustic detections of odontocetes in the Ionian and Aegean Seas, Greece”. Even though cetology was born in Greece (as mentioned in my first post: The philosophy of sound) 2500 years ago, little research has been done in the Greek seas since then. Mainly the Ionian Sea (west of continental Greece) has been investigated and almost exclusively during the warm summer season, while the cetacean populations in the Aegean (east of continental Greece) are largely unknown. I used 2 hydrophones during 19 and 10 months to assess the seasonal occurrence of different species in these two regions and determined the seasonality of especially the sperm whales (that I particularly love, usually dream of, and I am overall obsessed with) and the delphinids. I am proud to have performed the first long-term bio-acoustic monitoring study in Greece and looking forward to going out to the clear blue Greek waters to collect ground truth data necessary that will allow us for first time to tell apart the different dolphin species that dwell the Aegean! Any funding suggestions anyone…? If you do, you are welcome to join me at an Aegean cruise chasing dolphins!
My presentation was a poster and even though I am usually not very fond of this form of communicating my work, there is no way that I could have had a better result/impact and feedback. While I was thinking that 3h of a poster session would be dull and endless, I ended up spending more than 5h chatting about gender determination, localization of my animals with one single hydrophone (!), acquiring more acoustic data, using my spectral information for species detection, and getting inspiration from wonderful colleagues coming from Italy, Australia, China, Israel, San Diego, Boston, Pennsylvania and around the globe.
Poster take home message: if the number of posters is low (<10), dare to submit one, especially if the number of parallel oral presentations is high (>=3).
This has been a wonderful and productive meeting! 5 days of underwater acoustics bliss. Listening and talking about the sound in polar areas (always fascinating environments), about bubbles (it might not be as etheric as it sounds but still interesting), oil and gas, renewable energy, hydrophone calibration, soundscapes, ships and noise, sonars, super-cool technologies that make me want to be an engineer, a bunch of marine sound-related stuff and of course whaaaaaaaaaales! Besides the days, the nights were equally exhilarating but in a more social way.
I met people from all around the world with whom I shared scientific ideas, PhD and work related concerns, personal perspectives and liters of raki 😉 It is always good to combine work and fun. Even better when work is fun. That is certainly true for my case and I bet for my ORCAA mates too. Lucky people!
See you all again at the next Underwater Acoustics meeting in Greece.
Next blog-post will include some of the Greek summer sunlight, the salty flavor of the Mediterranean and the sound of cicadas.
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!