Eavesdropping Underwater: an Interview with Olivia Price!

Why do scientists eavesdrop on whales and dolphins? What can recordings of whale and dolphin sounds tell us? How do you even record the sound that these creatures make? And what’s it like to go to Antarctica?

Join us on Saturday, May 25 at Te Papa for a FREE talk by NIWA scientists Dr Giacomo Giorli and Olivia Price to hear the answers!

As part of the build-up to Eavesdropping Underwater, we interviewed Olivia Price about her role as a Marine Physics Technician for NIWA.

Can you tell us a bit about your role at NIWA?

I work within a team of physical oceanography technicians to maintain, deploy and recover science equipment that records information about our oceans’ physical properties (i.e. temperature, salinity, oxygen). These properties can tell us a lot about ocean currents and features which provide food and the right kind of conditions for marine life to thrive.

You’re a Qualified PADI Dive Master. What does that entail? How deep have you dived?

I started with a PADI Open Water course in 2014 and have been hooked ever since! A Divemaster certification allows me to act as an assistant to a Dive Instructor and has taught me rescue diving skills. My Divemaster assessment was in Milford Sound, which was the best diving I have ever done! We dived alongside sheer underwater cliffs to 38m (PADI limits are 40m) and saw a very special black coral – that underwater looks white. These corals have been building their underwater forests in Milford for 200 million years.

You were part of a recent journey to the Antarctic onboard a NIWA research vessel. Can you tell us what living on board was like in those conditions?

NIWA’s flagship vessel, the Tangaroa is a multi-purpose research vessel designed to investigate New Zealand’s marine resources and environment. Inside the accommodation, you would never know you’re in Antarctica until you look out the window. It is toasty warm and the cooks aboard are known for their epic meals. With very limited internet/phone access and not seeing another ship for six weeks, it felt like our crew were completely isolated from the rest of the world. This isolation and extreme cold conditions meant we needed to prepare for any kind of emergency- so there was plenty of survival training before we left port and plenty of drills aboard. As we steamed south, each day got longer until we were experiencing 23 hours of daylight. Even then the sun didn’t fully set, instead skimming the horizon. This meant plenty of hours for whale watching and spotting icebergs!

As well as passive acoustic moorings, the “whale listening posts”, you also use physical oceanographic moorings & an ASL echosounder. Can you tell us the difference between these, what they measure and what you hope to achieve from the data recovered?

Passive acoustic moorings (PAM) take a bit of explaining, which will be easier to convey with pictures on Saturday. The physical oceanography moorings have a set of instrumentation on them recording physical properties (i.e. temperature, oxygen and salinity) that will help give an insight into how fresh water coming off the Ross Ice Shelf is interacting with our deep oceans. On the mooring is also some current meters that measure the strength and direction of water flow. The Ross Ice Shelf is particularly important as it is the largest freshwater reserve in Antarctica!
The ASL is an acoustic sounder that measures the amount of Antarctic krill in the water by sending and listening out for sound pings. These krill are a key food source for the Adelie Penguins that live on Cape Adare.

The voyage also focused on some of the tiniest organisms in the ocean – the phytoplankton and bacteria. Can you talk about how data on these is collected, and what it is for?

These amazing little organisms are collected using a CTD Rosette which has a bunch of bottles on it that allows us to collect water samples at different water depths. Several scientists worked hard to analyse phytoplankton and bacteria community structure across the Ross Sea. Although these organisms aren’t visible to our eyes, there are ridiculous amounts of them in the ocean and they are incredibly important. Phytoplankton produce around 70% of the air we breathe, I like to call them the humble trees of the ocean!

What was your favourite wildlife memory from your journey on the Tangaroa?

It is so hard to pick one as we saw a lot of beautiful animals! A moment I will never forget is when we reached the edge of the sea ice at dusk and saw multiple groups of Adelie penguins swimming and leaping into the ice for the night. I felt like I had jumped into a David Attenborough scene.

For more insights into Olivia’s work, join us at Eavesdropping Underwater: the Sounds of Whales and Dolphins on Saturday, May 25 at Te Papa!

Eavesdropping Underwater: an Interview with Giacomo Giorli!

Why do scientists eavesdrop on whales and dolphins? What can recordings of whale and dolphin sounds tell us? How do you even record the sound that these creatures make? And what’s it like to go to Antarctica?

Join us on Saturday, May 25 at Te Papa for a FREE talk by NIWA scientists Dr Giacomo Giorli and Olivia Price to hear the answers!

As part of the build-up to Eavesdropping Underwater, we interviewed Dr Giacomo Giorli about his role as a marine mammal acoustician. Dr Giorli’s work has taken him around the world, from studying dolphins in the Ligurian Sea to investigating predator-prey relationships in the waters of Hawaii. He has continued this work at NIWA, including involvement in a pioneering underwater sound project that recently gained national headlines.

