Misty offshore fin whales

Yesterday, like today, was grey and misty with occassional rain offshore here in SOCAL. With the rain and stronger winds further offshore in the afternoon we again couldn’t get all the way out to the deep-water areas we wanted to. However, we did manage to work out of Catalina to the west and by mid-morning came across a group of fin whales. The photo below (taken under NMFS permit #14534 – photo credit E. Falcone) shows one of these whales with Catalina in the grey background and bumpy seas.

We managed to tag one and followed it for the rest of the day conducting visual observations, mapping potential prey fields along it’s track, and ultimately conducting a controlled sound exposure experiment. The animal continued it’s southward track until the tag came off later in the day and our small boat recovered it before a wet and dark ride back to meet us. Our work out here is certainly exciting and enjoyable and we believe we are addressing important questions, but it’s definitely hard work especially on days like yesterday. We are very fortunate on this project to have so many talented and hard-working people from many different organizations (see: www.socal-brs.org for more details).

SOCAL BRS – Traveling blue whales and breezy seas

We’ve had some less than ideal weather the past few days out at sea for SOCAL-BRS but we have still managed to get some work done. We’ve worked offshore as much as possible but with Santa Ana winds several days ago shifting the prevailing winds around and complicating some of our typical sheltered areas we haven’t been able to work some of the preferred areas. Yesterday we had several acoustic detections of beaked whales in deeper water near Catalina Island and spent much of the day trying to tag Rissos dolphins, but the sea conditions were just a little too rough. We did get two suction cup tags attached to common dolphins, although neither remained attached long enough to conduct a controlled exposure experiment (CEE).

One of the behavioral conditions we are interested in testing responses within for baleen whales are calling animals. We have found several slowly traveling and apparently calling blue whales as we have been working offshore. These animals are typically harder to get tags attached to, especially in the rougher conditions you can see, and we struck out once but did get one caller tagged and a CEE done. Below is a photo of a DTAG attached to a traveling/calling blue whale from two days ago south of Santa Barbara Island (photo taken under NMFS permit #14343 – credit: A. Friedlaender).

We had a variety of listening sensors in the water while this animal was tagged, including the tag itself which collected dozens of calls of several types (see below – courtesy A. Stimpert). This animal was traveling slowly and conducting relatively long but shallow dives consistent with calling behavior. There were several animals calling that we heard, but these clear signals were most likely coming from the tagged animal. Having these clear call records synchronized with fine scale moving behavior in the context of a behavioral response experiment provides us with some important new information about responses to sound in animals with different behavioral contexts.



BEGIN SOCAL-12 PHASE II – An old friend (again) and some new species

For everyone following the SOCAL-BRS from-the-field blog over the past few seasons, welcome back! We just got going on our field project again for the second phase of our field efforts this year and have some new things to report. The weather hasn’t been ideal at the start here although we have had a few workable windows. Additionally, we aim to have a variety of options to work with different priority species given that weather is sometimes difficult offshore, but the very warm and clear surface water off southern California right now is resulting in very few plankton-feeding baleen whales in coastal areas and limiting our options to some degree. But despite these challenges for the first few days we have made some interesting observations and had some successes.

For about the 7th different time in this project over the last three years we had a repeat encounter with our old friend Mango the sperm whale. He is a robust animal who clearly covers large areas in the southern California Bight but returns to a lot of the areas we do. We did not attempt any  subsequent tagging efforts with him but did obtain additional photo ID records. Below is a nice short of his broad tail (Photo taken under NMFS permit #14534 by A. Friedlaender).


We have also had quite a few sightings of coastal and offshore bottlenose dolphins, including this nice shot of a mom-calf (Photo credit: A. Friedlaender), but given our lack of success getting suction cup acoustic tags to stay on this species we have not attempted subsequent tagging or CEEs.


Yesterday we found an interesting mixed-species feeding aggregation of birds, humpback whales, sea lions, and dolphins, each of which (including the humpback whales actually) were focused on large schools of small fish. We focused on the humpback whales, which are important for this project because of their endangered species status and the fact that their responses to these kinds of sounds are almost entirely unknown.

We observed this feeding aggregation (see above- photo credit: A. Friedlaender) for several hours before attaching suction cup acoustic tags to two of the animals and continuing to monitor them and other animals in the area. With three boats monitoring the group in an area sufficiently offshore, we conducted a controlled exposure experiment within our specified safety and experimental criteria. As has happened several times in our project, an interested sea lion came over to check out our sound source during the transmissions and despite it seeming more interested than annoyed or impacted by it, we diligently shut the sound source down as specified in our research permits; the data were still important and useful as this was within just a few minutes of the specified period. One of the tags on the humpbacks remained on the animal a full 24 hours which will provide a wealth of information on any potential responses and behavior later yesterday and today; the animal was relocated fairly nearby and monitored for several hours in normal behavioral modes with the same other humpbacks today until we recovered the tag.

