2012 - 2016 ACS San Francisco Bay Chapter Research Grant Awardees


2016 Research Grant Awardees



BA, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of Colorado at Boulder, CO.  Director of Experiential Education and Science Faculty (2008-present).  Drew School, San Francisco, CA.

View Into Vocalizations

Wintering humpback whales can be found in the coastal waters off of the Hawaiian Island Chain where they remain from January through April for their breeding season. This population expends a great deal of energy in activities which includes competing for mates, mating, calving, and feeding / raising their offspring prior to the first migration back north. During our next field season, we plan to focus on studying mother and calf humpback groups (which may include escorts). We will expand upon our past research and will investigate social interactions between mothers and calves/escorts, profile underwater behaviors (including the spatial behavior known as laterality), and investigate age and sex class activity budgets.

We will also examine calls known as social sounds and their biological significance, and identify any behavioral and acoustic vulnerabilities based on the breeding season behaviors, and assess how this affects ship strike potential. We plan to continue the R&D we began in 2015 with the new tagging technology that furthered our research goals. We propose to use non-invasive suction-cup tags to tag mother and calf pairs in order to gain better understanding of their underwater behaviors and vocalizations. Very few first year Hawaiian humpback whale calves have been tagged and no mother calf pair tag results are have been published. We successfully obtained these data in 2015 using both conventional tags and a new tag we self-designed. In conjunction with our underwater videography research techniques and the our past datasets, the data from additional field work and tagging will allow us to work to develop the first underwater behavioral ethogram for Hawaiian humpback whales. 


Kia hayes

Master’s Student in the Department of Environmental Toxicology, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, Texas

“Contaminant concentrations in Eastern North Pacific gray whales (Eschrichtius robustus) – spatial and temporal patterns and influence of life-history parameters.

Traveling the greatest annual migration of any mammal on earth, the Eastern North Pacific (ENP) gray whale (Eschrichtius robustus) is exposed to a breadth of marine chemical contaminants (Krahn et al. 2001; Varanasi 1994). Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) such as dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDTs), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) are of particular concern. These lipophilic contaminants have been shown to be involved in disruption of reproductive and immune systems and increased risk of cancer and developmental dysfunctions in marine mammals (Ross 2006). The United States has banned production of PCBs, DDTs, and PBDEs but due to their lipophilic properties they have high potential to disperse across large ranges and remain persistent in the marine environment (Pierce et al. 2007). Previous research has shown DDTs and PCBs to be present in gray whale blubber, though little is currently known on the temporal and geographical patterns contaminants in this species and the influence of life history parameters (Krahn et al. 2001). PBDEs have never been studied in gray whales and due to being only recently and partially banned in the USA their long-term fate in the marine environment is still poorly understood. The objective of this research project is to investigate temporal and geographical patterns of contaminant loads in ENP gray whales and the influence of life-history parameters. Concentrations of DDTs, PCBs, and PBDEs in addition to lipid levels will be analyzed in gray whale blubber. Specifically this project will examine 1) seasonal and geographical variations of contaminant loads in gray whale populations, 2) historical trends of chemical contaminant loads in gray whales, 3) offloading rates of contaminants from mother to calf during gestation and lactation.


Dr. Christian D. Ortega Ortiz

Researcher-Professor, Marine Mammals Research Group, Faculty of Marine Sciences, University of Colima, Mexico. Dr. Ortega Ortiz – Lead principle investigator / Second principle investigator: Jeffrey K. Jacobsen; 

Graduate student participants: David Alonso Rosales Chapula, a final year Oceanography student at the University of Colima / Myriam Llamas González, is a student from third year in Oceanography / Andrea Berenice Cuevas Soltero, is a student from second year in Oceanography / Andrea Michelle Ramirez Castillo, is a student from second year in Oceanography

Comparison of humpback whale singing behavior in two contrasting acoustic environments: Revillagigedo Island and Mexican Central Pacific.

