Category Archives: Underwater Acoustics

And the winner of the 3-Minute-Thesis competition is…

3MT Trans-Tasman Competition 2014 Sarah Marley and Rosanna Stevens

3MT Trans-Tasman 2014 Sarah Marley and Rosanna Stevens

…  Sarah Marley from Curtin University

When I heard those words, my heart stopped.  I did the “shocked-actress-wins-award” face.  I hugged my friends sitting on either side.  I repeatedly gasped “oh my goodness“.  I may have even made a rather embarrassing Oscar-worthy acceptance speech.  Now over a week later and I am still riding the high 🙂

View the talk below:

Now let’s back up a bit.

The 3-Minute-Thesis (3MT) competition was developed by the University of Queensland back in 2008.  It was intended to be an exercise in communication for graduate students, giving them just three minutes to explain their PhD to a generalist audience.  Since then, the competition has expanded to universities around the world.

I’ve known about this competition for a couple of years now, after seeing various friends compete to present their own PhD at other universities.  I couldn’t wait to become a student myself and give it a go!  So when Curtin University emailed around to announce that registration was open for the 2014 competition I immediately sat down, wrote my talk in 20mins, and started practicing!

The Curtin heats were a couple of months ago, where I surprised myself by not only making it through to the Curtin Final top ten but also by winning my heat.  “A great start,” I thought.  “Now back to fieldwork!” as I prepared for the second trip up to the Kimberleys.  A few weeks later, I made the special one-night-only trip back from Broome to Perth for the Curtin Final, and won both the Final and the People’s Choice award!  Certainly justified the trip down!

All the competitors from the 3MT Trans-Tasman 2014 competition at UWA

All the competitors from the 3MT Trans-Tasman 2014 competition at UWA

But the Trans-Tasman Competition was the hardest yet.  I was competing with winners, so you can imagine that the standard of talks was extremely high!  Most amazing of all was the team spirit – everyone was so nice to each other!  After every presentation, the speaker would return to the “green room” amid cheers and high fives from their opposition 🙂  It was a great vibe!

Then it was time to give my talk…

Not a stutter in sight!  Quite different to a couple of years ago...

Not a stutter in sight! Quite different to 4 yrs ago…

As I stepped on stage, I felt such a buzz.  I love the work that I do, and the opportunity to talk about it always gets me excited!  Quite a far cry from four years ago, when I could barely give a short talk to a group of friends without blushing and stuttering my way through the presentation.  So I felt a certain glow of accomplishment at having enjoyed something that just a few years would have terrified me!

From a happy glow to radiating surprise, I was ecstatic to be chosen as winner of the 3MT – but the whole experience was a delight!  From the thrill of presenting to the team spirit backstage to the happiness of making new friends, the whole 3MT journey has been a blast.  If you ever have the opportunity to take part I would thoroughly encourage you to do so!  Even if you’re not confident of your presenting skills, just ask yourself – when will you get a better opportunity to try?

But work on your potential acceptance speech beforehand, and practice your photo face:

Me laughing manically as I receive my giant novelty cheque from sponsor James Mercer.  Sorry James...

Me laughing manically as I receive my giant novelty cheque from sponsor James Mercer. Sorry James…

Now all that is left is for me to thank my partner, my friends, my family, my university, the organisers, the sponsors, the judges, the competitors, the audience, the backstage staff, my high school science teacher, my pets…


Listening to the Sound of Success!

Two different projects came to fruition last week, neatly coming in time for my birthday!  Not so sure about the ageing part, but it was definitely good timing on the research outcomes!

From listening for dolphins…

Earlier this month I spent a morning out on the river with the ‘Destination WA‘ TV crew, filming a short segment about the Swan River dolphins.  We spent a lovely few hours out on the Swan River Trust boat Kwilana (Noongar for ‘dolphin’) whilst the team did interviews with myself, Delphine Chabanne (Murdoch University), Marnie Giroud (SRT), and Jennie Hunt (Dolphin Watch).

It was really interesting to see ‘behind the scenes’ for the filming process, especially given the great camaraderie of the TV crew!

… to interpreting blue whales!

Non-song vocalisations of pygmy blue whalesAnother project success last week was finding out that our paper “Non-song vocalizations of pygmy blue whales in Geographe Bay, Western Australia ” had been published online by the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America!  This study used simultaneous land-based visual observations and underwater acoustic recordings to examine the communication of pygmy blue whales.

