Making the most of it…

As you may have heard, the (second) hurricane off the Pacific coast earlier this week hit parts of Baja pretty badly. While we aren’t getting any direct effects of that (but thanks for the few emails we have received asking), we are picking up some of the swell from it mixing in with some local swell for confused seas. The bigger issue is that we have just had some very strong offshore winds the last few days. We were really wanting to work offshore this last week of SOCAL-14 phase II but we have gotten progressively knocked backwards and are sitting in a port on the mainland tonight. Even in here at midnight I can hear the wind howling through the harbor and there is a small craft advisory in effect even close to shore. So, it’s been a little rough finding reasonable conditions in which to tag cetaceans. We did manage to tag and follow a fin whale yesterday (see photo below – taken under NMFS permit #14534, credit A. Friedlaender) and run a full experimental sequence as well as prey imaging measurements.

Tagged fin whale copy 2

Today we had a very interesting interaction with an unidentified cetacean swimming at quite high speed. Below is a photo of what most of the interaction looked like as the animal was throwing water strongly swimming at over 15 knots. We are still sorting through all the video and photos taken and piecing it together with the observations of our visual team and the tagging boat. From all accounts though, this was likely not one of the more common species we have seen and tagged out here. The current best guess is actually a Longman’s beaked whale (Indopacetus pacificus), but we are still trying to get some more insight into that. We will provide some better pictures and description of this as possible – most of what we saw looked like the below picture in the one interaction we had trying to deploy a tag (on pole in the foreground).



We have two more field days out here and will provide a final update and summary of this segment of our field work by the end of the week. Thanks for the interest and the comments and encouragement received. Again, we really are fine out here with the storm.


Rough Seas…

Angry SOCAL sea copy

It’s been a rough few days on the sea off southern California for the SOCAL-BRS effort. We need relatively calm seas (e.g, <10-15 kt winds and <3-4 ft seas) and if you check out the offshore actual weather and forecasts for the outer waters where we hope to work with beaked whales and other pelagic (open water) species more commonly occur you will see a lot of numbers higher than that. Most of the seas, especially in the afternoons, are looking more like the picture above snapped from the R/V Truth. But we did hear some beaked whales on our acoustic listening array today which was promising. We have another four days in the field and, while the forecast is largely the same this week, we will keep with it and hope to get tags deployed.


Double Tagged Blue Whale – Close Interaction with a Large Ship


Though we had planned on working nearshore today in SOCAL-BRS with some planned refueling and transfers of people and gear, the small craft advisory from large swell and 20+ knot winds in outer water ensured it. Knowing the weather would be poor we got an early start with the objective of getting a baleen whale tagged before the high winds made their way inshore. We worked out from San Pedro near LA and found several blue whales feeding along the shelf break south of Palos Verdes peninsula. This is a very common area for feeding baleen whales, though it overlaps with some of the main shipping lanes on the U.S. west coast. We attached two different acoustic and movement tags (a WHOI DTAG and a Mark-10 TDR – please see the detailed information and summary at for more details on these sensors). Both of  these tags are visible in the picture above (taken under NMFS permit #14534-2 by C. Casey) on the whale from today (who is still carrying both tags as of 2300 PDT!). This combination allows us to measure high resolution diving behavior, broadband sound, and GPS position in a complimentary way, which is accompanied by visual focal follow sampling of individual behavior.

After the controlled sound exposure experiment (fortunately) our tagged whale had a close interaction with a large commercial vessel in the shipping lanes in the San Pedro Channel. Below is a photo of the vessel with our tagging and focal follow small boat in the foreground – obviously it is the small boat in this interaction.


The whale came within just a few hundred meters of this vessel and based on the track and where the animal surfaced (about 100 meters on the other side of the track about a minute after it passed) we believe it went directly below it. John Calambokidis of Cascadia Research Collective has been leading some pioneering research and conservation efforts on the serious issues related to whales and the threats posed by ship strikes out here on the west coast. Please go to <> for much more information on these issues and on some of the innovative new technologies and measures being taken to try and understand and mitigate these risks.


Back From Offshore

9_8_14_blue whale

Apologies for those of you that have been following the SOCAL-BRS blog for our 2014 field efforts for the few days delay (and thanks for the emails checking in on us!). We have been well offshore working the last three days and out of cell and internet range to get updates posted. We had reasonably good offshore weather at least in the mornings and some of the focal species have been distributed a little further offshore. Despite a few equipment setbacks, we have managed to get a number of tags deployed and two experimental sequences conducted. So far we have managed to tag a blue whale (above) as well as several Risso’s dolphins (both taken under NMFS permit #14534-2, credit A. Friedlaender).

