We are at sea! After a several day weather delay at our port in Lyttleton, NZ the R/V Araon has finally departed and is making her way south. The first hour at sea was magical. Every science team on the boat (of which there are several) made their way to the helicopter pad to take photographs of the blue New Zealand waters, the ever diminishing landscape, and of course, each other.

Hectors dolphins just outside of Lyttleton Harbor, NZ.  The viewing of a lifetime!
Hectors dolphins just outside of Lyttleton Harbor, NZ. The viewing of a lifetime!

The highlight of the departure was the arrival of several small pods of Hectors dolphins who escorted us out of the bay! I am the only marine mammalogist on the boat, but I was clearly not the only one excited to see the dolphins. Admittedly I had slunk inside to change my laundry over when one of the Kiwi helicopter pilots graciously hunted me down and dragged me back outside so I wouldn’t miss them.

The same pilot also stood on the deck with me for nearly an hour that same evening telling me everything he knew about pelagic seabirds (which is admittedly more than I know), and pointing out how they use the wind funneling off the Araon similarly to a helicopter. The albatross are amazing! I wish I could identify them to species, but as a first time Southern Ocean visitor I’m clueless. Everything I know I learned in my afternoon at the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch, or Ricky the Kiwi pilot taught me.


Albatross keeping good company on the winds of the R/V Araon. Species anyone?
Albatross keeping good company on the winds of the R/V Araon. Species anyone?

A little about the demographics of our ship. The Araon is a Korean icebreaker (as I’ve mentioned in previous posts) run by KOPRI (the Korean Polar Research Institute). I’m part of an oceanographic team working under Chief Scientist Dr. Won Sang Lee (KOPRI). Our team is made up of myself (representing the NOAA/PMEL Bioacoustics Lab), a German Oceanographer who will be recovering three Ocean Bottom Seismometers (OBS), one Korean micro-biologists, one Korean geoscientists, one Korean geoscientist/acoustician, and one Australian oceanographer. We meet nightly at 2000 (8PM) to debrief the day, make any plans, and to discuss our research. Won Sang presented an overview of the KOPRI mission in Antarctica at our meeting last night including our role at PMEL on the acoustics side of things (despite the incessant and nauseating rolling of the ship). I’ll be presenting some of my work at our meeting tonight, despite my research occurring a hemisphere away (although keep me down here long enough and suddenly my research will develop an Antarctic component).

Ours is not the only crew, however. There are five scientists from PRNA (the Italian Polar Research Institute) who are hitching a ride on the Araon as they prepare to summer in the Mario Zuchelli Research Base in Terra Nova Bay. They are studying the impacts of ocean acidification on polar macro invertebrates. There are two NOAA researchers headed to the Jang Bogo base to install a space weather radar. The methodology of their work is actually very similar to mine (wavelengths and physics) but what they’re actually doing is still beyond me. There are also two Russian ice pilots on board whose job it is to navigate us through the ice when we get into the Ross Sea, and a Finnish fellow who has been unfortunately seasick since we boarded the Araon. Lastly, and certainly not least, there is a team of Korean scientists (largely geo-scientists) headed down to summer at Jang Bogo Station and do all manner of measurement and experiments.

Oh! How could I forget! There are three kiwi helicopter crew onboard. Two pilots and an engineer. I adore them.

All said and totaled there are about 30 crew members on the boat, and about 45 scientists/passengers on the vessel. There are three women; myself, my amazing roommate Ombretta, and Sukyoung from our research team. Ombretta will depart at the ice for the summer, and we will be down to two.

A few things I wished I had known before I came (silly living things, for anyone trying to get info on daily life at the R/V Araon).  There is a refrigerator in every cabin, and also a hair dryer.  The power source is European style and in 220v- this is very important for instrumentation.  Make sure you have a converter (not a just an adapter!). The beds are hard but clean, a sleeping bag goes a long way.  The food is very Korean (we had steamed octopus in chilli sauce yesterday), they make a bold effort to include western style food, which was appreciated today when they served ‘chips’ with lunch . (‘m not complaining! The marinated mushrooms in the Korean barbeque were excellent… but it does take a little getting used to). Bring tea if that’s your thing (it’s mine), there is green tea on the boat, nothing else.

Good advice I was given (thanks Matt!): bring an HDMI cable.  There are TV’s everywhere you can hook your computer into.  Spices go a long way.  There is white rice at every meal, bring a little cumin, garlic salt and spinach?  You’ve got a decent meal.  Bring a mug.  All beverages are served in small metal cups.  They get very hot, and hold very little.  A to-go mug has made my life much better.  Especially since I’m on the third deck, and tea water is on the main level.

Other than that the rooms are very accommodating, there is WiFi throughout the boat (albeit very slow WiFi), and ample space to spread out.  There is also a sauna and a karaoke machine- but only time will tell if I dare to use them.

