Past 2014 Presentations

January 28th:  Mark Fischer, Aguasonic Acoustics, The Shape of the Sound

The work I have done with the sounds of birds, whales, and dolphins, and the difference between the ways we normally see those sounds represented { spectrograms }, and this other way of seeing the same sounds {wavelets}… and why those differences could matter to studies that concern the sounds of birds, whales, and dolphins.

“The Shape of the Sound”
The intriguing sounds made by the orders Cetacea and Avia invite us into a universe ripe for our exploration. Focusing upon the interconnection between the two formerly distinct realms of sound and image, the artist aspires to let the sound itself tell the story of what it may look like. A sound can be seen as a multi-dimensional energetic expression, and is given the freedom to emerge through highly tuned ‘lenses’ designed using mathematics. A wide spectrum of color mapping lends contextual representation suggesting each sound’s intrinsic character. Once immersed in this domain, we confront deeper mysteries still. Are these merely patterns, or could they also prompt the beginning of a new perception of sound that challenges previous notions about its origin, structure and meaning? Recordings are made using the highest quality equipment available, and images made from these sounds using the AGUASONIC®process

Graduated George Mason University 1988 with a degree in electronics and computer engineering. 10 years in software development for defense and telecommunications companies, couple years off spending winters in Baja California, now going on 13 years of studying the sounds of birds, whales and dolphins, and making images from those studies.
A brief artist’s biography may be found at:

Slides and the notes to this presentation have been posted to:

February 25th:   Kathi Koontz:    “Whale Disentanglement in Northern California”

Kathi Koontz is a primary responder with the California Whale Entanglement Team (WET, under the auspices of the National Marine Fisheries Service), a supervisor for the Marine Mammal Center’s special rescue operation team, a co-investigator with Marine Life Studies, and project manager at the University of California at Berkeley and the California Academy of Sciences. Kathi has participated in five whale disentanglement efforts, numerous entangled whale searches, and over fifty sea lion disentanglements.

She will be joined by Pieter Folkens, lead California WET responder and co-investigator on the National Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program permit for whale disentangling.  Pieter is a highly acclaimed illustrator of marine mammals and a founding board member of the Alaska Whale Foundation. He has contributed to many books, feature films, and television documentaries.  His other major involvement is working his search and rescue trailing dog, Cali, for the California Rescue Dog Association (CARDA) and the Napa Sheriff’s Office.
One of the greatest threats posed to whales, worldwide, is entanglement in fishing gear and marine debris. Scar studies show greater than 20 percent of large whales have entanglement scars.  The Whale Entanglement Team (WET) disentangles large whales with properly trained and equipped personnel, and shares information to reduce the threat of entanglements in the future.  Join Kathi Koontz from WET, as she shares information about the entanglements we see, or don’t see, in Northern California, and how you can get involved.  She, and Pieter Folkens, will walk you through the disentanglement process of removing a tight wrap/line(s) on a free-swimming, and anchored, 50 foot, 50 ton whale – from a 14-18 foot inflatable boat.  Does size matter?

Biography:  Kathi Koontz is a responder for the National Marine Fisheries Service’s whale entanglement team (WET),  supervisor for the MarineMammalCenter’s special rescue operation team, co-investigator for Marine Life Studies, and project manager for the University of California at Berkeley and the California Academy of Sciences.

March 6th:   Ari Friedlaender:  “Seeing below the surface: using tag technology and visualization tools to understand the underwater behavior of whales”

Whales spend over 90% of their time submerged below the surface, out of sight of direct observation from humans.  While many of their behaviors can be gleaned from surface observations, means to recreate the underwater movement patterns and behaviors of whales in situ can lead to unprecedented insights into their biology, ecology, and conservation.  Multi-sensor suction-cup tags have been used for nearly 15 years, and were initially designed to study the acoustic behavior of certain cetacean species.  Since that time, our ability to discern underwater behaviors from hydrophones, accelerometers and magnetometers and link these to the environment in which whales live, has provided novel information for several heretofore undocumented cetacean species. Data will be presented providing examples of the analytical tools that have been developed to study the kinematic patterns of whales underwater.  As well, new and emerging perspectives into the foraging behaviors of humpback whales will be discussed in the context of individual and regional variability.  Among cetaceans, humpback whales are unique in the array and plasticity of feeding behaviors that they employ and understanding how these relate to changes in their environment can offer hope towards providing adequate protection and mitigation against threats caused by human activity.

