“It takes two to speak the truth: one to speak and another to hear”
-Henry David Thoreau
As a bioacoustician this is one of my favorite quotes. Admittedly I’ve been including it somewhat frequently lately in various things that I’m working on (preamble to a future dissertation perhaps?). The goal of my work is fundamentally to describe something true to the world. It is important to note that while I believe my research is novel, I am under no illusion that the phenomenon that I’m describing is new. Whales have been communicating since long before I dropped my hydrophones to the bottom of the ocean, and they will continue producing sound long after we stop listening, but for the small part that I play in understanding the role of sound in lives humpback whales I’m content to let them speak while I hear.
Which is why I’m writing. For the past year I’ve been writing about preparing. Prepping instruments with the blood sweat and tears of friends, family and loved ones (you know I’m talking to you, Smoochie & Tunes and company). Prepping for field seasons (Oh Strawberry Island). And lastly preparing for the data to eventually come back to us. In May I wrote about the excitement and anxiety of deploying our four hydrophones in Glacier Bay National Park. Watching Snacks, Bruiser, Kenya, and Bumblebee descend to the ocean floor was nerve-wracking, but also came with a hard earned sigh of relief. Once they were sunk there was nothing left to do but wait patiently, and trust that we had done our jobs to the best of our ability.
Two weeks ago, we got them back. For a full account read my science-partner-in-crime’s full account here. The aptly named post “Things went wrong. They weren’t our fault. We fixed them anyway.” sums up the week pretty succinctly. Supported again by the rockstar crew of the M/V Lite Weight, and dragging friend/field tech/electrician David in tow Leanna, Chris and I once again assembled the dream team (minus Samara, who is a necessity for the next trip; we were seriously lacking snacks) and we managed to get four slimy, sleepy, superb hydrophones out of the water and onto dry land. While those of you who don’t work in oceanography may have taken for granted that all four hydrophones would come back, those of us who have been around the block know this isn’t always the case (ok, I’m still walking around the block… some day I’ll make it all the way around).
Were there problems? Of course there were. Did we fix them? Sure. The good news is, that the hydrophones came back, and running in the background of my computer right now is a MatLab script converting the 15,204 .DAT files into .WAV files… so that we can begin to listen.
… and in case you were wondering, yes. There are whale calls.