Over and Out.



Your Antarctic Correspondent,



I promise that I won’t write about Noise Reference Station deployments every time I post here, but getting a couple of these moorings into the water has been a significant part of my fall.

Typically the NRS moorings are designed to suspend acoustic recording equipment in the water column, held in place by a large steel anchor and extra strong marine cables. However, for this specific deployment we needed a different approach. This station, NRS09, is located in Stellwagen Bank, a marine sanctuary off the coast of Boston, MA and north of Cape Cod. Because of the geography and weather of the North Atlantic, the design of this mooring had to be substantial enough to resist the rough storms known to come through Stellwagen Bank.

Ready for shipment to Woods Hole, MA from Newport, OR.
Ready for shipment to Woods Hole, MA from Newport, OR.

I wasn’t responsible for engineering a structure that would protect our hydrophone for a year underwater, but we did have to figure out how we would get the 750 lbs and 39 sq. ft. structure off the shipping truck and into the ocean. Usually, the acoustic recorders we use to data collection are small, ~80 lbs Cornell Bioacoustics Research Program MARUs, and much more manageable for shipment and deployment…the giant NRS09 structure presented a new challenge and we planned every detail very carefully.

To my relief, NRS09 just barely fit on the back deck of the Stellwagen Bank Marine Sanctuary boat, the RV Auk. But our problem solving was not still not complete, we also had to figure out how to lower the structure to the ocean floor. Although our deployment site was fairly shallow, only about 65 meters, a normal quick release was not going to work this time. What if we could not get the catch to open? Instead, Dave Slocum (the Facilities and Vessel Operations Coordinator at the Sanctuary office) wired an electronic release that would open at the touch of a button.

We waited for a weather window and headed out to the far East side of Stellwagen. It was a very nice day on the water, we even saw a couple of humpback and fin whales on our way to the site. But of course, the best part is that the deployment went off without a hitch.

Eric Matzen and I give NRS09 a push off the RV Auk for deployment in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.
Eric Matzen and I give NRS09 a push off the RV Auk for deployment in Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.

Luckily, we don’t need to worry about getting it back to Newport for a year…




*Hope you had a nice Thanksgiving! Since this is a holiday weekend, I’m getting festive with a blog-post bonus link. Check out this cool (and a little weird) acoustics project. Is it art or science? Both? You decide.*

For the first time in the last 13 hours the electronic plane icon that has been flying across the digital screen in front of seat 41C on this United Airlines international jumbo jet is traveling above land. We are flying over a small island chain to the northeast of Australia as I type this; the capital of Port Vila is marked with a white dot. Prior to this the plane on this screen flew over nothing but vast Pacific Ocean. We land in a few hours in Sydney. It’s my first trip to Australia, and a short one at about 2-hours before I catch a flight to Christchurch, NZ where the R/V Araon will be docked.

Getting to Antarctica takes a long time.

Three flights totaling ~20 hours of flying time across four airports and three countries, and that’s just to get to New Zealand. From there I’ll board the KOPRI ship the R/V Araon for a ~9 day sail to the Ross Sea. In a world where I can transit continents in a day, that it takes over a week to reach Antarctica is both satisfying and daunting. It really is that far away, but it’s Antarctica… shouldn’t it take a long time to get there?

I don’t have a lot to report yet. The days leading up to the trip ended with a flurry of activity. Equipment had to be shipped, driven, and then flown around the world. An early evening training session with PMEL’s Matt Fowler got me up to speed on what’s expected of me, what I’ll actually be doing on the ship, and why the expedition is happening at all.

The cruise is multi-purpose; resupplying the Korean Antarctic Base – Jang Bogo Station – is one of the expedition tasks. As is collecting valuable data on conditions near the Dragovski Ice Tongue, and recovering various instruments deployed last year to study seismic activity in the region. But my role is to recover an Ocean Bottom Hydrophone, or OBH for short, from approximately ~1000m (3300 ft) beneath the cold ocean waves for the Pacific Marine Ecology Lab (PMEL). PMEL and KOPRI are working together to improve our knowledge of ice dynamics in the Southern Ocean.

The seemingly impossible recovery task is accomplished by chirping. We’ll be using something called an acoustic release. What that means is I have a piece of equipment on the deck of the ship with an acoustic element that gets slung overboard to ‘chirp’ into the water. The right chirp, at the right frequency, and the right timing, will wake up an element built into the hydrophone on the ocean bottom. If it hears the right signal, it chirps back a predictable reply. It’s all very charming to hear, and slightly more technical than I’m describing but as Matt said when he was training me on it “it’s technician proof”. Once contact is made with the hydrophone, and I confirm that the signal it’s responding is in fact our own, I can send a release command that will theoretically release the hydrophone from it’s bottom mooring allowing it to float to the surface of the water (should take 5-20 minutes, Matt tells me).

