Earth’s largest animals, baleen whales (mysticetes), are challenging to study because they largely reside out of sight below the ocean surface, and they travel great distances.  However, the sounds that these giants produce travel far underwater, carrying information about animal presence and behavior.  Passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) thus opens a sonic viewing window through which we can advance both the science and conservation of mysticetes.  

Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS) represents important foraging habitat for multiple mysticete species.  In the heart of MBNMS the MARS cabled observatory enables continuous monitoring of sound. Integration of PAM with other methods of observation enables more comprehensive understanding of whale behavior in relation to the ecosystem dynamics that sustain their population.  

Among the soniferous mysticetes, three species are prevalent in the local soundscape: blue, fin, and humpback whales.  From integrative studies employing PAM we are discovering how these species succeed in meeting the tremendous energetic demands imposed by their massive bodies and long-distance migrations.  We are finding that the whales are closely attuned to the ecosystem dynamics that influence their food supply, on time scales ranging from days to years.  We also find evidence of cooperation through long-distance communication that enables more efficient searching for food in the vast and patchy ocean environment.



Smith, K.B., P. Leary, T. Deal, J. Joseph, J. Ryan, C. Miller, C. Dawe, and B. Cray. 2022. Acoustic vector sensor analysis of the Monterey Bay region soundscape and the impact of COVID-19. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 151: 2507–2520.

Oestreich, W.K., B. Abrahms, M.F. McKenna, J.A. Goldbogen, L.B. Crowder, and J.P. Ryan. 2022. Acoustic signature reveals blue whales tune life-history transitions to oceanographic conditions. Functional Ecology, 36: 882–895.

Ruhl, H.A., J.A. Brown, A.R. Harper, E.L. Hazen, L. deWitt, P. Daniel, A. DeVogelaere, R.M. Kudela, J.P. Ryan, A.D. Fischer, F.E. Muller-Karger, and F.P. Chavez. 2021. Integrating biodiversity and environmental observations in support of national marine sanctuary and large marine ecosystem assessments. Oceanography, 34: 145–155.

Cade, D.E., J.A. Fahlbusch, W.K. Oestreich, J. Ryan, J. Calambokidis, K.P. Findlay, A.S. Friedlaender, E.L. Hazen, S. Mduduzi Seakamela, and J.A. Goldbogen. 2021. Social exploitation of extensive, ephemeral, environmentally controlled prey patches by supergroups of rorqual whales. Animal Behaviour, 182: 251–266.

Oestreich, W.K., J.A. Fahlbusch, D.E. Cade, J. Calambokidis, T. Margolina, J. Joseph, A.S. Friedlaender, M.F. McKenna, A.K. Stimpert, B.L. Southall, J.A. Goldbogen, and J.P. Ryan. 2020. Animal-borne metrics enable acoustic detection of blue whale migration. Current Biology, 30: 4773–4779.e3.

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