Feast or Famine

Well, after the first four days of this second leg of SOCAL-11 with no suction cup tag attachments and marginal weather conditions we had a good day today.  We attached a total of five tags on three blue whales and a Risso’s dolphin and conducted the third-ever CEE on Risso’s.  We used a variety of tags in deeper water areas to look at diving, movement, and vocal behavior in the blue whales, and the responses of Risso’s dolphins to a controlled exposure to simulated military sonar.  All of the tag attachments and the CEE went very well and with minimal disturbance to animals, who spent much of their day surrounded by inbound and outbound ships from Long Beach.

The tag deployment on the Risso’s dolphin was really an excellent attachment for this species on which there was some question before our successes as to whether it was a good candidate for suction cup tags.  Below is a photo of the tagged Risso’s dolphin from earlier today.

Risso's dolphin with a Dtag (A. Friedlander - taken under NMFS permit #14534)


Offshore to start SOCAL-11 leg II…

We spent the first four days of the second leg of SOCAL-11 well offshore working deep basins and canyons in search of beaked whales.  Sorry for being out of touch,but we have spent the last three nights we stayed near Santa Cruz, San Nicholas, and Santa Barbara Islands, hiding in the lee at anchor and without internet access.  We had several visual sightings and acoustic detections with good working conditions in the mornings, but in marginal weather conditions by afternoon and we did not manage to stay with the animals that were detected long enough to get tags attached.  We did have a tag on an offshore blue whale briefly today but the tag slid off before we could get to a controlled sound exposure.  Risso’s dolphins are a priority species for SOCAL-BRS and we  have had quite a few encounters with them, including a dozen or so sightings, several focal follows, a few close approaches for tag attachment with one being successful today.  The weather forecast is again a bit marginal tomorrow but we will have all assets out searching deeper water areas for beaked whales and offshore baleen whales and shelf areas for additional options with Risso’s dolphins.
Risso’s dolphin in southern California (A. Friedlaender — taken under NMFS permit #14534)




Hi everyone — two important things to announce here.

First, we are all aboard the R/V Truth (below) and our sister sailing ship with towed passive acoustics ready to go for the second leg of SOCAL-11 starting tomorrow at dawn.  While it looks like it will be a little windy to start tomorrow, it should be coming down and the longer range forecast looks quite good.  We will be focusing on offshore species like beaked whales and Risso’s dolphins if the conditions allow, as well as mysticetes (blue and fin whales) in deeper water areas.  If we get well offshore and without internet acces, it may be a few days before you hear about our progress at the start of this second phase of our project.


If you do want to keep track of us through the SEA blog as we report progress on SOCAL-11 from the field, please realize we have made some changes to the location and nature of the blog.  From here on out, please find the SEA blog (and SOCAL-11 blog for the next two weeks) at: http://www.sea-inc.net/blog.  If you subscribe to the SEA blog, you will need to re-subscribe within our new site, which you can do at: http://www.sea-inc.net/feed/rss.

Finally, we have re-configured the SOCAL-BRS site a little bit with a new landing page and sub-pages for both SOCAL-10 and SOCAL-11 — please go to www.socal-brs.org.  Thanks for all the interest and support from so many people on this project.  I hope you like the changes and improvements we have made to the blog and website.  We continue to believe that openness and transparency are absolutely essential elements of a responsible research program and we hope you enjoy and learn some things from the material we attempt to try and share in a generally understandable way.


End SOCAL-11 Leg I

We have come to the end of the first leg of SOCAL-11.  We worked offshore the last two days based on the forecast of light winds and calm seas, but this didn’t entirely materialize.  We worked up by Santa Barbara Island in relatively low winds but moderate swell, looking and listening for beaked whales in deepwater canyons.  By noon the winds had come up enough to eliminate chances for locating and tagging beaked whales and we switched gears to try for more coastal species in the lee of the northern Channel Islands.  We didn’t find them there, but yesterday we found several groups of fin whales, Risso’s dolphins, and sighted two beaked whales.  The fog came in though, and it started raining a little, and despite hours of trying with different groups, we didn’t manage to tag on our last day.

