CHRIS CLARK: Thanks for coming, and thanks for giving us a chance to talk with you. This is what today's about. If someone asks me what I do and what we do in bioacoustics, it's pretty simple. We listen to the world. And in particular, we listen to the natural world, because it's always telling us something.
And we do it on a global scale. So we are presently recording around the world in various places, both on land and in sea, and even by putting instrumentation into the dirt to listen to what travels through the substrate.
But the story we're going to tell you about today is remarkable in that it's a story that's been evolving and underway for a couple of years right off of the city that never sleeps. And some of the things I will tell you about today are things that we have forgotten as a society.
That is, you could go back into the library that's not too many blocks away from here, and you could find in the library records of Long Islanders hunting whales off Long Island and rendering them down into flesh and oil. That was over 100 years ago, and we seem to have forgotten that there used to be lots of observations of whales in the Hudson in New York Harbor off of Long Island, et cetera.
And several years ago, we started working with the Department of Environmental Conservation in New York and put some recorders off of New York Harbor and off of Long Island. And lo and behold, in the first hour that we opened them up and started listening, we had whales.
And so we're going to tell you some of that story today, and something about some of these whales, and some of the surprises. And really, I really hope you guys are all-- you're homozygous for interaction. So please just engage.
So this is an image that I would like to actually see in MoMA. And it has no labels on it. It's science. It's a visual representation of actual data, except I have no axes on this picture, so you don't know exactly what it is.
And what it is is it's a rendering of sound collected in the Pacific Ocean, in this case-- it could be the Atlantic Ocean-- over a one-year period. And what we do in science is we convert this long, lengthy recording-- this has now been going on for over 10 years. We convert the recording into a visual representation, just like a musical score.
But in this case, the musical score is one year long. So it's one year from January '05 to January '06. And this is pitch or frequency in the unit we call Hertz or cycles per second.
So those of you who are musically inclined, there's orchestral A up there. And here's 20 hertz below our auditory threshold. Now you might go to a record store or in the old days you'd go to a Sam Goody's or something like that and you'd buy an amplifier, and it would say 20 to 20k, right? 20 hertz to 20,000 hertz. That was sort of the audiophile's range. But here, we're 20 hertz.
And what you're looking at here is think of yourself just diving into the ocean with Sylvia Earle in a bubble or something that, just going down to the bottom of the ocean. And you're just going to listen for a whole year. And you're going to collect that memory, and this is a visual representation of that memory.
And you see this glow over here? This is the glow over about a three-month period of the collective voices of a population of blue whales and fin whales from a single sensor sitting on the bottom of the ocean, halfway between Honolulu and San Francisco. This is the same phenomenon that we're now listening to and have been listening to in New York, in Upstate New York, wherever. Frog ponds in Connecticut. It's the bloom of life. This is the singing life of the whales in one little place in the ocean. And yet, every place we listen, we hear the singing planet.
So I want you to think of this scale. This is the scale over which we need to listen. Not for five minutes, not for 45 minutes, not for a week, but for years. This perspective allows us to answer questions such as, what is happening in the ocean when we do X or Y or Z? What happens when we over-fish? What happens when we pollute? What happens when we make so much sound that the whales can't hear each other? It's this perspective that we need to understand.
So off New York, we found that we have some of the greatest animals on Earth. I'm going to play you some of their sounds. I'm going to try and give you a sense of the scale of their voices, OK?
So just as I showed you this picture here, this voice, this is the singing of two species of whales, the largest animals ever to exist on this planet, the blue whale and the fin whale. The two largest species.
And this might sound a little nerdy, but if you see that little-- can you see that little glow up here? That is the collective energy from the note, one note that these animals sing as part of their song. They have one note that's up here a little bit high enough that you could actually hear it if you were in a boat. But that's the voice. It's low frequency. You can hear it. It's infrasonic, just like bats and dolphins are ultrasonic.
So now this is the scale, the space over which these animals can communicate, and could communicate very readily prior to ocean shipping. So literally, I have listened to a blue whale singing off the Grand Banks of Canada. I've heard that whale while recording it off of Puerto Rico, 1,600 miles away. So the voice of a blue whale can be heard across an ocean basin.
We don't know if they're actually paying any attention to each other, but if I can hear it, I'm pretty sure the whales can hear it. But that's the space. over which they communicate.
AUDIENCE: What is pre-shipping?
CHRIS CLARK: Pre-shipping means pre-industrialization of the ocean, prior to
CHRIS CLARK: Steam or-- yeah. Engine-driven ships. So it's basically the last-- yeah. It's pre-commercial-- well, OK. Pre-engine-driven ships. Sorry. So it's basically the last 50 or 60 years. Really, the biggest influx in shipping has been since the Second World War. Of noise.
So now I'm going to play you that song. This is recorded from a blue whale 650 miles away. And I sped it up 30 times. And so again, this is a musical score. So this is time going this way. It's 18 minutes long. And this is pitch. And I had to speed it up so you could hear it. And each one of these is a note of a song. It'll sound much like an owl. And I sped it up 30 times. See? Why is it doing that? Here we go.
This was 650 miles away.
This whale was off of Canada, and this was recorded off of Bermuda.
So that gives you a sense of the depth of the voice, because if I tried to play this to you in real time, you wouldn't hear it. And we'd be sitting here listening for 18 minutes, and you're going, what the hell is-- oh, sorry. What the heck is this guy talking about?
AUDIENCE: How were you able to track the whale to-- that whale to that sensor [INAUDIBLE]?
CHRIS CLARK: OK. I've been using the US Navy's underwater anti-submarine listening system since the early '90s. So I actually track-- I can locate the animal, position it, and then track it.
Right whales. These are the North Atlantic right whale. This is a species that's on the brink of extinction. There are roughly 450 of them left in the entire North Atlantic. And these are quite interesting.
Notice this. This is the head right here. There's obviously the tail. The eyes are down below here. And here are their right and left arms, which are big, broad paddles. And this head, notice they have different markings on their head. We use that to identify individuals. Now I'll play you this, these calls, at normal speed. I don't have to speed these up. Whoopsie. Why does it do that? Oh, I'm just hitting the wrong button.
Here comes a social group.
So if we went off of Long Island sometime and played all those back, you could probably call in males from over the horizon, because those are the sounds of a right whale orgy. And yeah. We'd have to go into a triple X rated if I started telling you about right whale sex.
So this is a conceptualization of something we just experienced. So blue whale, I just played you. And what I'm doing now is I'm putting your minds into this space of, where does your voice-- where does your acoustic communication, where does it reside in pitch and in time? The blue whale's voice is so, so low and very, very long and very, very loud. And it's quite unique. So I'm placing it in this space, and it's entirely different.
So I've played you those two voices, right? I played you the voice of the blue whale, and I played you the voice of the right whale. The blue whale can communicate over an ocean basin. The right whale will communicate over many tens of miles, right? So you might be able to hear a blue whale-- sorry, a right whale that was out in Riverhead. You might be able to hear it back in Queens, right? Over that distance.
But you're not going to hear it all the way from Bermuda to New York. Whereas a blue whale, that's certainly the space. So these animals occupy-- think of them as occupying different niches. Just like a frog sound is different and occupies a different space and has different pitches in it than a cardinal or a robin.
So what we've been doing along the East Coast and now in the Gulf of Mexico is for over a decade, we've been recording using these little things we call popups, these pumpkins. And we've been distributing them all along the East Coast. So each of these red dots represent where we've been recording.
And you notice that there's sort of a paucity of recording in the mid-Atlantic states. And these are pretty simple instruments. And engineers at Cornell have designed and built these, and we now have a fleet of roughly 140 of these operating year round.
We call them popups or marine acoustic recording units. I like to call them popups, and that's because they release off the bottom of the ocean. They come floating up to the surface, and when they get there, they sort of pop out of the water.
