The past two weeks I had the great opportunity to travel to Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, New York for their Sound Analysis Workshop and Woods Hole, Massachusetts to meet with one of my committee members, Sofie Van Parijs, and her lab group. And boy was I happy about it. Some might say, you live in North Carolina and went up to the chillier Northeast, how could you leave the warm southeast and be so happy about it? Well, hailing from the great state of New Jersey and having gone to the University of Connecticut for my undergraduate degree I have a special place in my heart for this corner of the world. Plus the weather in NC was apparently not so nice and the northeast had beautiful weather!
I started my adventure at Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, NY. They run a week-long intensive sound analysis workshop and having terabytes of recordings stored up at this point I thought it would be a great opportunity to add some tools to my toolbox and to work with the people at Cornell. My goals for the week were to be a big sponge and to take advantage of the opportunity I had by asking questions and spending time trying to come up with a good plan for my analysis.
One of the major things that I learned during this workshop is that there are many different types of sound analysis software and each does something a little different or entirely unique to that software, so… you need a lot of tools in your toolbox. You can’t just use the hammer to build your dissertation, you need the hammer, the saw, the nails… and each tool has its strengths (and weaknesses). I spent the week mostly learning about Raven a sound analysis software created at Cornell and XBAT, an extensible (meaning you can work on it and add to ti if you’re into programming) tool that runs through Matlab that I’ve been using for the last two years. Both have some new features and each have automated detectors built in that I plan on spending more time testing for my analysis. Many thanks to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Bioacoustics Research Program for a great week, especially Russ, Tim, Anne and Liz.
After this intense week of presentations and hands-on experience with the software I was happy to continue building my toolbox and working on my dissertation plan in Woods Hole with Sofie Van Parijs and the rest of the Passive Acoustics Group at NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center. At Cornell it was great, there were people who were working on elephants, bats, prairie dogs, birds, mice and fish. I was the only marine mammal person there so it was really nice to head to Woods Hole to be with fellow marine mammal acousticians to learn about their projects and tools too! I had great meetings with so many people! Thanks to Gen, Dani, Sofie, Trudi, Peter, Denise and Samara for making my stay so worthwhile and for meeting with my to talk about my project. And as a special treat I also got to go out on the boat with Lisa (I call her Grace) Conger and saw my first right whales! I leaned over on the way out and said, “Grace, I’ve never seen a right whale before.” And from just the look on her face I knew I was in for quite the day. A group of 10-15 high skimming right whales, AMAZING! Check out my sweet outfit on the left. That mustang suit might not be the most fashionable but it kept me warm! A big thanks to Grace for taking me out!
So after 6 planes, 4 buses, 2 taxis and 6 hours of driving I had given two talks, met with so many different people to learn about the projects they’re working on and the tools they use, built up my sound analysis toolbox and came up with a more detailed plan for my chapters of my dissertation! I’d say it was a successful two weeks! Plus I got clam chowder on Martha’s Vineyard and a new green black dog hat so life is good!
Last spring I took an Environmental Issues and Documentary Arts class at Duke University with filmmaker Erin Espelie. The class introduced me to Jacques Cousteau’s “The Silent World,” Chris Jordan’s Running the Numbers and works done by so many other talented artists, musicians and filmmakers. I have always seen science as part of a bigger picture and this class (like so many of the others I have taken at the Nicholas School) offered me a chance to learn about more of that “bigger picture” and to learn about different ways to tell my story.
In the past few weeks I have shared the spinner dolphin story and my story with many. I have visited middle school classrooms to teach them about acoustics and to tell them the story of how I got to where I am today, capstone events to get middle school girls interested in the STEM fields, and talked with my colleagues and friends about the progress I have made with the acoustics analysis. But this weekend, my story, and the story of the spinner dolphin, gets told on “the big screen.”
As part of the documentary arts class we were asked to do a project. It could be anything, a painting, a photo essay, or a film just to name a few. Since I had a trip to Hawai’i planned for March I thought I would try to get footage during my trip for a little film about the Hawaiian spinner dolphin. I showed “Their Right to Rest,” a film about Hawaiian spinner dolphins, to Erin in an early form and she was really impressed. Me, not a filmmaker, impressing a real filmmaker! I showed it in classes, to my friends and family and was finally encouraged by Erin to submit the film to a film festival. So I did, thinking no way would my film get chosen. Well, this past week I learned that my film was chosen for the Beneath the Waves Film Festival and its first screening would be at the Benthic Ecology meeting in Savannah!
In fact, my film could be making its big-screen debut as I write this blog. So thank you to Erin Espelie for giving me the chance to make my film and for encouraging me to submit it.
