Report from 178th Acoustics Society Meeting

Site of the 178th ASA Meeting in San Diego

I hardly got my feet on the ground from our Alaska project before heading to San Diego, the land of calm seas and Scripps Institute of Oceanography. The incentive was the 178th meeting of the Acoustical Society, along with the seduction of all of the great minds associated with Scripps/UCSD; John Hildebrand, Aaron Thode, Simone Bauman-Pickering, and Maria Rosh, as well as the gang at SPAWAR and National Marine Mammal Foundation – James Finneran, Dorian Houser, and Jason Mulsow, who run their captive dolphins through their paces.

Given that this was primarily a scientific and academic conference, many of the presentations were pretty arcane for a lay audience, but there were a few presentations that would play well to folks on this mail list. Cal Tech mechanical engineer Spencer Bryngelson presented modeling of humpback whale bubble nets (used to surround and concentrate forage fish into whale-mouth-sized bites), and Alexander Carbaugh-Rutland gave a really crisp presentation on fine-scale frequency characteristics of blue whale calls.

Of course I always thrill at Dr. Laura Kloepper’s bat work. She is trying to figure out how bats avoid each other while swarming out of their caves. When you have thousands of bats emerging out of a small aperture, all navigating with bio-sonar calls in the same frequency range, how do they avoid collisions? Are they eavesdropping on each other? Do they create some composite navigation map from their collected signals? Do they interleave their calls so as not to interfere with others?

Dr. Kloepper has been using an adapted drone to hover in bat swarms, but more remarkably, they have been using a Harris hawk as a “bio-drone” to dive through the bat swarms carrying high-speed mini-cameras and high frequency recording devices. The bats don’t collide with the hawk, but interestingly they do all they can to avoid the peregrine falcons that also dive through the swarms – preying on the bats. This seems to indicate that they have a pretty fine-grain resolution on their surroundings using bio-sonar alone.

A tectonic shift is occurring in the business of acquiring and analyzing data (science). Between extremely cheap data storage, evolving paradigms of “Big Data,” Artificial Intelligence, aerial drones and autonomous vessels, sea gliders and marine robotics, gobs of marine data are being sucked up into the digital netherworld. I am dazzled by how some folks are handling this – some of which was on display at the conference.

I’ve referred to this before, but it seems that every conference I attend, the frontiers have been rolled back ever so much further. It is a bit ironic that as our technologies are starting to help us sort out the systematic complexities of our world just as we seem to be eclipsing them with our technological needs.

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