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Christie Mahaffey,
NSF Graduate Fellow

NSF GK-12 Project: University of Maine
Track II: GK-12 Sensors!
URL: http://www.eece.maine.edu/research/gk12/

Thesis Title: An Interdisciplinary Approach to an Inter-specific Comparison of the Acoustic Landscape of Finback (Balaenoptera physalus) and Humpback (Megaptera novaeangliae) Whales

College/University: University of Maine

Research Advisor: Michael "Mick" Peterson

Degree Sought

University Department and/or Lab
Interdisciplinary Ocean Engineering

Research Focus
A research focus is on the effects of anthropogenic sound on marine species, particularly whales.

Description of Research
Sound propagates extremely well underwater; therefore anthropogenic and non-anthropogenic sounds are likely to be important to many marine species. Growing concerns for marine animals include acoustic masking effects, physiological injury, and behavioral disturbance. I am working to develop an acoustic profile for finback and humpback whales in critical feeding and breeding habitats. There is significant overlap between these areas and human activity. Thus, it is critical to model physical oceanographic features, regional acoustic properties, and acoustic traffic for these areas and is necessary to develop appropriate tools for addressing these questions.

Example of how my research is integrated into my GK-12 experience
I took middle school students on a field trip to the Dive-In Theater and Bar Harbor Whale Museum in Bar Harbor, Maine. Students first learned about the equipment used at the Dive-In Theater – how it works and why it is used. Some examples included the SCUBA gear, the underwater video camera and case, and the radio transmitter that works underwater at short range so that “Diver Ed” can tell the passengers what they are seeing on the boat’s video screen. After the real-time underwater video footage, Diver Ed returned to the surface with a bag full of bottom-dwelling creatures that the students could hold and investigate. All organisms were returned at the end of the trip.

At the whale museum, students learned about articulating skeletons and had the unique opportunity of seeing a researcher boil whale bones to remove the oils. Next, they learned about different groups of marine mammals and how they use their senses. The museum provided an excellent venue for students to experience first-hand the exceptional size of whales.

Profile date: July 2007
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