Check out the Duke Magazine story about the class and the projects that came from that class here http://www.nicholas.duke.edu/dukenvironment/f12/framing-the-environment
Aloha from Kona! I am currently out in Hawai’i doing fieldwork for the third time since the start of the project and I can’t believe we are so close to the end. I began as a Master’s student in the summer of 2010 and here we are more than three years later, I’m now in my second year of PhD and the project is set to end at the end of the month. We will pack things up, back up terabytes of acoustics files and I will return to NC with plenty to do! I’m nostalgic to think about how this project, one that I have been so involved with in the last three years, is coming to an end. But as Julian Tyne, the PhD student from Murdoch said, “It’s just the beginning.”
Here is a link and the text for the blog post I wrote for the Johnston lab website! Check it out and keep an eye on that page for updates about different Johnston lab projects including the Nai’a Guide.
At this moment three quarters of “The Spinnerettes” are in Kona, Hawai’i assisting with fieldwork as a part of the Spinner Dolphin Acoustics and Population Parameters Research (SAPPHIRE) Project. The project started in the summer of 2010 to study the spinner dolphins using a suite of techniques including photo-identification, focal follows and behavioral sampling, acoustics and theodolite tracking. It was set to wrap up before the 1st of the year but the State of Hawai’i closed one of our study bays, Kealakekua Bay to all non-coast guard approved vessels and we were called on to assist with the fieldwork to continue data collection during the closure.
Demi Fox, Liza Hoos and I arrived on the evening of March 11th and today was our first day of fieldwork. We took yesterday to plan out a week of our fieldwork and to get ourselves acclimated to the Island, to see Kealakekua Bay and to get some Kona coffee and breakfast at the Coffee Shack. We woke up to spinner dolphins off our lanai and ended the day with humpback whales and a beautiful sunset.
Today, Demi, Stacia, a volunteer that has been with the project since the start, Brett, our fearless boat captain Bob and I set off on our first day of focal follows. When we set off on focal follows we find a group of spinner dolphins and start photo-identification. We take pictures of the dolphins to figure out “who is there.” We can use pictures we have taken in the past to match the fins to previously captured fins. We found a group farther up North and we started our focal follow. We were the only people with this group of dolphins, just us on our boat. Our plan was a little derailed when a group of 3 humpbacks showed up (two adults and a calf) but we got a 2 hour follow in on the group recording their aerial behaviors and other information about the group of dolphins. We continued to have amazing views of dolphins and humpbacks interacting together. We all found ourselves screaming when three adult humpbacks surfaced together off our port side. And “HOLY HUMPBACK”!” was born.
We moved south to try to find another group of dolphins and we sure did find some. Our estimate was actually about 200 dolphins. The group was the biggest I had ever seen and we could see dolphins everywhere surfing the waves as they rolled in. At this point however, we were not the only people with the dolphins. There were two boats, one exhibiting the clearest example of leapfrogging I have ever seen. This is a process where swim-with boats get up in front of a group of dolphins, drop their snorkelers in the water, let the dolphins pass, pick them up and repeat. We stuck with the group taking pictures of them in hopes we would have some identifiable individuals.
We ended the day with data entry and a Mai Tai and another beautiful sunset complete with the green flash!
Finding Nemo is my favorite movie of all time and I vividly remember when it came out. I went to see it in the theater with my family and when the scene came when Dory can’t seem to remember P. Sherman 42 Wallaby Way Sydney, a child sitting behind me yelled at the screen in tears, “It’s okay Dory, I would forget too!”
Dory is quite the fish. Not only does she help Marlin find Nemo but she also speaks whale! And although I can’t name it as my favorite scene in the movie I do laugh every single time I watch the scene where Dory asks the whale for directions. She moves through a few different species, claims that one of her dialects sounds a little orca and also suggests that maybe she try speaking humpback. Dory proceeds to make what seemed to me at the time, ridiculous sounds.
I used to think the dolphins held the title for most ridiculous sounds. I’ve heard things that sound like almost any farm animal or instrument you can think of, cows, ducks, dogs, banjos, you name it. But in the last week the humpback whales have done their fair share of surprising me too. The thing that has surprised me most recently is the range of frequencies humpbacks use. Baleen whales, the Mysticetes, generally use low frequencies, bigger the body, the lower the frequency and the smaller animals, like the spinner dolphins, higher frequencies. If you think about the type of sound a humpback would make, think of all the whale songs you’ve heard, are they high in frequency like a bird singing or are they low in frequency? I would say low too. But check out the harmonics on this humpback!