What first drew you to oceanography?

Curiosity. I grew up close to the sea, and I was just curious about it.

What makes you most excited in your current job at NIWA?

The possibility to study many species in the Southern Ocean that we know almost nothing about, and the incredible amount of technology that we have at NIWA to conduct research.

You recently discovered clicks from unknown beaked whales in the Cook Strait. What would you like to do next to follow up this research?

That work was the result of a study conducted by all the researchers that authored the paper, and not just my “discovery”. It was a collaborative work. One important thing to note is that we did not discover unknown or new species of beaked whales (as many people always think). We recorded echolocation signals from beaked whales in Cook Strait that were not previously described in literature. We know the signals are from beaked whales, but we do not know what species of beaked whales are producing them. I guess a natural follow up to this research would be to identify the species that are using these sounds.

You’ve also studied the foraging behaviours of sperm whales and other toothed whales in Hawaii. What was it like completing this research, and what were the results?

That research is far from completed. In reality what I was studying in Hawaii was just the tip of the iceberg of deep sea predator-prey studies involving deep diving toothed whales. The toothed whale species studied in that research are species that dive very deep to search for food. They can dive deeper than 1 km. Because of this, it is essentially impossible to observe their behaviour directly. One can go in the African savanna and observe predator behaviour directly. Think about cheetahs hunting. We all are familiar with videos of cheetahs chasing impalas. What I want to point out is that when you have to deal with working in the deep ocean in general, making observations is incredibly challenging. We face the problem of observing how deep sea prey drives the distribution and behaviour of their predators.

In Hawaii, I tested new acoustic technology that would allow researchers to understand how prey availability and type could influence the behaviour of the deep diving predators (toothed whales). Data indicated that sperm whales, for example, foraged more where they had chances of finding larger prey, rather than where they had chances to find more prey. It seems counter-intuitive that they would rather go in a place where there is less potential prey. It suggests that these predators are somehow picky in choosing their prey.

As well as whales, your work also involves recording sounds from creatures as tiny as marine algae. What are the similarities and differences in working at these different scales?

The research I did on algae with my colleagues in the U.S. was a laboratory experiment. We did not go to sea. Algae do not have a sound generator like vocal cords. The sound is produced by oxygen bubbles that are expelled from the algal tissue during photosynthesis. However, the signal processing techniques we used to analyse the acoustic data are pretty much the same used for cetacean bio-acoustics research.

If money wasn’t a problem, what would be your ideal research project?

I guess the ideal research project in Marine Sciences is the one that ends well without failures of instrumentations and other things that can go wrong at sea.

For more insights into Dr Giorli’s work, join us at Eavesdropping Underwater: the Sounds of Whales and Dolphins on Saturday, May 25 at Te Papa!

Fabulous Frocks: New Zealand History Recent Picks for January

At first glance the title of this post does not make much sense, as you scroll down through the book titles depicting pig hunting and hunting with helicopters, lost gold and lost heritage in forgotten landmarks. Keep scrolling and you will see the Hawkes Bay Maraekakaho sheep and cattle station and then on to unique motorbike collections, the first New Zealand craft beer, and finally Dolphins of Aotearoa. The last title is a book called Women of Substance, unfortunately we have no cover image but with the tagline “the Otago women who wore fabulous frocks,” it is my pick of the bunch and why it gets the mention in the title. It tells the story of 39 dresses featured in an exhibition at the Otago Settlers museum. Each frock dating from 1859 to the late 1880s is photgraphed and described in detail and with a short biography of its wearer gives an insight into the life and times of these women.

Syndetics book coverThe black singlet brigade : tales of adventure in the NZ bush / Tony Walsh
“Tony Walsh was first introduced to NZ’s bush clad ranges, to pig hunting and some life-defining experiences by Ned Tuite, whose usual attire was a black woollen bush singlet and a pair of khaki shorts suspended from a thin leather belt. Through Ned, Tony met a band of those iconic good keen men of an era now past, and began a journey of experiences he will never forget. There were the likes of ugly Eddie, who ate all the pigs’ ears; Jack, who thought the ghosts were after him after a midnight tumble down the hill; or Charlie, who didn’t know whether to mash his spuds before or after they were cooked. Men whose characters were as colourful and multifaceted as the forests and mountains they came from. The Black Singlet Brigade is a memoir written with eloquence and a dash of humour at every turn. It combines the untamed beauty of the wild with hilarious adventures and unique characters to build a picture of a life long gone, in the bush and back-country of New Zealand.” (Back cover)

