2012-2015 Travel and Research Grants

2015 SF Bay ACS Chapter Research Grant Awards: 

Natalie Mastick:  Graduate Research Assistant, Masters Student, Wildlife Science, Fisheries and Wildlife Department, Oregon State University    $1,000 Grant

 “The dynamics of group bubble net foraging behavior of humpback whales in Antarctica, Alaska, and Massachusetts”

Group foraging, or feeding, is observed throughout the animal kingdom in different ways. It is often seen in carnivores as cooperative foraging, in which the benefit of working together to capture and kill a prey item is greater than feeding alone. Cooperative foraging is hypothesized to be utilized by humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae), which are one of the few cetacean species that feed in groups. Group feeding allows them to take advantage of large patches of mobile prey species and may minimize the high energetic cost of feeding. It has been suggested that if humpbacks cooperatively feed, it may be a type of by-product mutualism or reciprocation in which there would be an ideal number of participants to maximize the ratio of energy intake to energy expended per individual. Humpbacks have developed a number of group foraging behaviors, one of the most recognizable being the use of bubbles to corral prey. Humpbacks have been observed bubble net feeding in high latitude feeding grounds throughout the world’s oceans in varying group sizes, particularly off the coasts of Alaska, Antarctica, and Massachusetts. Little else is known about the dynamics of group feeding, including the complexity of synchronized movements, the ideal number of participants to maximize energy gain, and typical dive duration and depth and their relation to group size. In this project, I will compare humpback whale foraging across different habitats and ecosystems with different prey types to analyze how these differences influence group feeding activity. This should yield important insights about group foraging behavior and energetics in humpback whales.

Dave Cade:  Goldbogen Lab  Hopkins Marine Station, Stanford University   $1,000 Grant

“Foraging behavior of rorquals in Monterey Bay “

Cetaceans in the balaenopterid family, primarily humpback (Megaptera novaeangliae), blue (Balaenoptera musculus), and fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus) reside in Monterey Bay throughout the year with the largest gatherings occurring from late spring through early fall (Benson et al. 2002, Croll et al. 2005). Though blue whales are largely obligate krill-feeders, humpbacks and fins are known to prey switch between krill and schooling fish. In recent years, humpback abundance in Monterey Bay has been increasing while fin and blue whale sightings have declined. Large aggregations of anchovies are thought to be a primary driver of humpback whale feeding behavior in Monterey, and a large contributing factor in their success. Recent observations from video tags deployed on 3 humpbacks in October 2015 has confirmed surface observations that groups of 6-10 humpbacks regularly feed on schooling groups of anchovies (figure 1). However, the degree to which this coincident feeding is potentially cooperative as has been suspected with bubble-net feeding humpbacks in Stellwagen Bank, MA (Hain et al. 1982) and in Southeast Alaska (Jurasz and Jurasz 1979) versus being concurrent by virtue of opportunity is unknown. Preliminary analysis has also demonstrated that whales in the same population at times feed in deep water (around 180 m), likely on krill patches along the edge of Monterey Canyon (figure 2). The orientation and motion of these deep-feeding animals is similar to the types of lunges performed by krill-feeding blue whales (figure 3). A recent study (Hazen et al. 2015) has shown that blue whales change their foraging strategies based on krill prey density; Monterey Bay provides a unique opportunity to test this same theory on humpback whales in an area where they are known to forage on entirely different prey types in the same way. To examine questions involving the effect of seasonal, day-to-day and diurnal patterns in prey density on humpback whale and other rorqual feeding behavior, recent success and abundance in Monterey Bay, Cade and Goldbogen are proposing a 2-year study that involves a combination of active acoustic prey-mapping, accelerometry and video from tag data and cetacean abundance estimates from passive acoustic and traditional surveys. At the conclusion of field work in fall 2017, Cade and Goldbogen will be publishing this work as part of Cade’s PhD dissertation. This work should start as soon as spring 2016, an important season as it is expected to follow an El Niño winter. However, echo sounders and associated funding are not expected to be available until fall 2016. Thus, through ACS we received a grant funding of $1000 to begin preliminary tagging studies this spring in order to collect baseline data for the remainder of the project.It is our intention that this study contributes to an understanding of the foraging ecology of rorquals in Monterey Bay. The recent increase in humpback whale abundance in the bay has not been satisfactorily explained, and we hope to start working on pieces of the puzzle. It is becoming clear that foraging success drives population success, and we hope that by understanding the drivers of foraging success in Monterey Bay we can contribute to overall species conservation efforts.