And what we do with that-- and now I'm not in New York anymore. Sorry. I grew up in Massachusetts. I grew up in [INAUDIBLE]. And what I'm going to show you is something about their communication, because the whole thing is, why are these animals doing this? Why is this important, right? Well, the importance is to understand not only that they're there, and if their populations are in good shape and they're healthy, then healthy whales mean that there's a healthy ocean, and a healthy ocean is good for humans.
So here we have five of those popups in the bay. And notice there's a little clock up there. And this was a few years ago. And using this, just as I said-- I'm sorry. I forgot your name, sir.
CHRIS CLARK: Ira talked about locating blue whales using Navy arrays over an entire ocean basin. Well, now we're doing the same thing in this little puddle called Cape Cod Bay. And we're going to locate, whenever a whale makes a sound, we locate it. And so you're going to see a little orange dot show up, and that's when a whale makes a sound. We locate it.
OK. So you can just see the little yellow dots. There's the clock at the top. And see, they're making tracks. Now this isn't visual. This is all acoustic. So I'm following you as you go through the woods and you're calling each other. And you'll notice, these two animals are going to meet up, and what they're doing is they're counter-calling. So Ira, you would go--
--and I would go--
--like this. And we'd have our little signatures, and we'd go back and forth like the Musketeers kind of thing, right? Or Mouseketeers. Right? So we can do these kinds of analysis. And what it shows us is how many whales are there, what they're doing, and most importantly, how critical it is that they can hear each other and communicate.
Because this is how their whole social system is maintained. This is their network. Their network is acoustic. They can't see each other. This was pitch dark. It's middle of the night. All of my friends that fly airplanes and go around in boats are all asleep, but the whales are quite busy.
And we've been doing this quite intensively off of Massachusetts using these recorders. And then we have a network right now operating-- well, working with Woods Hole engineers. We have a network of real-time buoys that are in the shipping lane, and those data are being broadcast to mariners so that the ships can slow down and avoid-- hopefully reduce the chances of hitting whales.
So off New York a few years ago, in a collaboration with the New York Department of Environmental Conservation-- and this is Nicole and another graduate student, Ingrid Bearden, went off, and we used a ship from Stony Brook University, and their captain, who is a great fisherman. And we deployed units off of Long Island and off of New York. So these are distributed offshore about 10 miles apart, coming out of the middle of Long Island off Jones Beach. And then three in the middle.
Now what this allows us to do is this is a little network. And we can actually locate and track whales, just like I showed you in Cape Cod Bay. And we can do the same somewhat with this network as well. So it's basically an acoustic net that's designed to capture the whales, in this case as they're migrating along the coast. And you can see the New York canyon here and the shipping lanes coming into New York.
So one of the first surprises that we had was in the first hour of listening to the recordings, we found right whales. And this shows you simply-- the size of the circle represents how many calls we heard on each of the different units. So you can see during the early part, right in March and April, that first month, most of the whales were in close to shore. And then the surprise was in the latter part of the migration, most of the whales were off here.
Now why this is interesting is that the regulators have always thought that the whales were only in close to shore. And what we found by listening is the whales are actually offshore, out to 70 miles offshore. And they're actually going right through-- you know, it's cutting right through the shipping lanes. So they are at risk of being struck. And-- oh. In these early days, we didn't have many right whales in the harbor. But when we listened to the rest of the year's data, we actually found right whales off the harbor as well.
Now you guys are all being awfully quiet. Is this because I'm going too fast or it's boring, or-- OK. Then the other surprise was listening for other things. All right. So here's that same kind of musical score. So this is 24 hours. So this is a day represented here. And here's that pitch again. So it's very, very-- we're listening and we're mapping in a very low frequency. So this is infrasonic, below auditory threshold.
And what you're seeing here, all these bands of noise here, these represent singing fin whales. If you look closely, you see how this is broken up into little chunks? That's when the whale is singing a song, comes to the surface and breathes, sings another song, breathes, song, breathes, song, breathes, right? So this is what we call a singing bout, just like you'd have a cardinal or a sparrow singing in a tree.
But what was interesting is, see this little squiggles down here? So this is really whale nerdy stuff, right? Right down here, that little bit of energy right down there, that dark right there, you zoom in, stretch it out, and lo and behold, what do you see? That is the voice of a blue whale. I was completely shocked, because I thought the only way we were going to find a blue whale is by listening to this recorder way out here on the shelf edge.
So this was in about 700 meters of water. So we're thinking, OK. We'll be able to pick up the voice of a blue whale singing off of Bermuda, because I know they were coming by Bermuda. But instead, you'll see that the whale was closer than I ever expected.
So there's the voice, and I'll play it to you now. So this is a blue whale off New York on the 23rd of January. I'm just going to play it to you at five times normal speed. If I played it to you at one speed, you wouldn't hear it. And you'll hear in the background some pulsing. That's a fin whale singing in the background.
Can you hear it back there?
Now when I discovered this on an early Saturday morning with a cup a job at about 4 o'clock because I was so excited about finding this thing, I was pretty blown away, because wait a minute. Wait. Yeah?
AUDIENCE: So that bongo-sounding noise, that was the fin whale, you said, for the layering over the blue whale?
CHRIS CLARK: Yeah. Yeah. So here, let's look at this one. So I was trying to filter out the blue whale. So here's-- sorry. I was trying to filter out the fin whale. So the fin whale is singing on top right up in here, and there's the voice of the blue whale. So this is the basso profundo, right? And this is the bass. And they separate out their voices slightly.
So what you were hearing when I play it fast, you hear that, boom. Or you hear the boom boom, because you'll hear my-- the note I sing is very low and it's very short. It's about a second long. And it just sounds like a little burp. It's a-- mm. Like this.
And you'll hear the echo or the reflection of my voice off the surface of the ocean. So the voice comes directly to your microphone. It also goes up and hits the surface of the ocean and comes to your microphone a few seconds later. So you'll often hear almost like a heartbeat. Boom boom. Boom boom. Like that.
AUDIENCE: So that heartbeat then, that's the same? That's the blue whale, but just bouncing off the top and then coming back to the bottom?
CHRIS CLARK: No, the boom boom is the fin whale.
CHRIS CLARK: And the blue whale is that--
The long one. So this little glow here represents the longer note. OK? Yes?
AUDIENCE: How far away was this blue what?
CHRIS CLARK: Ah, I'll show you. This whale was right off about 60 miles off of Long Island. Yeah. And going right along, parallel to Long Island and heading west, and then cut down and went along the coast of New Jersey. So here, I'll play this at 20 times. So you'll hear the--
So the pulsing is the fin whale and the owl is the blue whale. And then when we get over here, you'll notice it gets a little bit funky. You'll actually hear a second whale come-- a second fin whale in the background. And it almost sounds syncopated. Whoops. Sorry.
AUDIENCE: How close could these whales come [INAUDIBLE]?
CHRIS CLARK: The fin whale was probably about 40 miles away. But for the whales, this is right next door.
So that's part of sort of the mind stretching you need to do is that if I can hear you several hundred miles away and I can swim at a leisurely pace of five miles an hour, I can do that for 24 hours, hey, I'll see you tomorrow morning, right? The whole world is stretched. Does that makes sense? OK.
So I can speed it up even more. And then this is when you start hearing-- and what do you notice about this? It's really regular, right? This is like rap, right? It's just rhythm.
And it's not the melodious voices that you would have heard if you've ever listened to humpback whales, which are singing over seven octaves and they have a bass voice, a tenor voice, an also voice, a soprano, a mezzo soprano. I mean, they have all the voices, right? These guys are just steady, loud, and they're beautifully designed to be traveling over hundreds and hundreds of miles in the ocean.
So what do you hear? You hear rhythm, right? In fact, just now, for those of you who have excellent rhythm, it's metronomic. And I could teach you in a few minutes to recognize the singing pattern of a fin whale from Iceland versus one from Portugal versus one from Mexico, because their rhythms are different and they'll have different-- in fact, the Mexican ones are syncopated.
