5 burning questions

Beam Reach gives you the rare chance to pose your own questions about the oceans. As you pursue your curiosities through scientific research, part of what you learn is how to ask testable questions and how to answer them with statistical certainty.

This page presents each student’s 5 questions of greatest interest. The two columns compare the questions posed on the first day of class with those listed at the end of the program. We use the differences to assess how the program changes your ability to generate and prioritize scientific questions.

Jump to program: spring 2012 | fall 2011 | spring 2011 | fall 2010 | spring 2010 | spring 2009 | spring 2008 | spring 2007


Questions before 2012 spring program Questions after 2012 spring program

Breanna Walker

1. How does the presence of anthropogenic acoustics (boat vessel noise specifically) impact inter­‐pod communication, specifically while foraging?

2. Will pod structure and/or behavior change as the season progresses? Specifically with the K and L pods, and will there be an obvious/significant change in behavior or acoustic communication seen in the whales closely related to L112?

3. What insights can the rebounding population of harbor seals in the Salish Sea provide into recovering the Southern Resident Killer Whale population?

4. Can the amount of pollutants found in the shoreline and intertidal zone be used to predict the amount of pollutants in the Southern Resident Killer Whales?

5. As the spring season approaches summer, more whales arrive and vessel traffic in Haro Strait greatly increases. Does this have any affect on the acoustic exchange amongst the whales that are present during the spring season when the water would be seemingly quieter?

Phinn Onens

1. What can hydrophone recordings suggest about pod behaviour at night? Is there a relationship between predator and prey movement/behaviour during this time? How does this differ from inferred daytime behaviour?

2. Do the vocalizations of captive orcas change from that of their wild family? What happens when individuals of different families are placed together in a captive situation?

3. How far can orcas be apart and still remain within acoustic contact with each other? How does this distance vary with anthropogenic noise?

4. If many whales are vocalizing at any one time, how do you know which sound corresponds with which individual?

5. How educational are whale watching boats? What are the tourists learning and what are they taking away from their experience?

Dana Roberson

1. Is there a greater impact of contaminants in the Pacific northwest due to increased rainfall? If so, do the San Juan Islands act as a bottleneck for contaminants?

2. Do killer whales change their dialect or adopt a new one when held in captivity with another whale from a different location?

3. Have Orcas become more active later at night to avoid boat traffic and noise while foraging?

4. Are sounds in an area like the San Juan Islands louder due to reverberation off nearby land? Would this affect the Orcas’ use of the surrounding waters?

5. How does depth affect sound transmission? Do deep waters not transmit sound as loudly as shallow waters? If so, how does this change Orca communication?

Rachel Bramble

1. Are killer whale vocalizations identifiable to mood (for example, can you tell if a pod is hunting, traveling, stressed, etc. based on certain vocalizations)?

2. Does the Navy have any involvement in the conservation efforts, or have any use for the research conducted on killer whales?

3. How often are calves seen/heard/encountered and do their vocalizations differ in any way from mature whales?

4. Do salmon form similar “tight-knit” schools to whale pods, and if so, do the pods track specific schools for their food source?

5. Can the various resident pods be recognized by vocal recognition alone, or is visual recognition necessary?

Jamey Robnett-Conover

1. In what ways could Orca Intelligence differ from humanities definition of intelligence?

2. How is body language used by orcas to southern resident orca populations communicate? Does it differ from the body language used by transient orca populations?

3. What is the development of vocalization and communication in resident orcas from birth to maturity?

4. Do transient orca populations use different methods of communicating in replacement of vocal communication?

5. Are orcas self-aware?

Taya Huang

1. What types of fishes are being commercially fished in the Salish Sea?

2. Where are these fishes located in the food web & how might removal of these stocks of fishes influence, directly or indirectly, the SR Orca? (What fishing regulations are in place?)

3. What is the degree of enforcement and compliance of current whale watching laws?

4. What are the sources of toxin being continuously released today? Are any regulations in place?

5. Other than oil drilling and fishing, are there any other form of natural resource extraction that might affect the Southern Resident Orca?