Katherina Audley,  Field Research Group: Whales of Guerrero Research Project/Oceanic Society:  Whales of Guerrero Research Project (http://www.whalesinmexico.com)   $1,000 Grant

“Just a Fluke Thing: Cultivating an Ethos of Responsible Marine Stewardship through Citizen Science, Educational Outreach and a Community-Driven Marine Mammal Field Survey in Guerrero, Mexico”

Our project objectives:

  1. Involve boat operators, beach dwellers and schools in the collection and analysis of a marine mammal field survey data to increase knowledge about whales and dolphins and engender an ethos of marine stewardship
  2. Provide tour and sportfishing guides with training to offer informed, responsible marine wildlife tours
  3. Generate excitement and interest about marine mammals through educational outreach programs in order to inspire the local community to become voices for nature

What does this have to do with San Francisco Bay Area Marine Mammals?

The majority of the whales which we have collected fluke IDs for spend time in the Bay Area! Many of the whales we have identified have never been located in their winter calving and breeding grounds. 36% of the humpback whale groups we have identified have been mother/calf pairs, meaning 18% of the calves we see were likely born in Guerrero. This early data indicates that this may be a significant calving area for the whales of the San Francisco Bay Area. Our fieldwork is filling in an important knowledge gap about the California/ Oregon/Washington humpback whales’ preferred winter calving and breeding sites. We are also finding an overlap between the Costa Rica/Southern California subgroup and the Northern California/Oregon/Washington/ Mainland Mexico humpback whale subgroups. These two subgroups have clearly delineated genetic haplotypes and both are present in Guerrero. Our 5-year field study of the humpback whales present and their site fidelity patterns will help to provide a clearer picture of where humpback whales from the San Francisco Bay Area go in the winter and if and how they interact with other subgroups within their species.

Travel Grant Awardees:

David Cade:   $500 Grant

Goldbogen Lab
Hopkins Marine Station
Stanford University

 “Expansion rates of ventral groove blubber in lunge-feeding blue whales” in which we analyze video and accelerometry data from custom-made tags.

Dara Orbach:  $500 Grant
Ph.D. candidate
Marine Mammal Behavioral Ecology Group
Department of Marine Biology- IDP
Texas A&M University at Galveston
Abstract 1 Main conference: Size and intensity of female mating behavioral repertoire predicted from reproductive anatomy in odontocetes
Abstract 2 Harbor porpoise pre-conference workshop: Mating Behaviors of Harbor Porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) off the Golden Gate Bridge

M. Fernanda Urrutia-Osorio:  $500 Grant
Research CICESE, Baja California, Mexico
Analysis of the artisanal fisheries’ fishing effort dynamics in San Felipe as a bycatch modeling tool for the Vaquita (Phocoena sinus)

Andrea Garcia Chavez:  $500 Grant
Bachelors in Biology, UNAM National Autonomous University of Mexico, Mexico City, Federal District, Mexico
“First systematic humpback whale studies in the vulnerable state of Guerrero, southwest Mexico”

Carina F. Marón:  $500 Grant
Instituto de Conservación de Ballenas, ICB (Buenos Aires , Argentina)
Department of Biology at the University of Utah (Salt Lake City, United States)
Southern Right Whale Health Monitoring Program, SRWHMP (Puerto Madryn, Argentina)
“Increased Kelp Gull-inflicted lesions on southern right whale (Eubalaena australis) calves at Península Valdés, Argentina”

Alicia Amerson:  $500 Grant
Masters of Advanced Studies in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation
Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California San Diego
Study conducted on the West Coast of Canada, Washington, Oregon, California, and Baja de California Mexico.
“Through Their Eyes – Identifying sustainable and responsible whalewatching practices for baleen whales along the Pacific coast”

