SEA Days: Whale Tales

Written by: Marissa Mangelli, Volunteer Programs Assistant

Every month, the third Saturday is a special day at Birch Aquarium: SEA Days! As the tagline suggests, SEA Days are always full of  “Science, Exploration and Adventure.” Visitors and members can meet a Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego or local researcher and get hands-on with science, participate in activity stations, and get creative with a thematic craft.

If you have ever been lucky enough to see a pod of wild dolphins, their majestic and playful manner is a wonderful display. Without our primary sensory organs, our eyes we wouldn’t be able to marvel dolphins in the first place

. As humans rely on eyesight to interpret their surroundings, a dolphins hearing is its number one tool to view the world! Dolphin sound scientist, Anne Simonis, joins us for this month’s SEA Days to share her research on dolphin acoustic ecology. Below, she answers a few questions about her background and what she will be sharing with us!

Dolphin sound scientist, Anne Simonis.

Dolphin sound scientist, Anne Simonis.

Where did you go to school?

Undergrad: Minnesota State University, Mankato, MN and Deakin University in Warrnambool, Australia

Graduate: Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, CA

What is your area of research?

I study the acoustic ecology of dolphins by developing tools to identify dolphin species by their echolocation clicks and then track movement and foraging behavior over long time periods.

Who or what inspired you to become involved in marine science?

Everyone loves dolphins, right?! I’m passionate about marine conservation and wanted to improve our ability to mitigate human impacts on wild populations. I’m also fascinated by how animals use sound to communicate, navigate, find food and avoid predators and I’m also excited about new technologies to acoustically monitor rare or cryptic species and ecosystems in remote areas.

What qualities do you need in order to become a scientist?

Patience, passion and creativity.

Why is your research topic important?

Humans continue to increase their contribution of noise to the marine environment, which can cause problems for species like dolphins and whales that heavily depend on using sound to survive.  Monitoring species that spend most of their life under the surface of the water, often in deep, remote locations is very difficult and ship-based visual surveys are costly and are limited by weather conditions, the visibility of animals and only offer a snap-shot in time. Acoustic monitoring provides a cost-effective means of monitoring the presence and behavior of many vocal species.

What will you be bringing with you to SEA days?

I’ll bring in some recording equipment as well as actual recordings that people can scan through and listen to different underwater sounds.  I’ll also have a dolphin skull on display to talk about the way that dolphins have evolved to use sound as their primary sense.

What is the best advice you have for people interested in becoming involved in your field of research? 

There are many great short-term opportunities to volunteer with a marine mammal stranding center or research group to get hands on experience with the actual day-to-day life of a marine mammal scientist. Because ecological research techniques are becoming increasingly more complex, I also highly recommend becoming familiar with basic programming languages (“R”, and “Matlab” are the ones I use the most).


Dolphin sound scientist, Anne Simonis prepares an acoustic array for deployment.

Dolphin sound scientist, Anne Simonis prepares an acoustic array for deployment.

What is your favorite ocean organism?

Killer whales – They are just such impressive animals!

SEA Days are 11 a.m – 3 p.m., are included with aquarium admission, and always free to aquarium members. Not a member? Join today!

SEA you there!


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Scripps Institution of Oceanography UC San Diego