Questions before 2011 fall program Questions after 2011 fall program
Laura Moe

1. Transients and Residents have noticeably different calls, but do the transient killer whales have different patterns or frequency of clicks? Are clicks universal to many types of killer whales?

2. Chinook salmon individuals have recently been surgically tagged. These tags emit a high frequency tone audible to killer whales. Do the resident killer whales avoid the audibly conspicuous tagged salmon? Or do they use it as a tool for hunting?

3. There are 3 different pods in the J Clan of southern residential orcas: J, K, and L. These orcas interact quite regularly. What are the differences in the their calls? Do they have “accents”?

4. Do the resident killer whales portray a more aggressive behavior as anthropogenic noise increases? If so, what frequency usually coincides with the aggravated and aggressive behavior?

5. How will the newly dismantled Elwha Dam affect the southern resident’s traveling patterns?

1. Are there call sequences that indicate surface-active behaviors, foraging, travel arrangement, or travel direction?

2. Are southern resident killer whale’s repertoires becoming more and more similar, remaining consistent, or diverging with time?

3. Since L87, Onyx, was adopted by J pod; what kind of repertoire does he have?

4. Do results from data quantified in S19, S6, and S10 calls remain consistent in archive or future data?

5. What kind of repertoires do the killer whales of the northeast Atlantic have?

Hayley Dorrance

1. Do the rocks at Lime Kiln provide calmer waters for the killer whales to feed in?

2. Does the light from the lighthouse affect how the Orcas(and other animals) behave at night?

3. Why do some of the dorsal fins on Killer whales flop over?

4. Are killer whales more, or less active when it rains, and why?

5. Is there a correlation between the number of visitors at Lime Kiln and how often the killer whales are seen or heard?

Sharon Bannick

1. Do pollutants, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, salinity, or plankton levels attract or repulse Orca populations from specific locations?

2. Are mating partners chosen based off specific markings, dorsal fin size, overall body size, hunting skills, or mating capabilities or is it purely as simple as which organism is of sexual maturity?

3. Do foreign chemicals, pollutants, or sounds affect the hearing capabilities and olfactory systems of Orca?
– If so could this be the reason for increased loudness of calls, whistles and clicks?
– If so does this affect hunting efficiency and capabilities?

4. Do male Orcas perform mating displays, songs, or court the females?

5. Do plankton, carbon dioxide, or nitrogen levels affect Chinook salmon migration patterns and spawning locations, which in turn could alter Orca migration patterns?

1. Does current intensity affect whale travel direction or surface active behaviors?2. Does frequency of vocals change when there are more or less surface active behaviors?

3. Do whales travel more/ longer distances, vocalize less, or have a higher frequency of surface active behaviors at night due to fewer boats present on the water?

4. Why do Southern Resident Killer Whales travel mostly North in Haro Strait and mostly South in Rosario Strait?

5. Do Southern Resident Killer Whales really travel with the current or do they travel with the current because their prey, Chinook and Chum salmon, follows the current?

Charla Basran

1. How predictable are the orca pod movements based on the salmon runs?

2. Are there certain types of boats causing greater interference with orca communication and echolocation than others?

3. Does each pod have specific behaviors and calls that are characteristic of only them?

4. What makes a transient orca a transient? eg. What specific behavioural characteristics do they display that members of a pod do not?

5. Have the orcas adapted their calls or behaviours to cope with boat traffic noise? eg. louder calls, more frequent calls etc. or avoidance of communication in high boat traffic areas

1. How could changes in fishing regulations and improvements to marine protected areas improve endangered and threaten salmon stocks on which the Southern Residents rely?

2. Will the Southern Residents change their diet if Chinook salmon stocks continue to decline?

3. How has increasing boat traffic in Haro Strait changed the behaviour, socialization, and communication of the Southern Residents?

4. Is there a genetic basis for why the Southern Residents have not recovered as well as the Northern Residents from the drop in their populations in the past?

