Dr. Erin Oleson

Assistant Project Scientist



        Ph.D. Oceanography

Research Interests:

        My research seeks to understand the habitat and distribution of marine mammals, with the specific goals of:

        1) relating the production of sounds by cetaceans to behavior, sex, and the local             environment allowing for more robust interpretation of acoustic studies of             cetacean distribution and abundance
        2) developing statistical models for the application of acoustic monitoring data to             the estimation of population abundance and seasonal distribution,
        3) mitigating the potential impact of anthropogenic sound on cetaceans through             studies of their vocal and behavioral response to specific noise sources.

        As part of my graduate work, I conducted several studies aimed at understanding the behavioral ecology of blue and fin whales off California with the goal of evaluating and developing passive acoustic techniques for studying population abundance, habitat, and evaluation of anthropogenic impact. During my doctoral research I employed several new technologies including acoustic recording tags and continuous long-term autonomous acoustic recorders, along with simultaneous shipboard acoustic and visual surveys to evaluate blue and fin whale calling.  Among the most important results was that blue whale call production varies with sex and behavior, season and time of day and location, even within a relatively small portion of their overall population range. In particular, the association of song with male blue whales, the detection of singing animals away from large foraging aggregations, and seasonal and geographic fluctuation in the proportion of animals heard calling indicates that the calibration of acoustic and visual surveys is complex and previous studies on the seasonal habitat of singing blue whales may not represent the blue whale population as a whole. 
      My recent research is based on similar over-arching questions; however, with the aim of evaluating calling behavior and distribution of delphinids.  Unlike the stereotyped calls of baleen whales, the calls of most dolphin species are complex and variable.  Much of the current research on wild dolphins using acoustics is focused on the identification of each species using characteristic features of their calls.  Some dolphin species can now be acoustically identified with high accuracy such that we have begun to evaluate seasonal distribution and habitat using the occurrence of calls.  In particular, I have been working primarily on the seasonal occurrence and habitat of all cetacean species, including killer whales and sperm whales off the coast of Washington within an active Navy range.  By understanding how the animals use the environment we hope to mitigate any potential impact that Naval activities may have on cetacean populations.