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-12 UPDATE – Good offshore weather and a few firsts

Thanks for all those following the SOCAL-12 blog and for all the queries about how we are doing out here. Sorry for the radio silence the past few days but we have been way offshore and taking advantage of good weather in deep waters around San Clemente, San Nicholas, and Santa Catalina. We have had some ups and downs with weather, equipment, and animals, but we have managed to get some really great and some new things accomplished.  Below is a picture of four (in a group of six) Baird’s beaked whales (Berardius bairdii) we found on the Navy listening range off San Clemente a few days ago (photo credit: T. Pusser; this and all below photos taken under NMFS permit#14534-2).

You can see a small gold-colored suction cup acoustic tag attached to the individual on the far left just forward of the dorsal fin. This is the first individual of this species tagged with a high resolution suction cup sensor that monitors diving and acoustic behavior. We tagged the animal around mid-day and came extremely close to tagging a second individual as well.  We followed the animals for four hours collecting baseline data on the tag augmented with focal follow behavioral data from a small tag boat. Later in the afternoon we conducted the first experimental behavioral response study ever done on this species.  Recovering the tag the next day turned into quite an adventure with some wild weather and island excursions to get higher elevation so we could hear the tag beacon more clearly.  But with some teamwork and some help we managed to recover it and are currently processing the extremely valuable data it contains. Beaked whales are our highest priority group of species because they clearly appear more sensitive to human sounds than other marine mammal species. Our project and related efforts have conducted controlled exposure experiments with other beaked whale species that have been involved in previous stranding events associated with military sonar, but this is the first with this species.  They are particularly interesting to compare to previously-tested species because, based on somewhat limited information, they have somewhat different characteristics, including larger body size, larger group size, and apparently different social interactions (including more communication whistles).  The data from this tag will provide valuable information about both their basic diving and acoustic behavior and the first direct measurements of their responses to known sound exposures.

Baird’s beaked whales (courtesy Cascadia Research, J. Calambokidis; G. Schorr)

Another first for us was to obtain some direct measurements of behavioral responses of transient killer whales (Orcinus orca) to controlled sound exposures. We found a group of these mammal-eating animals also off San Clemente and included them in our study this year.  We tried to attach a suction-cup acoustic/diving tag to them but weren’t quite able to (see below photo: credit Cascadia Research, E. Falcone).

However, this group of six orcas was included in one of the controlled exposure experiments with behavioral data on their movement and group composition obtained from a small boat focal follow. This isn’t as optimal as having the animals tagged, but does provide some important experimental results on this species. These data will be particularly important to consider in light of some related studies on fish-eating orcas in Norway. We hope to find and tag other orcas in SOCAL-12, as they are apparently relatively plentiful in southern California at the present time.

Transient killer whales off southern California (Cascadia Research, A. Douglass)

We have also been able to get suction cup tags attached to bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) as well in SOCAL-12, including the below individual tagged this morning with Santa Barbara Island in the background (photo credit E. Falcone, taken under NMFS permit #14534-2).

Getting these kinds of tags to stay on the smaller odontocete (“toothed cetaceans”) species has proven challenging previously and our deployments have been successful but similarly short unfortunately. We will likely focus our efforts on some of these species using visual sampling methods without tags, as we did for the orcas.

We may well be offshore again the next few days but will get updates as possible about our progress. We are a little more than halfway done with the first of three phases of SOCAL-12 and have already tagged four different species and conducted CEEs with three, the most notable being the Baird’s beaked whale.

SOCAL-12 Start — An Old Friend and Rissos

We are starting our third morning of SOCAL-12, just pulling away from Catalina Island. It’s cool and breezy out here with a wispy mist blowing across this dusty, steep island.