Biography:  Ari Friedlaender is an Associate Professor at OregonStateUniversity’s Marine Mammal Institute.  Ari received his Master’s degree in Marine Biology from UNC Wilmington, and his PhD in Ecology from DukeUniversity.  Ari’s research focuses on understanding the underwater behavior and ecological linkages between marine mammals and their environments.  Specifically, Ari has worked to develop new tagging and visualization tools to quantify the underwater behaviors of marine mammals.  By linking tag-derived data with concurrent measurements of prey and other environmental variables, we can learn significantly more about how these ocean predators interact with their environment.  Ari’s work is also geared towards understanding how the ecology of marine mammals is being affected by climate change and other anthropogenic disturbances.  Ari works around the world with active research programs in Alaska, California, North Carolina, the Arctic and Antarctica.  Ari has a special interest in Antarctica, having made over 20 research trips to study marine mammals in this unique habitat.  Along with his scientific contributions, Ari actively engages with the non-science public through collaborations with the National Geographic Society, Smithsonian Institute, BBC, and other foundations to share information and promote ocean conservation.

Special Event: March 20th:  Stephen Palumbi and Anthony R. Palumbi

The Extreme Life of the Sea: Amazing ways animals live in amazing parts of the ocean”

What are the fastest fish in the sea? The deepest species? The hottest, coldest, oldest? The strangest family lives? The oceans are filled with a huge diversity of life, and species manage to live in virtually all habitats. There is the deepsea stop light fish with red search lights for finding prey – that only it can see. There are ice fish with special proteins that keep ice out of their blood, and are now used to keep ice out of your ice cream. This is a talk for everyone who wants to know the secrets of the sea. It is about the familiar – where Nemo finds a mate – and the unfamiliar – how do squid fly? It is about the extreme life of the sea. (Twitter hash tag #ExtremeLifeOTC/

BIOGRAPHY: Stephen Palumbi 

Jane and Marshall Steele Jr. Professor of Marine Sciences, Harold A. Miller Director of the Hopkins Marine Station, Department of Biological Sciences, StanfordUniversity

Steve teaches and does research in evolution and marine biology at StanfordUniversity, and has long been fascinated by how quickly the world around us changes. A native of Baltimore, Maryland, Steve has worked in Washington State, Hawaii, Massachusetts and California. Work on the genetics of marine organisms tries to focus on basic evolutionary questions but also on practical solutions to questions about how to preserve and protect the diverse life in the sea.

Steve has lectured extensively on human-induced evolutionary change, has used genetic detective work to identify whales for sale in retail markets, and is working on new methods to help find species resistant to climate change. Steve’s latest book for non-scientists is about the amazing species in the sea, written with Steve’s son and novelist Anthony. The Extreme Life of the Sea tells you about the fastest species in the sea, and hottest, coldest, oldest etc. Just a few years ago Steve and Carolyn Sotka published an unusual environmental success story called The Death and Life of Monterey Bay: A Story of Revival. His first science book for non-scientists The Evolution Explosion explored how human accelerate evolutionary change in the species around us. Steve helped write, research and also appears in the BBC series The Future is Wild and the History Channel’s World Without People. Other recent films appearances include The End of the Line, and the Canadian Broadcasting series One Ocean. Major work continues on the microdocumentary project, the Short Attention Span Science Theater. The series website received a million hits last year. Steve’s band Sustainable Soul has several songs out, including Crab Love and The Last Fish Left.

Steve holds a Pd.D. from the University of Washington, and a BA from The Johns Hopkins University. He has received numerous awards for research and conservation, including a Pew Fellowship in Marine Conservation.  He lives in Pacific Grove, CA with his family and is based at Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station.

Anthony R. Palumbi:  Writer and Co-author

April 29th:   Pamela S. Turner:  Everyone knows bottlenose dolphins are smart. But why are they smart?

The answer to that question can’t be found in a concrete tank. If you want to know why dolphins are smart, you must ask: What is happening in the dolphins’ natural environment? Why does a dolphin need to be smart?

Pamela Turner, author of the new book THE DOLPHINS OF SHARK BAY. Shark Bay, Western Australia is the most important bottlenose dolphin study site in the world, and Pamela will bring us the story of GeorgetownUniversity professor Janet Mann and the Shark Bay Dolphin Project. Research in SharkBay has resulted in one stunning discovery after another, such as fiendishly sophisticated alliances among male dolphins and astonishing innovations in feeding techniques by female dolphins, including beaching, shell-shaking, and tool use. This special event that is sure to inspire future scientists as well as dolphin-lovers of all ages. Pamela Turner lives in Oakland and is the author of eight books, THE DOLPHINS OF SHARK BAY, PROWLING THE SEAS: EXPLORING THE HIDDEN WORLD OF OCEAN PREDATORS, THE FROG SCIENTIST, and PROJECT SEAHORSE. Visit her at”

