SeaBASS attendee and UCSD PhD student Jeremiah Karnowski experiences masking

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.

ORCAA’s Selene Fregosi, and honorary ORCAA affiliate Dave Cade (OSU CEOAS Allumni, and Standford PhD student) using acoustics to answer the question “why is the sky blue?”

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).

ORCAA’s Michelle Fournet (me) sneaks a snapshot in during a SeaBASS group photo.

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.

Michelle Fournet and Syracuse University’s Susan Parks nestled below Jeremy Young (UH- Manoa), Cornell’s Aaron Rice, Mike Bollinger (UT- Brownsville) and Dave Cade (back, Stanford).

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.

Saying goodbye is never easy. So thrilled to have met Leticaa Legat (U. of Cumbria)


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

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

Baby sea turtles make noiseand I bet it’s adorable. This is the first recorded instance of vocalization in this species, and the calls take the form of complex contact calls.

Bat-eared foxes prefer mute preythey’re bat-eared for a reason (better hearing), but their most common prey is comparatively quiet, despite the presence of lots of noisy prey around. This could be because the quiet prey is preferred by the fox, or because the noisy prey has stronger anti-predator defenses, or, most likely, both.

Crabs don’t have ears, but they can hear predatorsdespite not actually having ears, crabs will still detect and react to sounds of preying fish by changing their feeding behavior. (This is a late addition to this week, which is solely Danielle’s fault for not realizing the amazing link Michelle had sent.)

Fun link of the weekhere’s a TEDtalk about a guy who was born colorblind, but has a device implanted that allows him to “hear” color. Tip of the inspiration hat to the great blog Soundscape Explorations.

All of my labmates are currently at SeaBASS having an awesome time, while I am in Corvallis beginning the analysis of my data. It’s required a lot of thinking outside the box. So rather than talk about research or even strict bioacoustics, I thought I’d talk about something I find really interesting: sound design in the movies, and the way animal calls can be turned into something completely otherworldly.

I touched on this idea a couple of weeks ago with my fun link of the week to the sound design for the newest Godzilla, but Hollywood is littered with monsters galore with interesting roars. One of the most near and dear uses of animal sound in movies is the prevalence of choruses of my own study subject, the Pacific chorus frog.

When they’re trying to create a sort of nature setting in movies, sound designers often use clips of the Pacific chorus frog. It has that characteristic “ribbit” you want from a stereotypical frog, and you can hear the sound clip of it in places where the species definitely doesn’t live (I think I picked it up once in a movie that was set in Thailand. Yeah, no Pacific chorus frogs there.).

But why this particular frog? I mean, I personally love the way it sounds, but did sound designers pick it because of that? Turns out that’s not the case. Pacific chorus frog choruses are regularly featured in movies because early sound designers could go out to the ponds in California, even in the Hollywood area, and easily record the sound of the chorus. It was more a factor of convenience than desire.

There are some other stereotypical animal sounds that are often heard in movies. Every owl that you see (unless it’s a nature documentary) is probably going to have the call of the great horned owl, even if it’s not in fact a great horned owl. Now think about that sound that you hear whenever a bald eagle is shown onscreen, that piercing call—that’s actually a red-tailed hawk. Bald eagles sound more like this (follow the link).

What I find more fun is trying to pick out what vocalizations go into monsters. I’m kind of a big Lord of the Rings nerd, so naturally first we have to talk about Peter Jackson’s interpretations of the monsters there.

20130218015123!Orc_moriaThe Moria orcs (scrabbly little guys) have a really distinct high-pitched noise they make. Part of this sound is made up of the calls of some very vocal baby elephant seals, which sound designer David Farmer thought would be perfect after hearing them at the Marine Mammal Center in the Marin headlands. Do these guys sound like orcs to you?

The cave troll, too, had some animal vocalizations included, notably walrus and tiger. That sad moan when it dies comes from the walrus. Poor cave troll. I always felt bad for him.Cave_troll

To my everlasting dismay, we don’t know what dinosaurs sounded like: that kind of vibratory tissue just doesn’t fossilize well (with one notable exception: the duckbill dinosaur‘s oddly shaped crest may have been used to make sound). That doesn’t stop Hollywood from trying to recreate the calls of dinosaurs, however. Jurassic Park sound designer Gary Rydstrom used sounds from whales, lions, alligators, tigers, elephants, and even a koala to create the soundscape of the ill-fated imaginary park (this video of an elephant will convince you).

There are so many more monsters in Hollywood with their own signature noises. However, for the most part sound designers are pretty close-lipped about how they create their characters. And that’s really understandable. After all, if they didn’t keep some secrets, how could the new Godzilla sound so much more dramatic and scary than everyone else?

This post was brought to you with very little science and a lot of Googling. Some helpful sources are included below. Sound design isn’t a peer-reviewed field, remember. 

Main/Stock Sound Effects

Soundscape Explorations blog

Fellowship of the Ring Extended Edition

Movie sound effect origins

Soundbites is a (hopefully) weekly feature of the coolest, newest bioacoustics, soundscape, and acoustic research, in bite-size form. Plus other cool stuff having to do with sound. We’re back after a two-week hiatus that allowed our students to finish the term successfully!

Robins sing from higher perches when near roadsroad noise impacts many species (see Danielle’s masters project), and there has been a lot of work done on birds. However, it’s rarely done to this fine of a spatial scale. The authors speculate that sitting at higher perches allows male robins to hear their rivals better.

“I ain’t been dropping no eaves, sir, honest!”if you’ll forgive the blatant Lord of the Rings reference, what I’m really trying to say is that eavesdropping is important. These researchers agree. Across the board, eavesdropping on other species’ alarm calls has fitness consequences.

Harbor porpoises change behavior in response to seismic survey noisewhile previous studies showed no difference in behavior, this study finds that certain vocalizations are less likely to occur when seismic survey noise is present.

Fun link of the week:  not animal-related, but soundscape-related. What does Brazil sound like when they score in the World Cup? Listen to this recording of a neighborhood in last week’s match against Croatia.

A few members of ORCAA are down at SeaBASS this week and have been tweeting as they go, so be sure to follow us on twitter to keep up with the action! 

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.

View from the bridge next to our hotel
View from the bridge next to our hotel in Manteo, NC.
The “super model” of wolves: sleek, lean, and all legs. Photo courtesy of USFW (

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!!

This guy is wearing a VHF collar so the wildlife biologists can check in on him. Photo courtesy of USFWS (
This guy is wearing a VHF collar so the wildlife biologists can check in on him. Photo courtesy of USFWS (

Next stop was Woods Hole, Massachusetts to meet up with our super awesome “tag guy” Dr. David Mann of Loggerhead Instruments. David is part of the Pinniped Acoustic Controlled Playback Experiment and we are currently working on improving that tag for future deployments.

Sometimes in grad school you learn things that have nothing to do with your research.
Sometimes in grad school you learn things that have nothing to do with your research.

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.

We named this one Shaky.
We tried explaining that we were trying to help them but they didn’t really believe us.

Our busy schedule continues tomorrow as we head to NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center in “downtown” Woods Hole for some meetings with Dr. Sofie Van Parijs, one of the co-PI’s and collaborators on ORCAA’s NOAA Ocean Noise Reference Station Network Project!

**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!

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

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

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

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

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

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