#2: Fiddling, stream-lining, and refining.

Hello! Though I am very happy to be sharing the New England Aquarium's right whale research team house (and resources!) in Lubec this month, I am not technically a team member. I'm here in this beautiful slice of Maine with two other researchers keen on studying mother/calf right whale pairs for a long term project with Penn State University. This special five-year project aims to follow mother/calf right whale pairs through the three habitats most of them tend to visit throughout the year: the Southeastern U.S. calving grounds in winter (where the right whale research team once flew aerial surveys), the Cape Cod Bay feeding grounds in early spring, and the Bay of Fundy feeding grounds in late summer. Since we'll be studying the same animals as the Aquarium team and have great relationships with them from work in the past, it makes a lot of sense for us all to put our heads and skills together for our various projects. In 2010, I was an aerial observer for the Aquarium in the Southeastern U.S., and I am pumped to reunite with some of my friends and work with this extremely talented bunch of people again.

The majority of us arrived, safe and sound, on the first of the month and unloaded our personal belongings and research equipment onto the shelves and floors of the house. Though everyone loves time out on the water, I think we're all glad we've been landlocked for the past two days by foggy, stormy, windy weather. It takes awhile to get organized, locate all the project goods, and work out any kinks that couldn't be worked out earlier in the planning.

"And science lurches forward!" said Scott as he cut into PVC pipe for our homemade array.

The project I'm working on is an acoustic and behavioral study, so we're trying to observe changes in mother/calf relationships throughout the calves' first year and also hear how the whale sounds made by mother/calf pairs develop at this early stage of the calves' lives. So our main goal in these first few days is to adapt our "acoustic array," the physical layout of our hydrophones underwater, for the Bay of Fundy. We have a few handy tools at our disposal: an array the Cornell Lab of Ornithology--avid whale-listeners--built for us, and the tools in the shed at the Lubec house with which we can make our own array. With these tools, we spent the day sawing, drilling, and hemming and hawing, brainstorming with any whale connoisseur who crossed our path about ideas for the array. An array can be difficult to design because hydrophones are delicate and can tell us a lot of information if they're placed under the water in a good arrangement. A clever array can allow the hydrophones to triangulate where whale sounds are coming from via a (long and tedious) series of mathematical equations, and this is what we would like our array to do. So we fiddled and tinkered and tried, and by the end of the day, I think we came up with something great. But we'll have to wait until that first good weather day allows us out into the bay to test it out.

Jenny, a grad student at Penn State, mulls over the Cornell array.

It's wonderful to be in this little-known, exceptionally beautiful alcove of the country, and hopefully I will soon see it by sea as well as by land!


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