We are working out of LA tomorrow and then doing our mid-trip provisioning and re-fuel tomorrow to gear up for the second week. We will post some additional information and examples of some of the tag record data while inshore with a little better internet access over the next few days. Thanks again for the interest in following our work out here. Please do refer to some of the information we have on the project at <>. 025_tag on a Rissos dolphin_A Friedlaender copy

SOCAL-14 Phase II Start – Coastal Blue Whales First

026_Sunrise over Catalina_B Southall

Today marked the start of our second field phase of SOCAL-14. We are fortunate to have two full weeks of field effort to find, follow, tag, and study the behavior of different cetacean species in the beautiful Channel Islands off Southern California. For those of you who are not familiar with the project, it’s goals, and our work to date, please link over to the project website, which is <>. There is a drop-down menu for each of our field campaigns, links to published papers, and for our current field effort a simply worded public summary <>. The overall goal is to safely and carefully study the behavioral responses of specific cetaceans to human sounds, including Navy mid-frequency sonar, to inform predictions of potential impact and mitigation measures to reduce them. As many people have inquired, we are been affected by the current tropical storm spinning off the Pacific coast, but just barely with a little bump of south swell that rolled us a little more than usual today. It rained a little as well which was both a little odd for late summer here and kind of welcome with the drought out here. But neither were any real impediment to efforts closer to the mainland and we found a number of blue whales and a few humpbacks near the Palos Verdes peninsula west of LA. One blue whale was tagged and a full experimental sequence with active imaging of prey fields accomplished as a way of understanding the experimental context for the animal. This archival movement and listening tag (see the above summary for more details) gathered 8.5 hours of high resolution data before, during, and after the experiment today and was retrieved just before a nice sunset. A picture of the whale with Palos Verdes in the background (below: taken under NMFS permit #14534-2, credit J. Calambokidis) shows the gold recording tag attached with suction cups riding on the animal. 9_8_14_blue whale Tomorrow we aim to push further offshore in search of beaked whales and Risso’s dolphins. Our colleagues on the R/V Baylis (joining us for this phase of the field effort) will be towing listening hydrophones in one of the deep-water basins to the west helping us listen for and locate these clicking toothed cetaceans to attach similar tags. We will try and update this blog daily or as regularly as we have internet access while in the field. For any specific questions about the project, please feel free to contact either the SOCAL-BRS project manager and field lead John Calambokidis <> or the project chief scientist <> and we will respond as we are able. Baylis

Local media coverage of SOCAL-BRS outreach

Please check out a recent story in a local SOCAL newspaper (The Daily Breeze) on the SOCAL-BRS research project.

See the link below as well as the lead-in to the article


Scientists can’t yet definitively say why whales and dolphins strand themselves — or whether human activities are always to blame. But they are closing in on some answers and, in the process, seeing a fuller picture of how marine mammals interpret their environment.

The initial findings of a years-long study of whales that have been tagged in the Southern California Bight (the curved coastline from Point Conception to San Diego) have turned up a few surprises, while also generating new questions about the lives of these massive, but largely mysterious animals.

“We have a mixed message,” said Brandon Southall, a lead biologist on the Southern California Behavioral Response Study (SOCAL-BRS) team trying to understand how whales react to certain noises. “Some of them have responses and some don’t, but it looks like the responses really depend on what the animal is doing.”

Southall and 17 other researchers on the SOCAL-BRS team on Thursday completed a 10-day stint on the ocean five miles out from San Pedro, buzzing around in inflatable motor boats tagging 80-foot-long whales and smaller dolphins.

Tagged blue whale


SOCAL-14 Phase I ends – with an open public forum at Cabrillo Marine Aquarium

We’ve come to the end of our first phase (of three or possibly four) for SOCAL-14. This was a bit shorter than typical (10 days) for our research phases using the R/V Truth as a platform. We finished off our field work with an open public presentation and discussion forum on the project hosted today by the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium in San Pedro. They were gracious enough to offer us some significant logistical support and to provide a venue for us to talk with some of the local research, conservation, and education folks working on marine mammal issues in southern California. Above is a photo of a subset of our field team in front of the Aquarium today and below are a few more photos of our talks and demonstrations of field gear and tagging boats.

