Nicholas MacFarlane, 2014 Joint Program Student


Research Summary

For my PhD at WHOI, I'm studying the behavior of toothed whales.  In recent years, toothed whales have come under increasing threat from man-made disturbance such as ocean noise, but in order to truly understand the impacts and protect them we need a better grasp of their behavior.  I work with two populations of animals: long-finned pilot whales in the Strait of Gibraltar off the coast of Spain and bottlenose dolphins in Sarasota, FL.  To study them, I tag groups of animals with suction-cup digital acoustic recording tags (DTAGs) that measure their acoustic and kinematic behavior.  These tags give an incredible window into the underwater world of these animals that would be impossible to observe at the surface.
One of the topics I'm particularly interested in is social cohesion, because changes group spread often signal an animals sense of threat, making it a proxy for understanding the effects of man-made disturbances.  However, group spread is very difficult to measure in fast moving animals, so I've spent the last few years working with the Deep Submergence Lab to develop a stereo camera system that easily and accurately positions them.  This system gives high resolution positions that let us measure subtle changes that would otherwise be extremely difficult to observe.