The offshore weather forecast for the next few days off southern California looks quite favorable so we will be heading back offshore tomorrow so do realize that we will be without internet access for this period. We will provide a detailed update on our status and progress as soon as possible. Thanks so much for all the encouragement, interest, support, and feedback through the blog and by emails on our efforts to better understand the basic biology of marine mammals in southern California and their response to sounds. If you missed it on the blog while we were between research phases, please do note that we recently had a paper on our experimental methods published in the Marine Technology Society Journal

<please see: http://sea-inc.net/2012/09/16/socal-brs-paper-published-in-marine-technology-society-journal/>


SOCAL-BRS paper published in Marine Technology Society Journal

We are pleased to announce the publication of a new paper regarding new technologies and the evolution of experimental methods in the first two years of the Southern California Behavioral Response Study (SOCAL-BRS). The reference, abstract, and where to acquire the article are given below.

Brandon L. Southall, David Moretti, Bruce Abraham, John Calambokidis, Stacy L. DeRuiter, Peter L. Tyack. (2012).    Marine Mammal Behavioral Response Studies in Southern California: Advances in Technology and Experimental Methods.  Marine Technology Society Journal 46(4), 46-59.

ABSTRACT: Behavioral response studies (BRS) are increasingly being conducted to better understand basic behavioral patterns in marine animals and how underwater sounds, including from human sources, can affect them. These studies are being enabled and enhanced by advances in both acoustic sensing and transmission technologies. In the design of a 5-year project in southern California ( SOCAL-BRS), the development of a compact, hand-deployable, ship-powered, 15-element vertical line array sound source enabled a fundamental change in overall project configuration from earlier efforts. The reduced size and power requirements of the sound source, which achieved relatively high output levels and directivity characteristics specified in the experimental design, enabled the use of substantially smaller research vessels. This size reduction favored a decentralization of field effort, with greater emphasis on mobile small boat operations capable of covering large areas to locate and tag marine mammals. These changes in configuration directly contributed to significant increases in tagging focal animals and conducting sound exposure experiments. During field experiments, received sound levels on tagged animals of several different species were within specified target ranges, demonstrating the efficacy of these new solutions to challenging fi eld research problems.

Keywords: marine mammals, noise, underwater sound, transducer, behavioral response study

A .pdf of this article is available for professional use at www.socal-brs.org or by request from Brandon.Southall@sea-inc.net. Information regarding MTSJ and this issue of the journal is given below:

“The Marine Technology Society is a not-for-profit, international, professional association.  Founded in 1963, the Society believes that the advancement of marine technology and the productive, sustainable use of the oceans depend upon the active exchange of ideas between government, industry and academia. See www.mtsociety.org.”

Access the MTS Journal online at

Techniques, and Strategies for Ocean Exploration

Volume 46, Number 4

Journal Preview

The world’s seafloor for which we have first-hand accounts, detailed maps, and samples remains minuscule, new vehicles, instrumentation, and strategies will be needed to shape our current and future exploration programs. This issue presents a number of papers that illuminate different aspects of ocean exploration.

Table of Contents

Message from the MTSJournal Editor
Ann E. Jochens

Multiplatform Ocean Exploration: Insights From the NEEMO Space Analog Mission
Arthur C. Trembanis, Alex L. Forrest, Douglas C. Miller, Darlene S. S. Lim,
Michael L. Gernhardt, William L. Todd

The Untethered Remotely Operated Vehicle PICASSO-1 and Its Deployment From Chartered Dive Vessels for Deep Sea Surveys Off Okinawa, Japan, and Osprey Reef, Coral Sea, Australia
Dhugal J. Lindsay, Hiroshi Yoshida, Takayuki Uemura, Hiroyuki Yamamoto, Shojiro Ishibashi, Jun Nishikawa, James D. Reimer, Robin J. Beaman, Richard Fitzpatrick, Katsunori Fujikura,Tadashi Maruyama

A New System for Three-Dimensional High-Resolution Geophysical Surveys
Peter Sack, Tor Haugland, Graeme Stock

Implementation of a Seafloor Sediment Corer With a Novel Hydrostatic Motor
Jianjun Wang, Huawei Qin, Ying Chen

Marine Mammal Behavioral Response Studies in Southern California: Advances in Technology and Experimental Methods
Brandon L. Southall, David Moretti, Bruce Abraham, John Calambokidis,
Stacy L. DeRuiter, Peter L. Tyack

Observations of Nepheloid Layers in the Yangtze Estuary, China, Through Phase-Corrupted Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler Speeds
Zhenyi Cao, Xiao Hua Wang, Weibing Guan, Les J. Hamilton, Qi Chen, Dedi Zhu

Investigating the Influence of the Added Mass Effect to Marine Hydrokinetic Horizontal-Axis Turbines Using a General Dynamic Wake Wind Turbine Code
David C. Maniaci, Ye Li

Brandon Southall’s new book published – Ocean Journeys: Beginnings

We are pleased to announce the publication of a new book “Ocean Journeys: Beginnings” by Dr. Brandon L. Southall.  This book is loosely autobiographical and largely centered on the natural history, biology, and human history of fascinating ocean areas.