5. Is there an advantage to a whale “switching pods” after the death of close relative? (ie. L-87 now travelling with J pod after the death of his mother)

Questions before 2011 spring program Questions after 2011 spring program
Emalie Garcia
1. How has background noise, most likely anthropogenic, seemed to affect the Orcas? Are there changes in their communication, travel, etc.

2. What advances have we made in identification of the Orcas and how can we advance further?

3. To what degree and by what methods is the public being educated from schools to parks and in the general community?

4. What types of play do the SRKW seem to participate in and with what frequency?

5. What types of members (young or old) make up the population of the SRKW, more specifically in each pod, and how has that seemed to change over time?

Mandy Bailey

1. Are SRKW calls and clicks altered by the habitat they’re in? For example, do their calls have a lower frequency and shorter duration in shallower water, or within kelp than in deeper, more open water and vice versa?

2. How has anthropogenic noise affected orca calls and behavior? As background noise has gotten higher, has there been evidence of calls being masked? Also, if behaviors such as breaching, tail lobbing, and pec slapping are used in communication, does anthropogenic noise mask these sounds so that they cannot be heard as far?

3. How do SRKW calls vary with different behavior and/or emotional states (ex. Stressed, aggressive, etc.)?

4. Does each pod have its own dialect? Also, are there intra-pod, perhaps generational, differences in the calls (perhaps higher amplitude calls used more frequently because of higher background noise and whether this changes the dialect of the whole pod, or just the younger ones who might only be ‘taught’ these)?

5. Is average Chinook salmon size decreasing as a result of fishing pressure? Is there currently a maximum size regulation? If the size is decreasing, how does that affect the SRKW?

Kelsey Donahue

1. How does noise emitted from large cargo vessels running through Haro Strait affect killer whale communication with and without boats present?

2. How do motor-boats within this region have an impact masking communication compared to vessels?

3. Does the presence of boats affect the range of dispersal within pods?

4. What level of ambient noise challenges killer whale communication?

5. In the presence of boats, do killer whales spend more time and energy foraging and traveling compared to when boats are absent?

Ally Meyer

1. Is there a significant difference between the frequency of behavioral clicks used when the whales are hunting as opposed to when they are socializing?

2. How does overall vocalization differ between transient and resident orcas? Are theses differences in any way linked to environmental factors?

3. Does each whale have its own distinct clicks or whistles that identify it among its pod? Do they make noises just for fun?

4. Can certain patterns of clicks or calls be correlated to behavior? Like a certain click pattern or frequency being linked to lunging, breaching or spyhopping? Also does the vocalization level vary between males and females of different ages?

5. Does a pods level of communication change when they encounter a transient orca? Do they increase or decrease their levels of communication?

Questions before 2010 fall program Questions after 2010 fall program
Vanessa Victoria

1. Even though signature whistles are not recognized/observable in killer whales, is there a tonal/pitch variation in the vocalizations specific to each individual that is in turn recognizable and differentiated by the other members of the matriline? Is there an observable difference in the spectrogram of the same sound/call emitted by different individuals? Could this fine-tuned recognition extend to the pod order? What’s the capacity of killer whales to distinguish the different ‘voice’ tones of their conspecifics?

2. Once a matriline splits due to the death of a matriarch, what’s the rate of change and extent of the change in the general repertoire of the resulting matrilines? Does a specific vocalization type change faster than the others?

3. Is there an observable temporary matriarch hierarchy during pod socializations? Is there a higher frequency of call interactions between the lead matriarchs of each matriline? Are the matriarchs behaving/vocalizing any different than the other individuals during these interactions?

4. What’s the social function of clicks, what sort of information can they convey about prey location during social interactions?

5. Is there an observable difference between the spectrograms of clicks during foraging to those during social interactions?






Garrett Turner

1. How does the click rate or frequency change with respect to foraging in various geographical locations such as the Fraser River, Puget Sound, and the Sacramento River off California?

2. Are there any broad geographic and temporal correlations for Orcas with respect to historic data on salmon runs for various river systems?

