The eastern population of North Pacific right whale is currently the most endangered population of large whale, with an estimated 31 animals left! The objective of my dissertation is to better understand the historical, contemporary, and potential future distribution of this population using naturally occurring biogeochemical tracers in archived tissues as well as modeling of right whale prey communities on a known foraging ground.

Stable Isotope Analysis

An animal's tissues record information about their diet, location, and physiology in the form of naturally occurring biogeochemical tracers, including stable isotopes. I measure the ratio of carbon and nitrogen stable isotopes in whale tissues (baleen & skin) to compare the distribution of historical and contemporary populations of right whale. This work is important, because it can be used to uncover the overwintering grounds and migration routes for this species, which are both currently unknown. This knowledge may lead to expanded monitoring programs. The historical ecology perspective also provides a benchmark to assess recovery of this species.



Community Modeling of North Pacific Right Whale Prey

The Southeastern Bering Sea is the prominent feeding ground of the remnant eastern population of North Pacific right whale. This area is undergoing a dramatic reduction in seasonal sea-ice driven by changing climatic conditions. It is unclear how this shift in sea-ice will influence the food web.

I am modeling the abundance of right whale prey, known as zooplankton, from NOAA surveys conducted on the Bering Shelf to better understand prey dynamics in this region. The resulting dynamic joint-species distribution model will help us understand the current and potential future distribution of right whales in the region. This work is important, because the North Pacific right whale needs to seasonally accumulate adequate resources to undergo annual migrations. Therefore, it is imperative to know whether the currently defined critical habitat is sufficient in protecting this species as climatic conditions change.


I am a research scientist for the CICOES program at the University of Washington. This position is a joint-appointment with the NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center Marine Mammal Laboratory. My research focuses on the acoustic repertoire and distribution of marine mammals on the eastern Bering Sea shelf, with focus on the critically endangered eastern population of North Pacific right whale.

Map of mooring locations on eastern Bering Sea shelf.

Passive Acoustic Monitoring - Eastern Bering Sea Shelf

The NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center Marine Mammal Laboratory maintains bottom-mounted moorings on the eastern Bering sea shelf to monitor marine mammals. These moorings consist of a hydrophone (i.e., underwater microphone) and record near-continuously. These data are then analyzed on land to understand distribution and migration trends as well as the acoustic repertoire of various species.

North Pacific right whale upsweep call.

Bioacoustics North Pacific right whale

Passive acoustic monitoring (PAM), or passively listening for vocalizations of marine mammals, is an appropriate tool for monitoring rare animals, because it allows for near-continuous, cost-effective monitoring in remote regions. I use PAM to understand the distribution and migration trends of North Pacific right whales on their remnant foraging ground in the Bering Sea.