Between traveling to Alaska with Michelle and wrapping up spring term, this summer snuck up on me. A week after turning in my statistics final (yay!) I was on a plane headed to Boston. After a happy and relaxing weekend spent reuniting with friends on Cape Cod, I headed to Newport, RI (so many Newports!) to board the NOAA ship Henry Bigelow for an exciting stint chasing turtles by day and recording whales by night. Of course, the best-laid plans do not always work out and while all of the other typical delays seem to be under control (the boat works and the crew is healthy), the weird weather saga of southern New England continues and multi-state tornado warnings are keeping us alongside a little bit longer.

The NOAA ship Henry B. Bigelow!

The first reason we are headed out on the Bigelow is to tag sea turtles. Chief scientist, Dr. Heather Haas, and her colleagues are interested in finding out how accurate visual surveys are in tracking numbers of sea turtles. To find out, we the science crew will work together to find as many sea turtles as we can and bring them aboard to get outfitted with satellite tags. Hopefully, the tags will give us information about how much time sea turtles spend at the surface (versus at below it) and that information can be used to better approximate population sizes. But that isn’t really why I am onboard.

I am here as a passive acoustics monitor, operating the Northeast Fisheries Science Center acoustic group’s towed array. Our towed array is a series of 6 mid-frequency and 2 high-frequency hydrophones wired together and suspended in an oil filled watertight tube that we drag behind the boat to listen to marine mammals in real-time. Becuase there are multiple components in the array we can use it to record and localize animals as we travel along a track line. If you want to know more about hydrophone arrays, Michelle Weirathmueller has an excellent write-up on her blog, The Waveform Diary. Check it out here: Hydrophone arrays, FTW!

Our array set-up ready for deployment. The array is coiled on the wooden spool and tow cable is on the net reel.

On this cruise, my friend Annamaria and I will be working with the array at night when it is too dark to search for turtles. We are hoping to record beaked and sperm whales. Since we did not leave the dock today, we were lucky to have a stable platform to get set-up. Becuase a lot of electronics are required for us to an acoustic signal from an animal onto our computer screen, we usually spend the first day at sea troubleshooting…

One of my first projects of the day was to figure out why one of the two hydrophones I was trying to listen to wasn’t working correctly. As usual, the solution is to re-think our wiring set-up. Here I am looking for the connector I need.
IMG_4434 2
I was having trouble finding the right part so I decided to take a break and eat some candy dinosaurs. On the left monitor, you can see that the top half of the screen is blank…not what I wanted to see. Luckily I was eventually able to find the part I needed to fix the problem.

Thankfully we worked out a lot of technological kinks today and hopefully the weather will clear up and we will be on our way to find the turtles and whales tomorrow morning!

Modeling my survival suit during safety drills this afternoon.

Acoustic Aficionados of all Walks of Life,

It’s time to go. If you’ve been following the slurry of photographs over the past two weeks you’ve now seen evidence that four autonomous underwater hydrophone packages were successfully deployed to the bottom of the ocean in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve.  These hydrophones are similar in many ways to the packages that I recovered in the Ross Sea.  This projec, however,t has a few major differences; first the OBS that I was sent to recover in Antarctica was many hundreds (thousands) of feet below the surface of the ocean the four hydrophones we deployed last week sit in a ‘shallow’ 240 ft (71 m). While we will recover these instruments with the use of acoustic releases (see my earlier post on singing to the ocean floor) in the event of some sort of catastrophic instrument failure (there was a fairly large earthquake in the region last year) our hydrophones are shallow enough to grapple for our instruments, or to send an ROV for assistance.

Samara and I preparing acoustic releases.  The releases (for the record) are named Kate, Kate II, Kate III, and Kate Jr. We discovered quite by accident that all acoustic releases are female.
Samara and I preparing acoustic releases. The releases (for the record) are named Kate, Kate II, Kate III, and Kate Jr. We discovered quite by accident that all acoustic releases are female.

Also, there are four of them.  Four hydrophones are needed to acoustically triangulate sound, and thus localize vocalizing animals underwater.  Pair this with a summer’s worth of shore based visual observations (with a digiscoping photo ID component) and we’re getting closer to telling the story of how these animals are truly using sound, and what their acoustic habitat looks like on a daily basis. While my trip to Antarctica was filled with rich observations of wildlife, my role was not that of a behavioral ecologist, but as a technician.  With the Acoustic Spyglass Project I am back in my element, listening and watching.

I was lucky enough to be joined by two friends and colleagues for the deployment trip, my labmate Samara Haver and Syracuse University’s Leanna Matthews.  Leanna is the PhD student investigating the harbor seal side of things in Glacier Bay, Samara is a plain old good time, and also has experience deploying AUH’s.  The three of us made an excellent team that was completed with the addition of National Park Service whale biologist Chris Gabriele. Admittedly, I didn’t realize until midway through the trip that we had an all female research team.  It wasn’t until after the deployment — where Chris ran our support vessel (and acted as a human GPS), where I deferred to Samara as deck boss, Leanna as  expert record keeper and lifter of heavy things, and I may have single handedly lowered each 600 pound hydrophone to the ocean floor (ok, the cleats and the 500 foot of line helped too) —  it wasn’t until after all of that when we invited the captain and deckhand to be part of our long term deployment team, then I realized what a powerful group of ladies in science we were.  It was very satisfying, both to be that demographic and to have been confident and comfortable enough with our team to have not noticed.