3. Do Orcas utilize different calls or clicks for foraging in different levels of the water column, and is this possibly correlated to the behavior of the prey species or the use of visual hunting at higher depths? Also does the full moon or bright nights correspond to a higher occurrence of foraging behavior?

4. How does the utilization of social calls change across various developmental stages for females versus males?

5. How do defined behaviors correlate with respect to tidal shifts and other large scale hydrological processes or with proximity to underwater geological structures?

1. Do the long term changes in salmon populations correlate with SRKW population changes.

2. Do individual whales have different frequency structures with respect the echolocation clicks.

3. Are different frequency structures present in various phonations used during different behavioral states.

4. Can passive acoustics be utilized to study other marine mammals, such as Pinnipeds.

5. What are the differences in behavior or phonations between J, K, and L pods; what are the energetic differences that account for the changes in populations.

Megan Stoltzfus

1. Does each individual whale have its own frequency or pitch of clicks, whistles, or discrete calls?

2. Can an Orca be identified by its call sequence?

3. Do the tides have a behavioral or foraging effect on the whales?

4. What is the largest impact humans have on whales or the oceans in general, either good or bad?

5. Assuming whales do not forage, what other behaviors occur at deep depths?






Catherine Peters

1. Does pod size have an effect on acoustic behaviour? A variation of the selfish herd theory and group vigilance theory. Analysis of described calls/behaviours used and how they change with variations in group size.

2. Do orcas use of directional echolocation clicks to hunt? Does click frequency increase when a prey individual is localized? Does click use alter with visibility?

3. Do Orcas show selective habituation to one prey type and how does this shape the acoustic profile?

4. Does acoustic complexity increase with developmental stages?

5. The cascading effect of Orca as a key stone species; how do Orcas affect the food species of Salmonids?

1. How does the inhalation of breath correlate to dive length and energetic cost during different behaviors?

2. What is the cost of transport of Orcinus orca and how does it change depending of behavior?

3. How do juveniles keep up with adults? The difference in energetic cost of performing the same behaviors in juveniles and adults.

4. How changing salmon stocks could affect behaviour and energetic requirements.

5. Does blow hole diameter effect the amplitude of the blow?

Hana Kazunas

1. If transient whales mate with resident pods, is there a universal signal that initiates mating behavior?

2. How does the runoff of prescription drugs like birth control and antidepressants affect orca behavior and physiology?

3. Are hunting techniques instinctual or do individuals learn specific techniques from their pods?

4. Since ocean temperatures are fairly stable across seasons in the Pacific Northwest, does food availability determine when Southern Resident Killer Whales breed? If not, what does?

5. To what extent does salmon activity affect orca click frequency?

1. How does a pod of whales determine what activity will be done (i.e. a deep dive, or beginning to travel after a
different activity)? Is it an individual, and if so, how does one individual signal to the rest of the group?

2. How exactly are echolocation clicks utilized in the wild? Do they have any communicative properties, or are they used only for prey location and navigation?

3. Do percussive events like tail/pectoral fin slaps or breaches represent a signal of some sort?

4. How does the runoff of prescription drugs like birth control and antidepressants affect orca behavior and physiology?

5. Is there a noise threshold at which it becomes too energetically expensive for orcas to use echolocation because the clicks are masked by ambient noise? If so, how does this affect the whales’ overall well-being?

David Cade

1. Why do adult male SRs have higher mortality rates than other SRs? What is the effect genetically on SRs of a small population size with limited breeding males?

2. Do certain kinds of acoustic activity predict breaching behavior?

3. Why do transients & residents avoid each other so fiercely when they are not in competition for resources?

4. What aspects of killer whale vocalizations are used for navigation and reconnecting with each other after long-distance or long-term separations? Are there specific vocalizations that signify a group decision (i.e. a change in direction)?

5. Can whistles be categorized into patterns that are used commonly? Likewise, can “whistling” be shown to be more common in certain individual whales?

1. What’s up with repeated calls? Is there clear evidence that is from a single whale? Which whales tend to repeat calls and which tend to do single calls? Is it broken down by age? Could it be a teaching thing?

