Antarctica Preparations I: 08/10/2019

Antarctica Preparations I: 08/10/2019

Penguin goods & safe handling procedures

Avian ecologist  have always used hoods as a method to cover the heads of the bird species they study. These hoods cover the eyes of the animal and reduce their stress while researchers take measurements such as weight, wing and bill length, and blood samples. Birds can be very sensitive to sudden movements, noises and changes in light and hoods are used to reduce these sensitivities by covering their eyes and ears. Once the hoods are placed over the bird’s head they quickly become more calm. Placing a hood on the bird creates a safe and comfortable environment for the subject while biological measurements are taken.

In preparation for our upcoming trip to Antarctica (October 2019) we have sewn our very own emperor penguin hoods. Each of these hoods has been hand made out of durable, soft, very thin and breathable dark fabric. These penguin hoods have a comfortable neck strap that allows us to adjust the fit of the hood per the penguin’s liking. There is an opening at the tip of the hoods that allows for the bill of the penguin to fit through and increases airflow for ease of breathing. The hoods are placed on the heads of the penguin similar to what it would look like if you placed a sock puppet on your hand (as displayed by Parker in the adjacent image). An eye cutout was placed on one of the hoods to display the approximate location of where the penguin eye would be located under the hood.

We are very excited to share our preparation processes as we get our gear ready for our trip to Antarctica. Stay tuned for upcoming posts on our penguin preparation: tag development, weight harness manufacturing, and more information on our upcoming trip.

Safety First,

Emperor Penguin Field Crew


Handcrafted penguin hoods.
Parker holding a penguin hood.

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Jennifer Tackaberry

Jennifer Tackaberry

I graduated from Colby College with a degree in Biology way back in 2004. I soon discovered my passion for large whale research and by 2006 I was working full-time in the field. Most of my research focuses on humpback whales, but also includes all large baleen whales found in the same study area (right, blue, fin, sei, and minke whales). I joined the Center for Coastal Studies’ (CCS) Humpback Whale Studies Program and Marine Animal Entanglement Response (MAER) team in 2010. While working at CCS, I became one in only five women in the US permitted to lead disentanglement responses on baleen whale, except for right whales, and responded to over 50 cases of large whales and sea turtles entangled in fishing gear. Although I loved my job, I knew I had to return to school to gain the analytical and writing skills required to pursue my research interests.

While looking for a graduate program, I moved to the West Coast with my husband in 2017 and began working with Cascadia Research Collective (CRC). I was able to continue my research on baleen whales, but expand my experience to West Coast populations. Since joining CRC, I have covered almost the entire coastline of Washington, Oregon, and California while collecting data about baleen whale populations and participating in many disentanglement responses. I am lucky that I can continue working with CRC as I begin my graduate work at Moss Landing Marine Laboratories.

I joined the Vertebrate Ecology Lab in the fall of 2018 under the guidance of Dr. Alison Stimpert and Dr. Gitte McDonald. My thesis is focused on the feeding ecology of humpback whales in the Gulf of Maine and is funded by the Volgenau Foundation. I will be using data from archival digital tags from Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary tagging project and CCS’s long-term humpback whale population dataset to determine the effect of demography on the feeding ecology and cooperative behavior of humpback whales in the Gulf of Maine. I look forward to gaining the skills I need to progress in this field and continuing to participate in research projects with my colleagues on both coasts.

Parker Forman

Parker Forman




I have diverse interests in the field of ecology spanning from ornithology, behavioral ecology, leading expeditions at remote field sites, to document emerging populations of seals and sea lions. Curiosity for the natural world is the impetus which motivates me to seek out answers to patterns observed in nature. In Fall 2018, I joined the Vertebrate Ecology Lab under the guidance of Dr. Gitte McDonald. For my thesis I am studying the at-sea behavior of emperor penguins at Cape Crozier Antarctica. 

I obtained BAs in Environmental Science and Sociology in 2013 from the University of California Santa Cruz. Both majors were essential in sculpting my unique perspective in integrating human and ecological aspects to produce effective policy measures, and reduce human impacts on the environment. Following my undergraduate career, I started working as a biological field technician where I gained hands on field experience working on many demographic studies with an array of  marine and terrestrial vertebrates including Northern spotted owls, Northern elephant seals, Steller sea lions and Northern fur seals. These experiences allowed me to live and work in many remote locations including the Pribilof Islands in the Bering Sea, Maui, the Channel Islands, Año Nuevo, King Range National Conservation Area, Point Reyes National Seashore, Olympic National Park. Along the way I had the privilege of leading many field teams at a variety of agency and non-profit institutions. I look forward to developing and contributing to scientific discovery and conservation efforts.