And you may not have noticed, but this space in here, which only represents three or four minutes where the animal came up to breathe, probably, they will go down and-- sorry. They come up to breathe and go down again. And they'll come in on the rhythm. So I would challenge anybody in New York to be able to keep rhythm out to five minutes.
And these are sung every 70 seconds. So they have incredible internal clocks. So you heard that little elf tapping in the back room. This is very, very low frequency, long range.
So we were able to pick that up. And so here was the whale when we first located it. And here's the network that we have. Here's the shelf break where it's getting shallow coastal down to deeper water. Whoops.
So the whale lights up at-- calls are coming in. We're tracking it acoustically. Swims right through the array and then starts heading down the coast. So this was a complete surprise to me that we would have-- so you see what we're doing? The whale is singing, and I'm able to actually position the whale, because I'm recording it on multiple channels.
This is just a data slide. I'll explain it. So we have right whales, blues, and fins. And we're looking at spring, autumn, winter. Different seasons. And of course, the fin whales are basically there all the time. Lots of fin whales.
AUDIENCE: Is this a specific year?
CHRIS CLARK: This was-- yeah. This was 2007, 2008. So we only--
CHRIS CLARK: Right. So this was part of the sadness here, is we were supposed to be doing this over a much longer period, and our funds got cut. So we couldn't continue with the project.
AUDIENCE: Ah. So '09 was the last year that you--
CHRIS CLARK: Yeah, we only got-- was it '09? Or early-- early '09 we released the data. Yeah. So we had only a nine-month period. We were supposed to go for longer, but we got truncated. And so I mean, it would be fantastic to me that we should be listening to New York all the time. We should be listening for whales off New York all the time.
So basically, you have a residential population of fin whales. They're living off New York. And in particular, when I made statements about fin whales, where they are is they are singing-- if you were standing on the top of the Verrazano Bridge and looked out onto the ocean southeast of New York, you would be looking onto the ocean, the stage under which those whales are singing. And these are some of the greatest voices on the planet that can be heard over many, many hundreds of miles.
And blue whales, that was a complete surprise that we had this many blue whales in the wintertime on those units. We've not picked up a blue whale voice off and close near the harbor. But we have had right whales throughout the spring. We've even had them in the wintertime.
And we've even had white whale calls in close, which, again, was a complete surprise, because right whales can't be heard that far away. So if I hear a right whale off of New York, that means that whale's probably only 10 miles away, or five or 10 miles away.
AUDIENCE: And what is it about New York waters that-- why are so many fin whales there?
CHRIS CLARK: Well, that's a good question. I mean, I could be sort of facetious and say, why would a fin whale want to hang out off of New York? But then you could write some pretty cool stories about that too.
AUDIENCE: I just [INAUDIBLE] there's so many other whalers.
CHRIS CLARK: Yeah. Well, back a few years ago, there were whale watching boats being run out of Riverhead, and they were going out of Riverhead to look for sperm whales. And of course, what they kept finding was they were fin whales. And they would take photographs of the fin whales, and they were going away. We have some of the same whales coming back year after year after year.
And this is pretty true for fin whales. They seem to have local residency. They can move over huge distances. So these animals could just take off and swim 500 miles and go up to Labrador and feed for a couple of months, and then come back. But this seems to be that they have these local affinities for specific places.
AUDIENCE: They like New York.
CHRIS CLARK: Hmm?
AUDIENCE: It seems they like--
CHRIS CLARK: They like New York. Right. So we better-- yeah. Better check them out. But to me, the fact that they're right there all the time is quite remarkable.
Now there are people who-- there are whale watching boats that are saying that they're seeing-- and I know people that are working on this, just doing aerial surveys and boat surveys and saying, well, fin whales seem to be coming back. We are seeing more and more fin whales throughout the ocean.
And right whales, there is a little bit of hope. We've had about four years of good reproduction activity, calving activity. Right whales and not resident off New York. They're moving through the waters. But again, part of my motivation is to inform the world that these animals are here.
And shouldn't we be excited that there are some of the greatest whales on the planet right off of New York? They may be migratory, but they're obviously in the area for many, many months at a time. And right whales are one of the most endangered species on the planet.
So these are the kinds of-- this is the information we were starting to gather, and then we ended up having to stop the project altogether. And so what we're hoping to be able to do is rejuvenate this and start listening.
And ideally, what I think would be absolutely fantastic is to take-- we've built these units, which are called real-time auto detection buoys. We've put them off Jacksonville. We've put them off Savannah. We're putting some up in the Arctic Ocean. We have them off of Boston. And those have satellite uplinks, and they're transmitting back acoustic data. They can do it almost continuously.
And what I would love to be able to have is a system where you could go on the internet anytime a day, log on, and listen to New York, right? There's no reason why we can't do it. We've engineered it. We've got all the systems working. And every child and kid and adult and grandmother, whatever it is, should be able to just, hey. Let's listen to New York. Let's listen to what's there.
And so you shouldn't have to rely on a bunch of people up in Ithaca, New York, with little funny caps on their heads to tell you that there are whales off New York. You should know it in real time. Yes?
AUDIENCE: How does the shipping traffic here compare to, say, Boston?
CHRIS CLARK: Shipping traffic in Boston is minor compared to New York. This is a major hub, right? Now as I understand it, Jacksonville is the fastest growing. I don't know. Has Jacksonville taken over New York? Or still, New York is number one?
AUDIENCE: Los Angeles and Long Beach--
CHRIS CLARK: No, East Coast.
AUDIENCE: Savannah, fastest growing.
CHRIS CLARK: Savannah's fastest growing. OK. So we've been-- yeah. So we've been monitoring Savannah and Jacksonville.
AUDIENCE: Jacksonville's weird, because it has Navy. Lots of Navy on the Saint John's River.
CHRIS CLARK: Yeah.
AUDIENCE: And that doesn't show up in Savannah.
CHRIS CLARK: Right.
AUDIENCE: I was just wondering, the popups sort of things where all the data are self-contained, and then you have to go get it?
CHRIS CLARK: Yes.
AUDIENCE: OK. So it keeps a whole year's worth.
CHRIS CLARK: Yeah. We typically retrieve them after three or four months rather than waiting a whole year.
AUDIENCE: And they're self-releasing? They just come up to the sea floor.
CHRIS CLARK: Right. Or you can go out and you can send them a little message and say, hey. Break away from your anchor and come back to the surface. Yeah. But that's right. So that's not real time. That is you have to wait. Yes?
AUDIENCE: Sorry, I just had a-- because I know with the Boston project, some of the real time, the funding for that network came from the-- or part of it, at least, came from the shipping industry, because it's part of reducing ship [INAUDIBLE].
CHRIS CLARK: Yes. So the Boston situation's really unique in that two LNG companies, which wanted to build-- or have built two terminals each, LNG terminals, this was essentially the cost of doing business off of New York. I mean, off of Boston. So they are paying for the deployment, the maintenance, the analysis, all of that. That's part of their cost of doing business.
AUDIENCE: Is this off Cape Cod or off Boston?
CHRIS CLARK: It's-- here. It's in the shipping lane. The network comes from here right into here, and then we have a whole network right in Mass Bay. Yeah. So there are 10 real-time buoys that are constantly monitoring for right whales.
And again, this is one of these situations where the buoys are quite sophisticated and they have a pretty decent brain on them, and their brain is being used about 10% of the time. So we could be listening for lots of other things. But that was quite remarkable in that that was the cost of the LNG businesses doing business off Boston.
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE]. It's most likely to happen here because the policies are different?
CHRIS CLARK: Well-- OK. I'll have to be careful here. This is what's so interesting. The same agencies, exactly the same agencies-- Department of Commerce, Department of Transportation, Homeland Security, Coast Guard, you know, Army Corps of Engineers, right? Those same agencies are the same agencies in New York or off Jacksonville or off Savannah.