“Ocean Journeys” is available <key words: Brandon Southall Ocean Journeys> through:

Fast Pencil <http://www.fastpencil.com/marketplace> (paperback or eBook)

Amazon (paperback), Amazon Kindle (eBook), or iTunes (eBook)

or on request from OceanJourneysBook@gmail.com

Ocean Journeys traces the formative years of a young marine biologist finding his footing in the natural world.  It flows from warm lakes and cold streams to captivating scenes in living, studying, and conserving the sea.

This story is about the sea – its beauty, its resilience and fragility, and our obligation to serve as responsible stewards – protecting it from ourselves. There are several primary chapters, set in the natural and human history, geology, and conservation challenges of Hawai’i, the Florida Keys, and the cool, misty northern California coast that brought it all together. Snapshot journeys, some from these wonderful places, others from more distant shores, are interspersed in time and space. The story comes to the realization that in the sea we see ourselves – our strengths, our weaknesses, our obligations — and culminates in a challenge to common-ground action toward sustainability.

Dr. Brandon Southall has over 20 years of field and lab experience with diverse ocean animals.  He has written dozens of articles and given hundreds of technical and popular lectures around the world on ocean science, animal behavior and communication, and human impacts.


To hear some discussion on the book as well as the ongoing SOCAL-BRS project, please check out the recent interviews with Dr. Southall on

podcasts from KSCO am 1080 in Santa Cruz CA:


B. Southall gives Congressional Briefing on Ocean Noise

Just before SOCAL-12 phase I started last month, I had the privilege of participating with several colleagues from academia, industry, and an environmental group in a Congressional briefing on the subject of ocean noise. The below is a letter I recently received that describes the nature of the briefing.

This briefing was hosted by US Representatives Sam Farr and Mike Thompson and held in the offices of Rep Nancy Pelosi. Staffers from numerous Congressional offices of members of both parties were there as well as staff members from various congressional committees and representatives of federal agencies.

Rep. Farr is my Congressman (CA-17) and has long been a champion of oceans issues and is the co-chair of the House Oceans Caucus. I had the privilege of first meeting Sam several years ago when he graciously spoke at a public lecture at Monterey Bay Aquarium I hosted on ocean noise issues when I was running the NOAA Ocean Acoustics Program. I have been fortunate to interact with him and his staff since then on several issues. His continued interest and support for marine issues and the acoustic ecology of the oceans, as evidenced by supporting a proactive forum on this issue for decision-makers is greatly appreciated leadership in Washington. We all recognize these are complex issues that will not be solved easily nor immediately, but having leaders in our capital working to bring attention and support to the ongoing progress in many areas is good news. I feel very grateful to have had this chance to speak directly to these leaders in Washington. I urge everyone to realize that their ability to interact with elected officials is simply an email or a call away – be a part of government no matter what issues you care about or what you believe.

Brandon Southall

NY Times feature on MA whale tagging

A recent featured article and video in the NY Times Science section focuses on some basic whale biological and behavioral studies off Cape Cod, MA. Please see:


Dr. Ari Friedlaender and colleagues have been working on humpback whales (primarily) in this important yet highly human-influenced area to understanding the basic behavior and ecology of these amazing animals. Many of the tools are the same as those used in our SOCAL-BRS project and we are very fortunate to have Ari working with us on this project as well, bringing some of the expertise and approaches from the work in Stellwagen Bank. Other colleagues at the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, Northeast Fisheries Science Center, and Cornell University are also doing some interesting and important work in using passive acoustics in these areas complimenting this work.

Ocean Conservation Research Blog on SOCAL-BRS

We would like to draw your attention to a recent blog post from our friends at Ocean Conservation Research on the SOCAL-BRS project.


Check it out and also check out some of the other good things going on at OCR. Thanks Michael!


