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Images: A Tag Fit for a Porpoise

When she came to the MIT/WHOI Joint Program in 2003, Stacy DeRuiter teamed with fellow graduate student Alexander Bahr, an electrical engineer, to create a new digital acoustic tag, or D-tag, that could attach temporarily to harbor porpoises and record their sounds. Existing D-tags, built for whales, were too big. (Photo courtesy of Alexander Bahr, MIT WHOI Joint Program)

DeRuiter and Bahr had to make the tag small enough for harbor porpoises’ bodies. And they had to find a way to make the tags stick to the porpoises' smooth skin, which required designing and making new soft suction cups. Above, they get ready to attach a hydrophone on top of a D-tag to make some recordings to calibrate the tag. (Photo courtesy of Alexander Bahr, MIT WHOI Joint Program)

DeRuiter used her new tiny tag on captive harbor porpoises in the Fjord & Baelt Center in Kerteminde, Denmark. With the help of Chief Scientist Magnus Wahlberg and the center's porpoise trainers, she tagged porpoises and gathered audio data on how they used sound to forage for fish, including recording behaviors scientists had not seen before in animals that use sonar. (Photo courtesy of Alexander Bahr, MIT WHOI Joint Program)

MIT/WHOI graduate student Stacy DeRuiter never gave up on her goal to build a D-tag for harbor porpoises. Her project with fellow graduate student Alexander Bahr exemplified the fruitful collaborations that can occur between scientists and engineers, each bringing different perspectives to solving a problem. “Students help catalyze the magic between scientists and engineers,” said DeRuiter’s advisor, WHOI biologist Peter Tyack. (Photo courtesy of Alexander Bahr, MIT WHOI Joint Program)