It all sounds fairly straightforward and I’m assured that the technology is sound. Will it work? I don’t know yet, it should. But it’s going to take me another 9 days to get to the Ross Sea, so you’ll have to standby while I get off of this plane, onto another one, then into a taxi, and onto a ship, then sail south south south. This may take a while.


-Your Antarctic Correspondent-


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

Bill morphology shifts along with fundamental frequency in urban birdswe talk a lot in ORCAA about the way animals change their vocalization in response to outside pressure, but there are physiological constraints on the changes that can be made (for example, there’s no way I can sing bass, although I can get to tenor if I warm up). Birds in urban, disturbed areas had longer, narrower bills, which might help them get food at feeders, but actually makes it harder for them to vocalize at the higher frequencies that are more advantageous in noisy areas.

40-million-year-old protowhale was sensitive to low frequency soundI’m a little bit of a paleo-nerd, so this was pretty cool to see. They looked at CT scans of the inner ear structures of this fossil, Zygorhiza kochii, and compared it to current mysticetes, and found that they were similar, indicating Zygorhiza was probably also sensitive to low-frequency sound the way our current baleen whales are. This implies that the order developed with a sensitivity to low-frequency and toothed whales’ high-frequency sensitivity came later.

Baird’s beaked whales are affected by sonarbeaked whales are some of the most mysterious ocean-dwellers, and we know little about their life history, behavior, or response to noise. Using acoustic tags, these researchers found that a Baird’s beaked whale displayed unusual diving behavior after being exposed to sonar.

Fun link of the weekI’m taking next week off because it’s the day before Thanksgiving here, and I’ll be traveling and then spending four straight days eating my family’s amazing cooking. So this week I give you a video about turkey vocalizations! Bonus: if you have energy, a paper cup, some string, and a paperclip after gorging yourselves on turkey, you can make a simple turkey-ish call.

Soundbites is a weekly (biweekly, occasionally) feature of the coolest, newest bioacoustics, soundscape, and acoustic research, in bite-size form. Plus other cool stuff having to do with sound. Lots of birds this week, it turns out!

Humans and hermit thrushes show convergent “song cultures”this is a cool one, and a little complicated. Apparently people have long debated the human preference for simple integer harmonics in our music–these are what generate our scales, both Western and non-Western. It turns out that hermit thrushes also prefer simple integer harmonics, and it’s actively selected for. While this isn’t prevalent among all birdsong, it’s interesting to see that there’s a sort of convergent evolution of this “song culture”!

Birds are impacted by road noise on their autumnal migration routesa lot of work has been done on birds in springtime (since that’s when mating tends to happen), but these researchers found that birds also prefer quieter areas on their autumnal migration route too. Unless they’re insectivores, in which case they didn’t care.

Fun link of the week is courtesy of Holger again, who is finding the best stuff on the interwebs. Did you know that the European Space Agency just landed a spacecraft on a comet?!? SO COOL! Here’s another thing I didn’t know: comets sing!! Follow the link and you can hear a comet singing!

Before I went to ASA last week, I had this grand idea that I would do a sort of journal-blog thing, where I’d periodically write little snippets about what was going on and how I was feeling. I started off really well, too, but all of it basically went out the window when Holger came to pick me up Sunday morning.

Let me preface this post by saying that most of the other members of ORCAA have been to a big conference before, including this one last year. This was my first—I had given poster presentations at small symposia, but nothing like this. It was also my first proper presentation.

The first thing you have to realize about ASA is that it’s the Acoustical Society of America. This means that any field that has anything to do with acoustics is invited. Biomedical acoustics, architectural acoustics, musical acoustics…these are just a few of the technical committees represented at this conference. It’s overwhelming. Mostly I hung around with the Animal Bioacoustics crew, which of course makes sense—this is most of what our lab does. I met tons of amazing people: other students, post-docs, researchers, professors. I even reconnected with several people from my old lab, the Cornell Bioacoustics Research Program.

My talk was on Monday, in the first session. I honestly don’t remember giving it, except for the point when my slides skipped too far ahead too quickly and when Niki dropped her cup and made me laugh. I was told it went well, though. I do remember answering questions, and feeling like I was able to respond to whatever was thrown at me without embarrassing myself. I even worked in a great response involving natural selection.

The nice thing about having your talk in the first session on the first day is that you have the rest of the conference to relax. The bad thing about having your talk in the first session on the first day is that people don’t always make it to see you. Many friends I made throughout the week didn’t get the chance to see me speak, and nor did one of the best connections I made during the week, Andrea Simmons. Andrea has been doing frog bioacoustics work at Brown for a long time, and I got to talk to her about both her work and mine on the last day I was there. She seemed very interested in what I’m doing, especially moving forward with the work I’m planning for my Ph.D. She also wants to come out and record our invasive bullfrogs with her array!

