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The Signal Summer 2006

Research on the St. Lawrence:

Dr. Peter Scheifele and two of his graduate students, Kristine Sonstrom and Michelle Pinto, traveled to The Centre d'interprétation des mammifères marins (also known as CIMM or the Whale Study Center) in Tadoussac, Quebec, Canada to collect vocalization and noise recordings. Kristine worked closely with the researchers of GREMM (Group for Research and Education of Marine Mammals) to analyze data from this and past years. They collect digital sound recordings along with video and still photos. The noise samples specifically, sound signatures of vessels operating in the area along with ambient noise samples are added to the noise database, which Dr. Scheifele has been keeping since 1994. Noise samples are compared with beluga hearing threshold measured from whales in captivity to determine whether a threshold shift is likely to occur in the whales’ hearing. Vocalizations are being added to a separate database that Dr. Scheifele has been keeping since 1996.

Currently, Kristine is doing her Masters Thesis with Dr. Scheifele as her major advisor and Robert Michaud as her co-advisor, using these vocalizations. They are collaborating with a group of computer engineers at Marquette University using a modified speech recognition model that is now designed to automatically classify animal vocalizations using advanced acoustic and neural computing methods. Kristine is attempting to train the computer to identify social groups of beluga based on vocalization spectral patterns. This work will also provide preliminary data for a large international grant proposal that is in writing and will be submitted by Dr. Scheifele at the University of Connecticut (UCONN) on behalf of partners UCONN, GREMM, DFO, Marquette and the Georgia Aquarium in early 2007. This work requires tracking, photo identification, social group classification and acoustic classification. While at CIMM, Peter, Kristine, and Michelle are out on Bleuvet with Michel Moisan and Renaud Pintiaux collecting raw data. Kristine and Peter are pre-processing the vocalizations using spectral analysis. Kristine, Renaud, and Michelle are coordinating acoustic and photo ID data. The UConn team would like to thank all of the CIMM researchers for their hospitality! Merci beaucoup!!!!

Mentor Connection:

This year the Animal Science Department had the opportunity to take part in the Mentor Connection at UConn. Two highly talented and gifted high school students were chosen to participate in Dr. Pete Scheifele’s Animal Neuroaudiology and Bioacoustics laboratory. Saige Hoaglin from Wisconsin and Christina Spray from Connecticut were chosen to take part in this experience. Ebenezer Otu-Nyarko and Shawn n’ Sybil Makepeace would assist Dr. Scheifele as mentors. Ebenezer showed the students what is involved in his research involving stress in chickens. This involved trips to the poultry barn and taking part in data collection with the chickens in various stressful situations. The students learned how to analyze the data that was collected. Shawn showed the students various aspects of her research relating to dolphins, noise, data collection and analysis. This involved human brain dissections and a dolphin calf necropsy to show the students the anatomy involved in sound production and hearing. A trip to Mystic Aquarium had the students experience sound production in marine mammals including the beluga whales, seals and sea lions. Other activities included human ABR’s which the students got to experience themselves. A canine ABR was also done on Sybil and was concluded that she has excellent hearing all be it a little “selective”. Trips to the horse and cattle barns also showed the students what is involved in the care of those animals. Dr. Lesa Scheifele came in as a guest speaker to lecture to all the mentor students about training exotic animals and what is involved in movie production. She was assisted by Saige, Christina, Shawn and Gary. Various animals that were shown included: a chicken, Amazon parrot, an 18-ft long albino Burmese python, a tarantula (much to Shawn’s dismay), and her dog Otter. She discussed the steps involved in training different types of animals and which animals are “untrainable”. Overall, the first Animal Science Mentor Connection program was an overwhelming success and we are looking forward to participating again in the future.

Research in the Bahamas:

Kristy Beard and Kathleen Dudzinski completed the Dolphin Communication Project¹s first official field season at Dolphin Encounters (DE) in Nassau, The Bahamas from 12-25 May. An enormously successful trip, they entered the water 20 times over a nine-day period collecting data on dolphin behavior and communication. This offered the opportunity to collect in-water data on each of 16 bottlenose dolphins between 3-7 times. Five of the dolphins at DE have begun wearing pec pacs, which are silicone envelopes which will eventually contain MOSART tags to collect data on what signals that particular dolphin is receiving in a communication bout. The five dolphins who are habituated to wearing the pec pacs are also becoming habituated to wearing them while we are in the water collecting data. Of our 20 water entries, seven of these were conducted while dolphins were wearing the pacs. Kristy returned to Connecticut with approximately nine hours of video data, as well as topside video to be used in creating ID sketches of these animals, and is now working to complete video-ID logs on these tapes. Kristy will be returning to DE in early September for another week of data collection with Kelly Melillo from Alaska Pacific University, who is currently in Bimini, The Bahamas collecting similar data on wild Atlantic spotted dolphins.

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Original photographs courtesy of the Bioacoustics Laboratory UConn. Edited by Frances Foley.

Production, Graphics & Design by Frances Caprio Foley.
Noisemakers Productions. Copyright 2007.
Updated June 2007.