Rosenberg Institute Spring Seminar Series @ EOS Center

Wednesday, March 17, 2021
Event Time 03:30 p.m. - 04:30 p.m. PT
Location Estuary & Ocean Science Center - Zoom
Contact Email


Eavesdropping in the Arctic on singing bowheads and a changing climate
Kate Stafford, Senior Principal Oceanographer, University of Washington

Abstract: The Arctic is an incredibly special region with a suite of endemic species that are well adapted to the polar night and icy environment. This extreme habitat has created an animal of extremes: the bowhead whale. Bowhead whales spend their entire lives in the Arctic, can live 200 years, and they have the thickest blubber, and longest baleen of any whale. They also sing throughout the winter in thick ice and complete darkness. Passive acoustic recordings of bowhead whales in the Arctic have revealed that bowhead whale singing behavior is also superlative -- many tens of distinct songs are sung by a population in a single season. Why there is such a high diversity and turnover in bowhead whale songs is unknown but suggests that the environment in which they have evolved may be driving this novelty. This environment is, however, changing rapidly. The Arctic is warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe. The most obvious evidence of this is the dramatic decrease in seasonal sea ice. Changes in sea ice have resulted in changes in the overall soundscape of the Arctic: more wind and wave noise, more human noise, and novel sounds from Arctic invaders. All of these elements are changing the acoustic world in which the bowhead, and other Arctic animals, live. .

Bio: Dr. Kate Stafford is currently a Senior Principal Oceanographer at the Applied Physics Lab and affiliate Associate Professor in the School of Oceanography at the University of Washington in Seattle. Her research focuses on using passive acoustic monitoring to examine migratory movements, geographic variation and physical drivers of marine mammals, particularly large whales. She has worked all over the world from the tropics to the poles. Kate’s current research focuses on the acoustic behavior of bowhead whales and the changing acoustic environment of the Arctic and how changes, from sea ice declines to increasing industrial human use, may be influencing subarctic and Arctic marine mammals.

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