Biography: Pamela S. Turner is the author of Hachiko: The True Story of a Loyal Dog, Gorilla Doctors: Saving Endangered Great Apes, Life on Earth—and Beyond: An Astrobiologist’s Quest, Prowling the Seas: The Hidden Lives of Ocean PredatorsA Life in the Wild: George Schaller’s Struggle to Save the Last Great Beasts, The Frog Scientist, and Project Seahorse. She has received a Golden Kite for Nonfiction and Golden Kite Honor Award for picture book text from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s Science Writing Prize, the ASPCA Henry Bergh Award, the Flora Steiglitz Straus Nonfiction Award, the Cybils Nonfiction Award, and American Library Association Notable Book recognition.  She lives in Oakland, California and volunteers as a wildlife rehabilitator with the Lindsay Wildlife Hospital.

May 20th:  David Helvarg   “The Golden Shore – California’s Love Affair with the Sea”

The Golden Shore has also been named one of the ’10 Best Literary Travel Books of 2013′ by Booklist, the magazine of the American Library Association.

The Pacific Ocean significantly defined California’s storied history, from the San FranciscoBay to Monterrey to San Diego. Helvarg will discuss how Californians have related to the Pacific over time through commerce, national defense, energy and exploration. Helvarg will trace California’s progress from a late maritime frontier where people exploited and polluted the ocean to a world leader in coastal protection, marine science, innovation and wildlife restoration, and will discuss how – or if – the modern California model for living well by the sea can be exported around the world. In addition to being an award-winning author, Helvarg is the founder of the ocean conservation group Blue Frontier.  

Biography: David Helvarg is an author and Executive Director of Blue Frontier Campaign ( David has written: Bue Frontier, The War Against the Greens, 50 Ways to Save the Ocean, Rescue Warriors, Saved by the Sea, and The Golden Shore – California’s Love Affair with the Sea. In addition to his books, David is editor of the Ocean and Coastal Conservation Guide, organizer of the Peter Benchley Ocean Awards and Blue Vision Summits for ocean activists. He is the winner of Coastal Living Magazine’s 2005 Leadership Award and the 2007 Herman Melville Literary Award. Helvarg worked as a war correspondent in Northern Ireland and Central America, covered a range of issues from military science to the AIDS epidemic, and reported from every continent including Antarctica. An awardwinning journalist, he has produced more than 40 broadcast documentaries for PBS, The Discovery Channel, and others. His print work has appeared in publications including The New York Times, LA Times, Smithsonian, Popular Science, Sierra, and Parade. He’s done radio work for Marketplace, AP radio, and Pacifica. He has led workshops for journalists in Poland, Turkey, Tunisia, Slovakia and WashingtonDC. David is a licensed Private Investigator, body-surfer and scuba diver.

More about David Helvarg at: &

June 24:  Laura Duffy:  “Physical-Biological Interactions of Harbor Porpoise Habitat in San Francisco Bay”

Harbor Porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) are a small cetacean that inhabit multiple areas along the Pacific Coast. Historically, population studies have primarily been based on aerial surveys and post-mortem data. Golden Gate Cetacean Research began observing these animals up close in San Francisco Bay in 2008, studying their behavior and identifying individuals. Laura is the first graduate student to work with the nonprofit organization, and will investigate how porpoises use chemical and physical aspects of their surroundings in relation to tide flux in San Francisco Bay Estuary. The goal of her study is to produce a fine-scale habitat model, to make biological predictions based on field observations and physical patterns. Laura recognizes wildlife populations as important environmental indicators of ecosystem history, mechanics, and health. She does not only want to protect these populations, but really strives to scientifically comprehend why it is important to do so. Her research will help improve knowledge on environmental state of the Bay, its ecological significance to surrounding areas, and add scientific significance to pre-existing public conservation awareness.

Biography:   Laura Duffy is a San Francisco State University Masters Student in the Marine Conservation Lab at the RombergTiburonCenter for Environmental Studies. She is working with Golden Gate Cetacean Research to complete her Masters Thesis on Harbor Porpoises in San FranciscoBay. A love of the outdoors and staying active has always made Laura an enthusiast of Natural Science. She was raised between two areas of New Jersey: a small, but highly populated, barrier island, and a fast-developing rural area of the Pinelands. From a young age, she recognized both the good and bad affects human populations can have on their environment. In both her education and career goals, she takes a respectful conservation initiative to explore the world. Laura received a Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology from the College of Charleston in 2009. During her senior year and post-graduation, she became very active in wildlife conservation, completing two internships and numerous volunteer projects, including a NOAA Bottlenose Dolphin Abundance and Distribution Study. She worked as a Fisheries Observer in Alaska for a year before moving to California in 2011 and applying to graduate school. Laura is extending her education to learn better data collection and analysis methods; she hopes to establish a career as a Field Biologist and work for a non-profit or government organization in the future.

