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Meghan Aulich

The soundscape ecology of the fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus) in Antarctic and Australian waters

Supervisors: Robert McCauley, Christine Erbe, Ben Saunders and Brian Miller

The fin whale is a globally vulnerable species which faces a wide range of threats to recovery. Two sub-species are currently recognised: one in the Northern Hemisphere and one in the Southern Hemisphere. Literature pertaining to the Northern Hemisphere sub-species offers a rounded description of the soundscape ecology of the fin whale with long-term analysis of their acoustic repertoire, seasonal distribution between high and low-latitude regions and the ambient noise environment of fin whale habitats. In contrast however, there is a lack of broad-scale, long-term understanding of the Southern Hemisphere sub-species of fin whale and their acoustic ecology.

The overall aim of this research project is to fill in the gaps of this knowledge within Antarctic and Australian waters by a) developing tools for the study of fin whale acoustic ecology, b) characterising the acoustic repertoire of fin whales, c) identifying the temporal occupancy and spatial-distribution of the animals, and, d) investigating if the animals make alterations to their vocal displays in response to ambient noise. In order to analyse long-term acoustic recordings of fin whale calls, data will be obtained from the Australian Integrated Marine Observing System (IMOS), the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty Organisation (CTBTO) nuclear test monitoring station and the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD).

Positive identification and classification of fin whale calls can be used to infer animal presence, habitat use and population parameters. Furthermore, potential threats to the species can be explored through assessment of ambient noise in regions of fin whale presence. This knowledge may inform conservation management of fin whales at an international and national level.

Rachael Courts

Vocal repertoire of the recently defined species, the Burrunan dolphin (Tursiops australis), in Victoria, Australia

Supervisors: Christine Erbe, Iain Parfum and Kate Charlton-Robb

Lauren Hawkins

Acoustic ecology of commercial fish species on Australia’s southern continental shelf

Supervisors: Robert McCauley, Christine Erbe, Ben Saunders and Iain Parnum

The earth’s oceans are being exposed to human and natural disturbances. It is crucial to enhance scientific understanding of marine ecosystems in order to measure and manage the impacts of these disturbances. Passive acoustic monitoring is a cost-effective and efficient method of collecting ecological data. The acoustic monitoring of soniferous fish species delivers explicit, non-invasive and long-term data on their behaviour and distribution. Knowledge of the acoustic behaviour of fish is still relatively limited and it is imperative that this is addressed for fish to be used as indicators for ecological change.

This PhD project will study the ecology of fish choruses commonly recorded along the edge of the southern Australian continental shelf from Portland, Victoria, to Bremer Bay, Western Australia. I aim to determine the spatiotemporal patterns and environmental drivers of these choruses via analysis of existing and newly collected passive acoustic, oceanographic and remote sensing data. Field surveys, to be conducted off Bremer Bay, Western Australia, Port Lincoln, South Australia and possibly Portland, Victoria will procure new passive acoustic data and underwater video footage to be used for identification of the fish species producing the choruses. Fish samples of the chorus species will be collected and dissected to examine the structure of the auditory systems of the fish.

This study will expand scientific knowledge of soniferous fish species and how they interact acoustically with the marine environment and each other. This project will contribute to the development of a successful method for ground-truthing fish choruses occurring along the edge of continental shelves and will obtain explicit ecological data which may be used to inform ecosystem and species management. This research has the potential to inform sustainable management of commercially harvested fish species and may contribute to the development of an autonomous, cost-effective and non-invasive monitoring tool for fish populations.

Damien Killeen

Source depth estimation from acoustic intensity vector sensors

Supervisors: Dr Alec Duncan, Dr David Matthews

Montserrat Landero

Using underwater acoustic data to predict distribution of demersal fish in North West Australia

Supervisors: Dr Iain Parnum, Dr Chandra Salgado Kent, Dr Miles Parsons, Dr Ben Saunders (Department of Environment and Agriculture)

Montserrat Landero graduated with a degree in Natural Resources Management followed by a Master’s degree in Marine Science. For her Master’s, Montserrat modelled the distribution of manatees living in Mexican waters. The prediction was based on a multivariate model, which included a map of the seagrass distribution derived from satellite imagery.