Lauren Cooley

Lauren Cooley

My research is centered on the physiology of marine mammals and sea turtles, particularly as it informs their conservation. I graduated from Cornell University in 2016 with a B.S. in Animal Science. I initially found my passion for marine mammals through stranding internships at the Alaska SeaLife Center and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Before starting at MLML, I worked as a Stranding Technician at the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies where I responded to strandings across the Mississippi Gulf Coast, rehabilitated sea turtles and cetaceans, and participated in boat based photo-ID surveys of bottlenose dolphins. I am excited to now be back on the West Coast working as the Stranding Coordinator for the MLML Marine Mammal & Sea Turtle Stranding Network.

I joined the MLML Vertebrate Ecology Lab in the fall of 2018. My thesis research is part of a collaborative NSF-funded elephant seal translocation study. Within the context of this larger work, my project examines the physiological effects of scientific handling on northern elephant seals. By measuring simultaneous endocrine, cardiovascular, and blood chemistry stress indicators throughout the translocation procedure, I hope to clarify the complex physiological changes induced by research handling. Since physiological stress artifacts likely influence the parameters that researchers are measuring, both science and animal welfare benefit from disentangling the effects of scientific handling on marine mammals.

In addition to my research, I am passionate about science communication and currently work as the Social Media Coordinator for Moss Landing Marine Labs. I also volunteer my time as Editor for The Drop-In, MLML's student-run blog and manage our Vertebrate Ecology Lab social media pages (check us out on Twitter and Facebook).

A student at sea…

By Brijonnay Madrigal (SEC Program Assistant & Graduate Student at Moss Landing Marine Labs)

Fish Communicate

Figure 1. The Velero IV (Photo credit: Ryan Fields).

Did you know that fish make sounds? They do! Some fish species, like the rockfish you eat in your fish tacos, are soniferous (sound producing). Fish produce a drumming sound by striking the gasbladder (swim bladder) and the sonic muscle together. Rockfish (Genus Sebastes spp.) are a genus that produce low frequency sounds associated with agonistic interactions and territorial defense. Due to this ability, it is proposed that rockfish may elicit an acoustic response due to increased noise produced by survey vehicles used to study rockfish populations. This concept fueled NOAA’s desire to deploy hydrophones to record survey vehicle operations in Southern California and rockfish in these areas. This acoustic work was one component of the Untrawlable Habitat Strategic Initiative (UHSI) SoCal Project, a collaborative effort between NOAA Northwest, Alaska, and Southeast Fisheries Science Centers. The goal of the 2-year project was to assess rockfish response to survey vehicles and determine the biases in studying rockfish using vehicles such as AUV’s (Autonomous Underwater Vehicles- like the one displayed at the SEC) and HOV’s (Human Operated Submersibles). Cruises were conducted in the Channel Islands in October 2016 and this last month in October 2017. Last year I was a data analyst for the project but this year, I got the opportunity to be a part of the research team onboard. I worked along scientists from the SWFSC Fisheries Ecology Division in Santa Cruz, CA and NWFSC Fishery Resource Analysis and Monitoring Division in Newport, OR. My role was to handle all operations for the 3 hydrophones we deployed along with a variety of sensors including a turbidity meter, light sensors, and accelerometers. The cruise was 2 ½ weeks long and the longest duration of time I had ever spent at sea so I was excited to get away from land for a bit and live on a ship for 18 days!

Home at Sea

Figure 2. The platforms.

The ship that would be my home for the next 2 ½ weeks was the Velero IV (Figure 1), a shipping vessel from Seattle, Washington that had been modified for this project. An extra sleeping quarters had been transferred onboard as well as a lab for the scientist that consisted of a one room cubicle with benches that they had placed on the ship using a crane. We spent the first day docked in Ventura Harbor preparing the platforms we would be deploying. The 3 platforms (Figure 2) (each named after a different Fisheries Science Center) were fitted with DIDSON imaging sonar, that produce images of the fish used to quantify species and measure fish lengths. MOUSS cameras were also placed on the platforms which took pictures every 2 seconds and are used to assess fish movement, species diversity and abundances. While the research team worked on putting together the platforms, the submersible team was hard at work preparing the DeepWorker manned submersible which would be used to deploy the platforms on the sea floor (Figure 3). We departed from Ventura, CA on October 9th and set out to sea at sunset. I was nervous at first, wondering what the conditions would be like especially since I am prone to seasickness but fortunately, almost every day was beautiful and calm in sunny Southern California.