Overall for the first phase we had good but not great success. We worked in some marginal weather conditions and are seeing some different distributions of animals in a few places, perhaps having something to do with the unusual 70+ degree surface water temperatures we are seeing out here with more tropical fish species showing up. We didn’t tag our highest priority beaked or fin whales and tagged just one Rissos dolphin. But we tagged eight blue whales (like the one shown below with two different tags being applied – taken under NMFS permit #14534-2, credit K. Levek) with four complete CEE sequences (two MFA, two control), one of which had an incidental exposure on a tagged minke whale, which is a first. This is just the start of SOCAL-14 and please stay tuned for more details and updates as we continue our work out here studying behavior in these amazing animals starting back up in a few weeks.





Struck out offshore…Risso’s off Catalina


There was a decent weather window for SOCAL-14 to work offshore the last there days. We had workable conditions with acoustic detections and sightings of a few beaked whales, which are our priority species when we are able to work in areas around the Navy range west of San Clemente Island. Unfortunately we weren’t able to tag any beaked whales and there just weren’t many other animals of any species around. Today the offshore weather went downhill and we fell back to Catalina targeting Risso’s dolphins (like the one above; taken under NMFS permit #14534-2, credit A. Friedlaender). There were plenty of animals around but the weather picked up on us before we were able to get tags deployed. Overnight here in Avalon with an early start hoping for either beaked whales or Risso’s dolphins in the morning off the deep waters around this beautiful island.




SOCAL-BRS paper on fin whales

Dr. Jeremy Goldbogen of Hopkins Marine Station (Stanford University) lead a team of SOCAL-BRS researchers in publishing a recent paper on new techniques to identify calling fin whales. This method involves using the accelerometers (movement sensors) in combination with the typical listening hydrophones to pinpoint whether a whale vocalization comes from the individual the tag is riding on. This is harder than it may seem given that the loud amplitude and low frequency nature of fin whale calls means other whales might be as easily detected on the tag as the focal individual it is on. The results have implications for the basic study of communication, responses to disturbance, and population assessments of these endangered animals. The reference, link, abstract, and Fig. 1 are given below (check out the paper for more details). _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Goldbogen, J. A., A. K. Stimpert, S. L. DeRuiter, J. Calambokdis, A. S. Friedlaender, G. S. Schorr, D. J. Moretti, P. L. Tyack, B. L. Southall. (2014). Using accelerometers to determine the calling behavior of tagged baleen whales. The Journal of experimental biology, jeb-103259. <>

Low-frequency acoustic signals generated by baleen whales can propagate over vast distances, making the assignment of calls to specific individuals problematic. Here, we report the novel use of acoustic recording tags equipped with high-resolution accelerometers to detect vibrations from the surface of two tagged fin whales that directly match the timing of recorded acoustic signals. A tag deployed on a buoy in the vicinity of calling fin whales and a recording from a tag that had just fallen off a whale were able to detect calls acoustically but did not record corresponding accelerometer signals that were measured on calling individuals. Across the hundreds of calls measured on two tagged fin whales, the accelerometer response was generally anisotropic across all three axes, appeared to depend on tag placement and increased with the level of received sound. These data demonstrate that high-sample rate accelerometry can provide important insights into the acoustic behavior of baleen whales that communicate at low frequencies. This method helps identify vocalizing whales, which in turn enables the quantification of call rates, a fundamental component of models used to estimate baleen whale abundance and distribution from passive acoustic monitoring. KEY WORDS: Acceleration, Acoustics, Whale


A Good Start to SOCAL-14


We’ve were offshore the first few days of SOCAL-14 and pushed back closer to the mainland today with tougher offshore weather. Working around tiny Santa Barbara Island shrouded in fog early on we managed just one short tag deployment on a Risso’s dolphin out of over 100 we encountered. We searched for beaked whales as well in the offshore areas but conditions were marginal most of the time and rougher weather moved in yesterday.

Given the deteriorating offshore conditions, we fell back closer to the mainland in search of our priority baleen whale species, which are fin and blue whales. We found each, as well as minke and humpback whales, in Redondo and Santa Monica bays with lots of visible krill and many other predators from birds to fish as well. Yesterday we were able to get both a blue whale (shown in the photo above; taken under NMFS permit #14534-2 credit J. Calambokidis) and a minke whale tagged. We focused efforts on the blue whale for the simulated sonar controlled exposure experiment (CEE), but the minke whale was incidentally exposed and we measured the sounds on the tag attached to that animal, which was a first for this species in the Pacific. Today we tagged another blue whale and conducted a control (no sound) exposure experiment.

As a reminder, please see <> for a simple summary of our experimental methods and objectives for SOCAL-14. Thanks for following our progress out here – we will update the blog as regularly as possible with internet access.


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

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