Recently the acoustic environment from all oceans has been influenced mainly by an increase in commercial ship traffic, the main source of low-frequency noise, which can be detected over long distances, and it can therefore disturb marine life.  A recent need has been to identify noisy areas that are also habitats for cetaceans to evaluate interactions and to monitor potential effects on organisms. However, research on ship noise is scarce around the world. In the Mexican Central Pacific (MCP) the port of Manzanillo, Colima, is the most important commercial port in Mexico and rapidly growing. Furthermore, shipping activities will increase because another coastal zone has recently been declared by the Mexican government as an extension for the commercial port. The MCP is habitat for several cetaceans, as feeding-breeding area for dolphins, and as breeding area of humpback whales from Northeast Pacific population, recently still named as “Threatened” in the red list of the IUCN.  The remote Revillagigedo Archipelago (recently considered as UNESCO patrimony, located 350 nm west of Manzanillo) also is a very important cetacean habitat, but with very little ship traffic. Revillagigedo therefore provides a relatively undisturbed acoustic environment for comparison with the MCP region to evaluate interactions among shipping noise and humpback whale singing behavior.

The significance of this research will be in advancing our understanding about these kinds of interactions and the potential effect over the short and long term; and then to propose and implement mitigation measures for the conservation of cetaceans and their habitats.


Chiara Bertulli

Ph.D.: 2011-2015; University of Iceland, Reykjavik, Iceland / M.Sc.: 2008-2010; University of Iceland, Reykjavik, Iceland.

Population structure and conservation status of white-beaked (Lagenorhynchus albirostris) and Atlantic white-sided dolphins (Lagenorhynchus acutus) across the North Atlantic

The white-beaked dolphin (Lagenorhynchus albirostris) and the Atlantic white-sided dolphin (Lagenorhynchus acutus, herein referred to as ‘white-sided dolphin’) are both confined to temperate and sub-arctic North Atlantic waters where they have relatively wide distributions, the former mainly on the continental shelf and the latter in more pelagic waters. They remain two of the least known delphinid species. Information on basic life history, diet, population structure and population ecology is largely lacking. A recent genetic study suggested three population units of white-beaked dolphins, northwest Atlantic, British Isles/North Sea, and northern Norway/Barents Sea, (Banguera-Hinestroza et al. 2010), and another identified two genetic clusters in the northeastern Atlantic (Fernández et al. 2015). Stable isotope analysis has been used to study the trophic status of white-beaked and white-sided dolphins in a few areas of the Northeast Atlantic (French Channel, Irish coast and part of the North Sea; Das et al. 2003), leaving most of their distributional ranges unsurveyed. The International Union for Conservation of Nature identified fisheries bycatch as a threat for both species, recommending the need for more information on bycatch rates which have to date been poorly investigated. This study will use morphology, combined with other lines of study, to identify aspects of population structure and determine the conservational status of white-beaked and white-sided dolphins, utilizing dead stranded and fishery bycaught carcasses as well as photogrammetry of live free-ranging animals examined across the North Atlantic. The goals of this project are to: 1) investigate the population structure, and 2) assess the conservation status of white-beaked and white-sided dolphin populations across the North Atlantic.


Claire Simeone

Principle Investigator, DVM Conservation Medicine Veterinarian The Marine Mammal Center, Sausalito, CA / Student Participation: 1-3 International Veterinarians In-Residence

Determine the role sinus parasites play in stranded cetaceans in central California, by combining data from gross necropsy, histopathology, and advanced imaging”

Cetaceans strand for a variety of reasons, including infectious disease, trauma, intoxication and parasitism. The Marine Mammal Center (TMMC) and California Academy of Sciences (CAS) have been collecting specimens and performing necropsies on dead animals for several decades. Small cetaceans commonly have helminth parasites that inhabit the respiratory and gastrointestinal tract. Both trematodes (flukes) such as Nasitrema and nematodes (roundworms) such as Crassicauda inhabit the nasal and cranial sinuses, as well as the ear canal and middle ear. Ova and occasionally adults of these parasites have been found damaging the 8th cranial nerve and brain and meninges of several cetacean species, causing central nervous system dysfunction and disruption of equilibrium or acoustic abilities. Research Objective: determine the role sinus parasites play in stranded cetaceans in central California, by combining data from gross necropsy, histopathology, and advanced imaging.