2. Are there specific call types that seem to be in “response” to other call types?

3. Can cepstral features be used to classify killer whale calls in some way?

4. What other evidence could be tested to see if killer whale calls have structures similar to language?

5. Finally, what do killer whales hear? How does a DBO adjustment change the spectrograms of their calls? Could this adjustment elicit the appearance of “formants”?

Questions before 2010 spring program Questions after 2010 spring program
Kathryn Scurci

1. How does a captive whale’s vocal repertoire differ from that of its wild family members?

2. To what degree are vocalizations learned and/or innate? Do mothers teach their calves how to “speak”?

3. Do orcas respond to human music? If so, is it possible to use this connection to study orca cognition?

4. Are there stereotyped vocalizations that occur during greeting ceremonies and/or other kinds of rituals?

5. What role do intonation and duration play in orca vocalizations? Could calls have different meanings depending on behavioral context?





Horace Liang

1. How do orcas know where and when is the right time that food resources, such as salmon, are available?

2. Is breaching a way of communication between whale individuals, and are there certain meanings behind breaches, such as full breaches vs. half-breaches?

3. How are orcas able to distinguish different pitches of calls from different whale individuals or different pods?

4. What impact does the orca populations of the world have on the biodiversity of the ocean?

5. How largely will the inevitable global changes of the planet, such as pollution and continued industrialization, affect the future orca populations and what can we humans act to conserve their numbers?






Nora Carlson

1. How do Southern Residents react vocally when in close proximity to orca from another community? Do they become more or less vocally active? Does their call frequency change?

2. Is it possible to distinguish individuals by their vocalizations?

3. When an individual is stranded or beached do either the pod or stranded individual have changes in their vocal patterns?

4. Is there a pattern in the differences that distinguish dialects from one another? If so do these differences only exist in one social level or can it be traced from matrilines to pods to communities?

5. Are there overall patterns in ocra calls? If so do they occur individually, among adolescents vs. adults, males vs. females, daily, seasonally? Do the patterns change during different activities? Do these patterns differ from pod to pod or community to community?






Libby Whiting

1. Is noise from Industrial Park impacting the way whales communicate with one another? Do increased noise levels in that area affect their ability to find and catch prey? What does it take for a masking effect to impact the success rate of a foraging whale? What is the stress threshold where orcas exhibit changes in behavior due to “too many” boats in the area?

2. Is the public opinion of whales still positive after recent negative captive whale media coverage? What is the ratio of attacks on humans from whales in captivity compared to those in the wild?

3. Do orcas sleep in a specialized configuration? Do they show preferences of who they are sleeping next to? How does that compare to the general configuration of when they are active? What about foraging versus play?

4. What is the process of establishing a Marine Protected Area? What are the driving factors of a consensus or compromise between various perspectives? Which voices seem to be heard by legislature? How definate do scientific findings need to be? What could a program like Beam Reach do to aid in establishing an MPA? What is the public opinion of the proposed changes in regularion, specifically regarding the MPA on the west side of San Juan Island? What kind of compromise would make everyone happy?

5. What are the impacts of hydropower on an ecosystem? Are their behavioral (or measurable acoustic) changes from the whales in areas that have introduced a form of hydropower? What kind of technologies need to be in place to insure the safety of the surrounding ecosystem?






Questions before 2009 program Questions after 2009 program
Hannah McGowan

1. Are resident pods more closely related (genetically and linguisticially) to other resident pods worldwide or to regional

2. When killer whales emerged as a species, did they eat fish,
marine mammals, or both?

3. In what ways do residents and transients use sound differently?

4. Do killer whales interact differently with kayaks than other
vessels, and what role does sound play in this distinction?

5. How closely related (geneticially, culturally…) are the northern
and southern residents?

1. Do killer whales communicate with tailslaps, pecslaps, and breeches?

2. Do killer whale calls exemplify Morton’s motivational-structural rules? If so, is this done by call selection, or by the way the call is expressed.

3. Are there calls that have been or are being phased out of the Southern Residents’ call repertoire, and could this be a result of masking by anthropogenic noise.

