New paper on seismic surveys and mitigation of impacts on marine mammals

SEA Blog,

A paper was on responsible practices for conducting seismic surveys in environmentally sensitive areas was published recently in Aquatic Mammals. The lead author was Dr. Doug Nowacek from Duke University’s Marine Laboratory, who is a close colleague of SEA’s president Brandon Southall who was also an author on the paper. A copy of the .pdf is available with an email to

An IUCN press release on the paper is available at <> and the first part of the release appears below:

Keeping whales safe in sound

A unique collaboration between the oil and gas industry, scientists and conservationists proves a way to minimize seismic survey impacts on rare whales and other species. A step-by-step guide to reducing impacts on whales and other marine species during seismic sea floor surveys has been developed by experts with IUCN’s Western Gray Whale Advisory Panel (WGWAP)and Sakhalin Energy Investment Company Ltd. In the study, published in the journal Aquatic Mammals, the authors present the most thorough, robust and practical approach to minimizing and monitoring the risk of harm to vulnerable marine species when intense sounds are used to survey the sea floor primarily in the search for oil and gas.



Articles on the paper appeared in various news agencies and papers around the world – here are a few links:


We have come to the end of field operations for the SOCAL Behavioral Response Study in 2013 (SOCAL-13). It was a very busy field season with four different periods, each with a slightly different set of objectives and configurations. In May we based from San Clemente Island and worked with colleagues at the SCORE range using a small range vessel to test and operate our new, smaller sound source. In July we used a small boat configuration from several shore bases  in partnership with the U.S. Navy to coordinate with ongoing fleet training operations to conduct the first-ever controlled exposure experiment using an operational vessel with mid-frequency active military sonar. This included a tag deployed on and successful CEE with a real Navy ship and a Cuvier’s beaked whale (above: taken under NMFS permit #14534 by J. Calambokidis).  Later in July and into August we completed another such collaboration with both real Navy sources and our simulated source using a more centralized configuration based from the dive vessel Truth (below with a blue whale, taken under NMFS permit #14534 by J. Calambokidis). Finally, ending just recently was our final research phase of the season, which was based from the Truth and included some additional towed listening systems and the use of simulated sonars.

Across the four phases of SOCAL-13 we collected a total of ~165 hours of high-resolution acoustic and movement tag data from deployments on 2 Cuviers beaked whales, 18 Rissos dolphins, 10 fin whales, 8 blue whales and a minke whale (which was the first successful such deployment on this species). There were a total of 20 full sequences in 2013, involving Cuvier’s beaked whales, fin whales, Rissos dolphins, and blue whales. A total of 32 individual tagged animals were involved in these 20 CEEs, which included 7 simulated sonar (using scaled sound source), 5 actual MFA sonar (using real Navy vessels engaged in ongoing training operations), and 8 control sequences (no sound). Many of these involved multiple tagged animals, including at times individuals of multiple species.

We have made great strides in this work through the dedicated effort of a large number of very talented and hard-working people and with the support of the U.S. Navy and the Office of Naval Research. We continue to analyze and publish the work from this project. Look for continued updates here including publications and reports from the project which will be forthcoming over the coming months. We are hoping and planning for two more field seasons on this project in 2014-15, with an increased emphasis on the use of realistic exposure scenarios. For more information on the project, please look for updates at <>.


Catalina Rissos

It’s been a full few days for SOCAL-BRS, mainly working Rissos dolphins around Catalina Island. We tried to get further offshore yesterday and today but rougher offshore weather pushed us back in. We have had a few firsts the last few days including our first 12+ hour deployment on a Rises and our first experiment with two then three simultaneously tagged Rissos at the same time (see above and below: taken under NMFS permit #14534, credit A. Friedlaender)

We have seen huge amounts of squid (and squid fishing boats) in the shallow waters around the Channel Islands and, not surprisingly, some of the squid-eating predators like Rissos dolphins chasing them in these areas. We have specific rules and protective measures regarding proximity to land and so sometimes have to just observe and obtain baseline diving, feeding, and echolocation behavior on these animals when they are closer in to shore. But that’s just fine as we are adding (rapidly) to the basic understanding of foraging and other behavioral patterns in these amazing animals that are important parts of our southern California bight ecosystems. Six tagged Rissos in three days is a good string for these previously difficult to tag species. We are hoping the weather forecasts for our last few days out here are wrong and we get a chance to add a few more and maybe another fin whale or two.



