Biotelemetry and Behavioral Ecology Lab

What we do

The Bio-Telemetry and Behavioral Ecology Laboratory is focused on using new biotelemetry technology to understand the underwater behavior and ecology of marine mammals.  As animals that live largely out of sight from direct observation, devising new tools to measure, interpret, and quantify the behavioral ecology of marine mammals is critical.  We are interested in the behavior of animals across a range of spatial and temporal scales and how this is affected by a variety of ecological inputs.

Currently our research is focused on these central themes:

  • How do we measure feeding events in baleen whales?
  • How do changes in the feeding behavior of whales relate to changes in their prey?
  • How is the behavior of marine mammals affected by anthropogenic sounds in the ocean?
  • How are the distribution, behavior, and population structure of baleen whales in Antarctica influenced by a rapidly changing environment?
  • How is the behavior and physiology of marine mammal affected by anthropogenic sound and marine traffic?
  • What are the current demographic and population dynamic trajectories of recovering baleen whales?

Each of these themes is being addressed in a different long-term research program.  Through the incorporation of both new sensor packages, video, and audio technology, as well as biological and physiological monitoring from long term tissue datasets, we are working with colleagues at a number of universities and institutes globally to develop new approaches to monitor and conserve marine mammal populations from the smallest porpoise to the largest whale.

Current Projects

Behavioral Response Study: The Effects of Naval Sonar on Cetaceans

Behavioral response studies provide significant insights into the nature, magnitude, and consequences of changes in animal behavior.

Long Term Ecological Research: Understanding the ecological role of baleen whales

Our research focus is to understand the foraging behavior and ecological role of humpback whales and minke whales in the LTER study region in response to climate-driven changes.

Foraging Ecology of Humpback Whales in Relation to Krill Catches

Here we assess the foraging behavior of humpback whales around the Antarctic Peninsula, focusing on how critical foraging areas relate to historic catches of krill in the region.

Foraging behavior and ecological role of the Antarctic minke whale

Here we assess the ecological role of Antarctic minke whales so that we can better predict and understand the impacts of climate on these animals

Measuring heart rate to assess the stress response in large whales

As part of this project we are attempting to develop tools that will directly monitor heart rate in large free-ranging cetaceans. Heart rate is a key physiological parameter that is relevant to the stress response and it has been suggested that cardiac arrhythmias may occur in marine mammals due to sympathetic – parasympathetic system conflict during stress.

Using Baleen to Study Historical Whale Populations

Commercial whaling removed nearly two million whales from the Southern Ocean but little data exists from periods before the predators were removed. As part of this project we are applying a suite of modern molecular techniques to these historic baleen plate specimens, to ask: how did blue and fin whale foraging and reproduction respond to climate variability, changes at the base of the food web, and whaling?

Baleen Whale Stress Levels Post COVID-19 Reductions in Ocean Noise & Marine Traffic

As part of this project, we are measuring stress hormone levels in baleen whales from a number of regions around the country during the current period of COVID19-related changes in human activity in order to compare these levels to when conditions have returned to more normal one year from now.