2016 Research & Travel Grants

2016 Research Grant Awardees:

Maren Anderson

BA, Ecology and Evolutionary, Biology, University of Colorado at Boulder, CO.  Director of Experiential Education and Science Faculty (2008-present).  Drew School, San Francisco, CA.

View Into Vocalizations    $1,000.00 Research Grant

Wintering humpback whales can be found in the coastal waters off of the Hawaiian Island Chain where they remain from January through April for their breeding season. This population expends a great deal of energy in activities which includes competing for mates, mating, calving, and feeding / raising their offspring prior to the first migration back north. During our next field season, we plan to focus on studying mother and calf humpback groups (which may include escorts). We will expand upon our past research and will investigate social interactions between mothers and calves/escorts, profile underwater behaviors (including the spatial behavior known as laterality), and investigate age and sex class activity budgets. We will also examine calls known as social sounds and their biological significance, and identify any behavioral and acoustic vulnerabilities based on the breeding season behaviors, and assess how this affects ship strike potential. We plan to continue the R&D we began in 2015 with the new tagging technology that furthered our research goals. We propose to use non-invasive suction-cup tags to tag mother and calf pairs in order to gain better understanding of their underwater behaviors and vocalizations. Very few first year Hawaiian humpback whale calves have been tagged and no mother calf pair tag results are have been published. We successfully obtained these data in 2015 using both conventional tags and a new tag we self-designed. In conjunction with our underwater videography research techniques and the our past datasets, the data from additional field work and tagging will allow us to work to develop the first underwater behavioral ethogram for Hawaiian humpback whales. 

Kia Hayes:

Master’s Student in the Department of Environmental Toxicology, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas

“Contaminant concentrations in Eastern North Pacific gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus) – spatial and temporal patterns and influence of life-history parameters.

$1,000.00 Research Grant

Traveling the greatest annual migration of any mammal on earth, the Eastern North Pacific (ENP) gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) is exposed to a breadth of marine chemical contaminants (Krahn et al. 2001; Varanasi 1994). Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) such as dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDTs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are of particular concern. These lipophilic contaminants have been shown to be involved in disruption of reproductive and immune systems and increased risk of cancer and developmental dysfunctions in marine mammals (Ross 2006). The United States has banned production of PCBs, DDTs, and PBDEs but due to their lipophilic properties they have high potential to disperse across large ranges and remain persistent in the marine environment (Pierce et al. 2007). Previous research has shown DDTs and PCBs to be present in gray whale blubber, though little is currently known on the temporal and geographical patterns contaminants in this species and the influence of life history parameters (Krahn et al. 2001). PBDEs have never been studied in gray whales and due to being only recently and partially banned in the USA their long-term fate in the marine environment is still poorly understood. The objective of this research project is to investigate temporal and geographical patterns of contaminant loads in ENP gray whales and the influence of life-history parameters. Concentrations of DDTs, PCBs, and PBDEs in addition to lipid levels will be analyzed in gray whale blubber. Specifically this project will examine 1) seasonal and geographical variations of contaminant loads in gray whale populations, 2) historical trends of chemical contaminant loads in gray whales, 3) offloading rates of contaminants from mother to calf during gestation and lactation.

Dr. Christian D. Ortega Ortiz: 

Researcher-Professor, Marine Mammals Research Group, Faculty of Marine Sciences, University of Colima, Mexico. Dr. Ortega Ortiz – Lead principle investigator / Second principle investigator: Jeffrey K. Jacobsen; Graduate student participant: David Alonso Rosales Chapula, a final year Oceanography student at the University of Colima / Myriam Llamas González, is a student from third year in Oceanography / Andrea Berenice Cuevas Soltero, is a student from second year in Oceanography / Andrea Michelle Ramirez Castillo, is a student from second year in Oceanography

Comparison of humpback whale singing behavior in two contrasting acoustic environments: Revillagigedo Island and Mexican Central Pacific.