F. Urrutia-Osorio

Director/ Primary researcher of PROCETUS, Baja California, Mexico.

“Photo-identification of fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus) in the Canal de Ballenas area: providing the community with information needed for their conservation”

The Gulf of California (GC) is one of the most productive and diverse seas of the world. It has 31 species of cetaceans, equivalent to 39% of the world’s cetacean species. Bahia de los Angeles (BLA), located in the center of the GC (28.948056 N, -113.561111 W) is a remote location that has been recognized as one of the most important marine areas regarding biodiversity conservation in Mexico. Due to the vast number of natural resources, the community depends mainly on tourism and fishing, the latter being the most important activity with more than a hundred fishermen depending on fishing resources. Little is known about population sizes and distribution of most Gulf cetaceans. Its remote location and lack of enforcement have resulted in poor management and conservation efforts. There is no current estimation of the population status of most of the cetaceans in the area and its interactions with the local fisheries. The Gulf of California is home to a resident population of fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus). Collisions with small skiffs called “pangas” represent the main threat to this unique population. In 2015, PROCETUS conducted only eleven survey trips from May to July. Of 94 individual fin whales identified, 50% (n=47) showed non-serious to serious ship-strikes injurie, increasing our concerns which motivated us to conduct research on this specie in particular and gather evidence to undertake necessary conservation actions and share our findings with the local community of BLA. In order to gather sufficient evidence on the matter, we need to build a strong base line of the status of these animals that can only be achieved thorough field research. The goal of the project is to gather abundance, distribution and anthropogenic impact information with photo-identification techniques of fin whales in the BLA through boat surveys. The specific objectives of the project are:  Produce a unique cetacean database and a catalog with the identification of individuals.ï  Identify individuals that show injuries caused by collisions with “pangas”.ï  Identify high-risk zones of collisions with small boats for future conservation actions.ï  Estimate current stocks and conservation status of fin whales in the Gulf of California.ï  Share our results with the local community and fishermen of BLA in order to increase their knowledge onï the specie and inform them on how they can help in their conservation.  Give the community of BLA the opportunity to get to know the importance of the fin whales of Bahia deï los Angeles through environmental education activities


2016 Travel Grant Awardees


Alicia Amerson,  M.A.S, PMP

California Sea Grant Fellow, UC San Diego, Scripps Institution of Oceanography,Center for Marine Biodiversity and Conservation

"Preventing Large Whale Entanglement - A Scientific Perspective Collaborates With Policy Support"

Large whale entanglement in fixed gear fishing pots is one of the most critical marine mammal issues in California waters. A dramatic increase of 61 entanglement reports in 2015 from an average of 10 reports per year from 2000 to 2012 quickly gained the attention of fisheries stakeholders. A California Sea Grant fellow provided scientific information to legislators and to the Lieutenant Governor to attain support for two important initiatives regarding the large whale entanglement issue. The first initiative required support and approval for the use of state funds to financially support emergency disentanglement volunteer teams in California. Legislators sponsored and approved a $100,000 USD budget item, that was later approved by the Governor of California. The second initiative, the Whale Protection Act, was created by legislators, with input from NGOs, scientists, and fishermen. The Act works as a preventative measure to protect large whales from entanglement by allowing fishermen to find and retrieve lost gear at the end of each fishing season. The results show that California policy makers are responsive and willing to address the entanglement issue. Although these two initiatives provide solutions to minimize entanglement during the fishing off-season and temporarily provide monetary relief to emergency efforts, they do not encompass the overall issue of fishery management. Further investigation to prevent large whale entanglement is needed; while the state working group communicate with fishermen and secure a long-term emergency program fund to end the suffering caused to large whales by entanglement.