The weather has been marginal to poor offshore for the kind of work we are doing and despite our aspirations to work well offshore, the wind gods have been unwilling.  Upon leaving Santa Barbara, we headed directly toward the Navy’s hydrophone range west of San Clemente Island the first day. After staging at San Nicholas Island we worked down there in search of beaked whales. But despite the awesome ability to hear animals over this large area vectoring us in, the surface conditions just weren’t conducive to finding and tagging whales. Consequently, we moved into somewhat more sheltered areas around deeper water and shifted our species focus somewhat to other priority species.

By listening and looking we found an old friend – Mango the sperm whale.  Two years ago we found this robust, adult male sperm whale and tagged him and conducted controlled exposure experiments (CEEs) twice and followed his course with a satellite tracking tag for weeks afterwards.  He has been seen off of southern California repeatedly for nearly two decades and we heard and then saw him again two days ago and again yesterday.  While we didn’t include him in our CEEs this year again, it was good to see him again.  He is an impressive 50+ foot animal and some of our new crew hadn’t seen a sperm whale before.  We have seen another sperm whale in the vicinity as well and that may come into the picture for today.

We did manage to get a tag on and a CEE conducted on one of our focal species – Rissos dolphins.  We found workable relatively deep water conditions near Santa Barbara Island and managed to get a tag attached on these sometimes elusive animals (see above – photo courtesy C. Kyburg taken under NMFS permit #14534-2).  It was a successful CEE and we were able to use some new listening gear as part of it as well.  We also managed to get a new version of the suction cup tags attached to a bottlenose dolphin as well but it detached before we could conduct an experiment.

Overall, a fair start with some priority species detected and included in our efforts but we are hoping the weather forecasts are either wrong or change to let us work further offshore. Judging from the rocking and rolling vessel I am typing this on at the moment it seems the weather forecasts are right for today.  We will keep you posted as much as possible when we can get things online from out here.

SOCAL-12 Webpage and START of fieldwork

We are pleased to let people know that a new sub-page of www.socal-brs.org is now available and dedicated to the 2012 version of the Southern California Behavioral Response Study (SOCAL-BRS).

Check out the general description of our SOCAL-12 project at:


and please note the link to a simple summary  of our project objectives and methods at the bottom of the page:


You may also be interested in a related post on a new and exciting site from some of our partners at sea otters.com: http://seaotters.com/2012/07/24/living-in-a-sea-of-sounds/



This post will be the first of our from-the-field blog for our 2012 efforts.  Those of you that have followed the project previously when we are in the field know that we try to provide daily (or as often as possible if we are out of internet range) updates of our progress with some descriptions of some of the animals we have been working with and areas we have been working in.  I will include some additional details about some of our tools and methods, up-to-date descriptions of our progress and interesting findings, and some fun and interesting things hopefully as well.

We spent the last two days mobilizing our gear and people in Santa Barbara aboard the R/V Truth, two small tagging boats, and the sailing vessel Derek M. Baylis.  We set sail in a few hours for the start of field operations with high hopes of continuing the work we have done the last two years in learning more about some of the amazing animals around the incredible Channel Islands.  Our objectives are to better understand their basic biology, ecology, and behavior, as well as how it can be affected by human sounds.  Please look for regular posts here updating our progress and please check out the links above for more information.  We are heading offshore to start so possibly may be a few days before we have connection to provide the first update of our progress.

Thanks for the interest in the project.  Brandon Southall


2012 Annual Conference of the Canadian Acoustical Association

Please note this announcement for an important and surely engaging conference on acoustics coming up this fall.  Dr. Roberto Racca who is a close colleague of some SEA scientists and a leading acoustician who works around the world is the technical chair.

More information is available at: http://www.caa-aca.ca/conferences/Banff2012/index_en.html and the official Announcement and call for papers in PDF format is available at: http://www.caa-aca.ca/conferences/Banff2012/AWC12%20Third%20Announcement.pdf  The deadline for papers has been extended but coming up soon so please go check it out!