Fin whale trifecta

We have been focused on baleen whales the last few days in the SOCAL-13 project, primarily fin whales. Over the past three days we deployed ten tags on fin whales (and one on a blue whale) and ran two CEEs plus a full control sequence with a total of seven tagged animals. All of these had accompanying prey imaging and sampling of some of the surface evident krill schools on which the krill were feeding. In several cases we were able to tag two whales in the same group (including the mother-juvenile pair shown above – credit A. Friedlaender taken under NMFS permit #14534). This lets us look at the coordination (or lack thereof) in movement and vocal patterns in these animals, including any possible differential responses to similar sound exposures. We are still hoping to get back offshore to some of the deeper water areas to work with beaked whales and other focal species, but the offshore weather at present in southern California is not particularly agreeing. We will provide subsequent updates on our progress as possible.

START SOCAL-13 PHASE II – Double Rissos

We’re very glad to be back together for this last phase of our SOCAL-BRS project for 2013. We pushed out from Santa Barbara yesterday and came south in pretty good weather. A group of humpback whales has been working in some mixed-species aggregations chasing fish in the Santa Barbara Channel and we came across a few of them right off the bat. We moved on with no tags deployed and searched deeper waters south of Santa Cruz Island. We found two different groups of Cuvier’s beaked whales (Ziphius cavirostris) near Santa Barbara Island and came fairly close to tagging one but didn’t manage to.

Today we had really fantastic weather for most of the day and we searched large areas offshore. We didn’t find any beaked whales but came across quite a few groups of Rissos dolphins (Grampus griseus). There were several good candidate groups and by early afternoon we managed to deploy two tags on adult animals in two different groups. Our controlled exposure experiment (CEE) focused on one group with the second tagged animal about 10 miles away. Tagging and CEE on two simultaneous Rissos dolphins (see tagged Rissos below – taken under NMFS #14534, credit J. Calambokidis) at different ranges is a new accomplishment for us in SOCAL-BRS and a good start to our final field phase over the next two weeks.

For more information on the SOCAL-BRS project, make sure to check out all the resources and photos in our blog and at


SOCAL-13 Phase I End


We have come to the end of the first full research phase for the SOCAL-BRS project in 2013. In terms of our success with the high-priority beaked whale species, this was the most successful period we have had in this project. We had two successful tag deployments (see above – taken under NMFS #14534-2, credit J. Calambokidis) and at least three other very close attempts with multiple groups. We had both successful visual focal follows over many “shallow” dives and acoustic tracking of focal groups through deeper foraging bouts covering many miles. Having multiple groups detected and tracked with multiple tags deployed and a full CEE sequence with workable weather for five straight days well offshore was unprecedented for us as well.

On the days we did not manage beaked whales we had lots of luck with Rissos dolphins (8 total tags, 4 CEEs), fin whales (2 tags, 2 CEEs – below photo taken under NMFS #14534-2, credit J. Calambokidis) and targeted deployments on blue whales (3 tags, 3 CEEs).


Another major development, as described in the public summary for this project linked to the SOCAL-13 page on <>, was our first coordinations with the U.S. Navy to coordinate with already ongoing training operations to have real military sonar systems used as sound sources in our CEEs rather than the small, scaled simulations we have used to this point. Our colleagues at the Navy just issued some additional information on this partnership and have more information about it available in several locations – please see:

Thanks again for following us out here and for the many comments and nice emails I have and continue to receive. We will be back for phase II in September and will resume the from the field blog at that point. We will have some additional updates and information on forthcoming presentations and manuscripts before then likely as well, as we have another paper coming out from the project soon.

Tagged blue whale (see gold DTAG attached to left side of the whale) with our research boat “TRUTH” in the background (taken under NMFS #14534, credit J. Calambokidis)




Big Whales and an Old Friend

We’ve been offshore for another few days on the first phase of our SOCAL-13 experiment and just back in to recharge for our last few days. We have had reasonably good conditions the last few days and have been searching for beaked whales but haven’t had the luck with them we had last week. We have had two tags out on a fin whale (above – taken under NMFS #14534 by J. Calambokidis) and a blue whale near the busy shipping lanes out of Long Beach.

