Meet Ari Friedlaender – Whale Tagger and Marine Ecologist Extraordinaire

SEA’s very own Ari Friedlaender did a great recent interview with Check it out at:

Marine biologists are pretty badass. Just ask Ari Friedlaender about his job hanging off the side of a boat over Antarctic waters with a 25-foot pole trying to tag a whale. He spends most of his life on a boat off countless coasts following families of Humpback and Minke whales in an attempt to understand just a little bit about the biggest animals on the planet. Friedlaender chatted with us about what it’s like when an animal the size of a truck flicks its tail at you.



Sustainable Ocean Summit Session to Initiate Global Multi-Industry Effort on the Science and Solutions to Sound in the Marine Environment

20 March 2013

The World Ocean Council’s newly formed Marine Sound Working Group is a collaborative industry forum focused on identifying and implementing real-world technical and operational solutions to understand and reduce potential negative impacts of sound from industrial activities on marine life.

Ocean businesses concerned with the marine sound issue are invited to the Sustainable Ocean Summit (SOS 2013) session on this complex challenge to help move forward with cross-sectoral collaboration and leadership in tackling the ocean sound issue.

The WOC Marine Sound Working Group will create business value and economies of scale in addressing marine sound by bringing together a diverse range of industries to:

  • Form partnerships with existing efforts on ocean sound and marine life.
  • Engage industries that generate sound but have been less involved to-date.
  • Enable responsible industries to be proactive rather than reactive to the evolving complexity in scientific findings and regulatory requirements.
  • Discuss and seek tangible solutions and applied research strategies and priorities.
The working group will kick off at the SOS 2103 2013 session and begin developing the its focus, likely to include:

  • Undertaking education and outreach on marine sound and marine life among ocean industries.
  • Promoting baseline data gathering and operations monitoring to assist in determining cumulative impacts.
  • Identifying responsible business practices regarding marine sound, such as reducing sound input through quieting technologies and operational measures, and making industry monitoring data on animal presence, abundance and impacts available.
  • Integrating passive acoustic and other monitoring efforts into ocean observing systems and platforms of opportunity.
  • Identifying and enabling applied research on behavior and physiological impacts, emphasizing sound sources that are less well known.

The Marine Sound Working Group is co-chaired by two of the world’s leading marine sound experts, Dr. Brandon Southall (SEA, Inc.) and John Young (CSA Sciences, Inc). The co-chairs are clearly aware of (and actively involved in) other efforts to understand and reduce the impacts of sound on marine life, including those of the Oil and Gas Producers Association (OGP) and the International Maritime Organization (IMO). The cross-sectoral WOC Working Group will be structured and focused to create synergies with the important efforts of industry, government and others.


About the Sustainable Ocean Summit 2013 (SOS 2013)

The SOS 2013 (22-24 April, 2013, Washington, D.C.) is the only international ocean business community gathering dedicated to industry leadership and collaboration in developing solutions to ocean sustainability challenges. The theme of SOS 2013 is “Oceans 2050 – The Ocean Business Community and Sustainable Seas”. This event brings together a wide range of ocean industries, including: shipping, oil and gas, fisheries, aquaculture, tourism, renewable energy (wind, wave, tidal), mining, ports, dredging, cables, pipelines, the maritime legal, financial and insurance communities, and others.

For SOS 2013 information, registration and sponsorship opportunities, go to:

Contact: Paul Holthus, Executive Director Phone: +1 (808) 277-9008
email: Web:

B. Southall to give Smithsonian webinar on SOCAL-BRS project

Webcast:  Marine Mammals and Military Sonar. Brandon Southall, SEA Inc. and University of California Santa Cruz, will be presenting “Marine Mammal Responses to Simulated Military Sonar: Southern California Behavioral Response Study” on Tuesday, March 12 at noon (4 pm GMT) at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.

The talk will be webcast and can be viewed at:

Brandon’s talk will be posted later, a link to his talk will be available at:


Transient killer whale studied as part of the SOCAL-BRS research project (photo credit: C. Kyburg taken under NMFS permit #14534-2)

NPR story on ongoing elephant seal research

SEA’s own Caroline Casey was recently featured on NPR’s Morning Edition for her fantastic work on elephant seal acoustic behavior as part of her graduate work at UC Santa Cruz. The story is online and has some neat examples of elephant seal calls – please check it out at:

If you have any follow-up questions for Caroline please pass them along as well to <> and we will get an answer to you.  Below is a photo of Caroline and Brandon sampling elephant seal acoustic behavior at Ano Nuevo State Reserve in northern California (credit: A. Friedlaender taken under NMFS permit #14636)


New paper on integrated approaches to studying baleen whales – Ari Friedlaender on BioScience cover!