Again this is a spectrogram. Along the left hand side of the picture (the y axis) is frequency in cycles per second. We sample at 80,000 cycles per second but we can only accurately represent up to half of that, 40,000 cycles per second due to something called the Nyquist Theorem. The brightest line in the picture is called the fundamental frequency it is where most of the energy of the signal lies. The rest of the lines are the harmonics and fall at multiples of the fundamental. When we listen to the sound of the humpback we hear one sound, each of the harmonics comes together with the fundamental frequency as one sound. But these harmonics go ABOVE 20 kHz! The spinner dolphin whistles I listen to are generally between 2 and 22 kHz! And the craziest thing is that I can’t hear at least the top three harmonics of this humpback sound. When my ear processes that sound I can’t make out the top three lines. I have lost some of my high frequency hearing, too many concerts… If you’re interested in finding out what harmonics you can’t hear try this hearing test. The best hearing human can hear from 20 Hz to 20 kHz. My hearing cuts out at around 15 kHz.
So sure the whales do use a lot of low frequency sound but that have quite an impressive ability to produce very high frequency harmonics, higher than I can hear! I guess I’m not quite as surprised as I used to be when I heard Dory speak whale. These whales do make some crazy sounds.
Take a listen to this file here!
I’ve been spending lots of time going through sound files in the last few months. We have data from acoustic loggers in four different bays on the Kona coast of Hawai’i Island. The loggers take 30 second recordings every 4 minutes (so lots of data!). I am scrolling through the files and looking at spectrograms like the one below. The beauty of a spectrogram is that you can “see” the sound and see sound that my ear cannot perceive. When I go through the files I mark down whether any individual day has a dolphin vocalization in it or not and when the first vocalization occurs. These vocalizations are most likely spinner dolphins but could be any of a number of things, spotted dolphins, spinner dolphins, bottlenose dolphins…. Or humpback whales! I was surprised but I hadn’t run into a humpback whale vocalization yet… Until today!
Sometimes you’re scrolling through sound files looking for dolphin vocalizations and you find a humpback whale! Check it out!
Humpback in Honaunau January 22, 2012 (put on your headphones to hear it the best!)
Do you have something to share on the spinner dolphin timeline? If you do, it is really easy and we would love to have you contribute.
Check it out!
And please visit the timeline at www.spinnerdolphin.net/timeline.
We recently launched a piece of my Master’s Project as an interactive timeline at www.spinnerdolphin.net/Timeline. This interactive web-based timeline of scientific, historical, cultural and management events is a public resource to help educate people about spinner dolphins in Hawaii.
As I mentioned this came out of my Master’s Project which can be read here: http://dukespace.lib.duke.edu/dspace/bitstream/handle/10161/3609/HHeenehan_FromNorristoNow.pdf?sequence=1
This is very exciting for me to see a piece of my project out in the world and doing something. It is also exciting because I had the help of a great group of students this summer. The initial entries were populated into the timeline by the students as part of an assignment in a summer Marine Mammals class offered at the Duke Marine Lab. After these initial entries and some additions by myself and Dr. David Johnston, the timeline was published for the general public and new users can register and load events into the timeline. As of today we have had over 2,400 views of the site and new users are starting to populate the site with new entries.
I hope that you will find the timeline to be interesting and informative and give you a sense of the social construction of spinner dolphins in Hawaii. This was a well-studied population from the 1970′s to the 1990′s (by Ken Norris and his colleagues) and the timeline looks at spinner science and management issues from the time that Captain Cook arrived to today. Currently the timeline includes events primarily occurring in the United States and mainly in Hawaii but we welcome any and all international events that relate to spinner dolphins or any events nationally or internationally that have had a hand in the social construction of these dolphins.
If you are interested in contributing to the timeline just create a login and then follow the instructions here.
If you have any questions about the timeline or would like more information please feel free to email me (email@example.com).
The timeline is created with the Curator theme for WordPress developed by Molitor. It can be purchased here
“let the beauty we love be what we do.”
Heather Heenehan is pursuing a PhD in Marine Science and Conservation in the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University. She graduated from the University of Connecticut with a BS in Environmental Science and recently graduated with her Master of Environmental Management degree from Duke in Coastal Environmental Management. Her master’s project focused on spinner dolphins around the Island of Hawaii and the impacts of human interactions (tourism) on these dolphins. Her Master’s Project is a collection of web articles addressing different aspects of this issue through time. You can read her articles here. She will continue to work on the SAPPHIRE Project and the Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins for her dissertation and investigate the acoustic behavior of spinner dolphins in their resting bays. She will explore the current sounds that the dolphins make, look at variation through time and space and explore policy implications of this research.