END SOCAL-12 Phase I

Hi everyone and thanks again for all the interest through emails and calls about how we have fared with the first leg of SOCAL-12. Our last few days, like much of this first phase, were spent well offshore and out of touch searching for priority species. While we found some workable weather, mainly in the mornings, conditions were not great the last few days and we had our final day just completely blown out. Nevertheless, it was a highly successful first third of our field effort for the project this year with tags attached to 15 individuals of seven different species and CEEs conducted on individuals of five different priority species, including a new beaked whale species and killer whales.

This project continues to be founded and defined by the incredibly talented and dedicated team of experts assembled for this project. We have an array of expertise, from acousticians to biologists to statisticians and ecologists, but mainly we have a true collaboration of wonderful people. The below photo shows our tagging boats with the Truth and much of our field contingent plus the crew of the Truth. The rest of our crew, our remote listening expertise, was still sailing across choppy Santa Barbara Channel when this photo was taken.

We have a bigger spread between the first and subsequent phases of the project this year, with the second phase having a similar composition in the second half of October and a final phase being a much smaller and lighter mode based from San Clemente Island in early December. We will continue to provide subsequent updates on the project, including a new publication on SOCAL-BRS methods coming soon, leading up to our continued efforts later this year. Thanks again and please remember there is much more information on the project, including previous years efforts and reports, at www.socal-brs.org.


Fin and blue whale multiple tags – and a beaked whale surprise

The last few days of SOCAL-12 have seen some excitement and interesting observations but mixed weather. The offshore weather has been deteriorating but we found some windows to get things done on a range of species. Plus today we had a little bit of luck.

When the offshore winds were down, we focused our efforts on beaked whales that live and dive in the deeper basins off southern California. Fortunately we were able to get one (of a new species for us – Baird’s beaked whale) a few days ago, but when those winds picked up to beyond the conditions we could tag these animals, we moved inshore to focus on other priority species.

Fin whales have been fairly scarce off southern California so far this trip, but we found a large, healthy adult just off Pt. Vicente on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. One of our small boats managed to get a suction cup acoustic tag along with a separate GPS positioning tag on him and we conducted a behavioral response experiment to this animal along with a tagged blue whale. We include multiple tagged animals in our experiments when possible to be able to look at differential responses of different individuals

Adult fin whale with a suction cup acoustic tag (photo credit: A. Friedlaender – taken under NMFS permit #14534-2)

We found several aggregations of feeding blue whales off Long Beach, including some in the behavioral lunge feeding modes we are most interested in studying this year.  This was our first effort on blue whales this year and we managed to attach several different types of suction cup tags on three individual blue whales, including an older calf in the mom-calf pair pictured below. We have very specific protective protocols and permit requirements to avoid tagging or conducting response studies with young calves. But it is important that we try and test responses in animals of different sex/age classes, including older calves, as opposed to just studying a subset of adult animals. The point of this is to fully sample the responses of animals within the population that are all exposed to real human sounds in their environment. Our time with this pair was complicated to some extent, as is often the case in the busy waters off California, by some over-eager pleasure boaters driving (within the legal range) around the animals and a very near passage of a massive tug boat and barge.

Mom-calf blue whale pair – the calf is on the right (photo credit: Cascadia Research, E. Falcone – taken under NMFS permit #14534-2)

Finally, at the end of the day yesterday we had something pretty unusual happen. We have had good luck on this trip seeing and hearing one of our highest priority species – Cuvier’s beaked whales – relatively close to Catalina Island. Early in the day our separate team towing passive listening recorders again detected these particularly sensitive species in this area. Working in tandem between these resources, the high visual platform from the central research vessel Truth, and the two tagging boats, we ultimately found a group of five Cuvier’s beaked whales. These species almost always require extremely calm conditions to even see, much less track, but we were able to stay with them over multiple “short” (30 min) diving bouts and later in the day were able to get two tags attached briefly, despite ~15 mph winds and a white-cap chopped swell. This is extremely unusual but you can get lucky if you are in the right place. Unfortunately neither tag stayed on the whales long enough to complete our response study protocols. However, it was important to find larger groups in this promising area and useful in demonstrating the efficacy of our approach using integrated teams to track and tag these very challenging animals.

We have three days left in the first leg of SOCAL-12. The offshore conditions remain unworkable for areas around the Navy range off San Clemente, but we will continue to try to work these near-shore deeper water areas near Catalina until moving back up through the northern Channel Islands to Santa Barbara. We have tagged nearly 20 individuals of seven cetacean species so far, and the data from the earlier deployments and response studies is looking good and quite interesting, though the detailed analysis takes considerable effort.


One final shout-out that I have not given this year but like to do when folks are following our from-the-field blog is to www.dosits.org. The Discovery of Sound in the Sea website is a really great resource of information for those interested in the sounds of the ocean, animals, and people. It has information, animation, and resources for students, teachers, and those interested in ocean sound of all ages. Check it out.


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