I know I promised I’d be better about Soundbites. I even promised my labmates I’d be better about blogging. In my defense, I present this graph that I hastily drew today on my iPad:


It’s a graph of how in control of my life I feel versus time in grad school. Now I’ve got two and a half years of data to back this up, so even though my sample size is n = 1, I feel pretty confident in the conclusions I’m drawing from it.

The beginning of grad school, when I first arrived but hadn’t started working yet, I felt pretty awesome. But then I started to realize how much work I had to do and how in over my head I felt, so there’s that first drop. Fieldwork was pretty up and down, followed by an alright summer and fall with more up and down fieldwork.

But with writing, it’s like I can’t get the rest of my life together to save, well, my life. Running? Out the window. Yoga? Nope. Climbing? Not on your life. Even simple walks to get outside are only done when I’m running between buildings. It’s like the only things I’m capable of are writing, sleeping, and eating, and anything else requires too much brain power to even attempt.

My advisor Tiffany mentioned that this is a common occurrence when students get to the writing phase. Usually I’m really disciplined about taking care of myself while working, but writing has just sucked that ability out of me.

So maybe the best approach is to just embrace it. Okay, the next month and a half is going to be spent existing mostly as a blob of words who occasionally eats food. Seems kind of fitting for a pre-Halloween post:


Is this my fate? Will I be defending as a blob rather than a human?

Stay tuned…

Also, because I forgot Soundbites this week, here’s a fun link. Because I haven’t become a word blob yet.

13 of the most terrifying sounds ever recorded

Happy Halloween, all!

Soundbites is your weekly dose of the newest, coolest bioacoustics news, plus other fun stuff, all in bite-size form. A day late and a dollar short this week, folks. Blame my thesis…

Guys, I haven’t got a lot of new bioacoustics news for you this week. I got a great Google alert about a paper called “Not so sexy sounds”, but then my computer thought the link was corrupted and I couldn’t get it for you.

Noise impacts nestling begging in tree swallowsanthropogenic noise has different impacts depending on the species, which is why it’s important to keep studying its effects. Here, tree swallow nestlings increased amplitude and frequency in their begging calls when exposed to white noise; also, when exposed to feeding calls at noisy nests, parents responded with less feeding than at control nests. So noise changed the behavior of both parents and nestlings, and while they were able to compensate and no one was left hungry, it’s not clear if there’s a threshold above which this wouldn’t work anymore.

Fun link of the week: here’s a weird one for you. I was thinking about the acoustics and soundscapes of fall and somehow I ended up googling “pumpkin instrument”. There is an entire musical group devoted to making instruments out of vegetables. They are called, appropriately, the Vegetable Orchestra. Here is a video of them recording one of their albums:

Any student who has worked with me knows that there are many things, sometimes conflicting, that I value about the field of wildlife science.  When running a field team I value (1) the significance of the field experience to my students, and to those with whom we regularly interact (including but not limited to the public, the community, and those of you who read our blogs), (2) the quality of the data that we collect, which ensures that the money we have been trusted with is going toward understanding something previously unknown or poorly described, and (3) the welfare of the system with which we interact.

Sunrise surveys
Sunrise surveys (photo credit: D. Culp)

In the case of the Acoustic Spyglass Project I feel privileged interacting with the students and the community is a long term relationship.  In the past I’ve mentored students over a period of weeks, with this project I’m able to extend that duration out to a period of months or even years.  I would also hope that in reading the blog posts made by my students that the value of their experience would become… well… self evident. I won’t harp of how inspiring this summer was, or how it changed us all.  To put words to the moments we shared might cheapen them, and I’m not willing to risk it.

On the other side of things, however, is that magic science word – “data”. Yes, we had a great time and ooo-ed and aaa-ed at many many whales; but was it worth it?  Yes.  Yes it was.  We were able to exceed my data collection dreams (let’s blow that power analysis out of the water friends) with over 300 scan point surveys and over 300 focal follows.  (To be fair we had about 500 of each, but after developing an inclusion criteria some had to go).  These kind of sample sizes are often hard to obtain in the marine mammal world (my heart goes out to you folks using tag data). While I’m quick to pat my own back here, this data still has some flaws that need to be reconciled. Three hundred focal follows doesn’t mean three hundred individual animals (fear of pseudo-replication anyone?). I still need to parse out the photo identification data we collected over the summer, put my head together with Chris and Janet to see what their photo ID record from the summer looks like, and then make some decisions on the best way to dive into this (delicious) data set.

Until then however, I’m working on getting the data uploaded into ArcGIS and organized in R (deep breath Miche… programming is your friend), and guiding my senior thesis students through their own data management forays.

Coming home is a challenge, it always is. At least in this context both the data, and the field team, are able to accompany me.  For a stranger plotting these dots on maps may not feel meaningful.  When I’m able to show my team the path that a humpback whale took during a sunrise survey, however, that means something to them and to me.  Once I have it plotted?  I’ll be sure to add it to this blog post… in the hope that it may mean something to you as well.

More than just a dot on a map
More than just a dot on a map


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).

Pretty morning at Santa Catalina Island

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.

Always Learning

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.

Mapping how sound likely propagates through the Southern California Bight in August.
My acoustic set up. Sonobuoy detector, sonobuoy recorder, and directions of course.



People started to refer to me as Jonesy. I embraced it whole-heartedly.



What’s that, you say? Has Soundbites returned? Indeed it has! After a long hiatus for the summer, Soundbites is returning this term to provide you with all the latest and greatest bioacoustics news, bite-sized! 

Phantom road experiment reveals noise degrades habitatman do I like this experiment. As all of the ORCAA students could tell you, sometimes it’s hard to differentiate the effects of noise from general habitat degradation. These researchers set up a “phantom road” made of speakers and found evidence of avoidance and decreased body condition in birds.

Gorillas change vocalizations based on audience effects, not environmental factorsI don’t get to write about gorilla vocalizations very often! These researchers wanted to test the acoustic adaptation hypothesis to see if both mountain and lowland gorillas changed their vocalizations to maximize transmission in their cluttered (physically and acoustically) environment. Instead, the gorillas changed their vocalization based on social cues, like nearest neighbors and visual separation.

Traffic noise impacts zebra finch embryos and nestlingsthe authors set out to distinguish the impacts of noise from other habitat variables by using captive zebra finches. High-noise groups had higher embryo mortality and slower nestling growth, and noise also was found to possibly exacerbate stressed animals further and contribute to reduced parental care.

Fun link of the weekacoustic scientists recently shattered the world record for longest echo. In Scotland, there are long tunnels that used to be used for oil storage. A gun shot echoed for a ridiculous 112 seconds!