Tammy Silva earned a B.S. in Biology from Stonehill College and a M.S. in Marine Biology from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. In 2013 she earned a NOAA Dr. Nancy Foster Scholarship, allowing her to enter a Ph.D. program in the University of Massachusetts Intercampus Marine Science Program. Her thesis research focuses on studying habitat use and vocal behavior of dolphins in Massachusetts Bay. Outside of school, she works as a naturalist on whale watching vessels and a dance instructor. She enjoys swimming, attempting to surf and walking/adventuring with her dog, Tobey.
Odontocetes (toothed whales) are abundant, globally distributed animals that play key trophic roles in ecosystems and may overlap with harmful human activities. Basic information on occurrence patterns, habitat use, bioacoustics and dive behavior are necessary for informing ecosystem-based management plans and for predicting and mitigating human impacts, yet we often lack such data. The Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary (SBNMS) and the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary (HIHWNMS) are areas of national importance that lack critical biological and ecological data on odontocetes within their management areas.
The goal of my dissertation is to improve our understanding of odontocete ecology by gathering baseline data on habitat use, bioacoustics and dive behavior for relatively abundant odontocetes in and around each Sanctuary. Work already completed in the HIHWNMS focused on developing methods to deploy acoustic recording tags on small odontocetes (pantropical spotted dolphins) and to subsequently quantify their acoustic and dive behavior. Proposed research in the SBNMS will focus on four species (Atlantic white-sided dolphins, common dolphins, pilot whales and harbor porpoise) and will utilize two established methods for studying animal distributions: passive acoustic monitoring and incorporation of visual sighting data into species distribution models. Ocean gliders equipped with acoustic recorders and environmental sensors (temperature, salinity, chlorophyll) will be deployed in SBNMS and surrounding waters from November-January to acoustically monitor for odontocete presence and sample the environment. These data will be used to examine relationships between odontocete acoustic detections and environmental variables that may influence odontocete distributions. In order to acoustically identify species recorded during glider deployments, vocalizations of the species of interest must be previously described. My thesis will characterize the vocal repertoire of Atlantic white-sided dolphins using existing recordings and initiate recording and characterization of vocalizations from additional local species. Opportunistic sighting data gathered from multiple platforms between 2004 and 2014 will be input into species distribution models (Maximum Entropy, point process models) to examine seasonal distributions of odontocetes and assess species differences in spatial and/or temporal distributions patterns. This work should increase our basic understanding of odontocete ecology and is a first step in assessing overlap with human activities.
Assessing the vocal behavior of the animals, the bioacoustics, often requires unique software and fast processing for visualizing and analyzing the sound. I need additional processing power to run such programs as Raven Pro (Cornell University) and MATLAB. This is where my trustworthy Lenovo X230 comes into play—so far, it’s been great at meeting all my research needs