2015 RESEARCH Grant Awardees

Natalie Mastick

Graduate Research Assistant, Masters Student, Wildlife Science, Fisheries and Wildlife Department, Oregon State University 

 “The dynamics of group bubble net foraging behavior of humpback whales in Antarctica, Alaska, and Massachusetts”

Group foraging, or feeding, is observed throughout the animal kingdom in different ways. It is often seen in carnivores as cooperative foraging, in which the benefit of working together to capture and kill a prey item is greater than feeding alone. Cooperative foraging is hypothesized to be utilized by humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae), which are one of the few cetacean species that feed in groups. Group feeding allows them to take advantage of large patches of mobile prey species and may minimize the high energetic cost of feeding. It has been suggested that if humpbacks cooperatively feed, it may be a type of by-product mutualism or reciprocation in which there would be an ideal number of participants to maximize the ratio of energy intake to energy expended per individual. Humpbacks have developed a number of group foraging behaviors, one of the most recognizable being the use of bubbles to corral prey. Humpbacks have been observed bubble net feeding in high latitude feeding grounds throughout the world’s oceans in varying group sizes, particularly off the coasts of Alaska, Antarctica, and Massachusetts. Little else is known about the dynamics of group feeding, including the complexity of synchronized movements, the ideal number of participants to maximize energy gain, and typical dive duration and depth and their relation to group size. In this project, I will compare humpback whale foraging across different habitats and ecosystems with different prey types to analyze how these differences influence group feeding activity. This should yield important insights about group foraging behavior and energetics in humpback whales.


David Cade  

Goldbogen Lab  Hopkins Marine Station, Stanford University 

“Foraging behavior of rorquals in Monterey Bay “

Cetaceans in the balaenopterid family, primarily humpback (Megaptera novaeangliae), blue (Balaenoptera musculus), and fin whales (Balaenoptera physalus) reside in Monterey Bay throughout the year with the largest gatherings occurring from late spring through early fall (Benson et al. 2002, Croll et al. 2005). Though blue whales are largely obligate krill-feeders, humpbacks and fins are known to prey switch between krill and schooling fish. In recent years, humpback abundance in Monterey Bay has been increasing while fin and blue whale sightings have declined. Large aggregations of anchovies are thought to be a primary driver of humpback whale feeding behavior in Monterey, and a large contributing factor in their success. Recent observations from video tags deployed on 3 humpbacks in October 2015 has confirmed surface observations that groups of 6-10 humpbacks regularly feed on schooling groups of anchovies (figure 1). However, the degree to which this coincident feeding is potentially cooperative as has been suspected with bubble-net feeding humpbacks in Stellwagen Bank, MA (Hain et al. 1982) and in Southeast Alaska (Jurasz and Jurasz 1979) versus being concurrent by virtue of opportunity is unknown. Preliminary analysis has also demonstrated that whales in the same population at times feed in deep water (around 180 m), likely on krill patches along the edge of Monterey Canyon (figure 2). The orientation and motion of these deep-feeding animals is similar to the types of lunges performed by krill-feeding blue whales (figure 3). A recent study (Hazen et al. 2015) has shown that blue whales change their foraging strategies based on krill prey density; Monterey Bay provides a unique opportunity to test this same theory on humpback whales in an area where they are known to forage on entirely different prey types in the same way. To examine questions involving the effect of seasonal, day-to-day and diurnal patterns in prey density on humpback whale and other rorqual feeding behavior, recent success and abundance in Monterey Bay, Cade and Goldbogen are proposing a 2-year study that involves a combination of active acoustic prey-mapping, accelerometry and video from tag data and cetacean abundance estimates from passive acoustic and traditional surveys. At the conclusion of field work in fall 2017, Cade and Goldbogen will be publishing this work as part of Cade’s PhD dissertation. This work should start as soon as spring 2016, an important season as it is expected to follow an El Niño winter. However, echo sounders and associated funding are not expected to be available until fall 2016. Thus, through ACS we received a grant funding of $1000 to begin preliminary tagging studies this spring in order to collect baseline data for the remainder of the project.It is our intention that this study contributes to an understanding of the foraging ecology of rorquals in Monterey Bay. The recent increase in humpback whale abundance in the bay has not been satisfactorily explained, and we hope to start working on pieces of the puzzle. It is becoming clear that foraging success drives population success, and we hope that by understanding the drivers of foraging success in Monterey Bay we can contribute to overall species conservation efforts.