Montserrat started her PhD at the Centre for Marine Science and Technology of Curtin University in October 2014. Her study is the development of active acoustic and underwater video techniques to model the distribution of demersal fish along the North West coast of Australia. This involves the investigation of parameters that can be derived from an echo-sounder survey as proxies for predicting demersal fish distribution. As well as previously identified proxies, such as depth and derivatives, Montserrat’s study will look at the benefit of using seafloor and water column backscatter in predicting demersal fish distributions. The underwater video data will be used to both develop the models, and to comparatively assess the relationship between the fish biomass detected by an echo-sounder with the one estimated based on stereo-video techniques. Echo-sounders and underwater video are not only cost-effective techniques for studying the marine environment, but are useful tools in the monitoring of Marine Parks where non-take methods are preferred.


Alaa Mufti

Investigation of in-field devices for underwater surveying of reef structures

Supervisors: Iain Parnum, David Belton and Petra Helmholz

There are three commonly used methods for underwater surveying: acoustics (multibeam echo sounder), passive light (photogrammetry), and active light (laser). Each method can be accurate in creating and detecting features on the seafloor. However, each system has its own strengths and limitations. This project will be investigating how accurate and precise each method is at measuring underwater structures, such as artificial reefs.  Where possible, the methods will be carried out on a known structure, e.g. where it has been directly (physically) measured or fabricated with known specifications. The study will also carry out repeat measurements in order to quantify accuracy and precision of the methods. The study will conclude by examining the effect of combining data from different methods (i.e. data fusion), to determine the best approach for underwater surveying

Angela Recalde Salas

Variability of baleen whales acoustical ecology: implications for optimal monitoring and conservation planning using passive acoustics

Supervisors: Dr Chandra Salgado Kent, Dr Christine Erbe, A/Prof Rob McCauley, Dr Hugh Possingham (CEED-UQ)

Angela Recalde-Salas is a Colombian conservation biologist with a BSc. in Biology from the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana and an MSc. in Conservation Biology from the University of Queensland. Angela has worked with marine mammals since 2003, has participated in a variety of projects with whales, dolphins and neotropical river otters and she was part of the development of the Conservation Strategy for the South East Pacific humpback whale population. Her research interests are focused on applied quantitative ecology, conservation, and optimal monitoring and management of marine fauna. She has been a researcher of Fundación Yubarta since 2005 and in 2011 she joined the Center for Marine Science and Technology as a research assistant. Angela is looking at variability of acoustical ecology of baleen whales (blue, humpback and right whales) in different areas in Western Australia and how the information obtained using passive acoustics methods can be used for conservation. She will be specifically looking at estimation of vocalisation rates and how such rates might vary under different environmental, anthropogenic, ecological and behavioural conditions. This information will be then used to estimate the detection probability of baleen whales in different areas under different underwater noise conditions and to develop guidelines and strategies for optimal monitoring and conservation planning using passive acoustics.

Researchgate Profile

Xinh Le Sy

Monitoring seafloor habitats using multibeam echo-sounders

Supervisors: Iain Parnum, Michael Kuhn, Sasha Gavrilov and Justy Siwabessy

Anthropogenic activities have influenced all parts of the oceans including most isolated areas. These impacts can be reduced through better ocean management using different approaches which rely on accurate and high-resolution marine seafloor habitat maps. Unfortunately, available benthic habitat maps are seldom at the level of details and scales required for efficient ocean management using those approaches. Moreover, the seafloor is an arbitrary temporally and spatially changing environment due to multiple biological and physical processes. Thus, research and development of robust strategies and methods for mapping and monitoring marine seafloor habitats to tackle these challenging marine environmental issues is necessary and urgently needed.
Multibeam echo-sounders (MBESs) are the most advanced, complex, and effective available acoustic remote sensing systems for marine seafloor habitat mapping especially for deep and turbid water areas. Despite these advancements in multibeam survey technology and the key role of multibeam backscatter data in marine habitat mapping and monitoring, there is no standardized way to acquire, process, classify, and interpret acoustic backscatter data for producing marine habitat maps. To have a long-term management strategy for marine habitats, it is important to understand how well multibeam data can be used to monitor marine habitats. However, it is unclear how repeatable or how much change can be detected with such multibeam derived maps. The overall aim of this study is to develop methods for monitoring habitats with MBES, and to determine the level of marine habitat change that can be detected with multibeam data.
This study can be achieved using the existing data held at Centre for Marine Science and Technology (CMST) and publicly available data from shallow water international conferences and Geoscience Australia (GA). This research will review and evaluate the latest methods for producing consistent mapping for marine habitat discovery as well as marine habitat monitoring. Backscatter data will be processed and used to produce marine habitat maps using signal-based data processing software available at Curtin University such as CARIS Hips and Sips, Fledermaus FMGT, and CMST. Where ground-truth data is available then supervised maps will be produced, where no ground-truth data has been collected unsupervised maps will be produced.
This research will provide the appropriate and practical guidelines and recommendations regarding the system settings choice, the optimal data processing and analysis methods and strategies to obtain the highest benefits of monitoring marine seafloor habitat using multibeam systems. This is significant to current marine habitat mapping technology and marine resource management strategy based on marine habitat maps because there has been less attention to these issues in the literature.

