“It takes two to speak the truth: one to speak and another to hear”

-Henry David Thoreau 

As a bioacoustician this is one of my favorite quotes.  Admittedly I’ve been including it somewhat frequently lately in various things that I’m working on (preamble to a future dissertation perhaps?). The goal of my work is fundamentally to describe something true to the world. It is important to note that while I believe my research is novel, I am under no illusion that the phenomenon that I’m describing is new. Whales have been communicating since long before I dropped my hydrophones to the bottom of the ocean, and they will continue producing sound long after we stop listening, but for the small part that I play in understanding the role of sound in lives humpback whales I’m content to let them speak while I hear.

Leanna, David, and I en route to Glacier Bay on a teeny tiny airplane.

Which is why I’m writing. For the past year I’ve been writing about preparing.  Prepping instruments with the blood sweat and tears of friends and loved ones (you know I’m talking to you).  Prepping for field seasons (Oh Strawberry Island). And lastly preparing for the data to eventually come back to us. In May I wrote about the excitement and anxiety of deploying our four hydrophones in Glacier Bay National Park. Watching Snacks, Bruiser, Kenya, and Bumblebee descend to the ocean floor was nerve-wracking, but also came with a hard earned sigh of relief. Once they were sunk there was nothing left to do but wait patiently, and trust that we had done our jobs to the best of our ability.

Bumblebee rises from the deep.

Two weeks ago, we got them back. For a full account read my science-partner-in-crime’s full account here.  The aptly named post “Things went wrong. They weren’t our fault. We fixed them anyway.” sums up the week pretty succinctly. Supported again by the rockstar crew of the M/V Lite Weight, and dragging friend/field tech/electrician David in tow Leanna, Chris and I once again assembled the dream team (minus Samara, who is a necessity for the next trip; we were seriously lacking snacks) and we managed to get four slimy, sleepy, superb hydrophones out of the water and onto dry land. While those of you who don’t work in oceanography may have taken for granted that all four hydrophones would come back, those of us who have been around the block know this isn’t always the case (ok, I’m still walking around the block… some day I’ll make it all the way around).

Chris, Leanna and I proudly celebrating our successful recovery.

Were there problems?  Of course there were.  Did we fix them?  Sure. The good news is, that the hydrophones came back, and running in the background of my computer right now is a MatLab script converting the 15,204 .DAT files into .WAV files… so that we can begin to listen.

Four smelly, soggy, perfect hydrophones all lined up in a row.



… and in case you were wondering, yes.  There are whale calls.

So….Guess what? I figured out my dissertation!

Well, not really. Not the whole thing. But I finally feel like I have sort of the start of an idea of a plan. Yesterday I gave a talk at the Marine Mammal Institute Brownbag series at Hatfield Marine Science Center. I took this opportunity to try and sketch out what I will be focusing on the next few years.


I got some great feedback that will really help me going forward. For example:

The problems you discuss seem similar to problems that were worked out for visual surveys in the past. That would be a great place to start in your literature search.

Great point! That’s kind of what I was trying to convey…so yay!

Well. If I’ve got one thing to say. It’s a lot. 

Again…I agree. I hadn’t realized how big it all seemed until I got it all out there. But it’s a highly collaborative project, so I think it will be doable? And I’m sure things will get tweaked. But I do need to be reasonable here.

You really nerded out up there. 

Heck yes I did! Gliders! Woo!

**I paraphrased all of these so I won’t put the names of who they were from 🙂 I think I got the gist of what they meant?