I am a scientist as well as a research professor and senior scientist in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior at Cornell University. In addition, I am a part-time senior research scientist at Marine Acoustics, Inc. and director of scientific projects at Planet OS. I have a long history of successfully working at the interface between science, applied engineering, industry, and regulations–all with the specific objectives of using science to understand the potential impacts of human activities on marine mammals and to inspire and enable the scientific conservation of marine wildlife and habitats. This started in 1976 with my Ph.D. research on southern right whales off Argentina and continued in 1979 with my research on endangered bowhead whales off Point Barrow, Alaska, in collaboration with William T. Ellison where we deployed sparse arrays of hydrophones to locate and track migrating bowheads. This augmentation of the traditional visual census with acoustic location and tracking revolutionized the bowhead census and resulted in the calculation of a robust population estimate and trend.
In 1992, I was named chief marine mammal scientist for the U. S. Navy’s Whales ’93 dual-uses program. In 1996-97, I teamed with Kurt Fristrup and Peter Tyack as co-PIs for the Low-Frequency Active Scientific Research Program (LFA-SRP) investigating the potential impacts of the Navy’s low-frequency active sonar on large whales. In 2006-08, I worked as co-PI with a group of top marine mammal scientists investigating the impacts of the Navy’s mid-frequency active sonar on beaked whales. My current research areas include studies on the potential chronic influence of cumulative man-made noise sources (e.g., commercial shipping and seismic airgun surveys) on large whale distributions, behaviors, and movements in different regions (e.g., British Isles, Baffin Bay, Chukchi Sea, Gulf of Mexico). In particular, I am deeply concerned about the continued loss of marine animal acoustic habitat as a result of multiple anthropogenic noise sources operating over large scales for extended periods of time.
I have engaged in many collaborative research efforts integrating physical oceanographic and biological productivity measures, aerial surveys, genetic and photo-ID data, and acoustic detections (projects funded by NOAA, Northeast Consortium, MA Division of Marine Fisheries, NOPP-ONR). I lead the development and application of the near-real-time, auto-detection network for North Atlantic right whale acoustic monitoring in the Boston shipping lanes.
I have published more than 200 papers and given innumerable presentations. Under my leadership, the Cornell Lab’s K. Lisa Yang Center for Conservation Bioacoustics (CCB) initiated the passive acoustic monitoring project along the majority of the U.S. Atlantic coast in order to understand the spatial occurrence of the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale and other co-occurring species of cetaceans. As a result of these ongoing major acoustic projects, CCB developed a suite of advanced analytical procedures and metrics to quantify the acoustic spatio-temporal variability in an ocean habitat. In collaboration with a group of experts (William T. Ellison, Brandon Southall, and Dom Tollit), what has evolved through this process is a new, ecologically based paradigm for evaluating and measuring biological risks from anthropogenic activities at individual and population levels. Most recently, I have devoted considerable effort to scientific advocacy through documentary films (racingextinction.com and sonicsea.org) and outreach.