2014 SF Bay ACS Chapter Research Grant Awards:  

*Dara Orbach:   Ph.D. candidate:Texas A&M University at Galveston, Dept. of Marine Biology  $1,000 Grant 

Mating Behaviors of Harbor Porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) off the Golden Gate Bridge

Introduction: Mating behaviors are poorly described for most free-ranging cetacean populations. Cetaceans are submerged underwater most of the time and observations of copulation events are opportunistic. Mating patterns are often inferred by anatomical data instead. Harbor porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) have among the highest reported relative testes size among mammals [1-2] in addition to complex vaginal morphology [3], supporting a prominent predicted role for sperm competition. As part of my dissertation research on female mechanisms to control paternity among cetaceans, I have systematically dissected the reproductive tracts of 22 cetacean species (n= 87 specimens). The 9 adult female harbor porpoises that stranded in San Francisco during 2013-2014 revealed a previously undocumented and consistent extreme asymmetry of the cervix to the porpoises’ right side, in addition to large blind-end “pockets” in their vaginas [3]. The placement of these vaginal structures could reduce the fertilization success of undesirable males if paired with female pre-copulatory behaviors to ensure ejaculates are directed towards the female’s left side (away from the cervix) or trapped in the blind-end “pockets”.

Harbor porpoises have recently returned to San Francisco Bay after a 65 year absence following an anthropogenic disturbance [4]. The Golden Gate Cetacean Research group has used the Golden Gate Bridge as a non-invasive aerial platform to observe harbor porpoise activity from a vantage point 70 m above sea level. A total of 102 attempted copulation events have been photographed since 2010. Nineteen of these events were simultaneously photographed and video-recorded by Bill Keener (PI, Golden Gate Cetacean Research) and I during a week-long pilot study in April 2014. Additional video footage of behaviors and body positioning during mating attempts are necessary to support the hypothesis that the off-centered positioning of the cervix and blind-end “pocket” in the vagina enable females to exercise mate choice. Objectives and predictions: My goal is to collect additional opportunistic videos of harbor porpoise mating events from the Golden Gate Bridge. Females are predicted to: 1) roll their bodies away from males, and 2) lower their caudal peduncle (tail stock) during attempted copulations. These body posturings enable females to manipulate the penetration of the penis and decrease the likelihood of insemination. Males are predicted to: 3) approach a female from her left side. This laterality in male body orientation during sexual approach has been observed consistently [5] and may increase the proximity of the penis to the off-centered cervix.

*Claire  Simeone, DVM Conservation Medicine Veterinarian,  $1,000 Grant 

Investigation of the role of morbillivirus in meningitis cases among small cetaceans stranded near San Francisco Bay

Cetacean morbilliviruses (CMVs) have the potential to cause explosive epizootics, with high mortality characterized by encephalitis, pneumonia, and lymphoid depletion, and what is believed to be  life-long immunity following recovery. CMVs have  emerged as the cause of several major epizootics worldwide, affecting striped dolphins (Stenella coeruleoalba) in the Mediterranean, harbor porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) in the UK and Netherlands, and bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) along the U.S. Atlantic coast in both 1987-1988 and 2013– present. CMVs have been found in marine mammals in the eastern Pacific Ocean, including in common dolphins (Delphinus delphis) in southern California, dusky dolphins (Lagenorhynchus obscurus), a common dolphin, and bottlenose dolphins off the coast of Peru. Interestingly, large-scale mortality has not been documented in the Pacific as it has in the Atlantic. In addition, morbillivirus RNA has been detected in animals that did not have histopathologic lesions characteristic of morbilliviral infection, meaning that morbillivirus may circulate in Pacific cetacean populations without causing large-scale mortality. In the marine environment, there is little understanding of transmission and reservoir dynamics of morbilliviruses, and epizootics continue to impact thousands of animals, which demands considerable public attention and resources for response. The purpose of this study is to determine whether morbilliviruses are present in stranded cetaceans along the central and northern California coast.

