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 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



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: and the official Announcement and call for papers in PDF format is available at:  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 <>.  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

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


We would like to let you know that the annual report for our Southern California Behavioral Response Study from 2011 is now available online on the SOCAL-BRS website.  Please go to <> We would like to especially thank all of our team members for their hard work, as well as the support of our research sponsors at U.S. Navy, Chief of Naval Operations, Environmental Readiness Division (OPNAV N45) and the Office of Naval Research.  Thanks also for the efforts of NOAA’s Office of Science and Technology and Office of Protected Resources, the Southwest Regional Marine Mammal Stranding Network, the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, the California Coastal Commission, and the American Cetacean Society..

Additional information regarding our data analysis, publications, and 2012 research plans as we continue to evolve this project will be forthcoming in the next few months.  Thanks for all the interest and comments in this project and stay tuned for some new results and publications coming soon.


New paper published on Assessing Acoustic Impacts in the Arctic

As interest in the rapid changes that are ongoing and forthcoming in the Arctic Ocean have increased, so has the study and assessment of impacts in the critical ecosystems found there.  Several colleagues and I collaborated on a paper that was just published in BioScience.  If you would like a .pdf copy of the paper, kindly send me an email and I will send it to you.

Moore, S.E., Reeves, R.R., Southall, B.L., Ragen, T.J., Suydam, R.S.,
and ClarkC.W.  (2012).  Marine mammals and anthropogenic sound in a rapidly changing Arctic.  BioScience 62, 289-295.




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