Arti Verma

Development of wideband acoustic classification techniques for mesopelagic micronekton.

Supervisors: Dr Alec Duncan, Dr Rudy Klosher and Dr Iain Parnum

A wide variety of micronekton (animals with lengths between 2 and 20 cm) inhabit the mesopelagic zone at depths between 200m and 1000m in the world’s oceans. These animals form a part of the lower portion of the oceanic food chain and their distribution, abundance and availability greatly influence the population of apex predators such as Juvenile southern bluefin tuna, fur seal and many other fishes which prey on them. However, due to paucity of survey and research in this region, not enough is known about the complex distribution pattern and dynamics, links to environmental parameters, climate change and most importantly the impact of resource extraction and anthropogenic activities on these key ecological elements.
The main goal of this study is to develop advanced acoustic techniques for the detection, classification and quantification of micronekton in the mesopelagic zone and to apply these to data collected during a survey of the waters of the Great Australian Bight, to be carried out by CSIRO using acoustic and optical sensors.
This research project would greatly contribute toward the acoustic classification of micronekton, forming the basis for the development of ecological models to provide a better approach for future resource development and management.

Rhianne Ward

Southern right whale (Eubalaena australis) vocalisations, distribution and movement patterns in southern Australian waters.

Supervisor/s: A/Prof Robert McCauley, Dr Iain Parnum and A/Prof Alexander Gavrilov

Rhianne Ward graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Marine Biology and Zoology from the University of Western Australia in 2011 and Honours in Applied Physics from Curtin University in 2013. Her Honours research focussed on the whistle repertoire and detection range of Bottlenose dolphins in the Fremantle Harbour using underwater passive acoustics. Rhianne became involved in the Southern Right Whale Population Census and Photo ID study at Head of Bight, South Australia in 2013, and is now a research scientist and the acoustics lead of the Great Australian Bight Right Whale Study. Rhianne commenced her PhD with Curtin University’s Centre for Marine Science and Technology in late January 2016.

Her PhD project aims to further our understanding of the endangered and migratory southern right whale by using non-invasive, passive acoustic monitoring to determine their vocal repertoire, establish the social context associated with calls, and determine the distribution and movement patterns of southern right whales in southern Australian waters. Results from this study will contribute significantly to the limited knowledge of southern right whale vocal behaviour, distribution and movement in Australia, and address high priority actions identified in the Commonwealth Management Plan for the Southern Right Whale (2011-2021).

Research Interests

  • Underwater acoustics
  • Cetacean communication


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Rebecca Wellard

The bioacoustics of killer whales (Orcinus orca) in Australian waters and the acoustic environment in which they reside

Supervisors: A/Prof Christine Erbe, A/Prof Rob McCauley

Rebecca Wellard obtained her Bachelor of Science from the University of Melbourne and a first class Honours from Monash University, Victoria, researching acoustic communication and anthropogenic impacts on bottlenose dolphins in Victoria. She has over 10 years’ experience with marine megafauna and has been involved in numerous cetacean research projects in Australia and worldwide. Her main research interests are bioacoustics, cognitive behaviour, and applied ecology and conservation. She has worked on projects focusing on genetics, population ecology, bioacoustics and anthropogenic effects on cetaceans. She has extensive field-based experience, including both onshore and offshore, with expertise in visual and acoustic recording, and species identification. Rebecca specializes in bioacoustics and cetacean behaviour, and has broad experience working in various capacities with acoustic labs in Australia and worldwide.

Bec commenced her PhD with Curtin University’s Centre for Marine Science and Technology in February 2015. Her PhD project aims to improve our understanding of the killer whale population in the Australian region by using non-invasive techniques such as mark-recapture photo ID and passive acoustic monitoring. This is the first dedicated study of killer whale acoustics in Australia. Results from this study will provide pertinent data to address the population status of this species and deliver key scientific information, such as population dynamics and critical habitats, for guiding and assisting population management of killer whales found in Australian waters.