A Typical Day

Figure 3. The submersibles.

There was no need for my phone alarm in the morning because between the loud clanking of the anchor being pulled up and the smell of bacon, we were always up by 6:30am. The Velero IV would leave Smuggler’s Cove off Santa Cruz Islands and after a short journey to our survey area would arrive at site at 7am. Our survey area was Footprint Bank, an area between Santa Cruz and Anacapa Island where 3 sites had been determined as locations to deploy the platforms. Once on site, the science team turned on all devices, placed them on the platforms and then with the help of the crew and sub team, the platforms were lowered over the side of the vessel. The sub attached a line to the platform using a metal claw that would allow the platform to be descended to the bottom (Figure 4). Once at the bottom, the sub operator would un-attach the line and we would then continue to the next site. After all 3 platforms were deployed we would leave the area and return to Smuggler’s Cove for a 3-hour period while the NOAA Shimada vessel conducted AUV flybys and seafloor mapping. At approximately 3pm we would return to Footprint Bank and the sub might conduct some flyby passes near the platforms prior to retrieving the platforms before sunset.

Amazing Marine Life

Figure 4. Deploying the Alaska platform one morning. The sub is in the water preparing to take the platform down to the bottom.

Throughout the day we would always see marine mammal. I was the only marine mammal scientist onboard so if marine mammals were sighted, the crew and research team always called me to the top deck to identify species. We saw pods of bottlenose dolphin, long-beaked common dolphin, Risso’s dolphin and an extremely active lone humpback breaching and tale slapping one day. After we headed back in and anchored in Smuggler’s Cove for the night, I would go up to the bow of the ship to see the “show”. Bioluminescence glowed green in the water and even in the middle of the night you could see sea lions chased schools of fish and track the movements underwater as their bodies glowed green…it was like Fourth of July in October! One night, as we were heading into Santa Barbara to anchor up for the night, I was looking at the water from the top deck when suddenly, I saw these green glowing torpedoes moving in the water near the bow of the vessel, spinning and crossing each other as they glided through the water. I went down to the bow to get a closer look and saw they were dolphins bow riding! The bioluminescence in the water was causing their torpedo shaped bodies to be outlined by a green glow which allowed you to see their every movement in the dark water. It was the most amazing thing I had ever seen!

Rockfish are a dominant demersal fish species in benthic ecosystems and are of recreational and commercial importance in California. The UHSI project is important as it will shed light on some important implications for ground fish research and the anthropogenic impacts on these species. I was grateful to have the opportunity to be involved in the data collection process, so I could gain a better understanding of the project and perspective on the data. Going out to sea makes all the long hours of analyzing data and staring at a computer screen worth it!

Katie Harrington

Katie Harrington

I've taken a diverse approach to my passion for biology and being out in the field. I currently focus on studying the movement and feeding ecology of Striated Caracaras in the Falkland Islands. An amazing bird! They're social, gregarious, run as much as they fly, and fill a similar ecological niche as the North American raven. Birds of prey are sentinel species of the earth’s environment, so I have a deep passion for contributing scientific knowledge that can guide conservation and management programs.

For my Master’s thesis, I collaborated with Hawk Mountain Sanctuary to develop energy budget estimates for the striated caracara using 3D acceleration loggers. Knowing caracaras’ energy needs is essential to understand their ecological role and to better assess how human-dominated landscapes might affect their survival.

In addition to my research, I also work on sailing vessels as well as in small boat ops, assisting coastal California research efforts as experienced field crew, including operating vessels, performing marine bird and mammal surveys, and photographic ID work for long-term baleen whale studies.

The biological world stuns me, and I want to share that with others. I do that through writing about local research and science-based ecological restoration. I've published in Bay Nature, for NOAA Fisheries', and in Salish Sea Currents. I obtained my BA in American Studies from Stanford University and built my foundation in biology through additional coursework at the University of Washington's Friday Harbor Laboratories and the College of Marin.


