Three MLML students receive COAST Graduate Student Research Awards!

We are thrilled to announce that three Moss Landing Marine Labs graduate students received 2021 COAST Graduate Student Research Awards! Congratulations to Daphne Shen (Vertebrate Ecology Lab), Kinsey Matthews (Fisheries Lab), and Jackson Hoeke (Invertebrate Ecology Lab).

The CSU Council on Ocean Affairs, Science & Technology (COAST) provides these grants to support CSU graduate students engaged in marine, coastal, and coastal watershed research. Many SJSU/MLML students have been funded by COAST over the years, and we are always thankful for the California State University’s strong support for marine science research.

Professor Gitte McDonald featured in National Geographic video about emperor penguins

Many campers have probably encountered a curious squirrel or hungry raccoon trying to break into their tent… but what about a pack of mischievous penguins? SJSU/MLML professor and Antarctic researcher Dr. Gitte McDonald is no stranger to the antics of these large seabirds.

Dr. McDonald and her colleagues were recently featured in a new video from National Geographic about the hilarious penguin invasion of their field camp in Antarctica. Check out the video here.

SJSU/MLML alumna Nancy Black establishes non-profit California Killer Whale Project

The California Killer Whale Project (CKWP) is a new non-profit dedicated to the study of killer whales (Orcinus orca) along the California coast. While the organization was officially established in December 2019, their research has been going on for decades and their database of killer whale sightings spans the past 66 years. The mission of CKWP is to continue the long-term study of the ecology, natural history, and conservation of California's killer whales. CKWP CEO and co-founder Nancy Black received her MS in Marine Science from Moss Landing Marine Laboratories in 1995 and has spent the last three decades studying the killer whales of Monterey Bay. 

Learn more about the California Killer Whale Project and how you can contribute to their important research at their website.

Professor Gitte McDonald receives prestigious NSF CAREER Award

MLML is excited to announce that Dr. Birgitte (Gitte) McDonald, faculty member of San José State University, has been awarded a CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation for $935,931. The Faculty Early Career Development Program (CAREER) supports promising young scientists, providing funds to allow them to greatly expand their research capability in the early stages of their career. Dr. McDonald will be using the funds to support graduate students and postdocs, develop a new biologging course, and contribute data to an NSF-funded afterschool program. Dr. McDonald’s research program is described below.

As ice-dependent top predators, Emperor Penguins are indicators of both drastic and subtle changes occurring throughout the food web and the state of the sea ice. Like other predators, they are vulnerable to environmental change: these changes permeate through the food web, modifying foraging behavior, and ultimately survival and reproduction. Despite their importance in the Southern Ocean ecosystem, relatively little is known about the mechanisms Emperor Penguins use to find and acquire food. This study combines a suite of technological and analytical tools to gain essential knowledge on Emperor Penguin foraging energetics, ecology, and habitat use during critical periods in their life history.

Specifically, this project (1) investigates the foraging energetics, ecology, and habitat use of Emperor Penguins at Cape Crozier, the 2nd most southern colony, during late chick-rearing. Energy management is particularly crucial during late chick-rearing as parents need to feed both themselves and their rapidly growing offspring, while being constrained to regions near the colony. And (2) study the ecology and habitat preference of Ross Sea Emperor Penguins after the molt and through early reproduction. The post-molt foraging trip may be the most dangerous time for Emperor Penguins as they recover from a 50% loss in protein, while doubling their body mass for the reproduction fast ahead of them. This study fills important knowledge gaps on the energy balance, diet, and habitat use of Emperor Penguins during these critical periods, while also addressing fundamental questions in ecology.

Alumna Brijonnay Madrigal awarded NOAA Dr. Nancy Foster Scholarship

MLML alumna Brijonnay Madrigal was recently named a 2020 Nancy Foster Scholar! The highly competitive NOAA Dr. Nancy Foster Scholarship Program supports women and minorities pursuing graduate research in oceanography and marine biology.

Bri received her MS in Marine Science from MLML in 2019. Her master’s thesis research through our Vertebrate Ecology Lab examined the acoustic behavior of killer whales from the Bering and Chukchi Sea in Alaska. She will be heading to the University of Hawaii at Manoa to begin her PhD in the fall.

Learn more about Bri and the Nancy Foster Scholarship Program in the NOAA media release.

Professor Gitte McDonald featured on Voices from Antarctica Podcast

SJSU/MLML Professor Gitte McDonald and Vertebrate Ecology Lab graduate student Parker Forman are featured in the latest episode of Radio New Zealand’s Voices from Antarctica podcast.

Last fall, Dr. McDonald traveled to Cape Crozier, Antarctica to lead a team of researchers studying the foraging ecology of emperor penguins. Learn more about their research and what it’s like to live and work in Antarctica in the podcast! Listen here.

Photo credit: Gitte McDonald

NMFS Permit 19108

Vertebrate Ecology Lab student Sharon Hsu nominates Costa Rican sea turtle non-profit ASTOP for grant funding

Graduate student Sharon Hsu of the SJSU/MLML Vertebrate Ecology Lab needs your help! She has nominated the sea turtle non-profit Asociación Salvemos las Tortugas de Parismina - ASTOP for a $5000 grant that would allow their vital conservation work to continue during the Covid-19 pandemic. Sharon collaborated with this small community based organization in Parismina, Costa Rica for her thesis research on leatherback sea turtles and is now hoping to rally support for them during these unprecedented times.

The organization with the most votes wins, so please visit the link below and vote for ASTOP! You can learn more about ASTOP and leatherbacks in Sharon’s post on The Drop-In blog.