2014 SF Bay ACS Chapter Student Travel Grant Awards:

The San Francisco Bay American Cetacean Society Chapter is honored and pleased to announce three students receiving this year’s 2014 SF Bay ACS chapter Student Travel Grant Awards. These grants enable the students to travel to our ACS National Conference November 7-9 in Newport Beach, CA to display their posters, talk about their work, and meet with marine scientists, other students, and attendees which is very important in their future studies and work.

Cara Gallagher   $500 Grant

Estimating the Sequestration and Redistribution of Energy from the San Francisco Bay by Returning Marine Predator the Harbor Porpoise, Phocoena Phocoena 

Cara Gallagher* and Jonathan Stern, Golden Gate Cetacean Research, Biology Dept., San Francisco State University, 1600 Holloway Avenue, San Francisco, CA USA

Harbor porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) were known to frequent San Francisco Bay (SFB) historically, but WWII activities in the 1940s pushed them back into the coastal waters outside of the Golden Gate. Phocoena remained absent from SFB for over 65 years, until 2008, when the porpoises made a comeback. They are currently entering the bay on a daily basis and in increasing numbers. Golden Gate Cetacean Research (GGCR) has monitored the reintroduction of harbor porpoise into SFB and, using photo identification, the population has been estimated at around 600 individuals. Since these animals are still spending the majority of their lives outside of the bay, and are more likely to defecate and expire in coastal waters, the majority of the energy obtained within the bay is lost to the coast. I am currently constructing a bioenergetic model in attempts to quantify Phocoena sequestration and redistribution of material and energy in the context of production of SFB. Using a range of swimming speeds gathered from land-based theodolite tracks of harbor porpoise, I am attempting to estimate energy and biomass requirements. In addition to the model, samples of harbor porpoise blubber, resident and coastal anchovies (Engraulis mordax), and bay and coastal plankton will be obtained in order to produce fatty acid signatures. These will then be compared in order to attempt to establish the ratio of bay to coastal harbor porpoise diet. This ratio will then be used in conjunction with the energetic requirements in order to estimate the biomass removed from SFB by harbor porpoise. This will provide information on the top-down effects on SFB, information that is missing from the complete picture of energy flow and nutrient cycling in San Francisco Bay.

Melanie Smith    $500 Grant

The Solution to Pollution is Dilution?: A Case Study on Pollutants and their Geographic Patterns

Sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) are considered sentinels of ocean health and given their distribution, allow for sampling across many regions of the globe.
This review was conducted to determine whether oceanic inorganic pollutant concentrations have geographic patterns, which would allow for targeted mitigation efforts. Leveraging the abundance of research conducted on the data compiled
during the voyage of the Odyssey, concentrations of lead, mercury, chromium, and nanoparticles found in sperm whale skin biopsies were compared on a geographic basis. Sperm whales in the Mediterranean Sea and waters around Australia contained the highest regional mean concentrations of mercury with statistically significant differences between all sampled regions (P< 0.0001). The Pacific and Atlantic Oceans contained the highest mean concentrations of lead, with the highest levels around Papua New Guinea, Australia, and the Sea of Cortez, with statistically significant variation among regions of the globe (P< 0.0001). Regions sampled near the Islands of Kiribati and the Seychelles contained the highest levels of chromium, with statistically significant differences in chromium levels by region (P< 0.0001). Regions sampled in the waters near the Seychelles, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, the Galapagos Islands, the Islands of Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, and Mauritius contained the highest levels of nanoparticles, with statistically significant variation among regions of the globe (P< 0.0001). These findings suggest oceanic currents and industrial hotspots appear to play a dominant role in the location of increased inorganic pollutant concentrations, indicating localized mitigation efforts would have significant impacts to cetacean, ocean, and human health.

Sabena Siddiqui:  President American Cetacean Society Student Coalition (ACSSC)    $200 Grant

Sabena graduated from Indiana University with a major in psychological & brain sciences  and a focus in animal behavior. During her undergraduate career, Sabena’s research experiences included a manatee care and research internship at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Fl; a summer field intern position with the Dolphin Communication Project in The Bahamas; and a research assistant position with the Red Sea Dolphin Project in Egypt.