And yet, I've been to meetings at the Port Authority, and it's as though you're talking to two different groups of people. You are talking to two different groups of people, but it's as though they don't even know what's going on their agency.
So the precedent's been set, right? And this is now rippling into what's happening in the Gulf of Mexico. Precedent's has also been set in the Arctic in terms of if you want to do these things, then the following protections have to be put in place.
But off New York, there's no-- no one's building an LNG terminal in the near future because of the economics. Although there were plans to build an island, and there are plans to bring LNG. And also this now gets into the whole wind issue, right? Offshore wind energy. Anything that could impact an endangered species triggers lots of actions. Yeah?
AUDIENCE: Just to elaborate on what she was saying, I just want to make sure I understand what's happening here in New York. So you guys had funding from the DEC in '09. Dropped the buoys, did the recording, and have had no money since then from the state to do that, and that's why the buoys haven't been deployed since?
CHRIS CLARK: Correct.
AUDIENCE: And then to contrast that with what's happening with the permanent recording up in Boston, that money-- is there some state equivalent of money going or some federal money or a combination? What's the funding for it?
CHRIS CLARK: So off Boston, if you look at this scene off Boston, we're maintaining this whole network, a field of 39 recorders in these habitats. This is the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. Here are the shipping lanes.
So off Boston, this has been going on for-- well, this level for three years, three and a half years continuously. And in some of these other cases, for almost 10 years. So we have state aid. We have federal aid. We have commercial aid. Or I shouldn't say aid. We have funding, right? But there is nothing off New York.
AUDIENCE: And why is that? Is New York state the missing piece? Or is it that you don't have buy-in from federal agencies to do it here in this region?
CHRIS CLARK: I don't know that I have the full answer to that. I know that the Department of Environmental Conservation has been unable to continue the funding. In fact, we didn't actually receive our full funding. That was cut. And so there hasn't been really state buy-in.
In fact, one of my-- I don't know what it would be-- irreverent comments is that, wait a minute. The state of New York-- if you ask someone, well, does the state of New York have any coastline? Yeah, I think so. It's called Long Island, right?
Do we have endangered species? Yes, we have endangered species. Do we have a requirement and responsibility to be monitoring for those endangered species? Damn straight we should. Right? But the socks have fallen down, or maybe they were never pulled up. And you're going to tell me I'm going to get in trouble if I make any more statements.
But I find it actually just absolutely irresponsible the way New York has not dealt with its coastal habitats and its marine habitats. We have endangered species of turtles, we have endangered species of migratory birds. You know, whatever.
There's a big ocean out there off of New York, and the fact that we have, you know-- oh, I didn't tell you. When we've looked into these data, we were only supposed to be monitoring for right whales at first.
Well, then we found blue whales and fin whales. We found humpback whales. We found minke whales. We found sei whales. We found seven out of 12 of the greatest whales on Earth, right? We're not missing any. Bowhead whales don't come down from the high Arctic into New York. Gray whales reside over in the North Pacific. Southern blue whales don't come up into the northern hemisphere.
So we've found all of the great whales off New York. And to me, we should be celebrating this, right? This is fantastic, right? We have an opera going on there 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, which is right off the greatest city on the planet, right? Or the city that never sleeps. And to me it's like, wow. We should be listening to this.
And you may want to talk about this. We get fish. Is anybody interested in fish off New York? When you listen, we have more things on these recordings that we don't know what they are than we know what they are.
AUDIENCE: So is this just, like, a budget thing? I mean, have you guys been talking to the Cuomo administration or the DEC? Have you looked at Jersey for joint funding?
CHRIS CLARK: Maybe I should go see the mayor.
AUDIENCE: I don't know.
CHRIS CLARK: Oh, it really is. It's a matter of willpower and budget, right? And we're not talking-- this is not exorbitant.
AUDIENCE: How much is it?
CHRIS CLARK: Well, to install a real system, it would be about $350,000 a year. And so-- hmm?
AUDIENCE: For a permanent system, or a--
CHRIS CLARK: No. The auto detection buoys, that would be more expensive. But the amazing thing about all of that is all of the engineering costs have been paid for by the commercial activities off of Boston. All the technology, it's basically-- you know, it's add water and stir Bisquick, right? All you have to do is reproduce the things. You don't have to pay people to develop them and to figure out how to get satellite data back. It's right there.
And in this modern age, my gosh. You can walk around with a cell phone that tells you what the restaurant is that you should be going to tonight. Why can't we be listening to the whales off New York?
AUDIENCE: Boston has [INAUDIBLE] already, so there's plans to build two more. And that's [INAUDIBLE].
CHRIS CLARK: No, there are actually two companies, have two terminals each. There are four terminals built off Boston.
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] operation?
CHRIS CLARK: Two operations.
AUDIENCE: Two operations.
CHRIS CLARK: SUEZ Energy and Accelerate Energy. Right. Yes, ma'am?
AUDIENCE: Speaking of-- you mentioned early history earlier in this talk. Historically, how close did whales come to New York Harbor?
CHRIS CLARK: They were in the Harbor.
AUDIENCE: They were in the--
CHRIS CLARK: They were up under the George Washington Bridge?
AUDIENCE: And how far up the Hudson would they go? Or would they stop?
CHRIS CLARK: They'd probably stop-- the water gets a little funny.
CHRIS CLARK: But they were killing them right off of the beaches of Long Island.
AUDIENCE: And this was about 100 years ago?
CHRIS CLARK: Yeah, most that would have actually been in the 19th century. But early parts of the 20th century.
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] populations now that you've found. How many individual species did you find off of Long Island?
CHRIS CLARK: Say that again.
AUDIENCE: How large is the population that you discovered off of Long Island? How many individual species--
CHRIS CLARK: Oh, no. We need more. We need to be doing this a little bit longer.
AUDIENCE: It was one blue whale that was tracked?
CHRIS CLARK: Actually, there are obviously multiple blue whales that were tracked. But the blue whales, they roam over that entire ocean basin. So when I tracked blue whales with the Navy system, you see them coming out of the Denmark straits, and then they'll come over toward Nova Scotia, then they'll come down off of the New England sea mounts.
This is their backyard, right? Now fin whales-- so we don't know of any areas of residency for blue whales, but we do know that the fin whales seem to take up these local spots of residency.
AUDIENCE: And they tend to stay about 70 miles off the shore?
CHRIS CLARK: The blue whales?
AUDIENCE: Yeah. Or all the species.
CHRIS CLARK: No, blue whales-- no, all the species, they're right in shallow water. I mean, if I'm tracking fin whales with that little cluster of three right off there, they're moving around all over the place in there. I mean, the day trips they go out off of-- was it Sandy-- Sandy Neck?
AUDIENCE: Sandy Hook?
CHRIS CLARK: Sandy Hook? I mean, they're seeing fin whales 10, 20 miles offshore.
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] track that blue whale [INAUDIBLE] all the coastline.
CHRIS CLARK: Right They tend to do that. And one of the reasons I think they tend to do that is there's not a whole lot for a blue whale to do in shallow water because of where its network is and where its food is. So most of their food, they're diving into, say, 300 or 400 meters of water along a shelf break. That's where the restaurants are for them. And most of the other blue whales are out in that distribution.
They also tend not to hang out-- like to hang out too much with fin whales, for whatever reason. If fin whales come into an area, lots of fin whales, the blue whales will tend to leave and go somewhere else.
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] discover any evidence that the shipping is disrupting them? Like, would they be going one direction, then a big, noisy boat [INAUDIBLE] turn away in the opposite direction?
CHRIS CLARK: I know that from other datasets, but we don't have enough for New York. So you will see, for example, in an area where you'll have a lot of animals-- like, say, fin whales. You'll have a network, a population of maybe 100 or 200 fin whales in an area, and they're all chattering back and forth and moving around and feeding, and they're breeding as well.
