Welcome to the Nowacek Acoustics and Engineering Lab

Part of the Marine Conservation Ecology group at the Duke Marine Lab

Our lab combines research in marine mammal bioacoustics and behavioral ecology with the development of new tools for oceanographic research. Dr. Nowacek holds joint appointments in the Nicholas School of the Environment and the Pratt School of Engineering. Through this unique combination, we work in the novel area of Marine Conservation Technology.

Mammal Bioacoustics

Mammal Bioacoustics

We study the acoustic behavior of marine mammals via collaboration with existing tagging programs and using standalone passive and digital acoustic monitors. This approach enables us to learn about the effects of anthropogenic noise on animal behavior, since sound propagates very efficiently through sea water.

Tagging Projects

Behavioral Ecology

Behavioral Ecology

The behavioral ecology of marine animals (e.g., foraging behavior, social behavior and communication) is important to understanding the long-term fitness of a species. Our studies involve tagging programs and observations in the field, as well as predictive modeling in the lab to better protect species of interest.


Conservation Technology

Conservation Technology

Oceanographic research relies heavily on data collection technology, especially in this era of increased capabilities of miniaturized electronics and unmanned vehicles. We develop new technologies for marine conservation research ranging from unmanned aerial systems, sensor development, to integrated acoustics.

Learn More

Duke Blueprint Pioneers the Ideathon

“On February 2-3, the Pratt student group Duke Conservation Tech (DCT) held the second Duke Blueprint Ideathon. As an “ideathon,” Blueprint brings the energy and extremely fast pace of hackathons to students of all academic backgrounds, especially those who are intimidated by the technology focus of other events, to generate

XPRIZE: Duke’s High Capacity Drones and Drop Pods

The Blue Devil Engineering team based out of Duke University is using drones, drop pods and machine learning to map the seafloor. Led by Professors Martin Brooke, Tyler Bletsch and Douglas Nowacek, the team is an enthusiastic group of high school, undergraduate and graduate students working together to develop their

Plans for Seismic Surveys off NC Coast

Shooting air guns into the ocean could soon be fair game in the search for oil and gas along the North Carolina coast, even if the seismic blasts “harass marine mammals” such as whales. The National Marine Fisheries Service is considering allowing the practice by energy companies and wants the public

Hot off the press: Studying cetacean behaviour: new technological approaches and conservation applications

Animal behaviour can provide valuable information for wildlife management and conservation. We describe several methods developed by marine mammal scientists to study behaviour, primarily of cetaceans, focusing on technological advances: unmanned aerial systems (UAS), satellite-linked telemetry, passive acoustics and multisensor high-resolution acoustic recording tags. We then go on to explain how the data collected

‘Bio-duck’ sound mystery solved!

For a half century a sound heard in the Southern Ocean and beyond has baffled acousticians. The noise – nicknamed “the bio-duck” – appears in the winter and spring. The repetitive, low frequency noise has been recorded many times in the waters around the Antarctic and western Australia. Our paper has

Nowacek works with team to make seismic surveys safer for cetaceans

Nowacek and colleagues publish paper on responsible practices for seismic surveys. The paper, published in the current issue of the journal Aquatic Mammals, was the result of a collaboration between scientists with the Switzerland-based International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)’s  Western Gray Whale Advisory Panel and the Russian consortium, Sakhalin

Opportunities for PhD students in 2018

The Ph.D. program requires completion of a dissertation containing the results of original and substantive research. Typically, graduate students spend several years conducting field or laboratory work after completion of courses and successful defense of their preliminary examinations. All Ph.D. students are supported by an external fellowship, a Research Assistantship,