Kristina presented her public seminar and defended her Ph.D. dissertation, The Influence of Genetic Variation on Susceptibility of Common Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) to Harmful Algal Blooms, on April 7th. Many thanks to her committee members, Drs. Rich DiGiulio, Eric Palkovacs, Patricia Rosel, Tom Schultz and Randy Wells, for all their help. Congratulations Dr. Cammen!
Monday, March 31st was a good day for whales, as the International Court of Justice ruled for Australia in the case it had brought against Japan regarding special permit catches of Antarctic whales. The decision, which Japan has said it will adhere to, means an end to the Japanese ‘scientific whaling’ program in the Antarctic, known as JARPA II, which has killed more than 3,600 whales. In the decision, the majority of justices argued that the killing of whales in this program was not for the purposes of scientific research, agreeing with many independent observers that this was, in reality, a thinly disguised commercial harvest. You can read the decision here.
This is an important decision which, understandably, has generated a lot of media interest. Science has a good piece on the decision here and you can read (and listen) to Andy’s interview about it on NPR’s Environmental News Magazine, Living on Earth. And our good friend Carl Safina also has a nice piece on his CNN blog.
Follow the blog as Andy and Kim travel to the Antarctic Peninsula with 20 Duke alumni on the L’Austral.
Leah Gerber and colleagues have proposed that a system of catch shares could be used to promote the conservation of whales by allowing conservation groups to buy quotas of whales from whalers – essentially this system is a cap-and-trade market for swapping permits to kill or conserve whales. You can read about the initial proposal and our paper in response in the journal Ecological Applications – also see the news piece in Science about the exchange.
Follow Andy’s class as they examine the challenges associated with managing and conserving marine biodiversity in Hawaii. The course will focus on several case studies that involve the conservation of monk seals, green turtles and seabirds. The course is taught entirely in Hawaii. The first week is spent on Oahu, meeting with stakeholders and working with scientists and managers from federal and state agencies. The second week will be spent on Kauai, where the class will work on a monk seal conservation project with scientists from the Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center.
A stretch of exceptionally calm seas off of the North Carolina coast made for two very productive field days for some of the Read Lab researchers and students.
On Friday morning, 4 October, we deployed five marine autonomous recording units (MARU), or pop-up buoys, across the continental shelf off of the Outer Banks as part of a collaborative project with NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center and Cornell’s Bioacoustics Research Program. The objective of this project is to investigate the timing of right whale migration through the Mid-Atlantic region, as well as the relative distance from shore and acoustic behavior of migrating whales. See Joy Stanistreet’s recent post for more information about this project.
Following the buoy deployment, we had several hours left in the day to conduct marine mammal surveys as part of our ongoing survey effort for the Navy. We encountered eight groups of offshore bottlenose dolphins, but even more exciting was the sighting of a fin whale, from which we were able to obtain photo-identification images and a biopsy sample (SEFSC Permit 779-1633) which will provide insights into the population of fin whales that visit this area. This is the fourth fin whale we’ve encountered and the third biopsy sample we’ve obtained from fin whales along the shelf break in the last two months. This particular fin whale had a very distinctive dorsal fin, which will help us identify the individual and possibly match it to previous sightings from the Atlantic.
On Saturday, 5 October, we headed out to work on another ongoing project that is focused on locating deep-diving marine mammals, such as sperm whales and beaked whales, while obtaining biopsy samples from them. Deep-diving mammals spend a lot of time (up to an hour) below the surface, where they feed on deep-water prey such as squid; therefore it can be rather challenging to locate these animals from a vessel. We’ve had success locating sperm whales acoustically using a directional hydrophone, and have even collected biopsy samples from them, but so far, we have had less luck encountering beaked whales this year. Fortunately for us, the flat-calm seas on Saturday were conducive for sighting the elusive creatures, and when we encountered a group of three beaked whales in the morning, we were pleasantly surprised. Past attempts at approaching beaked whales in this area have proved challenging, so we knew we may only have one chance to get close enough to the group to obtain good photo-id images and biopsy samples. The group consisted of a heavily scarred male and a mom/calf pair. The animals were consistently diving for 10-15 minutes between surfacings and were traveling in a predictable direction, enabling us to stay with them long enough to make an approach. On the third surfacing of the group, we obtained a partial sample from the adult female, and a full sample from the male. These are the first genetic samples of beaked whales that we have been able to collect.
A total sightings list for the day included an additional beaked whale sighting, for a total of seven individuals, in addition to nine pilot whale sightings, six bottlenose dolphin sightings, and one group of Risso’s dolphins, from which we collected two biopsy samples.
Next year, the Deep Diver project will be focusing on attaching tags to sperm whales and beaked whales to record their dive behavior.