And then if a big ship comes through or someone goes in and starts prospecting for oil and gas exploration or you have a fishing fleet come in and the noise level goes up, you'll see them vacate the area. And then when the noise goes away, they'll come back in.
But this, we only did this for nine months. And basically, the way I look at it, we went out and did some prospecting. We made some discoveries. And just as we were sort of getting into the part of discovery, the lights went off. Yeah?
AUDIENCE: Yeah, you mentioned that-- I don't know if you'd call it dialects in whales from Mexico, whatever. Do they understand each other? I mean, is it like a whale from Mexico wouldn't want to converse with one from Portugal?
CHRIS CLARK: Well, they'd have a hard time finding each other because they can't hear each other on two oceans. But these are some really interesting questions. So although-- now remember, I'm only with the fin whale stuff. So for example, if I played you the fin whales song from Bermuda-- and that would be very much like this. It'd just be sort of like this little elf in the back room, tapping.
And then if we went a little north and we went to the Hebrides or something like that and you listen there, they'd be doing--
And then if we went a little further north, then they'd have a little higher note. So they'd be--
I can't even do it that fast, right? But these are males, all right? And these are male songs. And this is basically, to put it crudely, this is, hey, baby. Hey, baby, right?
And what the females are doing, we don't know. But males roam. So we have now evidence of males that are singing the Scottish song, but we find the Scottish song off of Gibraltar. Right? So they'll roam all the way down to the Iberian Peninsula and off of North Africa, and they'll even go into the Mediterranean.
But basically, I think they're just searching for a date, right? They're moving all over the place. But then again, you have to realize, that seems like a long way, but it's not a long way for a fin whale, right? And this whole breeding activity, this whole singing activity goes on for three or four or five months. So it's very, very protracted.
So the males are moving around, and we're still just discovering-- because one of their other questions is, oh. Well, if they sing for many, many months-- in fact, we now have evidence they're pretty much singing year round in some cases. Is the song the same every month? Or is it changing a little bit over time?
So these are all questions that we're just now beginning to be able to delve into. And part of that becomes available-- the questions become available to answer, because we now have a decade worth of recordings.
Another question you haven't asked is, how long do they live? How old is a blue whale? Well, ask yourself this question. How would you figure out how old a whale is, right?
If I had pictures of all of you from your family albums when you were little babies and then I had you as a three or four-year-old and maybe had fingerprints or I had a little-- now you'd have a genetic sample. I could then follow you through time and get some idea of, oh. Wow. Remember this? We have a picture of her when she was five, and then graduation from high school, and then got married, whatnot.
Our ability to age these animals has been very, very difficult. And now with new techniques and some new evidence, we're finding out, my goodness. Animals that we thought lived to be 50 or 60 years old are actually living to be 150 and 200 years old.
So for example, bowhead whales, which are a right whale that went up into the Arctic and never came back-- it was called the Greenland right whale-- well, Eskimo hunters off of Barrow, Alaska, have found steel tip harpoons from the British whalers that were hunting off of Greenland in the 19th century.
So an animal that's killed in 1993-- or they found old spearheads from early Eskimo whalers that are over 100 years old. And now they've been able to look at the growth patterns and look at the aspartic acid in the eyes and they're finding, oh my gosh. These animals live to be 100, 150 years old.
And what this makes me realize is the challenge of understanding how these animals live over these large spaces over long time periods-- when I follow blue whales around using the US Navy's SOSUS system, tracking them out of the Norwegian Sea through the Denmark Straits down to the New England sea mounts off New York and then down to Bermuda, they swim as though they have an acoustic map. They have a complete map of the ocean.
You see them go on straight lines for 300 miles, and they're just slaloming from one underwater feature to another. They're using their voices. They're using their acoustic memories, right? They can't see anything. They can barely see their tails. But they can hear each other 1,000 miles away.
And when you look at this pattern, I mean, I could show you some of the data. But when you look at these mosaics of animals, their network, their social network is huge. Their social network is 100,000 square miles, right? It's the size of all New England and New York and Pennsylvania put together. That's their social system.
They're not living in Central Park, right? Or just take Central Park and blow it up a few orders-- not blow it up. Sorry. Take Central Park and expand it. So that's the way you have to think about this is the scale over which these animals are living.
AUDIENCE: What was the original rationalization from New York funding? What was the original [INAUDIBLE]?
CHRIS CLARK: Again. It was to start-- Nicole Minovitz, who came and started working for the Department of Environmental Conservation-- she was the woman standing on the boat next to the little yellow pumpkins-- wanted to basically engage the Department of Environmental Conservation in conducting more basic research into the marine ecosystem off New York. And again, knowing that there are responsibilities in terms of endangered species and monitoring for endangered species. It was like, OK, let's go find out what's there. And she knew about the work we'd been doing off Boston, so that was sort of the impetus.
And then, of course, as typically happens, you know, once you take the telescope and you start looking into the night sky and you realize, oh, there are craters on the moon. It's not made of cheese. And then you start going, oh, well, what's that beyond that? Oh, there are planets and then there are stars. And so there's a cornucopia of sound that we're discovering off New York, most of which we don't know what it is we're listening to.
So when someone says, oh, what's your latest expedition? Are you going to go down into Elephant Island on the Antarctic Peninsula? Or what are you doing in the Arctic?
It's like, my goodness. We have expeditions right off 10 miles away, 20 miles away. There are things to be discovered off New York right now that I believe have value. They have social value and they have health value, and they enrich our lives.
AARON RICE: And I think one other point to make too is that there's this initial sort of honeymoon phase period of excitement. Hey, we recorded for a year. Look at all the stuff we found. The story's done. And there isn't this sort of excitement for a continued monitoring over a longer period of time. That's sort of dull.
But what we found from our work in the Gulf of Mexico in response to Deepwater Horizon is that what really constrains our ability to interpret the data is the complete lack of long-term, baseline data. This kind of recording is expensive. There's parts of it that will catch public attention and it gets exciting. But a lot of it is really sort of just slogging away and doing the data analysis.
But again, for these animals that are living so long, a nine-month snapshot of data is just a little glimmer in their life. It's not an extended time period. But these are these temporal scales over which we need to be understanding their life history and ecology.
CHRIS CLARK: Yeah.
AUDIENCE: You guys are getting most of your funding for this type of research from the industry, right? [INAUDIBLE]. You said LNG in Boston and I'm assuming BP.
AARON RICE: It's a mix. It's a mix of-- there is some federal funding coming from NOAA and some funding coming from oil and gas companies in different parts that are particularly sensitive to exploration or recovery.
CHRIS CLARK: Yeah. And sometimes those moneys are channeled through a federal or state agency. It's sort of buffered that way. And sometimes they're coming-- so some of the work we've done up in the High Arctic is through a contract with an oil and gas company that is part of their requirement prior to going to do anything. So Canada will say, before you do anything, you'd better go prospect and find out what animals are there. And we need three years of baseline data to find out what we should do to mitigate any activity you might have.
AUDIENCE: So they get serious about [INAUDIBLE] offshore shelf, the oil or gas [INAUDIBLE] from New Jersey. Would that be the potential to go to to them [INAUDIBLE] three years [INAUDIBLE]?
CHRIS CLARK: Absolutely.
AARON RICE: If they recognize that it needs to be done three years ahead of time. Some of the way these cycles typically go is that they'll say, OK. We're going to start construction a year out. Let's get six months of baseline data. And that's helpful for that six-month window. But we get year-to-year variations. We get seasonal variations. And just having that short a reporting time isn't necessarily enough to be able to understand longer term patterns.
AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] three year sort of--
AARON RICE: Ideally, yeah. But at some level, we take what we can get.
CHRIS CLARK: Definitely multi-year.
AARON RICE: Yeah. A little bit of data is better than no data, but it's certainly not ideal.
AUDIENCE: So up in Boston, is the funding sort of in perpetuity? Or is that going to come to an end from industry as well?
