Ecology of Cuvier's Beaked Whales
We are conducting a long-term study of Cuvier’s beaked whales off Cape Hatteras. Our research approaches include population monitoring using photo-identification, deployment of a variety of telemetry devices, including Digital Acoustic Tags and satellite-linked dive recorders. We are studying the remarkable diving behavior of this species, together with an examination of their social behavior and demography. We are particularly interested in understanding the effects of disturbance, such as the consequences of exposure to different sources of anthropogenic noice, on the population biology of these animals. This work is funded by Naval Facilities Engineering Command Atlantic.
Population Structure of Bottlenose Dolphins
The objective of this study is to understand the complex patterns of distribution and overlap of several stocks of bottlenose dolphins in waters along the U.S. east coast. For example, in North Caroline, at least four distinct stocks of dolphins overlap at various time of the year. Dolphins from all of these stocks are at risk of entanglement in near-shore gill net fisheries; our research is designed to determine which of these stocks is most as risk of entanglement in near-shore gill nets. We are employing photo-identification and biopsy sampling to determine the distribution of these stocks. This work is led by Kim Urian, who curates the Mid-Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin Catalog, and is supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Ecology of Humpback Whales Along the Antarctic Peninsula
We are part of the Palmer Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) team, studying the the ecology of the Antarctic Peninsula, supported by the National Science Foundation. Our component of this six-year project is led by Read Lab alum Ari Friedlaender; Dave Johnston, Doug Nowacek and Andy are also co-PIs. Each January, we sample humpback whales (using photo-identification and biopsy techniques) and their prey from Palmer Station and deploy satellite-linked tags on humpbacks over a broader area of the Antarctic Peninsula from the Antarctic Research Vessel Laurence M. Gould.
Ecology of Short-finned Pilot Whales
We are conducting a long-term study of short-finned pilot whales off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. We employ a variety of methods, including photo-identification, biopsy sampling, and the application of satellite-linked depth recorders and Digital Acoustic Tags (DTags) to study the behavior and ecology of these animals. We are particularly interested in their foraging behavior and interactions with the pelagic longline fishery in this area; some whales have learned to remove captured tuna – a behavior termed depredation – which leads to an economic cost to the fishery and a risk of entanglement to the whales. This research has been supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Naval Facilities Engineering Command Atlantic, North Carolina Sea Grant Fishery Resource Grant Program and the Consortium for Wildlife Bycatch Reduction.
Conservation of the Vaquita
The vaquita is the most endangered marine mammal and one of the world’s most endangered mammals. The remnant population now numbers fewer than 50 animals and lives in a tiny area in the northern Gulf of California. The Government of Mexico is working to conserve the species, but it is threatened by an illegal fishery for the totoaba, an endangered sea bass that is also endemic to the Gulf of California. Totoaba swim bladders are dried and smuggled from Mexico to China, sometimes through the United States. Andy is a member of CIRVA, the international recovery team for this species. In 2018, Andy was part of an international team that attempted to capture some of the last vaquitas and move them into a temporary sanctuary.
Atlantic Behavioral Response Study
This large and complex project is examining the behavioral response of short-finned pilot whales and Cuvier’s beaked whales to Naval Mid-Frequency Active (MFA) sonar. We are monitoring the response of individuals of both species equipped with DTags and satellite-linked tags to the sounds of real sonar systems deployed from Navy vessels during training exercises off Cape Hatteras. The project follows the very successful SOCAL BRS project in southern California led by Brandon Southall and is funded by Naval Facilities Engineering Command Atlantic. Brandon is also the lead Principal Investigator on the Atlantic BRS project, with Doug Nowacek and Andy as co-PIs.
Responses of Humpback Whales to Approaching Vessels in Chesapeake Bay
In this project we will are working to understand why humpback whales are struck so frequently by large vessels at the mouth of Chesapeake Bay. Each winter this area supports a concentration of juvenile whales that feed in the shipping channels that lead into and out of the busy ports of Norfolk and Baltimore. We equip whales with Digital Acoustic Tags to document their response to oncoming vessels. We hope that this work will inform future management efforts to reduce the number of whales killed in this manner. This research is supported by Naval Facilities Atlantic Command Atlantic and the National Geographic Society and is led by Jeanne Shearer.
Bycatch Reduction and Fisheries Interactions
Our lab focuses on a variety of fisheries bycatch-related work. Recent and ongoing research focuses on understanding patterns of toothed whale depredation and bycatch in pelagic longline fisheries, including false killer whales (Pseudorca crassidens) that interact with the Hawai’i longline fleet and short-finned pilot whales (Globicephala macrorhynchus) in a longline fishery off the U.S. East Coast. Specific questions include modeling drivers of overlap between whales and fishing vessels and the efficacy of “move-on” rules to reduce depredation and bycatch. This work has been funded through the National Marine Fisheries Service Bycatch Reduction Engineering Program. Other research focuses on examining bycatch in regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs), including attempting to assess the magnitude of bycatch and examining compliance with bycatch-related measures in RFMOs. We have also examined patterns of sea turtle bycatch in the North Carolina southern flounder gillnet fishery and pioneered the use of acoustic deterrent devices to reduce bycatch of small cetaceans, such as harbor porpoises, in gillnet fisheries.