She is currently research humpback whale social vocalizations with the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) – Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole, MA. Sabena has an insider perspective regarding cetaceans in captivity after volunteering at the Indianapolis Zoo and interning in the manatee care & research department at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, FL.  She began researching cetaceans in captivity.  The research materialized into a poster titled “Cetaceans in captivity: The education fallacy and the modern ark’s voyage to apathetic attitudes concerning the conservation of wild cetaceans” which Sabena presented at the Society for Marine Mammlogy and American Cetacean Society conferences among others.  Sabena is president of the American Cetacean Society Student Coalition (ACSSC) and helps assist student regional groups within the chapter. Her energies are currently dedicated toward extending the student coalition nationwide, creating a network of students united by their interests in cetaceans and marine protection. In addition, she is a national board member of the American Cetacean Society (ACS), the world’s oldest whale conservation organization.


 2013 SF Bay ACS Chapter Research Grant Awards:

The San Francisco Bay American Cetacean Society Chapter is honored and pleased to announce the three students receiving this year’s 2013 SF Bay ACS chapter Student Research Grant Awards. These awards aid the students’ field research work. We feel very strongly in supporting their research and future work in their careers. They are our oceans and their inhabitants’ future. A big congratulations to all!

Laura Duffy: San Francisco State University, CA:  Observing Habitat Parameters of Harbor Porpoises  (Phocoena phocoena) in San Francisco Bay

To understand the animals themselves, we need to identify geological, physical, and chemical factors that affect biological components. This study will seek to get a better idea of the physical- biological interactions that occur across tide changes at the mouth of San Francisco Bay.

Angela Szesciorka: Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, CA:  Risk assessment of ship-whale interactions between San Francisco and Los Angeles, CA and dive behavior of humpback whales in the presence of ships   $1,000 Grant

The purpose of this study is to identify any high-risk areas in the vessel traffic zones between SF and LA where ship-whale interactions may occur, and analyze the effect of ships and ship noise on the dive and foraging behaviors of humpback whales. I will do this with line transect surveys, telemetric tagging, and modeling.

Cara Gallagher: San Francisco State University, CA:   Marine Mammals and Primary Production in  San Francisco Bay   $500 Grant

Study aimed at modeling energy and nutrient utilization by marine mammals in San Francisco Bay. These species include harbor porpoises (Phocoena phocoena), bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus), harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) and California Sea Lions (Zalophus californianus). The aim of this project is to quantify marine mammal sequestration and redistribution of material and energy in the context of production of San Francisco Bay.


2012 SF Bay ACS Chapter Travel Grant Awards: 

The San Francisco Bay American Cetacean Society chapter is honored and pleased to announce the five students receiving this year’s 2012 SF Bay ACS chapter Student Travel Grant awards.

This award ($500 each) helps to offset travel expenses enabling the student to attend the National American Cetacean Society Conference November 9-11, 2012 (San Diego, CA). Attending the conference is very important for their future as scientists. Not only are they able to present their accepted research project (poster), but will meet and connect with the attending marine biologists and scientists that may become future teachers/mentors and for prospective job opportunities. They are our future and SF Bay ACS chapter feels very strongly in supporting them.

Andrea Dransfield, San Francisco State University, CA. Where the whales are: Using habitat modeling to inform marine spatial planning in Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, central California.

Angelica J. Rosa, Humboldt State University, From Public Concern To Public Conservation: Tracking Killer Whales Along The West Pacific Coastline

Alexandra Hill, College of the Atlantic, Review of Vessel Strike Impacts on Endangered Humpback Whales: An Evaluation of Nonlethal Collision Rates of Humpback Whales Megaptera novaeanglia from Scar-based Photographic Data.

Frances. C. Robertson, Department of Zoology and Marine Mammal Research Unit, Fisheries Centre, Universityof British Columbia, A question of availability: The variable detectability of bowhead whales exposed to seismic sounds.

Chiara G. Bertulli, University of Iceland, Can whale-watching and whaling co-exist? Tourist perceptions in Iceland.