There were so many amazing talks given by tons of amazing researchers. I learned about horseshoe bats and their weird head movements. I learned about greater prairie chicken vocalizations. I even learned about frog-biting midges that are attracted to their prey through mating calls! And oh, the things people are doing with marine mammals! Marine mammal researchers get the coolest toys, I swear. Arrays and tags and three-dimensional plots of dives…so cool!

The entire experience was overwhelming, intense, and immensely gratifying. I felt humbled to be a part of such an amazing group of researchers, and proud and grateful to be welcomed among them. You only get one first big conference, and I like to think I nailed this one.

I’ve made a Storify of my tweets and others from the conference that you can see here. There was a budding and tight-knit social media presence at the meeting this year, which was great to see; a lot of the friends I made were made through Twitter! Other awesome ASA Storify collections can be found here by Ben Taft, and here by Will Slaton (two of my fellow live-tweeters).


Greetings extensive readership!

In the midst of the summer and early fall when I was traveling a bunch and doing field work, I remember thinking how nice the term would be to be in one place for a while and get some analysis/other work done. What I didn’t realize was how unexciting my life would be for blog posts….

I guess excitement depends on your interests, though, because for me there have been SOME exciting moments standing in front of my computer. I’ve spent the last month putting my master’s on hold, instead analyzing acoustic data collected from one of our gliders that was deployed back in March, and then deploying and analyzing another glider all within the month of October. Want to see what I found? Good. I was going to put in the images anyway.

Here's a Stejneger's beaked whale click.
Here’s a Stejneger’s beaked whale click. The top image is a long term spectrogram, or LTSA, that shows 15 minutes. All the little bits around 50 kHz are beaked whale clicks. The middle spectrogram just shows one click during a fraction of a second, and the bottom shows the wave form, or the amplitude of the click.

From the March deployment, the excitement came in the form of TONS of beaked whales. Like so many. Like all the time. Including the super weird looking Stejneger’s beaked whale (Mesoplodon stejnegeri). I can tell the species by what frequency the click is at, how much time there is between clicks (inter click interval, aka ICI fyi), and the duration of the click. They are all unique features for this species of beaked whale, which I know thanks to other people confirming that by combining visual and acoustic data like was done by theses lovely folks at Scripps.


Here's two porpoise species detected together - Dall's porpoise and harbor porpoise
Here’s two porpoise species detected together – harbor porpoise (the two higher frequency red specs) and Dall’s porpoise (the middle, slightly lower frequency). All together a bunch of those clicks make up that light blue section in the LTSA on the top.

The March deployment also brought excitement through porpoise recordings! Did I mention that glider was the first of its kind to record ultra high frequencies? We used a 394 kHz sampling rate, which means we could detect vocalizations up to 196 kHz, which is where porpoise and a few other odontocetes (toothed whales) vocalize. Most equipment doesn’t sample that high (memory gets filled too fast) so this was pretty neat-o. I’m a big fan of looking for these ultra high frequency encounters because they are so obvious in the upper part of the LTSA, far above the background noise.

And like I mentioned, I did go out in the field one day. We deployed one of our new gliders for a few days just outside of Newport in early October, and I went out on the recovery. I took this one super exciting picture of these gulls on the back of the ship. You’re welcome.

Piper helped Holger and Alex prep Will the glider before he got deployed in early October.
Piper helped Holger and Alex prep Will the glider before he got deployed in early October.
These gulls agree with "no excitement November". Until I threw pistachio shells over the side. Sadly this is the only picture I took of the whole glider deployment.
These gulls agree with “no excitement November”. Until I threw pistachio shells over the side. Sadly this is the only picture I took of the whole glider recovery.

Soundbites is a weekly (biweekly, occasionally) feature of the coolest, newest bioacoustics, soundscape, and acoustic research, in bite-size form. Plus other cool stuff having to do with sound. Welcome to November, everyone! Fall is definitely here! I promise I’ll have a proper ASA post up soon, but in the meantime here are your Soundbites for the week!

Cruise ships may be having an impact in developing tourist marketsthe good thing about ecotourism is that you’re not openly depleting resources the way you used to be. The bad thing about ecotourism is that increased exposure can degrade the environment. Places like the Eastern Mediterranean and the Adriatic are facing increased noise levels because of increasing tourism.

Microclimate affects frog callsabiotic noise like streams and waterfalls can have as much of an impact on vocalizing animals as anthropogenic noise. Here the researchers wanted to know if frogs in different microclimates (near stream, far from stream) were changing their call frequency to overcome stream noise, and they were!

Fun link of the week this week comes from Holger and Radiolab–the story of a vest that helps deaf people hear.