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!

Experience an underwater reef with VR – fully booked

Want to experience a coral reef with no diving gear required? Visit our Central Library and try out a full Virtual Reality experience for free

Explore a coral reef

Wednesday 21 Feb
12:30-2:00pm (Fully booked)

4:00-6:00pm (Fully booked)

Thursday 22 Feb
12:30-2:00pm (Fully booked)

4:00-6:00pm (Fully booked)

Friday 23 Feb
12:30-4:00pm (Fully booked)

All sessions will take place on the ground floor at Central Library, 65 Victoria Street.

Email us at enquiries@wcl.govt.nz to find out more.

This opportunity is happening to celebrate 2018 as the International Year of the Reef. We have two more IYOR 2018 events happening this month. They are:

 

Deep Water Coral Reefs of New Zealand Talk

Dr Ashley Rowden / NIWA

Coral on a coral reef

Friday 23 Feb
5:30-6:30pm
Ground floor, Central Library, 65 Victoria Street

Dr Ashley Rowden is a Principal Scientist in Marine Ecology at NIWA.

Dr Rowden’s talk will be about deep water coral reefs in New Zealand, which are different from shallow water reefs — with emphasis on the themes of the 2018 International Year of the Reef (threats, management, conservation and sustainable use) in a New Zealand context. He will share examples from research undertaken at NIWA.

 

A Special Virtual Reality Reef Demonstration

Taehyun Rhee /Associate Professor at Victoria University

Saturday 24 Feb
12:30-4:00pm (Fully booked)
Ground floor, Central Library, 65 Victoria Street

Taehyun Rhee is an Associate Professor at the Faculty of Engineering and Computer Science at Victoria University, as well as Deputy Director of Victoria’s Computational Media Innovation Centre (CMIC), and a founder of Mixed Reality startup DreamFlux. He is a founder and director of the Victoria Computer Graphics (VCG) Lab and the founding member of Victoria’s Computer Graphics Programme, established in collaboration with Weta Digital.

DreamFlux technology provides immersive VR experiences by realistically compositing digital content into 360° video. This process is achieved in real-time, allowing for interactive content. The seamless blending of digital content into the real world in an interactive setting allows for powerful applications in education, training, entertainment and more. Dreamflux technology mitigates potential visual discomfort in VR headsets by rendering at a high frame rate (90 FPS, stereo).

Coral reef

A Talk about New Zealand Sea Mammals

 

Enderby the sea lion pup and Hector the dolphin have been our guests on the first floor of the Central Library for a while. Lent to us by the Department of Conservation, they also made a guest appearance during Louise Chilvers’ talk (DOC marine scientist) on Thursday 28 July in the Childrens’ Department. Young and old congregated to admire our marine compatriots and listen to fascinating facts and advice on how to protect our environment and do our best to help the diverse population of marine mammals we are so lucky to have on our shores.