CHRIS CLARK: The funding for the LNG projects, they are mandated to continue the real-time buoy system for the life of the project. Their project.
AUDIENCE: Whose mandate?
CHRIS CLARK: The permits. The permit state.
AUDIENCE: The federal permits?
CHRIS CLARK: Federal and state permits mandate them for the cradle to grave, if you will, of the project. So it might be a 25, 30-year project. And part of the discussions that are ongoing now between industry and federal and state agencies, states are sort of coming along a little bit less so than the federal agency.
So Department of Commerce and the Interior. So Bureau of Ocean Energy and NOAA and now industry. You are getting people in the same room recognizing, it's in everybody's best interest to build the monitoring and mitigation requirements for the natural world into the plan from the very beginning.
So you could go now-- and I'm not stating anything that's not known. So you could go to, say, the US Navy. So you've probably all heard that the US Navy has had a bull's eye on its head. And they went to the Supreme Court because they got in trouble over their mid-frequency sonar and whales dying, right?
And they got into trouble with low-frequency active sonar. They spent in five years, the first five years of this, they spend $122 million in litigation, right? Go ask Shell what they spent-- what they've lost in the Arctic because of not taking a proactive approach to the environmental issues, right?
The smartest thing to do is be proactive and build the environmental knowledge building-- or, sorry-- to engage the environmental knowledge building into your business plan from the very start. Because everything that we're talking about is cheap, right? You're talking about a million dollars a year to understand the ecosystem off of New York? Are you kidding me?
I mean, it's ridiculous. You could get a penny from everybody-- well, you'd get more than that. You know, you could collect beer cans and you could make a million dollars. And if we don't get it right, we don't get a second chance.
So I'll get off my soap opera, but it's like, it's really trivial. And so when I'm in a room with people and they're complaining about how much it's going to cost them to do environmental monitoring and mitigation for endangered whales, it's like, I don't have any sympathy for that particular argument, because business-wise, it's cheap, right?
Now when you get into alternative energies like wind and whatnot where there is no margin, that's different. But to we ought to be building up a knowledge base of what's happening in the ocean off our coastal habitats before we just go and destroy it.
AUDIENCE: It sounds almost like you're saying that in New York, since the state is so hard up or doesn't want to put the resources there that this could be like the bright side, like if that LNG terminal goes through off of Jersey or something. I want to make sure I'm kind of getting it right. It's like, if the state wouldn't pay for anything like this, even the semi-permanent net that you guys want to put, is the only other funding source that you would look to then industry and the feds? Is that right?
CHRIS CLARK: You know what I'd like to look to? The public sector. Right? People, right? What if everybody gave $20 bucks, right? Or you know, whatever it is. Why don't we as a society invest in it, right? I mean, that's another option, right? Yeah, New York state financially is not in great shape. And finding a million dollars and justifying a million dollars to listen to whales off New York probably isn't going to get a whole lot of traction up in Albany.
AUDIENCE: How is Jacksonville being funded?
CHRIS CLARK: That's being funded out of NOAA. So Department of Commerce-- and basically, you know, how do I say it nicely? I mean, basically, you go and have bake sales, right? You have car washes and bake sales to raise $300,000 for a program a year, right? So you're investing less than $1,000 a day to do this monitoring, right?
AARON RICE: And the scope of the Jacksonville and Savannah projects are almost on a scale of pilot projects. We've had one or two units in for a couple years here and there, but it's not the 19 element archival array that is off of Boston.
CHRIS CLARK: Yeah, it's not a system. It's basically just a--
AARON RICE: Proof of concept.
CHRIS CLARK: Proof of concept.
AUDIENCE: I don't want to interrupt the conversation. I just want, for those of you who are on a real tough schedule and have to [INAUDIBLE] you're able to do that without interrupting anything. For everybody else, please feel free to stay.
CHRIS CLARK: Yeah. I love that questions. We love the questions.
AUDIENCE: I just had one. Say it takes you another couple of years to get this funding, and you finally get it. Do you have any guess on what you expect to find? I mean, can some of these rare species you say you were shocked to find, could they just be in bigger numbers all of the sudden? Does that happen to whales who start to populate in new areas?
CHRIS CLARK: There's expansion possibilities. But now you also have to realize that these are very large, long-lived animals. A right whale will breed optimally every three years. So it takes decades to see that population come back.
I think what we're going to find is-- well, we'll probably expand our knowledge about the space and the time of which these animals are in the area. And then we're going to have more discoveries. I think where the discoveries are going to be as is in the fishes and other things that we never expected to be there.
I mean, there are some now discoveries about benthic organisms. Now this is sort of nerdy science. But you know, shrimp make sounds. Fish make sounds. There are no known deaf marine vertebrates, right? So everybody's paying attention to the sounds. So I think a lot of it's going to be basic discovery and expanding the time and space over which these animals are utilizing New York.
AARON RICE: But in the context of the right whale, the right whale whaling industry pretty much collapsed at the end of the 19th century, and they were thought to be extinct and completely gone. And there was sort of this rediscovery of, holy cow. We have right whales. In 1950, the early 1950s was when right whales realized to be still surviving. And so in that time since the '50s, they've attracted quite a bit of attention.
And so over this 50-year, 60-year time cycle, I mean, this is sort of an example of we now have effective legislation, protection, and mitigation for right whales. And it has sort of begun to allow their recovery. But again, it takes a long time. Takes a lot of investment. And it takes a sort of a mandate from either the public or the federal government.
AUDIENCE: You said you didn't know what was bringing back the whales. Maybe by studying other species, maybe you'll find the answer.
CHRIS CLARK: Yeah. And on that notion, I mean, think of what some of the rivers along the coastline that are feeding New York and Connecticut, the rivers that were the great breeding grounds for the spawning for salmon and other fish, you dam them up, you pollute them, and pretty much you'll collapse that whole population. And then as you start protecting them and letting them come back, well, decades later, now we're starting to see the recoveries.
And you know, it may seem simplistic, but healthy populations of marine mammals and fishes mean that the ocean is healthy, and that's our health, is the way I look at it. But it's a long-term investment. This isn't going to be one of those things where overnight you get your solution. This is something that we as a society have to realize, oh, this is valuable to us so that my children and my grandchildren and your offspring and everybody that there's a long-term benefit.
AUDIENCE: Any species you're looking at are targeted by the Icelandic or Norwegian whale industries [INAUDIBLE]?
CHRIS CLARK: Minke and fin.
AUDIENCE: Is it [INAUDIBLE] impact of those populations, or not too bad?
CHRIS CLARK: No. Minke whales will breed every year and fin whales are breeding every two years, at least. And their populations have shown a real strong recovery. Yep. Yes, ma'am?
AUDIENCE: So you're saying that New York state, they've pulled out of the funding. Was there an amount of time that they promised, or was it just they gave you partial funding?
CHRIS CLARK: Well, we had a period of time of which we were going to have funding, and that's what everybody assumed, because that was what contractually happened. And then we only received about half of the funding. Yes?
AUDIENCE: I know that because of what you just explained that it's really only a snapshot of data from New York waters. Is there anything new from analysis of those recordings that you guys know that you haven't made public since you were last talking about hearing the mating sound of the blue whale? Is there anything that you could sort of tell us? Any more specifics, at least off that snapshot?
CHRIS CLARK: Well, we pretty much stopped. Once we finished our report for the DEC, we pretty much stopped delving into those data.
AUDIENCE: Let me rephrase that. I know that when I wrote about it, I was like, ah! Blue whale off Long Island. So that was it. So I'm hoping maybe I can tell my readers something new, at least off this tiny sliver that we have. Can you give us a little more detail or new numbers? You had mentioned that, like, what? Seven out of 12 of the big whales are passing by. Can you just tell us a little more what that snapshot helped us learn about whales here?
CHRIS CLARK: You want to answer that?