Syndetics book coverInjun Joe : the legend of Smoking Joe Collins / Marion Day.
“This is the life story of Injun Joe, born Wellwyn Harris Collins in 1950. Joe became well known as an elite hunter-helicopter pilot, one of New Zealand’s most dangerous occupations of the time, in what is now known as The Last Great Adventure.” (Back cover)

Syndetics book coverLost Gold : the 100-year search for the gold reef of Northwest Nelson / Paul Bensemann.
“As a young man in the mid-1970s, Paul Bensemann was told an archetypal ‘lost gold’ story by his neighbour, a tobacco farmer in the Motueka Valley on the edge of what is now Kahurangi National Park. The story concerned an old prospector who had found a huge exposed gold reef, shining in the sun, deep in the mountain wilderness of Northwest Nelson. Just before he died, the prospector drew a map, and to Paul’s amazement his neighbour then produced the old, tatty, hand-drawn map, which had been handed down to him from his father. Lost Gold follows the many twists and turns of this 105-year-old story, and tries to explain why the reef has never been rediscovered. But in the end, whether or not the reef exists is only part of the story, and perhaps the bigger treasure here is the real tale of men in pursuit of their own El Dorado.” (Syndetics)

Syndetics book coverNew Zealand’s lost heritage : the stories behind our forgotten landmarks / Richard Wolfe.
“Features 20 notable structures which, for various reasons, no longer exist. Most of the buildings have been demolished in the name of urban development, creating controversy. Each building is discussed and illustrated including the circumstances of its demise. The selection includes: Ruapekapeka Pa in Northland (burned down deliberately), Admiralty House in Auckland (demolished to make way for new roads) Wellington’s Parliament Buildings (accidental fire) Invercargill’s Seacliff Asylum (fire), TJ Edmonds landmark factory (bulldozed). What emerges is a fascinating social and historical narrative that sheds light on parts of New Zealand’s cultural history and reveals the truth of the old adage that history repeats.” (Publisher information)

Syndetics book coverA changing land : Sir Donald McLean’s Maraekakaho, 1857 to today / Alan Scarfe.
“The first two parts tell the story of the development of Hawke’s Bay Maraekakaho, one of the country’s largest and most iconic sheep and cattle stations which was established by Donald McLean and then further developed by his son Douglas McLean. The final part of A Changing Land traces how much of Maraekakaho has evolved into a varied patchwork of stock and cropping farms, vineyards, smallholdings, olive groves, alpaca farms and tree plantations over the last century.” (Back cover)

Syndetics book coverKiwi bike culture : unique motorbike collections / Steve Holmes.
“Delves into the love affair New Zealanders have with their motorbikes. From Harley-Davidsons to Vespas, and everything in between, this book is about the men and women whose lives revolve, in some way, around two-wheeled machinery.” (Back cover)

Syndetics book coverThe McCashin’s story and the Kiwi brewing revolution it sparked / John McCrystal & Simon Farrell-Green.
“The craft beer industry is one of New Zealand’s local business success stories, and it’s thriving. It all began with Terry McCashin establishing Mac’s Ale back in the 1980s. This book tells the story of the entrepreneurial McCashin family and the challenges they’ve faced over the years. They’re now rebuilding their brand with new beers such as Stoke, and a highly successful range of ciders. It also includes general craft beer information such as: What makes a craft beer; how beer gets made; a day in the life of McCashins; how to drink beer; what sort of glass to use; what different styles mean; the difference between an ale and a lager. Plus: Nelson: The craft beer capital. What has made Nelson such an extraordinary place for craft beer? The book includes short profiles on each of the breweries, pubs and cafes on the trail and the remarkable story of New Zealand hops and how they’ve supported Nelson and New Zealand’s craft beer revolution.” (Adapted from publisher information)

Syndetics book coverDolphins of Aotearoa : living with New Zealand dolphins / Raewyn Peart. “Dolphins of Aotearoa explores the ongoing relationship between humans and dolphins in New Zealand. Over this nation’s rich history, numerous people, both Maori and Pakeha, have sought out dolphins and significant numbers of dolphins have sought out people. This book tells the stories of many of these remarkable encounters. Importantly, Dolphins of Aotearoa also summarises the work of the dedicated scientists and researchers who over recent decades have learnt so much about our dolphins. Extensively researched and lavishly illustrated with historic and contemporary photographs, and incorporating a guide to all of the dolphins of New Zealand.” (Syndetics summary)

Women of substance : the Otago women who wore “fabulous frocks” / Seán G. Brosnahan.
“Fabulous Frocks was the title of an exhibition held at the Otago Settlers Museum in 2003. The exhibition presented 39 dresses from the Museum’s costume collection worn by nineteenth-century Otago women. A la mode in the mud: The colonial pursuit of fashion. The colonists’ dream: Genteel, respectable and upwardly mobile. In search of the women behind the dresses. (Adapted from Syndetics summary)