A new paper was recently published in BioScience, involving a number of SEA partners and BRS collaborators.

Integrative Approaches to the Study of Baleen Whale Diving Behavior, Feeding Performance, and Foraging Ecology

Jeremy A. Goldbogen, Ari S. Friedlaender, John Calambokidis, Megan F. McKenna, Malene Simon and Douglas P. Nowacek

BioScience Vol. 63, No. 2 (February 2013), pp. 90-100

 available at:

Abstract: For many marine organisms, especially large whales that cannot be studied in laboratory settings, our ability to obtain basic behavioral and physiological data is limited, because these organisms occupy offshore habitats and spend a majority of their time underwater. A class of multisensor, suction-cup-attached archival tags has revolutionized the study of large baleen whales, particularly with respect to the predatory strategies used by these gigantic bulk filter feeders to exploit abundant oceanic resources. By integrating these data with those from other disciplines, researchers have uncovered a diverse and extraordinary set of underwater behaviors, ranging from acrobatic diving maneuvers to extreme feeding events during which whales engulf volumes of prey-laden water that are much larger than their own body. This research framework not only improves our knowledge of the individual performance and behavior of these keystone predators but also informs our ability to understand the dynamics of complex marine ecosystems.


SEA’s own Dr. Ari Friedlaender (in action above) appeared on the cover of BioScience as the article was featured in the most recent issue.

Dr. Ari Friedlaender’s Smithsonian Blog on Blue Whale Feeding

We are proud to note that our very own Ari Friedlaender wrote a great blog for the Smithsonian’s Ocean Hall on our recent paper lead by Jeremy Goldbogen on feeding mechanics in blue whales <see:>.

The text is below and you can find it online at <>


I have a vivid childhood memory of sitting under the Blue Whale model hanging in the Natural History Museum, eating an ice cream and wondering how in the world did that whale get so big!  Over the past several years a group of researchers have been asking similar questions about just how do whales get so big and how do they eat.

Using small, state-of-the-art suction-cup tags and new visualization tools we can now understand the underwater movements of these ocean giants and how they are able to feed on dense patches of prey to consume up to 1 ton of food a day!  Blue whales are in a family of whales that have evolved comb-like baleen and large mouths to gulp huge volumes of prey-rich water and then sieve out the small crustaceans or fish that are their main food source.

What we recently found out was that blue whales, the largest animal to have ever lived on planet Earth, sometimes feed by conducting 360° rolls when they open up their cavernous mouths and lunge into an unsuspecting patch of krill.  We found that as the whale approaches the prey patch, it rolls over 180°, on to its back, lunges with mouth agape, and then continues to complete the full roll as it closes its mouth full of prey-laden water.  This maneuver is powered by several powerful fluke strokes and tilting its pectoral flippers to help guide the whale through this energetically costly and acrobatic maneuver.

We think that this behavior improves the whales’ chances of engulfing the most krill as possible in a single gulp.  Krill, small crustaceans like shrimp, have evolved ways to try and escape from predators when they can see them coming, and blue whales are easier to see than anything else in the ocean given their enormous size.  However, if the blue whale feeds from coming up from below the krill where it is dark, they may be able to avoid being detected until the last moment when krill cannot avoid them.  The rolling behavior we observed is likely part of an ambush strategy to feed directly from below the krill.  The rolling half way over before opening the mouth likely helps to maximize the amount of krill the whale can consume at once.

By coming up from below the krill patch, the whale is also taking advantage of counter-shading, and can see the size and shape of the krill patch as it approaches.  The rolling behavior helps the whale because their eyes are on the sides of its head and rolling would allow the whale to see the patch with both eyes and help make its ambush approach as accurate as possible.

While we have not observed such dramatic rolling maneuvers by other baleen whales, we still know very little about how these ocean giants feed and we expect to keep researching these incredible animals to learn new and valuable information on how they live.  One thing is for sure, whales are big because they are really good at what they do!

NOAA Issues Cetacean and Sound Mapping Working Group Report

NOAA recently announced the release of a report from a workshop last summer on new tools for visualizing cetacean density and anthropogenic sound. The report is entitled:

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 2012. Mapping Cetaceans and Sound: Modern Tools for Ocean Management. Final Symposium Report of a Technical Workshop held May 23-24 in Washington, D.C. 83 pp.

and it is available online at: <>.