Katherina Audley

Field Research Group: Whales of Guerrero Research Project/Oceanic Society:  Whales of Guerrero Research Project 

“Just a Fluke Thing: Cultivating an Ethos of Responsible Marine Stewardship through Citizen Science, Educational Outreach and a Community-Driven Marine Mammal Field Survey in Guerrero, Mexico”

Our project objectives:

  1. Involve boat operators, beach dwellers and schools in the collection and analysis of a marine mammal field survey data to increase knowledge about whales and dolphins and engender an ethos of marine stewardship
  2. Provide tour and sportfishing guides with training to offer informed, responsible marine wildlife tours
  3. Generate excitement and interest about marine mammals through educational outreach programs in order to inspire the local community to become voices for nature

What does this have to do with San Francisco Bay Area Marine Mammals?

The majority of the whales which we have collected fluke IDs for spend time in the Bay Area! Many of the whales we have identified have never been located in their winter calving and breeding grounds. 36% of the humpback whale groups we have identified have been mother/calf pairs, meaning 18% of the calves we see were likely born in Guerrero. This early data indicates that this may be a significant calving area for the whales of the San Francisco Bay Area. Our fieldwork is filling in an important knowledge gap about the California/ Oregon/Washington humpback whales’ preferred winter calving and breeding sites. We are also finding an overlap between the Costa Rica/Southern California subgroup and the Northern California/Oregon/Washington/ Mainland Mexico humpback whale subgroups. These two subgroups have clearly delineated genetic haplotypes and both are present in Guerrero. Our 5-year field study of the humpback whales present and their site fidelity patterns will help to provide a clearer picture of where humpback whales from the San Francisco Bay Area go in the winter and if and how they interact with other subgroups within their species.


2015 Travel Grant Awardees


David Cade

Goldbogen Lab, Hopkins Marine Station, Stanford University
 “Expansion rates of ventral groove blubber in lunge-feeding blue whales” in which we analyze video and accelerometry data from custom-made tags.


Dara Orbach

Ph.D. candidate, Marine Mammal Behavioral Ecology Group, Department of Marine Biology- IDP, Texas A&M University at Galveston

Abstract 1 Main conference: "Size and intensity of female mating behavioral repertoire predicted from reproductive anatomy in odontocetes"
Abstract 2 Harbor porpoise pre-conference workshop: "Mating Behaviors of Harbor Porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) off the Golden Gate Bridge"


M. Fernanda Urrutia-Osorio

Research CICESE, Baja California, Mexico
"Analysis of the artisanal fisheries’ fishing effort dynamics in San Felipe as a bycatch modeling tool for the Vaquita (Phocoena sinus)"


Andrea Garcia Chavez

Bachelors in Biology, UNAM National Autonomous University of Mexico, Mexico City, Federal District, Mexico
“First systematic humpback whale studies in the vulnerable state of Guerrero, southwest Mexico”


Carina F. Marón

Instituto de Conservación de Ballenas, ICB (Buenos Aires , Argentina)
Department of Biology at the University of Utah (Salt Lake City, United States)
Southern Right Whale Health Monitoring Program, SRWHMP (Puerto Madryn, Argentina)
“Increased Kelp Gull-inflicted lesions on southern right whale (Eubalaena australis) calves at Península Valdés, Argentina”