July 29: Angela Szesciorka  “The Role of Dive and Foraging Behaviors in Ship Strikes” 

Like foraging marine animals, humans rely disproportionately on productive coastal areas created by upwelling. Particularly sensitive cetaceans are vulnerable to anthropogenic inputs when they converge with human activities. These inputs range from contaminants and toxins to entanglement in marine debris and noise, which affects communication, causes hearing loss and displacement, and even causes mass stranding. The most direct interaction between humans and whales occurs when a ship physically strikes a whale. Off the west coast of the United States, blue, fin, humpback, and gray whale deaths are linked to ship strikes annually. In 2007 after four blue whale deaths were attributed to ship strikes, conservation groups began pushing for greater protection. Researchers analyzed the overlap between whale habitat and ship traffic, prompting an amendment to the major shipping lanes off San Francisco and Santa Barbara in June. Despite initial measures, ship strikes continue, and many questions remain about the behavior of whales in shipping lanes, how behaviors increase the risk of ship strikes, and how ships affect behavior. From August to October we tagged 12 whales in the major shipping lanes off San Francisco with time-depth-GPS tags. By pairing geospatial locations of whales and ships with behavior, we can assess close encounters and determine if the presence of ships directly affects behavior. And by examining whale dive parameters (dive type, descent and ascent speed, dive duration, dive depth, and surface time) with respect to whale group composition and size, age class, sex, prey layer, ship presence, and time of day, we can characterize whale dive and foraging behaviors in and around shipping lanes to understand which factors put them most at risk of potentially fatal ship strikes.

Biography:    Chasing her dream of being a National Geographic correspondent, Angela moved to California  after earning her bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Duquesne University to pursue a master’s in marine science at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories. Along the way she has worked for coastal engineering, media, nonprofit, personal finance, and academic organizations. A relentless learner, her time is filled with finding ways to work with marine animals, whether through tide pooling escapades or volunteering. At the California Academy of Sciences, Angela catalogued gastropods from the Cordell Bank Expedition. She spent one summer at a zoo preparing animal diets, scooping poop, and avoiding getting chewed on by goats. Hoping to get up-close-and-personal with marine life, she became a stranding rescue volunteer for The Marine Mammal Center where she responded to strandings, assessed the health of marine mammals, and transported them to Sausalito for medical assistance and release. As a Beach COMBERS volunteer, she surveys MontereyBay beaches for beach cast marine birds and mammals.Angela’s master’s thesis will examine humpback whale dive and foraging behavior in and around the San Francisco shipping lanes. Her research interests include marine mammal foraging ecology, kinematics and physiology, habitat utilization, anthropogenic impacts, and conservation. Angela works as an aerial observer for NOAA and a biological monitor for Moss Landing Marine Laboratories.Angela is a certified passive acoustic technician. She has helicopter underwater egress training survival training, state and federal boating training, is scuba certified, and a wildlife rehabilitator with the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council. She writes for “The Drop-In to Moss Landing Marine Labs” blog and her personal blog “Many Lobsters”.

August 26: Todd Steiner:  Cocos Island National Park, Costa Rica: An Underwater Serengetti

Jacques Cousteau called CocosIsland “the most beautiful in the world.”  Located about halfway between Costa Rica and Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands, it is the only island in the eastern Pacific Ocean supporting tropical rainforest.

What I found underwater, though, was much more impressive.  “Megafauna” — large-bodied species — congregate around the island. Its relative isolation, ocean countercurrents, wind patterns, and underwater seamounts combine to create an ecosystem that supports one of the most amazing displays of marine life on the planet. The sheer abundance of large animals underwater found at one place was unfathomable for me before I visited Cocos.

I will share the beauty of Cocos through photography, what we are learning about the importance of CocosIsland for sea turtles and sharks, and what needs to be done to protect these species at Cocos and during their migrations to and from Cocos.  I will also describe our Cocos Island Citizen Scientist program that is involving divers in collecting data and assisting us on our research expeditions.