The 2012 Annual Conference of the Canadian Acoustical Association will be held in: 

Banff, Alberta 
10-12 October, 2012 

Canada’s Premier acoustical event of the year will take place in the beautiful town of Banff, Alberta. The conference will be held over three days at theBanff Park Lodge. This riverside hotel is conveniently located two blocks from the Banff dining/shopping/entertainment district.

Keynote Talks and Technical Sessions will cover all areas of acoustics, and there will be an Exhibition of acoustical equipment and services. There will be ample opportunity for networking and liaising with acousticians from academia, government and industry. Social events include a Welcome Reception and the Annual CAA Banquet.

We hope to see you in Alberta in October!

Southall connection to Sustainability in National Parks

SEA Blog,

FYI – below is a link and the first few paragraphs of a recent article featuring some of the fantastic and proactive efforts of another Southall (my brother Joel) who is the Director of Environmental Affairs for Xanterra Parks and Resorts at the Grand Canyon.  SEA, Inc. will continue to expand our interests and focus areas into sustainability issues for both offshore and onshore industries.



Xanterra Parks & Resorts Recognized For Environmental

Commitment At Grand Canyon National Park

Submitted by NPT Staff on June 9, 2012 – 1:47am

We often view national parks as environmentally sensitive areas, and along that line of thinking we expect businesses that operate in the parks to be conscious of that in their operations. At Grand Canyon National Park, the National Park Service has recognized Xanterra Parks & Resorts for its environmental ethics.

The Park Service just honored Xanterra, which also operates in other parks including Yellowstone, Zion, Crater Lake and Death Valley, for operations that produced a significant decrease in water, electricity, petroleum and other resource consumption.

The Park Service recently announced Xanterra’s Environmental Achievement Award in the “Building our Future” category. The award recognized several successful environmental projects, including the company’s sustainable renovation of the historic Bright Angel Lodge. By installing water-saving equipment and implementing other conservation measures, Xanterra significantly reduced water consumption.

“Our long road toward increasingly sustainable operations began many years ago, long before being green was trendy,” said Joel Southall, director of sustainability for Xanterra South Rim. “As our environmental program has evolved, so has the commitment of Xanterra employees to ever-greener operations. Our employees – from housekeeping to engineering staff – are encouraged to recommend ways to reduce Xanterra’s footprint in every aspect of our operations.”

SOCAL-BRS Collaborator Part of Discovery of New Whale Sensory Organ

Dr. Jeremy Goldbogen of Cascadia Research Collective is centrally involved in the SOCAL-BRS research program in collaboration with SEA and other partners.  Jeremy was part of another recent effort that contributed a major new finding to the fields of marine mammal biology, feeding behavior, and sensory biology – the discovery of a new sensory organ in some baleen whale species.  This article (referenced below) was featured as the cover article of the recent issue of Nature.

Pyenson, N. D., Goldbogen, J. A., Vogl, A. W., Szathmary, G., Drake, R. L., Shadwick, R. E. (2012). Discovery of a sensory organ that coordinates lunge feeding in rorqual whales. Nature 485, 498–501

This article rightfully received a large amount of media attention in many sources; a few are identified below and others are linked from the following site which has additional information and publications by Dr. Goldbogen <http://sites.google.com/site/jgoldbogen/publications>.  SEA and the SOCAL-BRS project is extremely grateful for our close collaboration with world-class scientists such as Jeremy and we congratulate him and his colleagues on a truly remarkable discovery.





SEA, Inc. Supports Aptos Little League

Southall Environmental Associates, Inc. is proud to support the Aptos Little League’s Major’s Division Cubs.  Last Saturday, star center fielder Logan Southall made a diving catch for the Cubs in center field and gunned out a runner trying to get to third base!  GO CUBS!!!

Recent press for www.seaotters.com

A recent article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel features the ground-breaking collaboration lead by our friend and colleague Drew Wharton in www.seaotters.com.  Please check it and all the cool related links and information at:



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