Alicia Amerson

Masters of Advanced Studies in Marine Biodiversity and Conservation
Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California San Diego
Study conducted on the West Coast of Canada, Washington, Oregon, California, and Baja de California Mexico.
“Through Their Eyes – Identifying sustainable and responsible whalewatching practices for baleen whales along the Pacific coast”


2014 Research Grant Awardees


Dara Orbach  

Ph.D. candidate:Texas A&M University at Galveston, Dept. of Marine Biology

"Mating Behaviors of Harbor Porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) off the Golden Gate Bridge"

Introduction: Mating behaviors are poorly described for most free-ranging cetacean populations. Cetaceans are submerged underwater most of the time and observations of copulation events are opportunistic. Mating patterns are often inferred by anatomical data instead. Harbor porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) have among the highest reported relative testes size among mammals [1-2] in addition to complex vaginal morphology [3], supporting a prominent predicted role for sperm competition. As part of my dissertation research on female mechanisms to control paternity among cetaceans, I have systematically dissected the reproductive tracts of 22 cetacean species (n= 87 specimens). The 9 adult female harbor porpoises that stranded in San Francisco during 2013-2014 revealed a previously undocumented and consistent extreme asymmetry of the cervix to the porpoises’ right side, in addition to large blind-end “pockets” in their vaginas [3]. The placement of these vaginal structures could reduce the fertilization success of undesirable males if paired with female pre-copulatory behaviors to ensure ejaculates are directed towards the female’s left side (away from the cervix) or trapped in the blind-end “pockets”.

Harbor porpoises have recently returned to San Francisco Bay after a 65 year absence following an anthropogenic disturbance [4]. The Golden Gate Cetacean Research group has used the Golden Gate Bridge as a non-invasive aerial platform to observe harbor porpoise activity from a vantage point 70 m above sea level. A total of 102 attempted copulation events have been photographed since 2010. Nineteen of these events were simultaneously photographed and video-recorded by Bill Keener (PI, Golden Gate Cetacean Research) and I during a week-long pilot study in April 2014. Additional video footage of behaviors and body positioning during mating attempts are necessary to support the hypothesis that the off-centered positioning of the cervix and blind-end “pocket” in the vagina enable females to exercise mate choice. Objectives and predictions: My goal is to collect additional opportunistic videos of harbor porpoise mating events from the Golden Gate Bridge. Females are predicted to: 1) roll their bodies away from males, and 2) lower their caudal peduncle (tail stock) during attempted copulations. These body posturings enable females to manipulate the penetration of the penis and decrease the likelihood of insemination. Males are predicted to: 3) approach a female from her left side. This laterality in male body orientation during sexual approach has been observed consistently [5] and may increase the proximity of the penis to the off-centered cervix.


Claire  Simeone

DVM Conservation Medicine Veterinarian 

"Investigation of the role of morbillivirus in meningitis cases among small cetaceans stranded near San Francisco Bay"

Cetacean morbilliviruses (CMVs) have the potential to cause explosive epizootics, with high mortality characterized by encephalitis, pneumonia, and lymphoid depletion, and what is believed to be  life-long immunity following recovery. CMVs have  emerged as the cause of several major epizootics worldwide, affecting striped dolphins (Stenella coeruleoalba) in the Mediterranean, harbor porpoises (Phocoena phocoena) in the UK and Netherlands, and bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) along the U.S. Atlantic coast in both 1987-1988 and 2013– present. CMVs have been found in marine mammals in the eastern Pacific Ocean, including in common dolphins (Delphinus delphis) in southern California, dusky dolphins (Lagenorhynchus obscurus), a common dolphin, and bottlenose dolphins off the coast of Peru. Interestingly, large-scale mortality has not been documented in the Pacific as it has in the Atlantic. In addition, morbillivirus RNA has been detected in animals that did not have histopathologic lesions characteristic of morbilliviral infection, meaning that morbillivirus may circulate in Pacific cetacean populations without causing large-scale mortality. In the marine environment, there is little understanding of transmission and reservoir dynamics of morbilliviruses, and epizootics continue to impact thousands of animals, which demands considerable public attention and resources for response. The purpose of this study is to determine whether morbilliviruses are present in stranded cetaceans along the central and northern California coast.