$900.00 Research Grant

Recently the acoustic environment from all oceans has been influenced mainly by an increase in commercial ship traffic, the main source of low-frequency noise, which can be detected over long distances, and it can therefore disturb marine life.  A recent need has been to identify noisy areas that are also habitats for cetaceans to evaluate interactions and to monitor potential effects on organisms. However, research on ship noise is scarce around the world. In the Mexican Central Pacific (MCP) the port of Manzanillo, Colima, is the most important commercial port in Mexico and rapidly growing. Furthermore, shipping activities will increase because another coastal zone has recently been declared by the Mexican government as an extension for the commercial port. The MCP is habitat for several cetaceans, as feeding-breeding area for dolphins, and as breeding area of humpback whales from Northeast Pacific population, recently still named as “Threatened” in the red list of the IUCN.  The remote Revillagigedo Archipelago (recently considered as UNESCO patrimony, located 350 nm west of Manzanillo) also is a very important cetacean habitat, but with very little ship traffic. Revillagigedo therefore provides a relatively undisturbed acoustic environment for comparison with the MCP region to evaluate interactions among shipping noise and humpback whale singing behavior.

The significance of this research will be in advancing our understanding about these kinds of interactions and the potential effect over the short and long term; and then to propose and implement mitigation measures for the conservation of cetaceans and their habitats.

Chiara Bertulli:

Ph.D.: 2011-2015; University of Iceland, Reykjavik, Iceland / M.Sc.: 2008-2010; University of Iceland, Reykjavik, Iceland.

Population structure and conservation status of white-beaked (Lagenorhynchus albirostris) and Atlantic white-sided dolphins (Lagenorhynchus acutus) across the North Atlantic

$500.00 Research Grant

The white-beaked dolphin (Lagenorhynchus albirostris) and the Atlantic white-sided dolphin (Lagenorhynchus acutus, herein referred to as ‘white-sided dolphin’) are both confined to temperate and sub-arctic North Atlantic waters where they have relatively wide distributions, the former mainly on the continental shelf and the latter in more pelagic waters. They remain two of the least known delphinid species. Information on basic life history, diet, population structure and population ecology is largely lacking. A recent genetic study suggested three population units of white-beaked dolphins, northwest Atlantic, British Isles/North Sea, and northern Norway/Barents Sea, (Banguera-Hinestroza et al. 2010), and another identified two genetic clusters in the northeastern Atlantic (Fernández et al. 2015). Stable isotope analysis has been used to study the trophic status of white-beaked and white-sided dolphins in a few areas of the Northeast Atlantic (French Channel, Irish coast and part of the North Sea; Das et al. 2003), leaving most of their distributional ranges unsurveyed. The International Union for Conservation of Nature identified fisheries bycatch as a threat for both species, recommending the need for more information on bycatch rates which have to date been poorly investigated. This study will use morphology, combined with other lines of study, to identify aspects of population structure and determine the conservational status of white-beaked and white-sided dolphins, utilizing dead stranded and fishery bycaught carcasses as well as photogrammetry of live free-ranging animals examined across the North Atlantic. The goals of this project are to: 1) investigate the population structure, and 2) assess the conservation status of white-beaked and white-sided dolphin populations across the North Atlantic.

Claire Simeone:

Principle Investigator, DVM Conservation Medicine Veterinarian The Marine Mammal Center, Sausalito, CA / Student Participation: 1-3 International Veterinarians In-Residence

Determine the role sinus parasites play in stranded cetaceans in central California, by combining data from gross necropsy, histopathology, and advanced imaging”

$500.00 Research Grant

Cetaceans strand for a variety of reasons, including infectious disease, trauma, intoxication and parasitism. The Marine Mammal Center (TMMC) and California Academy of Sciences (CAS) have been collecting specimens and performing necropsies on dead animals for several decades. Small cetaceans commonly have helminth parasites that inhabit the respiratory and gastrointestinal tract. Both trematodes (flukes) such as Nasitrema and nematodes (roundworms) such as Crassicauda inhabit the nasal and cranial sinuses, as well as the ear canal and middle ear. Ova and occasionally adults of these parasites have been found damaging the 8th cranial nerve and brain and meninges of several cetacean species, causing central nervous system dysfunction and disruption of equilibrium or acoustic abilities. Research Objective: determine the role sinus parasites play in stranded cetaceans in central California, by combining data from gross necropsy, histopathology, and advanced imaging.