AARON RICE: Certainly, one component is that by being able to compare-- some of the work we're doing now is comparing our concurrent recordings from New York and Massachusetts Bay. What we can find is that we have fin whales-- and you saw this throughout the year. Fin whales are singing at the same time in Massachusetts Bay and New York.
The null hypothesis would be, oh. We have one single group of fin whales. Similar to right whales, they start off in one area and they migrate up the coast, and once they're gone out of region, they're gone. But the fact that you have this concurrent singing by fin whales in these two areas at the same time definitely supports this idea of these two distinct populations that are there all the time. Similarly, in Massachusetts Bay, we see fin whales there year round.
And for our long-term monitoring that we do with the oil and gas companies, fin whales are easy to find. I mean, they show right up. When you focus in right on that frequency band, and, hey. We have fin whales. And they're there almost every day.
CHRIS CLARK: So there are minke whales, but we didn't really pay much attention in our analysis to minke whales. But we know there are minke whales there. So is, you know, in the Cornell University sense, well, there's a great project for a student to take this on. But we haven't published on, you know, detecting seven species off New York. So there's a lot to be done.
AARON RICE: And the other thing too is that being able to sort of now have an understanding of the fact that there are these seven species raises the question of, well, these species aren't vocalizing in isolation of one another. So the time that has passed since the project ended has allowed us to take some perspective and sort of come up with new questions.
And so it's the idea of envisioning ocean basins as sort of an acoustic community. It's a collection of singing species which, we don't know how they interact. We don't know if they're saying anything to each other. But they're not singing all by themselves. They can hear the other animals. And so this is sort of the forefront of where it's going.
And sort of being able to look at-- one of the terms we use in bioacoustics is this idea of acoustic ecology. These are animals that make their living using sounds. It is a fundamental aspect of their life history.
And when we look at how sounds propagate over coastal systems, we look at how anthropogenic noise sort of will mask some of those sounds and how they're communicating with each other, it almost changes the paradigm of, how do we understand how these large vertebrates and small vertebrates are interacting acoustically in the ocean?
AUDIENCE: So this wouldn't help you-- not only would it help you understand who's going by, get a rough idea of numbers, but also get more clues into the interactions between different species at different levels there?
AARON RICE: Exactly.
CHRIS CLARK: Right.
AARON RICE: The other thing that we have done is we have used-- so if you think back to that map that Chris showed, all the little red spots along the Atlantic coast, what we can now begin to do is do meta analyses both from a biological perspective, but also an ambient noise perspective over, how does the coast of Savannah sound compared to New York Harbor? And we can look at something simple like-- some metric like shipping traffic and quantify the number of ships per hour with sound.
But we can also look at Savannah has very shallow water. The New York [INAUDIBLE] is much deeper. Sound travels differently in different depths of the ocean. This is part of some of the games that the whales are playing. These low-frequency sounds propagate very far distances in deep water, but they attenuate really rapidly in shallow water.
And so you have these different sort of physically structured environments. What that means is this acoustic backdrop of ambient noise and collection of environmental, anthropogenic, and biologic sounds will differ between habitats. So New York now is one of these sort of critical pieces along this sort of story we're trying to tell along the Atlantic coast.
AUDIENCE: So I just want to make sure I understand that correctly. So if you have enough data, if you have enough data in different places, is there a way that you can correlate the acoustic data in terms of the biological aspect of the acoustic data with acoustic data that's being produced by humans? So could you plot, if there is, indeed, an effect?
AARON RICE: Yeah. And it's another one of these sort of ongoing projects that we're working on.
AUDIENCE: OK. I mean, are there data out there that can-- can you talk about that a little bit more? If there are data--
CHRIS CLARK: Can I show you a couple examples?
AUDIENCE: What's that?
CHRIS CLARK: Let me show you some examples.
CHRIS CLARK: OK. Because this is a really important point. Aaron, great you brought it up. This whole thing about the acoustic habitat and the acoustic ecology, and what is the impact of all our various activities on that acoustic habitat?
So here is-- this is an authentic example of this. So this is off of Boston. So here's our map here. Here's Cape Cod, right? And there's Stellwagen Bank. There's sanctuaries in here. This brown line represents the track of a ship.
So ever since 9/11, there's been an automatic information system that's being brought up by the US Coast Guard. So every ship that's over 65 feet and 300 metric tons has a transponder on it, and those data are being collected by Coast Guard and made available to NOAA, Department of Commerce, right?
And we collaborate with Department of Commerce, so we now have been working with them closely off Boston. Every ship that comes in, we have all those bottom recorders, so we have a library of sounds of every ship. So it's as though we had microphones out on JFK and LaGuardia. And every plane that comes in, we have the sound of that vehicle moving through space.
So here's another. This is a little bit abstract. But this witch's hat or this candy kiss represents the loudness of my voice as you get further and further away. So when you're very, very close to me, my voice is loud, and that sound gets less intense as I get further away from you. And there are physical rules. This is all ocean physics.
So the color here represents the loudness, OK? So it's very loud near me. And as you get further and further away from me, it drops down and gets very quiet until it gets to a point where you can't hear me anymore, OK? And that's black.
So that's my-- think of it as an acoustic space. We all do this. We walk along the street, having a conversation. And if it was really quiet, if it was 2 o'clock in the morning, we could be walking up 7th Avenue and having a conversation across the street. And then a truck drives up the street, and I could keep talking, and you'd see my mouth move, and you wouldn't hear anything. Only in this case, the whales don't see their mouths move, right? So that space expands and contracts as the noise comes in and out of my life.
So now I'm going to show you what happens to-- I'm right here. I'm calling. This is my space, and the ship comes in. And you'll see my space contract as the ship comes in. And this is all scientifically authentic, right? This is not made up.
Here comes the ship. Whoomph. OK? So what I'm doing is I'm-- you see what I'm doing? We're mapping how much space I have. As the ship comes in, gets closer and closer and closer, bingo. My world just shrinks. We all know what this is like. You know the difference between being in a bar-- it's loud. And you can be a couple of feet away from someone, having a conversation. You raise your voice. And after that, you can't hear anything. Does that makes sense?
AUDIENCE: Chris, can you show them the-- if you have the piece when the ship comes into Boston Harbor and actually [INAUDIBLE].
CHRIS CLARK: Yeah, I'm going to show you the--
AUDIENCE: That's a really great [INAUDIBLE].
CHRIS CLARK: So I refer to this as the van Gogh, OK? So here's Provincetown down here. Here's Cape Ann, and Boston's over here. And each of these lights now-- now I'm looking down onto the all those witches' hats, right? So this is the tip of the witch's hat. And because of the light in the room, you can't see my space. But that full space of that cone would be maybe this big. You understand what I'm saying?
AUDIENCE: Do those represent whales?
CHRIS CLARK: Each one is a whale. So each of these is the space of a calling whale. And there are more whales down here, because when they were doing all the aerial surveys, this was a higher density of animals. There was food down here, and the other animals were distributed.
OK, so this is the network. This is our network. All right? And now I'm going to show you what happens. And there's going to be a clock up here. This is the 3rd of April. And you're going to see a clock, and you're going to see the ships come in and out. And the footprint of the ship is the acoustic footprint. That's the space that that ship engulfs with the noise.
There's some small boats coming out of Boston. Here comes a big commercial ship into Boston. So the radiated noise from that ship basically engulfs this amount of space. And if you can't see the light of the whale underneath the radiance of the noise from the ship, that means that that animal can't hear and be heard by any other animals. So this is now where we're going with this whole notion of acoustic habitat.
AUDIENCE: Great. So what? I'm not trying to be flip. So what?
CHRIS CLARK: Right. So what? So what we're now able to show is that these animals are losing roughly 85% of their opportunities to communicate.
AUDIENCE: For a very short period of time.