It was a spectacular trip. I encourage you to scroll through my instagram feed to see a few of the photos that might not have made it onto the blog. Or look right to see what real women in science look like.

Before I sign off for the evening there are a few things I want to say. I leave for Alaska next Wednesday (June 10th!). I will be a little hard to contact after that. I will be updating this blog over the course of the summer as frequently as possible- but posts will be few and far between.  Our little home away from home on Strawberry Island has neither cell service nor internet (though we’ve managed to secure some electricity!). Every two weeks we leave the island to resupply, shower (much needed), and do our laundry (critical). In between grocery stores and bubble baths I’ll try and make my way to the Gustavus public library to get a few things posted. I’ll also be sure to direct photos to the blog as well so that even if I’m not able to narrate you through our adventures that at least you can glimpse what we’re up to.

My goal is also to have my students tell their side of the story, using this site as a platform. My perspective is by nature limited to my viewpoints.  I moved to Alaska in April 2007, and my relationship with this land will clearly be different from those of my students, who have neither been here nor seen humpback whales.  My imagination is vast, but I don’t think I could even begin to describe what their experiences will be like (cold, wet, buggy, unbelievably beautiful, overwhelmingly quiet). I’m hoping they’ll have the courage to tell you themselves.

So stay tuned, please spread the word to your friends and families about the Acoustic Spyglass Project, and share the blog widely. In return I promise tender stories, embarrassing moments, time lapse photography, and meaningful science — all the while peppered with those most graceful of animals that we are so fond of and whom I hope never notice that I’m watching them.

More to come.


Deploying hydrophones is hard work. Photo Credit: Leanna Mattews (sadly not pictured... since she took all the pictures).
Deploying hydrophones is hard work. Photo Credit: Leanna Mattews (sadly not pictured… since she took all the pictures).

I feel like I experienced a miracle last week.

Possibly I am throwing around the word “miracle” because I’ve got Herb Brooks on my mind (thanks to my fellow grad student and FW intramural soccer coach Matt who is obsessed with that guy). Or perhaps that is actually what happened.

Let me set the stage. Will and Otis, our two Seagliders, were deployed off the coast of Newport, for what should have been a brief, straightforward test of their passive acoustic systems before they were shipped off to the Gulf of Mexico for a project there. Of course, that would not be as exciting of a story if it all went as planned.

I can’t remember how much I’ve talked about it before (I looked it up…try here and here), but basically, the way these gliders work is they go out and dive in the ocean, listen for marine mammals, and every time they surface they call in to a basestation, offload their location and some log files, and continue on their way. Well. Otis (SG608) did exactly that. It was his first flight with us and all went smoothly, from a piloting stand point. Will (SG607) on the other hand….well, he went rogue. And I don’t mean to the brewery.

Will stopped calling in after only 5 dives. Did I tell you this was my first “solo” piloting of the gliders? Yes, I was sort of freaking out.

But what happened the next few days is not important (I blacked it out so I can’t tell you because I don’t remember).

The point is….WE FOUND HIM!!!!!!!!!!

So (1) the miracle part: Let me explain the chances of finding Will. Best case scenario we were searching in about a 1 km radius of a point we THOUGHT the glider would be diving to. Worst case, it was floating at the surface and had drifted who-knows how many miles offshore. But lets complicate things. Glider at the surface, great, easier to spot. Glider continuously diving = glider down for 1 hour 40 mins, at the surface for 20 mins. So lets say we ARE in the right place. Well then it has to be the right time, and you better spot the thing during that 20 mins and get the boat over there before it goes back down for an hour and 40 mins and pops up somewhere else in that 1 km radius. Lets add in some wind waves (We are 35 nm offshore here) and some fog. And this is the image you are looking for:

surface example


(2) the waiting part. Will was missing for 4 and a half days. That doesn’t seem like that long. But when everytime your phone beeps that you get a text message and your heart jumps thinking maybe its the glider, that is a long 108 hours. But that is a lot of what we had to do. This was exacerbated for me because I had to stay on land during the search trips. I had to be at my computer in case we heard from the glider and I could give updates on GPS locations or timing. This was a new experience for me. I’m not real good at sitting still and waiting.


(3) the teamwork part. To me, the greatest outcome of the whole thing. There is NO way we could have found Will without all hands on deck, without awesome grad students and scientists who went out to look (Laurie, Niki, Erin, Theresa, Curtis, Alex, Haru, Matt, Dave), Anatoli and Steve for answering my piloting questions, a chartered fishing boat (ok…we paid them, Sara thanks for coordinating), TWO trips out, the people at iridium for putting up with my incessant phone calls,  the dolphins that swam by the boat and provided moral support, Sharon and Holger for telling me not to freak out…I could go on. (and I’m SO SORRY if I am forgetting someone)