After almost a whole phase of our project we hadn’t seen the sperm whale we had seen and documented on each field phase of this project since 2010. Affectionately known as Mango, an adult male sperm whale that has been identified in this area for over 20 years has been a regular occurrence for us out here. Apparently he knew we were almost done with our work for these two weeks as he made a cameo appearance yesterday allowing us to get some photo ID pictures to continue the long time series documentation of his movement (below taken under NMFS #14534 by A. Friedlaender).



Offshore bottlenose dolphin riding the waves in southern California (taken under NMFS #14534 by B. Southall)

Beaked whale bonanza!!!

Sorry for the radio silence with the SOCAL-13 blog. We have had very good offshore conditions and great success accordingly! In fact, the last five days have seen multiple beaked whale tags deployed and multiple groups seen with many other near-miss approaches, which is a first in our efforts out here. We have gotten two long tags deployed on Cuvier’s beaked whales, one of which involved a mid-frequency sonar controlled exposure, and gotten a ton of great baseline data as well on these very difficult to study species (see above and below photos on Cuvier’s beaked whale tagging and tag on – both taken under NMFS permit #14534 by J. Calambokidis).


We have also had great success with other species as well, including Rissos dolphins and blue whales (see below – taken under NMFS permit #14534 by J. Calambokidis).


At the moment we have two more blue whales tagged and narrowing in on a fin whale, planning for some mapping of the prey fields for these feeding whales and a possible experimental trial this afternoon. We may be offshore again tomorrow with great conditions forecast but will provide more updates when we can. Thanks for the nice comments and interest in our progress out here studying these amazing animals.


We are happy to report on the start of our SOCAL Behavioral Response Study for the 2013 field season (SOCAL-13). After several days of field efforts offshore we are back in internet range to provide an update on our progress. As a reminder for those of you following the blog or others that have just found it, we have lots of general information, photos, paper reprints, and informative links at the project website <>. Additionally, as noted in many of these documents and with photo credits, our work is authorized under U.S. NMFS permit # 14534, Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary permit #2010-004, and are in accordance with a federal consistency determination of the California Coastal Commission. We are very fortunate in this project (thanks to the support of the U.S. Navy’s Living Marine Resources Research Program and the Office of Naval Research) to be able to study some amazing animals, measure aspects of behavior that are poorly known in many regards, and make controlled experimental measurements of their responses to sound. We have been committed throughout to an open and transparent process in providing information on our planned work and our progress. You can find project reports and public summary documents of planned efforts at the website given above.

The offshore weather hasn’t been great for the kinds of work we do (tagging marine mammals using non-invasive methods from small boats – see photo above). We have gotten to work early in the mornings in reasonable conditions and have typically found rougher to unworkable winds later in the day. Fortunately based on our experiences in the areas around the Channel Islands we adapted and found workable conditions and individuals of our focal study species with which to work. We have tagged two Risso’s dolphins (see below) as well as a blue whale in the past two days and conduct two experimental sequences. We have also had several acoustic and visual detections of Cuvier’s beaked whales – one of the highest priority yet most difficult species to work with – although we haven’t managed to tag one yet. We are ashore tonight to load up on provisions and fuel and reposition tomorrow for an offshore weather window starting Sunday that looks quite favorable. Look for more posts forthcoming in the next few weeks of phase I of SOCAL-13 – we will post information on our progress as we are able with internet access. Thanks for the interest and comments on the project to date – as mentioned, please see <> for more details.

Rissos dolphin with a Digital Acoustic Recording Tag attached with suction cups during SOCAL-13 (taken under NMFS permit #14534, credit: A. Friedlaender)

Ari Friedlaender Goes Ballistic

Check out our very own Ari Friedlaender in a recent Wired magazine piece along with Vladimir Putin:


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.

Reducing environmental impacts from essential human activities requires unique approaches to meet challenging conservation objectives in the 21st century. SEA, Inc. works globally with diverse scientific teams and cutting-edge technologies to provide real-world solutions. Learn more about SEA