CHRIS CLARK: No. On average over a month, they've lost 85% of their opportunities to communicate because the shipping traffic, even in Boston, even as low as it is in Boston, means that they can't maintain their social network. So what you're--
CHRIS CLARK: They're living in an urbanized habitat, right? From all the stuff. Now we're adding the fishing boats and we're adding the ecotourist boats. And what it's showing is that these animals use sound to form their aggregations. To find food, to find mating groups. And what you're constantly doing is you're tearing that social fabric over and over and over again.
AUDIENCE: Because aren't the ships coming in at a continuous rate?
CHRIS CLARK: Well, in Boston, it's about five large ships a day. It's modest. But there are a lot of small vessels coming right through a critical habitat. But the noise from the ships has never been considered part of the impact on the critical habitat.
So this is where a lot of this is going. And what Aaron was talking about, we can now do this comparison between Jacksonville, Savannah, Charleston, New York, Boston, et cetera.
So now there's a major push coming out of Department of Commerce, out of NOAA to look at-- it's called coastal zone management, ecosystem-based management to understand how the noise from all of our activities is changing the acoustic habitat over the entire coastline.
AUDIENCE: And is there any way of knowing now if this is affecting their longevity or affecting mortality?
CHRIS CLARK: Yeah, that's the $64 billion question. Right now, what we can do is we can generate the data that says, how much of your acoustic habitat have you lost, and how often are you losing it for different species? Because this is for a right whale. This picture looks different for a fin whale, or it looks different for haddock, right? Because they are doing different things with their voices.
And that's where we're having-- there are multiple meetings going on trying to first-- and it's called looking at cumulative impact. And it's even just trying to get your mind around the concept of a cumulative impact. How do you quantify the cumulative impact from whatever the activity is? In this case, it's ocean shipping. Not to mention coastal shipping. Not to mention, oh, we're going to be building and putting 1,000 wind turbines off of New Jersey or Delaware, o wherever it is, right? So that makes sense? Yes, sir?
AUDIENCE: Sort of an odd way to look at it maybe, but do they start swimming in circles? Do they just start going in the wrong direction?
CHRIS CLARK: Oh, no. You know what right whales do?
CHRIS CLARK: They stop calling. So basically, we're all chattering. We're keeping our network open because we're calling each other. The noise level goes up, and everybody basically stops calling.
Now this is the same reaction they have to a gale, a big storm that comes through New England. And for three days, the noise level goes up. And basically, it's as though they say, I'll call you on Monday, right? Everybody just shuts down. And as the storm passes and the noise level drops, we all start chattering again. Only in the case of a storm, it's usually multiple days whereas this is happening multiple times during the day. So what you see is this constant stopping and starting of their communication.
And that little animation I showed in Cape Cod Bay, what you see is they're counter-calling. Their network breaks down, and it could impact their aggregations. So you start seeing this constant sort of tearing of their social system.
AUDIENCE: So it's stress.
CHRIS CLARK: Yes. And in fact, that's where there are now projects being proposed where, could we actually monitor for stress hormones in these animals? Is there some way we could actually get a metric on it?
And in many cases, we know that there is no overt reaction, that I can't see anything happening with you, even though you're being stressed out. But your heart rate's gone up. Your corticosteroids are going up. But something's going on. But you seem to be behaving normally, right? And so those are some of the bigger questions, because this issue off Boston is trivial compared to what's going on in other places.
AARON RICE: And just to follow up on that too, sort of in a comparative context of biology, if you go into the lab and you sort of had elevated noise levels to songbirds or rats and mice or primates, they definitely show a physiological shift in hormonal stress levels in response to a lot of noise. So one could hypothesize that whales are no different than all other vertebrates. The data haven't been collected yet.
AUDIENCE: Is this the sort of thing that if you were going to try to equate it to humans, since they're such long-lived animals and we can't exactly look at them up close very well, that this could be having some sort of effect like, I don't know, high cholesterol or something on humans? It's some sort of hidden effect of environment or behavior that could have long-term effects that you're not going to see right away?
CHRIS CLARK: Mm-hmm. Yeah. So these are chronic, right? In fact, one notion is that for-- why are North Atlantic right whales doing so poorly compared to other populations of right whales around the world? The ones off Africa, Argentina, Chile, Australia are all recovering. They're growing at 6%, 7%, 8% a year. This group is maybe growing at 1% to 2% a year.
And one notion is that, well, they were clobbered down to almost nothing, as Aaron said. They thought they were essentially extinct. But in this particular part of the world, the industrialization of the North Atlantic has occurred. As the commercial hunt ended, the industrialization of the North Atlantic and the noise levels have been going up steadily throughout the century.
And it's a chronic impact. There's so few of us that we can barely find each other. And then it's even made worse by the fact that we can't hear each other. But again, that's just a hypothesis.
But I think you're dead on. It's the chronic issue we're talking about. Unfortunately, in this species, they get hit by ships. And when you hit a female that's pregnant, you've just had a serious impact on the reproductive capability of that group. So a lot of the mitigation has gone towards trying to slow ships down or modify some kind of behavior like that to reduce the ship strikes.
AUDIENCE: But not the noise.
CHRIS CLARK: But not the noise. No.
AUDIENCE: I know you said this before, but just again, can you sort of quantify the shipping traffic in Boston versus, say, the shipping traffic coming through New York Harbor to give us a sense of what the volume is here compared with there where it's being tracked?
CHRIS CLARK: Aaron, you know the shipping?
AARON RICE: One eighth. Something like that.
CHRIS CLARK: One eighth? Not--
AARON RICE: [INAUDIBLE]
CHRIS CLARK: Almost an order of magnitude?
AARON RICE: [INAUDIBLE]
AUDIENCE: Like eight times the traffic here that you would have in going in and out of Boston Harbor?
AARON RICE: Yeah, eight times. I mean, yeah, ballpark. Something like that.
CHRIS CLARK: Yeah.
AUDIENCE: Is that something, like, Commerce Department would have that, or--
AUDIENCE: Well, you can look at just the--
CHRIS CLARK: Yeah, Port Authority.
AUDIENCE: Oh, OK.
AUDIENCE: There are more fishing boats [INAUDIBLE].
CHRIS CLARK: Yeah. It doesn't include a lot of the small vessels. Which, by the way, can be horrendous. Like an ocean tug can be horrendously noisy. Yes, sir?
AUDIENCE: How many [INAUDIBLE] vessels have [INAUDIBLE] vessels have props for stealth capabilities? In other words, they can go at the same speed, the same everything, but they're not loud.
CHRIS CLARK: Yeah.
AUDIENCE: Is that something that can be used in commercial?
CHRIS CLARK: It can be, and it's being considered. The International Maritime Organization now over the last four years has slowly been adopting some policies. But you know-- how do I say this? You know what it's like. You can be in your cabin in Maine, right? And it's a beautiful early September day, and you're writing, and everything's just fine. And then some bozo drives down the back road in a truck with no muffler. And all it takes is that one guy with no muffler to basically permeate the habitat.
And a lot of these ships are-- you know, it's an investment, and you can't retrofit them. And what you're listening to with the noise is basically cavitation of that propeller, right? And the cavitation etches the blades, and so they deteriorate or get a little bit a shaft vibration.
So there are ships that have been built that are three orders of magnitude quieter. So they can be considerably quieter. And the best examples of these are in the cruise ship industry. Right? You don't want to have a stateroom where your whole mind is just being rattled all the time. You're not going to do it. But the cruise ships are remarkably quiet.
CHRIS CLARK: Right. That's one solution. Yeah. And sometimes it is just blades.
AUDIENCE: If it's possible, could you give your contact information to everybody who's here?
CHRIS CLARK: Sure.
AUDIENCE: Unfortunately, our wonderful speakers have another engagement they have to get to, so I am going to have to be terribly rude and wrap things up. But if you would please give your contact information.
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Chris Clark and Aaron Rice of the Bioacoustic Research Program at the Lab of Ornithology talk with media members about their state-of-the-art acoustic animations and the difficulties facing whales at the May 5, 2011 Inside Cornell session in New York City.