These animals are famed for their songs, made up of repeated patterns of notes.  But in this study, we focused on the non-song sounds produced by pygmy blue whales and found six different vocalisations – five of which had never been described for this population before!  Hopefully this will help inform passive-acoustic monitoring for the species.

And as for ‘Older and Wiser’?

Well, that remains to be seen!  But entering 28 as a PhD Student, TV Star, and three-times Published Scientific Author isn’t a bad way to start 😉

Humpback whales and seismic surveys

This week the “Behavioural response of Australian humpback whales to seismic surveys” (BRAHSS) project kicks off in Western Australia, with the aim of studying how these whales respond to the air guns used in seismic surveys.  This project is one of the largest and most comprehensive studies undertaken on the effects of noise on whales.  And this year I’ll be one of the marine mammal observers working there.

What are seismic surveys?

Seismic surveys use reflections from air gun noise to study the structure of the sea floor (Source:  Open Learn)

Seismic surveys use reflections from air gun noise to study the structure of the sea floor (Source: Open Learn)

Seismic surveys are used by industry to locate oil and gas deposites beneath the sea floor.  These surveys are also used by geoscientists conducting research on submarine rock structures.   This is done using air guns, which produce noise using compressed air.  This noise penetrates the sea floor and ‘bounces back’ off the underlying rock formations.  Survey vessels tow an array of hydrophones (underwater microphones), which receive the reflected noise signals produced by the air guns.  Scientists can examine the readings from this reflected noise to determine the structure of rock strata, and decide whether it is a potential oil / gas site.  Unfortunately, such surveys produce quite a bit of noise and there are concerns regarding the effect of this on marine life.

Where do humpback whales come into this?

Australia is lucky enough to have two populations of humpback whales.  Both populations spend the (austral) summer months feeding in Antarctica; but in the winter, the populations split with one migrating up the West Coast and the other up the East Coast of Australia to their tropical breeding and calving grounds.  During this migration, and particularly on the south-bound journey when females are travelling with young calves, the whales sometimes congregate in coastal bays for a “rest stop”.  This journey takes humpback whales past many sites of human significance, in terms of recreation, transport and industrial work.  Thus it is important to understand how human activities may effect these animals.  Of particular concern are the effects of underwater noise, as marine mammals have specialised hearing which assists with their navigation, foraging and communication.

What will BRAHSS be doing?

Humpback whale making some noise of its own (Photo: S. Marley)

Humpback whale making some noise of its own (Photo: S. Marley)

Broadly, the BRAHSS project aims to provide information that will reduce uncertainty in evaluating the impacts of seismic surveys on humpback whales.  This will lead to improved management and mitigation measures, allowing such surveys to be conducted efficiently and with minimum impact on the whales.  The project has previously run two successful research seasons off the East Coast of Australia in 2010 and 2011.  It is now repeating these experiments on the West Coast population of humpback whales.

As a marine mammal observer (MMO) on the project, I will be off to Dongara in Western Australia for the next 6wks.  My role will be to assist in spotting humpback whales and tracking their movements from the survey vessel, in addition to monitoring animal behaviours in response to air gun noise.  Dongara is reputed to be a pretty bouncy area sea-wise, so hopefully I manage to keep sea-sickness at bay (and don’t have to put my sea survival skills to the test!) – but it’ll be good to get out with some whales again 🙂

Event: Come say hello at Fremantle Maritime Day!

Maritime DayThis Saturday, Fremantle Port is hosting the Maritime Day Expo down at Victoria Quay in Fremantle.  And yours truly will be there helping out at the Coastal and Estuarine Dolphin Project (CEDP) stall!  So come down, have a chat, and check out our Fin-Matching and What’s that Sound? games, research progress, and general dolphin info!

There will also be free harbour boat rides, a Svitzer tug on show, the guided missile frigate HMAS Sydney open for visiting, a Navy vs Port cook-off, kids activities, live bands and other entertainment on offer.  The CEDP stall will be down in B Shed, along with over 40 other maritime displays and career stalls.  For the full program of what’s on, click here.

The event itself is open to the public from 10am – 4pm, and my stall shift is from 12-2pm.  So come say hello 🙂

Our supercool "Listening to Dolphins" poster for the Maritime Day Expo in Fremantle

Our supercool “Listening to Dolphins” poster for the Maritime Day Expo in Fremantle