4. How do the Southern Residents decide where to go? Does one whale make this decision?

5. Why do killer whales keep post-reproductive members of the pod around?

Erica Beneze

1. The Southern Residents primarily feed on Chinook salmon despite the abundance of other salmonids species in the area. How do the Orcas find their prey and distinguish them from the other species?

2. When foraging, are the clicks used for communicating between the whales about where the fish are or is it to actually locate the fish, or is it a combination of both?

3. Vessel noise is said to mask the whales’ communication or force them to make their calls louder to be heard over the noise. Is communication more important for socialization or foraging? Is it more damaging for the whales’ socialization calls to be masked or foraging clicks to be masked?

4. How different/similar are the calls, clicks, and whistles between J, K, and L pods? Are there differences in communication or “dialects” between the matrilines of the pods?

5. How long does it take a calf to learn to communicate? Is some of it learned and some of it known or is it all taught?

1. During my analysis I noticed a lot of click trains preceding calls and there were many calls with clicks in the middle of the calls as well. So my question is, are clicks part of the killer whales communication with some calls?

2. When boat number increases do the whales surface less frequently than when there are less boats?

3. I still want to know how killer whales distinguish Chinook from the rest of the salmon. Is it size they look at or is there something different that they sense for Chinook?

4. Does boat noise mask the echoes of the clicks that are important to the whales?

5. Are the echoes of clicks really shared? I would be curious to do a study to check if the click rate per whale decreases and the number of whales increase.

Hilary Rollins

1. How do whales know when a particular salmon run is occurring and how do they locate it?

2. What is the actual cause of death of the majority of whales dying since the population decline began? Ship strike? Starvation? Pneumonia? etc.

3. How does a convergence of noise on a pod in a particular state of behavior affect that state of behavior?

4. How is the chemical contamination of POPs directly affecting the whales’ bioenergetics?

5. What purpose do percussive behaviors serve and are they intended to convey signals via noise or motion?

1. What components of killer whales calls are required to remain within a particular range for the call to be identified and communication to be successful?2. What are the direct bioenergetic costs of increased vocalization in killer whales?

3. What is the primary cause of death in juvenile killer whales?

4. What component of a ship’s propulsion system creates the majority of ambient noise generated?

5. Do killer whales alter their call duration in response to background noise?

Matthew Williams

1. Are dialects of orcas a result from nature or nurture?

2. Would an individual whale be able to learn another dialect?

3. If a calf which had been separated from its pod, would the calf be accepted or rejected in a new pod because of its dialect?

4. What behavioral changes occur in an orca or pod when another dialect is heard?

5. Are there certain frequencies of sound that orcas cannot stand and would cause them to leave a given area?

1. Do call rates decrease with an increase in ambient noise? (I want a higher effect size.)

2. Are tail slaps used to communicate a desired direction change to the remainder of the pod?

3. What are the call rates for each of the five behavioral states?

4. What factors cause the different dialects in killer whales?

5. Where do the Southern Resident killer whales go when they leave the Salish Sea for weeks at a time?

Peter Valenzuela

1. How does the amount of people in a certain area affect the Orcas behavior?

2. How do fishing and other human activities affect the Orcas behavior?

3. How do Orcas react and do their behaviors change when the tidal height and current change?

4. Is there classes or a hierarchy in the social system in an Orca pod?

5. What other social activities do Orcas do as a pod besides hunting?

1. How does boat noise affect whales up close and far away from them? Does boat distance make a difference in their behavior?2. Does call duration vary between each of the five behavioral states classified by the NOAA workshop in 2004?

3. Does boat noise affect call duration during a different behavioral state?

4. Why do killer whales hunt and click in certain areas and not others? What are the characteristics of a foraging hot spot?

5. Why don’t each of the killer whale ecotypes interact with each other?

Questions before 2008 program Questions after 2008 program
Dominique Walk

1. What is the most amount of noise produced by vessels in the vicinity of SRKWs that can be emitted before their communication and/or behavior is altered?

2. Does SRKW volume change over the 10 week period? If so, at what point does it change and how does it compare with the whale watch season’s peak?

