Becky Woodward, 2007 Postdoctoral Scholar


Becky received a PhD in Mechanical Engineering and Marine Science from the University of Maine in 2006.  After spending 3 years in the industry, decided to combine engineering mechanics with her biological interests.  Part of her masters study at Colorado State University iinvolved the kinematics of the horse’s foreleg at the gallop, analyzing force transmission through the leg in an effort to reduce racetrack injuries. Following that, with a whale research group in British Columbia, she discovered how little is known about the underwater activities of whales and how challenging it is to study them in their aquatic habitat. At the University of Maine, she used morphological and osteological data sets in conjunction with DTAG recorded subsurface behaviors to examine the effect of a whale’s morphology on its swim performance. During the course of this research, Becky became aware of some of the impacts that human maritime activities are having on these animals - particularly with regards to the issue of entanglement in commercial fishing gear.  Her research expanded to focus not only on the biomechanics of whale swimming but also on the development of tools and research techniques to aid recovery efforts for endangered whale populations. She helped design tools for disentangling large whales, developing telemetry buoys for tracking whales at sea and developing a test system for evaluating the abrasive impact of commercial fishing gear on whale skin.

Becky plans to continue this conservation-based research during her postdoc here at WHOI. With support from the Ocean Life Institute beginning in September of 2007, she is working to develop a new long-term satellite tag for right whales. This peduncle belt tag will incorporate a GPS electronics package into a harness that fits snugly around the tail stock of the whale at the narrowest portion of the body just before the fluke insertion point and will offer a non-invasive means of tracking the whale’s long term movements. About a third of the right whale population is missing during the summer, and over two thirds are missing in the winter months. Data gathered from long term studies will allow more informed management policy decisions to be made to help minimize anthropogenic impacts on this endangered species. Habitats can be protected, fishing gear regulations established, and shipping lanes altered to reduce the impact of human maritime activities on vulnerable whale populations.