2014 Travel Grant Awards

The San Francisco Bay American Cetacean Society Chapter is honored and pleased to announce three students receiving this year’s 2014 SF Bay ACS chapter Student Travel Grant Awards. These grants enable the students to travel to our ACS National Conference November 7-9 in Newport Beach, CA to display their posters, talk about their work, and meet with marine scientists, other students, and attendees which is very important in their future studies and work.


Cara Gallagher

"Estimating the Sequestration and Redistribution of Energy from the San Francisco Bay by Returning Marine Predator the Harbor Porpoise, Phocoena Phocoena" 

Cara Gallagher and Jonathan Stern, Golden Gate Cetacean Research, Biology Dept., San Francisco State University, 1600 Holloway Avenue, San Francisco, CA USA

Harbor porpoise (Phocoena phocoena) were known to frequent San Francisco Bay (SFB) historically, but WWII activities in the 1940s pushed them back into the coastal waters outside of the Golden Gate. Phocoena remained absent from SFB for over 65 years, until 2008, when the porpoises made a comeback. They are currently entering the bay on a daily basis and in increasing numbers. Golden Gate Cetacean Research (GGCR) has monitored the reintroduction of harbor porpoise into SFB and, using photo identification, the population has been estimated at around 600 individuals. Since these animals are still spending the majority of their lives outside of the bay, and are more likely to defecate and expire in coastal waters, the majority of the energy obtained within the bay is lost to the coast. I am currently constructing a bioenergetic model in attempts to quantify Phocoena sequestration and redistribution of material and energy in the context of production of SFB. Using a range of swimming speeds gathered from land-based theodolite tracks of harbor porpoise, I am attempting to estimate energy and biomass requirements. In addition to the model, samples of harbor porpoise blubber, resident and coastal anchovies (Engraulis mordax), and bay and coastal plankton will be obtained in order to produce fatty acid signatures. These will then be compared in order to attempt to establish the ratio of bay to coastal harbor porpoise diet. This ratio will then be used in conjunction with the energetic requirements in order to estimate the biomass removed from SFB by harbor porpoise. This will provide information on the top-down effects on SFB, information that is missing from the complete picture of energy flow and nutrient cycling in San Francisco Bay.


Melanie Smith

"The Solution to Pollution is Dilution?: A Case Study on Pollutants and their Geographic Patterns"

Sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) are considered sentinels of ocean health and given their distribution, allow for sampling across many regions of the globe.  This review was conducted to determine whether oceanic inorganic pollutant concentrations have geographic patterns, which would allow for targeted mitigation efforts. Leveraging the abundance of research conducted on the data compiled
during the voyage of the Odyssey, concentrations of lead, mercury, chromium, and nanoparticles found in sperm whale skin biopsies were compared on a geographic basis. Sperm whales in the Mediterranean Sea and waters around Australia contained the highest regional mean concentrations of mercury with statistically significant differences between all sampled regions (P< 0.0001). The Pacific and Atlantic Oceans contained the highest mean concentrations of lead, with the highest levels around Papua New Guinea, Australia, and the Sea of Cortez, with statistically significant variation among regions of the globe (P< 0.0001). Regions sampled near the Islands of Kiribati and the Seychelles contained the highest levels of chromium, with statistically significant differences in chromium levels by region (P< 0.0001). Regions sampled in the waters near the Seychelles, Sri Lanka, the Maldives, the Galapagos Islands, the Islands of Kiribati, Papua New Guinea, and Mauritius contained the highest levels of nanoparticles, with statistically significant variation among regions of the globe (P< 0.0001). These findings suggest oceanic currents and industrial hotspots appear to play a dominant role in the location of increased inorganic pollutant concentrations, indicating localized mitigation efforts would have significant impacts to cetacean, ocean, and human health.