Vote for ASTOP:

Vertebrate Ecology Lab bioacousticians publish new rockfish study

Dr. Alison Stimpert and recent alumna, Brijonnay Madrigal, M.S. from our Vertebrate Ecology Lab, have applied their bioacoustic research skills from marine mammals onto rockfish.

In a recent publication for the The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, Stimpert and Madrigal studied noise produced by scientific equipment during fisheries surveys so as to better understand how this noise affected the general soundscape of a rockfish habitat. Anthropogenic noise, in this study, was found to be out of the expected sensitivity range for fish hearing. However, this is a largely unstudied section of fisheries research and in other cases could effect stock assessments. The open access scientific article also includes recording samples you can hear.

Thesis Defense by Brijonnay Madrigal – December 13th

Determining ecotype presence and the call repertoire of killer whales (Orcinus orca) from passive acoustic monitoring near Point Hope, Alaska in the Southeastern Chukchi Sea

A Thesis Defense by Brijonnay Madrigal

The Vertebrate Ecology Lab

Friday, December 13th, 2019 at 4pm

MLML Seminar Room

Brijonnay Madrigal is a master's student working under the co-advisement of Alison Stimpert and Birgitte McDonald in the Vertebrate Ecology Lab. She graduated from the University of Hawai’i at Mānoa in 2016 with a B.S. in Marine Biology and a B.A. in Communication. Prior to her time at Moss Landing, as an undergraduate and Ernest F. Hollings scholar, she completed a research internship at the NOAA Southeast Fisheries Science Center, where she determined sperm whale abundance from passive acoustic monitoring. She later worked 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 a sonar detonation sites off O'ahu, Hawai'i. Throughout her time at MLML, in addition to her thesis work, she conducted a passive acoustic study to determine acoustic behavior and repertoire composition of Risso's dolphin in the Monterey Bay. She enjoys education and outreach and has worked at the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary as a volunteer coordinator and educator for more than three years. Driven by her passion for marine mammal acoustics she developed a K-12 program called "Listen up!" to educate kids about marine mammals and sounds in the ocean.

Thesis Abstract:
As apex predators, killer whales (Orcinus orca), can have large impacts on ecosystems through top-down predation. In the North Pacific, three genetically distinct ecotypes exist that differ in diet, range, morphology, and vocal behavior. Killer whales are known to occur in the Chukchi Sea but, few data exist regarding ecotypes present. Since killer whale ecotypes differ in vocal behavior, they can be distinguished based on call type, call rate, and bandwidth. An Autonomous Underwater Recorder for Acoustic Listening (AURAL) device was deployed 75 km off Point Hope, Alaska in the southeastern Chukchi Sea to identify which killer whale ecotypes were present in this region. A total of 1315 killer whale calls were detected on 38 days during the summers of 2013 to 2015. Calls were manually grouped into six categories based on the general call contours: multi-part, downsweep, upsweep, modulated, single modulation and tonal. The majority of detections were tonal calls (n = 607, 46%), and multi-part calls (n = 351, 27%) that contained high frequency and low frequency components. Comparison of the current call dataset with published literature showed similarities in peak frequency with other transient populations. These results indicate occasional presence of transient killer whales in the southeastern Chukchi Sea. This study provides the first comprehensive, catalogue of transient killer whale vocalizations in this region.

Brijonnay Madrigal Presents: Determining ecotype presence and the call repertoire of killer whales (Orcinus orca) from passive acoustic monitoring near Point Hope, Alaska in the Southeastern Chukchi Sea

Thesis Defense by Sharon Hsu – December 13th

Using stable isotopes to determine foraging areas of leatherback turtles: limitations of the isotope tracking technique in the western Atlantic Ocean

A Thesis Defense by Sharon Hsu

The Vertebrate Ecology Lab

Friday, December 13th, 2019 at 12pm

MLML Seminar Room

Sharon's love for the ocean started at a young age. She grew up playing in the tidepools and she has never lived far from the water. Sharon received her B.S. in Ecology, Behavior, and Evolution from UC San Diego, and then spent a number of years working abroad, first as a 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. Her research interests include reproductive energetics of sea turtles and the use of stable isotopes to understand migration and foraging patterns. Sharon is currently working on establishing a collaborative project with biologists from Costa Rica.

Thesis Abstract:

Reproductive output has long been linked to habitat quality and resource availability. Individuals foraging in high-quality habitats with high resource availability will have better body conditions and higher survival rates, as well as greater reproductive output. Post-nesting, Western Caribbean leatherback turtles are known to migrate to at least two foraging regions: the western North Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico. This study had three objectives: [1] conduct a comprehensive review of existing stable isotope data and create a map of isotope values, or “isoscapes” to use as a reference for the western North Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico; [2] use stable isotope analysis (SIA) to examine bulk skin stable carbon and stable nitrogen as indicators of foraging region for nesting turtles in Parismina, Costa Rica; and [3] assess the differences of foraging region on female body size and reproductive output. Synthesized isoscapes showed substantial variation between taxa and sampling regions. Specifically for leatherbacks, stable carbon values were higher in the Gulf of Mexico than the western North Atlantic, but no other consistent trends were distinguishable. It was not possible to infer foraging region for skin samples collected in Parismina based on stable isotope values, nor was there a relationship between stable carbon values and reproductive output. This study highlighted the need for more stable isotope data and longer-term reproductive data collection. Although I was unable to validate it as a primary technique to study leatherback movements between nesting and foraging grounds, SIA still holds important conservation value for leatherbacks in conjunction with satellite tracking.

Sharon Hsu Presents: Using stable isotopes to determine foraging areas of leatherback turtles: limitations of the isotope tracking technique in the western Atlantic Ocean