Katie defended her thesis titled "Seasonal time-energy allocation of an island-restricted Falconid, the Striated Caracara, using a low-cost, open-source inertial movement GPS logger" in 2019. You can find her thesis results in this article published in the journal Animal Biotelemetry.

Shawn Hannah

Shawn Hannah

I graduated from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, with a B.S. in Biological Science concentrating in Marine Science and Conservation. During my undergraduate studies, I took part in research with tropical coral fish, range-size studies of temperate fish, male elephant seal population surveys and pathology of marine mammals. It was my time working at The Marine Mammal Center (TMMC) doing animal husbandry and rescue that solidified my desire to pursue work with wild marine mammals. When I began interning in the Vertebrate Ecology Lab at MLML, I had the opportunity to assist other students in a variety of projects. This included humpback whale identification, UCSC elephant seal monitoring, Risso’s dolphin vocalization and identification, as well as the Marine Mammal Stranding Network. 

Currently, I am a third year graduate student at MLML. For my thesis I am studying northern elephant seals and their natural diving physiology. This includes recording their heart rate throughout natural dives and comparing it to their dive depth, duration, and movement. This research will give us insight into how these incredible divers are capable of long duration dives and how they are managing their oxygen.

Brijonnay Madrigal

Brijonnay Madrigal

My passion lies in marine mammal acoustics and the communication and behavioral function of vocalizations. In Spring 2016, I graduated from the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa with a B.S. in Marine Biology and a B.A. in Communication. As an undergraduate, I was selected as a NOAA Ernest F. Hollings Scholarship recipient. Through this program, I completed a research internship at the NOAA Southeast Fisheries Science Center, where I determined sperm whale abundance using passive acoustic data. This experience started marine mammal acoustics pursuits. I have since been involved in field studies, volunteer opportunities and internships to study and learn various aspects of cetacean acoustics, behavior, husbandry and psychology in Hawai’i, Florida and Puerto Rico. I served as a research assistant for a project conducted in collaboration with both the U.S. Navy and the Hawai’i Institute of Marine Biology Marine Mammal Research Program, to assess dolphin presence through whistle detection at sonar detonation sites.

My research at MLML was under the direction of Dr. Alison Stimpert and Dr. Gitte McDonald. My master’s thesis focused on characterizing acoustic behavior of odontocete species and is comprised of two parts: (1) A data analysis of passive acoustic data (provided by the NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center) of killer whales from the Bering and Chukchi Sea, Alaska to formulate a vocal catalog of pulsed calls. (2) A passive acoustic study of free-ranging Risso's dolphin whistle and burst pulse vocal repertoires in Monterey Bay, California.


Bri defended her thesis titled "Determining ecotype presence and the call repertoire of killer whales (Orcinus orca) recorded near Point Hope, Alaska" in 2019. You can read her thesis manuscript here.

Jenni Johnson

Jenni Johnson

I graduated from San Jose State University with a B.S. in Biological Science focusing in Marine Science. During my undergraduate studies, I was an animal husbandry and rescue volunteer for the Marine Mammal Center, while interning in the Vertebrate Ecology Lab at MLML. Through my experience as a volunteer I acquired a foundational skill set for working with wild pinnipeds which enhanced my curiosity about how these animals survive in extreme environments. As an intern in the Vertebrate Ecology Lab, I had the opportunity to assist in a variety of projects. This included being a member of the Marine Mammal Stranding Network, assisting with diet analysis of California Sea Lions, and volunteering with elephant seal demographic studies at UCSC.

Currently, I am a fourth year student under the direction of Dr. Gitte McDonald. My research aims to investigate the influence of maternal foraging strategy on reproductive output in Northern elephant seals using stable isotope analysis. This project is being done in collaboration with the Costa Lab at UC Santa Cruz.

Sharon Hsu

Sharon Hsu

My love for the ocean started at a young age. I grew up playing in the tidepools and I have never lived far from the water. I received my B.S. in Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution from UC San Diego, and then spent a number of years working abroad, first as Peace Corps volunteer in the Republic of Vanuatu and later as a project coordinator for a sea turtle conservation group in Costa Rica and volunteer coordinator for various conservation projects.


Sharon defended her master's thesis titled "Using stable isotopes to determine foraging areas of leatherback sea turtles: Limitations of the stable isotope tracking technique in the Western Atlantic Ocean" in December 2019. You can read her thesis manuscript here.