3. Has infant mortality increased with increasing anthropogenic disturbances such as ambient noise and vessel traffic?

4. When in the presence of loud vessels, do SRKWs simply increase their volume, or do they also alter which calls they make and the frequencies of certain calls?

5. Vessel operators present in SRKW critical habitat has dramatically increased over the past 20 years. Have the SRKWs been observed to have proportionately more scaring or other morphologic damage?

1. How is it decided where to go and when? Does one individual decide? If so how is it communicated? Can other members of the group disagree? Is it a group decision? What calls do they use to make such decisions?2. Do they experience TTS?! Do closer, faster ships cause TTS?

3. Is there a relationship between the background noise level and when the whales stop vocalizing?

4. Do they talk about the same things we talk about? Are all of their vocalizations expressing vital pieces of information? Or do they communicate non-important messages like “I ate too much”, etc.

5. How have the PCBs and other toxins influenced offspring? If they are endocrine disruptors, what are offspring experiencing that original individuals which acquired the toxins did not?

Laura Howes

1. Does boat traffic interfere with the ability for Orcas to find fish? For example, does it mask echolocation clicks, or are vessels directly in the way of feeding areas?

2. The importance of the habitat- why are the Orcas here? Why is this an optimal summer migration area for the Southern Residents?

3. Are certain behaviors more optimal for survival?

4. How much noise can Orcas tolerate before their survival is compromised? Does the Lombard Effect cause reduced fitness?

5. High frequency calls: are there any other types of high frequency calls besides echolocation clicks? What is the highest range of killer whale vocalizations?

Juan Bacigalupi

1. Is there a way to write a policy on sonar which will be able to serve the navy without causing harm to marine mammals like orcas?

2. How do orcas respond to the acoustics of other marine mammals, like gray whales, humpback whales, seals, and sea lions?

3. During socializing events, how much does tail slapping, breaching, and splashing account for their communication and how much is made with whale calls?

4. Do orcas vocalize differently during different times of day (i.e. dawn, daylight, dusk, and night)?

5. How far can orcas be in acoustic contact with each other and how much does noise pollution from human activities reduce that distance?

Lindsay Delp 1. How can behavioral observations improve our understanding of the potential for percussive events to be used for communication? (I got this idea from Catherine when she told me she saw the pod change directions after a pec slap by Granny.)2. More work on Temporary Threshold Shifts! (Dominique’s topic made me curious about the potential for TTS over the busiest time in Haro — all through the summer.)

3. What do fecal analyses reveal about the diet of SRKWs as the salmon fishery collapses? (This one I got curious about after Ryan spotted that 6 gill shark with the orca teeth marks.)

4. While nobody looked out for this directly, we recognized we had fewer vocalizations in the presence of vessels and Dominique mentioned it at the end of her talk. I guess I would like to see some more numbers on the frequency of calls, clicks, whistles and other vocalizations in and out of the presence of boats.

5. I don’t know if it will ever be possible, but I am still really interested in associating specific calls and meanings, so I would like to see a follow-up on some of the previous Beam Reach research for correlations between calls and behaviors.

Questions before 2007 program Questions after 2007 program
Tim Hunt

1. Is there evidence of avoidance behaviour/distinct calls in killer whales in
relation to boat traffic?

2. What are the relationships between sounds produced and specific behaviours in
killer whales? If any what are they?

3. Boat noise vs. killer whales communication: To what degree does boat traffic
noise drown out killer whale communication?

4. What are the differences in calls in male and female killer whales?

5. Do killer whale matrilines appear to respond to matriarch communication?

1. Investigation into vessel propulsion to determine specific underwater noise signatures: Setting a benchmark for whale watch operator vessels.2. Sound propagation in echolocation clicks: Does distance affect potential masking by ambient noise?

