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).
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.
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.
BRS stands for Behavioral Response Study. My master’s research is all on testing the potential use of a new kind of tag for these types of studies, so I’m very lucky to be participating in such a project for my third field season. Currently, these types of studies use tags that combine fine scale behavioral sensors and passive acoustic recorders (in our case, DTAGs developed by folks at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute) to monitor potential changes in an individual animal’s behavior in response to a controlled sound exposure projected from a boat. This project is really important for investigating exactly how marine mammals are affected by anthropogenic noise such as naval sonar.
I sort of have a bunch of jobs on the boat. My main duties are as database network manager and operation of WILD (Whale Identification and Logging Database) software that allows us to combine location data from our three research vessels, animal sightings from our visual observers, and instrument deployment from our various teams. I serve as an assistant for Chief Scientist Brandon Southall, helping him coordinate the different science teams and directing the captain when Brandon is out on one of the small boats. I help with radio telemetry, visual observations, and try my best not to get sunburnt. Oh…and this year we have a smoothie bar! So I moonlight as smoothie barista due to my incredible smoothie-making skills.
There is some downtime while we are on the search for whales (great time for catching up on scholarly reading!) mixed with crazy hectic long days when we’ve got multiple tags out and successful playback sequences. I just wanted to share some pictures of the daily grind, and daily gifts, for those of you who are land locked.