Nevertheless, the first leg of SOCAL was quite productive, with a total of 22 tags attached to 20 individual marine mammals (blue whales and Risso’s dolphins), and 14 total controlled experiments conducted, each with detailed focal observations and monitoring before, during, and after sound transmissions.  I will be posting some additional details and images on our first leg in the coming weeks, and the planning for the second leg starting next month.  Thanks so much for all the people following our progress and for all the feedback.

Brandon Southall, Chief Scientist on behalf of SOCAL-11 team

Closer on fins…finally good offshore weather

We’ve had some pretty good conditions in deeper water the last few days and have had success finding baleen whales in deeper water and have spent a lot of time searching for beaked whales as well.  From the picture below you can see the calm conditions we have had in 800-1000m kinds of water.  This has been great in terms of focusing on some key species in areas more like where they might be more likely to encounter real sonar.  For today and tomorrow (our last day of the first leg), we hope to have this weather in 1500m canyons way offshore where we would expect to be more likely to find the deep-diving beaked whales that are an important species in this study.  You can also see in this picture the safety helmets we have been using when tagging large whales.

We spent last night on Catalina, but didn’t really see it as we arrived after dark and left before sunrise, although we did watch masses of schooling flish flying around being chased by sea lions by our lights.  Kind of an aquatic fireworks display.  We will be out of touch working in the Channel Islands today and tomorrow so this may be the last posting before we finish tomorrow night.  Hopefully the offshore forecasts will ring true.  As we are pulling away from Catalina with bottlenose dolphins flipping out in our quarterwake it looks pretty smooth out here…

Trying for beakers…got offshore blues

We had good weather offshore today and we tried for most of the day well offshore in good visibility species looking for beaked whales.  We surveyed fairly large areas of offshore banks and basins looking and listening, but didn’t have any luck.  We came across several small groups and single blue and fin whales offshore and an aggregation feeding up on the shelf and by the end of the day we found a small group of blue whales feeding in quite deep water well offshore.

The photo to the right shows a tag on the left side of a blue whale collecting data about the movement and sounds received (and made) by the animal (J. Calambokidis, Cascadia Research, collected under NMFS permit #14534).

We are still aiming for beaked whales and hope to have good conditions tomorrow morning out from San Diego.  However, we are quite interested in testing the differences in responses of marine mammals in the various kinds of habitats in which they live and are exposed to human sounds.  Today’s CEE with offshore blue whales was very useful in that regard.

SOCAL-11 Working Offshore

We’ve had fairly good to excellent seas offshore the past few days and have put in some time trying to work some of our more difficult/less common species like beaked whales and sperm whales.  In some of these offshore areas we might expect to find Risso’s dolphins or fin whales as well.  Yesterday we had a number of likely detections of beaked whales with a few brief surface series, but these were single indi

viduals and despite some concerted efforts we didn’t manage to tag one.

We have continued to maintain our mode of flexibility, though and later in the day yesterday as conditions deteriorated offshore we worked back in to nice waters and tagged two blue whales and successfully completed a CEE.  We are a little more than halfway through our first leg here — 14 tags on blue whales with 8 CEEs and the 1 Risso’s tag and CEE.  We’ll be trying to work offshore again today — with a little more fog on us than was the case in the below evening shot of beautiful Dana Point.

Tag and CEE on a Risso’s Dolphin

Yesterday we attched one of the new generation DTags on a Risso’s dolphin for almost nine hours and conducted a perfect CEE. This was the longest successful attachment to date with the new version tags on offshore odontocetes and the first on a Risso’s. Below is a shot of the tag riding on the back of the animal who was in a group of about 20 that we followed most of the day.

Rissos dolphins are among our focal species for SOCAL-11 experiments. We conducted one CEE on this species last year in SOCAL-10 and have been hoping for more this year. This species has also proven somewhat difficult to tag in the past and our tags on last year were for just a few hours, so to get a nine hour deployment spanning several different behavioral modes was pretty exciting. The tag came off late into the evening, but quite close to our anchorage and we made a beautiful late night ride in very calm seas and a red-yellow moon out to safely retrieve it.


SOCAL-BRS is a study of basic behavior and responses to controlled sound exposures in a variety of marine mammal species.

Southall Environmental Associates, Inc.

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