F. Urrutia-Osorio:

Director/ Primary researcher of PROCETUS, Baja California, Mexico.

Photo-identification of fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus) in the Canal de Ballenas area: providing the community with information needed for their conservation”

$500.00 Research Grant

The Gulf of California (GC) is one of the most productive and diverse seas of the world. It has 31 species of cetaceans, equivalent to 39% of the world’s cetacean species. Bahia de los Angeles (BLA), located in the center of the GC (28.948056 N, -113.561111 W) is a remote location that has been recognized as one of the most important marine areas regarding biodiversity conservation in Mexico. Due to the vast number of natural resources, the community depends mainly on tourism and fishing, the latter being the most important activity with more than a hundred fishermen depending on fishing resources. Little is known about population sizes and distribution of most Gulf cetaceans. Its remote location and lack of enforcement have resulted in poor management and conservation efforts. There is no current estimation of the population status of most of the cetaceans in the area and its interactions with the local fisheries. The Gulf of California is home to a resident population of fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus). Collisions with small skiffs called “pangas” represent the main threat to this unique population. In 2015, PROCETUS conducted only eleven survey trips from May to July. Of 94 individual fin whales identified, 50% (n=47) showed non-serious to serious ship-strikes injurie, increasing our concerns which motivated us to conduct research on this specie in particular and gather evidence to undertake necessary conservation actions and share our findings with the local community of BLA. In order to gather sufficient evidence on the matter, we need to build a strong base line of the status of these animals that can only be achieved thorough field research. The goal of the project is to gather abundance, distribution and anthropogenic impact information with photo-identification techniques of fin whales in the BLA through boat surveys. The specific objectives of the project are:  Produce a unique cetacean database and a catalog with the identification of individuals.ï  Identify individuals that show injuries caused by collisions with “pangas”.ï  Identify high-risk zones of collisions with small boats for future conservation actions.ï  Estimate current stocks and conservation status of fin whales in the Gulf of California.ï  Share our results with the local community and fishermen of BLA in order to increase their knowledge onï the specie and inform them on how they can help in their conservation.  Give the community of BLA the opportunity to get to know the importance of the fin whales of Bahia deï los Angeles through environmental education activities

Full Research PDF’s available upon request

2016 Travel Grant Awardee

Alicia Amerson,  M.A.S, PMP, California Sea Grant Fellow, UC San Diego, Scripps Institution of Oceanography,Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation

$150.00 Travel Grant – 2016 ACS National Conference 


Large whale entanglement in fixed gear fishing pots is one of the most critical marine mammal issues in California waters. A dramatic increase of 61 entanglement reports in 2015 from an average of 10 reports per year from 2000 to 2012 quickly gained the attention of fisheries stakeholders. A California Sea Grant fellow provided scientific information to legislators and to the Lieutenant Governor to attain support for two important initiatives regarding the large whale entanglement issue. The first initiative required support and approval for the use of state funds to financially support emergency disentanglement volunteer teams in California. Legislators sponsored and approved a $100,000 USD budget item, that was later approved by the Governor of California. The second initiative, the Whale Protection Act, was created by legislators, with input from NGOs, scientists, and fishermen. The Act works as a preventative measure to protect large whales from entanglement by allowing fishermen to find and retrieve lost gear at the end of each fishing season. The results show that California policy makers are responsive and willing to address the entanglement issue. Although these two initiatives provide solutions to minimize entanglement during the fishing off-season and temporarily provide monetary relief to emergency efforts, they do not encompass the overall issue of fishery management. Further investigation to prevent large whale entanglement is needed; while the state working group communicate with fishermen and secure a long-term emergency program fund to end the suffering caused to large whales by entanglement.