Research conducted by Ph.D. student Kristina Cammen and Master’s student Brianne Soulen, a previous member of the Johnston lab, was recently featured on the Smithsonian’s Ocean Portal blog (http://ocean.si.edu/blog/ice-loving-seals-and-loss-sea-ice). Brianne and Kristina worked with Duke Marine Lab faculty Tom Schultz and Dave Johnston to investigate environmental and genetic factors that may affect harp seal stranding rates in the Northeast. They found a greater number of harp seal strandings, particularly of male yearlings, in years with low sea ice cover.
The authors found no difference in genetic diversity between stranded seals and by-caught seals, which represented the healthy population; the study found overall high genetic diversity in the harp seal population.
For more information, check out the open source article published recently in PLOS: http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0068779
Joy is coordinating a new passive acoustic monitoring project to detect North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis) migrating past Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, during their seasonal movements to and from breeding grounds in Florida. This is a collaborative effort between research partners at Duke University, NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center (http://www.nefsc.noaa.gov/psb/acoustics/), and Cornell’s Bioacoustics Research Program (http://www.birds.cornell.edu/brp/).
North Atlantic right whales migrate along the U.S. east coast between winter breeding grounds off Georgia and Florida, and summer feeding grounds off the northeastern U.S. and Canada. Intensive research and monitoring efforts are focused on the feeding and breeding grounds of this highly endangered species, but very little is known about the movement patterns of right whales during migration.
The objective of this project is to investigate the timing of right whale migration through the Mid-Atlantic region, as well as the relative distance from shore and acoustic behavior of migrating whales. Five marine autonomous recording units, or “pop-up” buoys, were recently deployed across the continental shelf off Cape Hatteras, extending out to the shelf break.
These bottom-moored instruments will collect continuous, low-frequency acoustic recordings for 4-5 months. After retrieval, we will extract the data and analyze it for right whale calls. We will deploy a second set of pop-ups in the same region during the spring. In addition to North Atlantic right whales, other baleen whale species may also be recorded, including humpback, fin, and minke whales.
Danielle and Andy are working with fishermen in the North Carolina pelagic longline fishery to trial a new acoustic deterrent, the Dolphin Interactive Dissuasive (DiD) device. Pilot whales are believed to mainly eat squid, but some short-finned pilot whales interact with pelagic longline fishing gear and remove bait and hooked tuna, a behavior known as depredation. Depredation results in increased costs and lost revenue for the fishery due to a reduction in the quantity and value of catch and damage to gear. In addition, pilot whales may become entangled or hooked and die in fishing gear while engaging in depredation. For these reasons fishermen, scientists and managers are motivated to find ways to deter pilot whales from interacting with longline gear.
DiD devices are intended to produce aversive sounds that interfere with toothed whale echolocation, but only produce sound when they detect cetacean echolocation signals. Our primary research objectives are to determine whether the devices can be used practically in this fishery, assess the interactive function of the devices, and test their efficacy in reducing depredation. A fisherman in Wanchese, NC is putting the DiDs on his longline gear and recording data on a number of variables including the amount of fish caught, the amount of fish depredated, and the presence of pilot whales for each longline set. We will compare data collected from longline sets equipped with DiDs (active) to sets with no DiDs (control) and determine if the acoustic deterrents are successful in decreasing pilot whale interactions in this fishery. Stay tuned for future results!
We are looking for a postdoctoral researcher to work on analysis of data obtained from multi-sensor Digital Acoustic Tags that sample acoustics, accelerometers and depth collected from short-term (ca. 12-24 h) deployments on a variety of cetacean species, including pilot whales, Risso’s dolphins and North Atlantic right whales. Some of these data sets will contribute to baseline observations of behavior, including call rate, foraging behavior and fine-scale movement patterns. Other data sets will include analysis of behavioral response to acoustic stimuli presented within an experimental paradigm. The position will primarily involve analysis of existing data sets, but the post-doctoral researcher will be encouraged to participate in data collection in the field. Applicants should possess a Ph.D. in statistics, animal behavior, or ecology with a demonstrated interest in the quantitative analysis of foraging ecology, vocal behavior and/or kinematics. We are particularly interested in individuals who are well versed in Matlab and/or R and who have experience in integration and analysis of complex data sets. The successful candidate will conduct data analysis, prepare reports and manuscripts for publication in peer reviewed journals and will work under the co-supervision of Drs. Doug Nowacek and Andrew Read. We expect the successful candidate to engage fully in the intellectual life of our laboratory and take advantage of research, mentoring and teaching opportunities as they arise. The Duke University Marine Laboratory, located in Beaufort, NC, is a vibrant research and educational community located on the North Carolina coast and is part of the Nicholas School of the Environment. This is a one-year, full-time appointment with an annual salary of $50,000, with the possibility of renewal. The position carries standard health insurance and benefits from Duke University. Prospective applicants should send a CV, statement of interest and the names of three references to Jennifer Dunn (jennifer.dunn at duke. edu) by October 31st 2013. US and international applicants will be considered.