Biography:   Todd Steiner, M.S., Executive Director, Turtle Island Restoration Network 

Todd Steiner is the founder and executive director of Turtle Island Restoration Network (TIRN), overseeing its four primary initiatives –,, and He holds a masters degree in Biology and currently leads research on sea turtles and sharks at Cocos Island National Park, Costa Rica. Todd initially founded the Sea Turtle Restoration Project as part of Earth Island Institute in 1989. Prior to that, he worked as a wildlife biologist at Everglades National Park then was director of Earth Island’s Save the Dolphin project, which was responsible for bringing to public view the tuna industry’s impact on dolphins and other marine species and. He has more than 30 years experience protecting and restoring endangered species and habitats. Todd currently serves as a member of IUCN (World Conservation Union) Marine Turtle Specialist Group, Cordell Bank National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council, NOAA-DFG Priority Action Coho Team Technical Working Group, and the Lagunitas Creek Technical Advisory Committee.

September 30:     Mary Jane Schramm   “Take the plunge into the underwater world beyond the Golden Gate into the Gulf of the Farallones”

Blubber-Lovers Unite! Take the plunge into the underwater world beyond the Golden Gate into the Gulf of the Farallones, where dolphins leap, white sharks prowl, giant blue whales lunge through seething masses of krill, humpbacks breach and land with a thundering splash, and where seabirds enact their timeless rituals of courtship and mating. Discover where the “hot spots” are for the many of the whale species that visit this National Marine Sanctuary year-round, and – whether you are a confirmed land-lubber or salty dog, find out how you can experience them!

Join sanctuary spokesperson Mary Jane Schramm for this virtual excursion into the briny deep! Co-author of West Coast Whale Watching (Harper Collins), MJ has led whale watching cruises in Baja California and locally. Her field experience includes cetacean and pinniped rescue, and assisting with research on humpbacks,  elephant seals, and other marine mammals. MJ is currently Public Information Officer for NOAA’s Large Whale Disentanglement Network in the Bay Area.

Biography:   Mary Jane Schramm is the Media and Public Outreach Specialist with the Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. In addition to working as whale watch and natural history cruise naturalist in the waters off California and Mexico, her field experience includes extended research cruises for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

October 28, 2014:  Sarah Allen   “New Science on California Orcas”

While killer whales are found in all of the world’s oceans, their lives in the wild are poorly understood, in part because there are tremendous differences between different groups of orcas. Though the species range spans the globe from pole to pole, individual orcas belong to regional ecological groups, called ecotypes that have distinct ranges and behaviors. Scientists recognize at least 10 ecotypes for the species worldwide, three of which can be found off California: Southern Resident, Transient, and Offshore.  Sarah will delve into the different killer whale “ecotypes” that regularly visit the waters of central California and how the Marine Mammal Stranding Network (a group of agencies, organizations and volunteers) retrieved an entire killer whale skeleton for display at the California Academy of Sciences for their “Built for Speed” exhibit. 

Biography: Sarah Allen has studied marine birds and mammals for more than 30 years mostly in California but also for 2 seasons in Antarctica.  Currently, she is a burreau-ologist, working as the Ocean and Coastal Resources Program lead, for the Pacific West Region of the National Park Service. She promotes the establishment and study of marine protected areas, coordinates National Ocean Policy within the National Park Service for the Pacific West Region, .and collaborates with other agencies to prepare for changes in climate and its effects on marine ecosystems. She received her B.S., M.S. and Ph.D. from the University of California, Berkeley in Wildland Resource Science. She has written numerous publications and technical reports since 1978 to present day. She has written a book:  Allen, S.G., and J. Mortenson.  2011.  Field guide to the Marine Mammals of the Pacific Coast: Baja, California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia.  California Natural History Guide Series.

November 13, 2014: Melanie Smith:  Behind the scenes at the IWC

The International Whaling Commission (IWC) is the global intergovernmental body charged with the conservation of whales and the management of whaling.  It is set up under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling signed in 1946.  Join Melanie Smith, SF Bay ACS Vice President and ACS National Representative to the IWC this year, for an exclusive look into IWC65.  Melanie will share what went on at the IWC and what happened behind the scenes.  She will explore key countries and their positions, as well as what can be done to move forward with conservation of whales, not whaling.  Melanie will also lead a discussion of what we can do here at home to improve dialogue for the next IWC meeting.

Biography:  Melanie Smith is the Vice President of the San Francisco Bay Area Chapter of the American Cetacean Society.  She graduated from Oregon State University with a degree in Fisheries and Wildlife Science, with specialization in research and conservation.  Her work with SF Bay ACS includes educational outreach in schools and at public events, project management and instruction design for the naturalist class, and representing ACS national at the International Whaling Commission in September, 2014.  Outside of ACS, she volunteers with the National Park Service to monitor harbor seal populations, is a science docent at Seymour Center Marine Discovery Lab, and is a volunteer research assistant with a PhD student at UC Santa Cruz, researching mussels.