Brandon Southall served as a co-chair of the sound field mapping working group in this overall effort.

New Paper on Blue Whale Feeding Behavior



We are proud to announce the publication of a new paper on blue whale feeding behavior that features tagging data collected within the Southern California Behavioral Response Study (SOCAL-BRS) project. The paper is entitled “Underwater acrobatics by the world’s largest predator: 360° rolling manoeuvres by lunge-feeding blue whales“ Dr. Jeremy Goldbogen, a post-doctoral researcher at Cascadia Research, was the lead author paper with a number of other colleagues, including partners from the SOCAL-BRS team.

You can link to the paper at: <> and to the video supplement at:

The full citation of the paper is: Goldbogen JA, Calambokidis J, Friedlaender AS, Francis J, DeRuiter SL, Stimpert AK, Falcone E, Southall BL. 2012. Underwater acrobatics by the world’s largest predator: 360° rolling manoeuvres by lunge-feeding blue whales. Biol Lett 9:20120986. and the abstract of the paper is given below.


ABSTRACT: The extreme body size of blue whales requires a high-energy intake and therefore demands efficient foraging strategies. As an obligate lunge feeder on aggregations of small zooplankton, blue whales engulf a large volume of prey-laden water in a single, rapid gulp. The efficiency of this feeding mechanism is strongly dependent on the amount of prey that can be captured during each lunge, yet food resources tend to be patchily-distributed in both space and time. Here, we measured the three-dimensional kinematics and foraging behaviour of blue whales feeding on krill, using suction-cup attached multi-sensor tags. Our analyses revealed 360° rolling lunge-feeding manoeuvres that reorient the body and position the lower jaws so that a krill patch can be engulfed with the whale’s body inverted. We also recorded these rolling behaviours when whales were in a searching mode in between lunges, suggesting that this behavior also enables the whale to visually process the prey field and maximize foraging efficiency by surveying for the densest prey aggregations. These results reveal the complex manoeuvrability that is required for large rorqual whales to exploit prey patches and highlight the need to fully understand the three-dimensional interactions between predator and prey in the natural environment.


Additionally, please see the following links to some of the media coverage of these new and intriguing findings about foraging behavior in blue whales.’_diet_and_exercise_rolled_into_one


One final note is that many of the above links include photos of blue whales from the SOCAL-BRS project such as the one below. This and all other photos taken during the SOCAL-BRS project were taken under NMFS permit #14534 by different researchers (in this case Ari Friedlaender).

Blown out to end SOCAL-12…

Well our marginal weather conditions ended and Mother Nature rendered the last few days of our SOCAL-BRS project this year ones of just trying to get back safely. We did and while we broke some things fortunately they were just things. We had to duck into Santa Barbara Island and hide in the minuscule wind shadow afforded by that speck of land and then forge north through 30 knot gusts and 6-8 foot seas yesterday (see above) to just get back. We have been blessed on this project with many periods of favorable weather and beautiful seas, but got the other end of the stick this time.

As we come to the end of our field work for this calendar year, I want to say particular thanks to a really amazing crew of dedicated and talented researchers, to all those outside our team from NOAA and other organizations that have helped us succeed, and especially to our program sponsors at the Navy’s Environmental Readiness Program (Living Marine Resources) and the Office of Naval Research. I will post a final summary of our SOCAL-12 accomplishments and status of our data analysis and upcoming publications in the next few days and will provide regular updates as well as they come about. As always, we remain dedicated to an open and transparent process with regard to this program’s goals, actions, and findings, and I encourage anyone to post comments to this blog or to contact me directly at

Below is a parting view of the sunrise over Santa Catalina Island – just one of the very different and beautiful places in the amazing Channel Islands.

Angels of Avalon…

To be honest, today was a bit frustrating for us on SOCAL-BRS. High winds and rough seas early and much of the day searching for an acoustic buoy without finding it meant we used the break forced upon us by Mother Nature to do a final reprovisioning and refueling in the port of Avalon on Santa Catalina Island. We also repositioned for what looks like a last shot at good weather tomorrow and part of Tuesday. If the forecast matches reality, we will hopefully be 50+ miles offshore for the next few day – and consequently without cell or internet contact until mid-week. We will let you know as soon as possible how we are faring out here at sea for the last few days of the second phase of our project – we will be at sea until Thursday.


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