Taylor Hersh (Ph.D. Student): Despite our general knowledge of sperm whale dialects, the question of how dialects initially evolved, and how they may (or may not) be evolving today, remains enigmatic. Given extensive acoustic research efforts in both the Tropical Pacific and the Eastern Caribbean, sperm whale dialect evolution can now be feasibly investigated. The goal of my doctoral research is to elucidate the communicative mechanisms that allow sperm whales to evolve and maintain distinct dialects in varying degrees of sympatry.
Christine Konrad (M.Sc. Student): Sperm whales live cooperative and social lives, communally caring for their calves and living in stable social units. It is a long-standing but essentially untested assumption that these social units are matrilineally-based, and that kin-selection is a key driver of cooperation within them. In my research, I am combining unprecedented sperm whale social data, collected by the Dominica Sperm Whale Project, with genetic data, to examine the validity of this assumption, and to discern and describe kinship’s role in sperm whale society.
Wilfried Beslin (M.Sc. Student): Sperm whale clicks have an unusual acoustic structure: they are composed of multiple pulses, where the inter-pulse interval (IPI) increases with whale size. This makes it possible to measure the lengths of individual sperm whales through passive acoustic monitoring. Unfortunately though, most clicks do not display a clear IPI, making the measurement difficult to automate. The goal of my thesis is to develop an algorithm capable of doing this by recognizing and removing unsuitable clicks. Ultimately, I hope to use this tool as a means of automatically identifying sperm whale units off Dominica.
Ana Eguiguren (M.Sc. Student): Sperm whales are highly mobile nomads and can travel over thousands of kilometres within ocean basins. Over broad spatial scales, sperm whale habitat preferences are relatively well understood. However, over less than a few hundred kilometers these preferences are less clear. For my thesis, I model the characteristics of sperm whale habitat off the Galápagos Archipelago--which has been a known sperm whale ground at least since 19th century whaling days—as well as analyze its variability over years, decades, and centuries. I also investigate the role of culture in determining habitat preferences within the archipelago.