The sun shines brightly outside the San Diego Campus Supercomputer Center. Melody’s skin beckons for a taste of the warm California sun and the chilly Pacific waters, but today this Floridian is indoors surrounded by cables and computer screens. She’s not complaining, though. Melody is immersing herself in the world of underwater acoustics, marine mammal acoustics to be exact.
This wildlife biologist is no stranger to marine mammals. From searching for sperm whales on ship surveys to rescuing stranded whales and dolphins, Melody Baran has worked with marine mammals for over 22 years. Melody, an Associate Scientist with Azura, specializes in marine mammal species identification and has conducted stock assessment surveys, baseline surveys, monitoring and mitigation, and a variety of other projects throughout the U.S. and in international waters. Her favorite place to be is far offshore in the midst of the deep blue sea searching for marine mammals.
At sea, Melody lives on a research vessel for weeks or even months at a time. It is here where her keen eyesight and knowledge of marine mammal species are most needed. Armed with handheld binoculars, cameras, and mega binoculars called “big eyes” at the highest station on the ship, Melody and other researchers scan the open ocean for fins, blows, splashes, and anything else that may cue the presence of a marine mammal.
While these researchers are using visual cues to detect marine mammals, additional researchers are down below using hydrophones to detect whistles, clicks, codas, and other sounds of marine mammals that may not be at the surface to be seen by the visual research team. This combination of visual and acoustic teams offers the best chance for researchers to find marine mammals in an area.
This November, Melody branched out from the visual aspect of marine mammal research to expand her basic understanding of marine acoustics and learn how the acoustics team detects mammal sounds underwater. She attended the Passive Acoustic Technology Training Course offered annually by Bio-waves, Inc., a leader in marine bioacoustics research. This four-day intensive course provides individuals with the necessary tools and basic skills to prepare them for work as bioacoustic field technicians and data analysts.
Melody learned how to use several different software programs for recording, monitoring, and localizing on marine mammal vocalizations. She also learned several hands-on skills that are often required for conducting acoustic surveys and troubleshooting hydrophone array systems, including testing and repairing broken array cables. She and her lab partner even won second place in the splicing competition in which they had to repair and remold a cable (photo above). Lab work and other components of the training included learning how to set up an acoustic array monitoring system and about the various methods and technologies available for recording underwater sounds.
Taught by several of her colleagues, this course gave Melody a greater understanding of the physics of underwater bioacoustics and how it is applied to studying the marine environment. She can contribute her new bioacoustics skills to monitoring and comprehensive studies of marine mammals in their acoustically dynamic environment. Of course, when she’s not looking at spectrograms and listening for mammals, you’ll find Melody scanning the seas with her trusty binoculars.