Sabena Siddiqui

President American Cetacean Society Student Coalition (ACSSC) 

Sabena graduated from Indiana University with a major in psychological & brain sciences  and a focus in animal behavior. During her undergraduate career, Sabena’s research experiences included a manatee care and research internship at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Fl; a summer field intern position with the Dolphin Communication Project in The Bahamas; and a research assistant position with the Red Sea Dolphin Project in Egypt.

She is currently research humpback whale social vocalizations with the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) – Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole, MA. Sabena has an insider perspective regarding cetaceans in captivity after volunteering at the Indianapolis Zoo and interning in the manatee care & research department at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, FL.  She began researching cetaceans in captivity.  The research materialized into a poster titled “Cetaceans in captivity: The education fallacy and the modern ark’s voyage to apathetic attitudes concerning the conservation of wild cetaceans” which Sabena presented at the Society for Marine Mammlogy and American Cetacean Society conferences among others.  Sabena is president of the American Cetacean Society Student Coalition (ACSSC) and helps assist student regional groups within the chapter. Her energies are currently dedicated toward extending the student coalition nationwide, creating a network of students united by their interests in cetaceans and marine protection. In addition, she is a national board member of the American Cetacean Society (ACS), the world’s oldest whale conservation organization.


2013 RESEARCH Grant Awards

Laura Duffy

San Francisco State University, CA

"Observing Habitat Parameters of Harbor Porpoises  (Phocoena phocoena) in San Francisco Bay"

To understand the animals themselves, we need to identify geological, physical, and chemical factors that affect biological components. This study will seek to get a better idea of the physical- biological interactions that occur across tide changes at the mouth of San Francisco Bay.


Angela Szesciorka

Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, CA

"Risk assessment of ship-whale interactions between San Francisco and Los Angeles, CA and dive behavior of humpback whales in the presence of ships" 

The purpose of this study is to identify any high-risk areas in the vessel traffic zones between SF and LA where ship-whale interactions may occur, and analyze the effect of ships and ship noise on the dive and foraging behaviors of humpback whales. I will do this with line transect surveys, telemetric tagging, and modeling.


Cara Gallagher

San Francisco State University, CA

"Marine Mammals and Primary Production in  San Francisco Bay"

Study aimed at modeling energy and nutrient utilization by marine mammals in San Francisco Bay. These species include harbor porpoises (Phocoena phocoena), bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus), harbor seals (Phoca vitulina) and California Sea Lions (Zalophus californianus). The aim of this project is to quantify marine mammal sequestration and redistribution of material and energy in the context of production of San Francisco Bay.


2012 TRAVEL Grant Awards


Andrea Dransfield

San Francisco State University, CA. 

"Where the whales are: Using habitat modeling to inform marine spatial planning in Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary, central California"


Angelica J. Rosa

Humboldt State University

"From Public Concern To Public Conservation: Tracking Killer Whales Along The West Pacific Coastline"


Alexandra Hill

College of the Atlantic

"Review of Vessel Strike Impacts on Endangered Humpback Whales: An Evaluation of Nonlethal Collision Rates of Humpback Whales Megaptera novaeanglia from Scar-based Photographic Data"


Frances. C. Robertson

Department of Zoology and Marine Mammal Research Unit, Fisheries Centre, Universityof British Columbia

A question of availability: The variable detectability of bowhead whales exposed to seismic sounds.


Chiara G. Bertulli

University of Iceland

"Can whale-watching and whaling co-exist? Tourist perceptions in Iceland"