3. Does boat noise affect killer whale behaviour? An investigation of playback studies in the Salish Sea
(not a realistic investigation I know but it would be very interesting to test)

4. Comparison of calls in wild vs. captive orcas: Is captivity hindering/altering communication?

Alexandra Kougantakis

1. What are the unique factors (both natural and anthropogenic) of the San Juan
Islands ecosystem?

2. How do the lifestyle traits of the Southern resident orca population differ
from that of orcas elsewhere, and how closely can they be interpolated to
correlate with environmental factors?

3. How does acoustic disturbance interact with other existing threats to amplify
the overall threat to survival of the Southern resident population?

4. What are the human noise-inducing activities that appear to have the greatest
short-term impact on orcas?

5. How common is each different type of acoustic disturbance?

1. Is it possible to calculate a constant that would accurately estimate the active space of an orca based on ambient noise and distance from other orcas? (Other factors that may be relevant as well?)2. Is the potential for masking from vessel noise frequency dependant?

3. Does the impact of vessel noise upon an orca (in terms of hearing ability, communication, behavior etc.) vary based on age and/or sex?

4. Are different behaviors displayed by orcas depending on ambient noise level?

5. How much additional energy must an orca expend in order to increase the volume of its call?

Sam Levinson

1. How does one locate the source of a sound underwater? Is it possible to do so with any degree of accuracy or acuity? Can one differentiate between the sources of two or more sounds if they are close together, such as if two orcas next to each other vocalize?

2. Is it possible to construct a “voiceprint” for orcas, or to determine whether or not individuals have distinctive characteristics in their vocalizations? How many vocalizations, and of what types, would one need to record for each animal to do so?

3. What factors in the Southern Residents’ physical environment (currents, reflective objects) differ from those of the Northern Residents’ and the transient populations’? Are they significant acoustically? Could these differences impact the nature of their vocalizations, perhaps because certain sounds may carry better (or worse) in their environment than others?

4. How does vocal behavior differ between males and females? individuals of different age? individuals of different rank?

5. The diet of transient orcas includes marine mammals, while that of resident orcas is more composed of fish. If the fats in these prey items differ, does the composition of the acoustic fat in the melon of resident and transient orcas differ? Does that affect the possible sounds they can produce?

Wessal Kenaio 1. I would like to see more research done in the way of comparing behaviors to vocalizations. This particular topic is of growing interest to me. Are there correlations between behaviors and vocalizations? Or, What do specific vocalizations mean?2. Do matriarchs vocalize more frequently, and with certain calls more often than non-matriarchs?

3. What is the association pattern of calves with other members of the pod? If we see a calf with a certain animal, how often can we assume it is with its mother? In addition, at what age does association change?

4. Where do SRKW’s go when they’re not in Haro Strait? During the winter?

5. What impact does boating have on the SRKW population? Does it bother them?

Kenna Lehmann 1. Why are the orcas communicating at a less than optimum rate of information transfer?2. What will the higher orders of entropy reveal about the orca’s communication?

3. What do their calls mean to them?

4. Is their information transferred in the combination of calls or in the variation between different calls of the same call type?

5. When can we do PLAYBACKS?!

Elise Chapman 1. Does masking avoidance occur and in what manner is it manifest?2. What level of information is available to killer whales in their communications?

3. How can the success of community involvement with respect to killer whale conservation be mirrored elsewhere to mitigate human impacts on natural resources?

4. Is there a negative impact on killer whales if they are forced to overcome masking effects of vessel noise?

5. How can variables such as flow noise be minimized to increase the quality of recordings to better acoustic research in marine environments?

Anne Harman

1. Has the creation of Marine Protected Areas
impacted bottom fish populations? Is there a “trickle
up” effect that extends to salmon and orcas?

2. How does the impact of kayak-based whale watching
compare to the impact of large motor vessels and or
high-speed zodiacs?

3. Can circadian rhythms (or other short scale
rhythms) be observed in orca behavior? What do orcas
do at night? For that matter, what do salmon do at

4. Which characteristic, of an anthropogenic sound,
has a greater impact on orca communication- pitch
(frequency) or volume (amplitude)?

5. How does bathymetry and sea floor composition
affect sound propagation? Do orcas alter their
vocalizations in areas with differing characteristics?