Winter Speaker Series

2021 Zoom Speaker Series

The Sonic Sea - Voices of the Deep

Chris Clark
Sr. Scientist & Researcher,
Dept. of Neurobiology & Behavior, Cornell University

March 10, 2021 at 7:00 pm
Register Here for Zoom Presentation

Sonic Sea is a film of underwater noise pollution and the harm it does to ecological communities. The one hour film will be followed by a presentation from senior scientist Chris Clark, Ph.D. who appears in the film.

Oceans are a sonic symphony. Sound is essential to the survival and prosperity of marine life. But man-made ocean noise is threatening this fragile world. Sonic Sea is about protecting life in our waters from the destructive effects of oceanic noise pollution. Thanks to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) for making this important film available to FOMB. Here is a link to the trailer:

Chris Clark is a scientist as well as a research professor and senior scientist in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior at Cornell University. In addition, he is a part-time senior research scientist at Marine Acoustics, Inc. and director of scientific projects at Planet OS. Clark has a long history of successfully working at the interface between science, applied engineering, industry, and regulations–all with the specific objectives of using science to understand the potential impacts of human activities on marine mammals and to inspire and enable the scientific conservation of marine wildlife and habitats. This started in 1976 with his Ph.D. research on southern right whales off Argentina and continued in 1979 with research on endangered bowhead whales off Point Barrow, Alaska, in collaboration with William T. Ellison where they deployed sparse arrays of hydrophones to locate and track migrating bowheads. This augmentation of the traditional visual census with acoustic location and tracking revolutionized the bowhead census and resulted in the calculation of a robust population estimate and trend.

In 1992, Chris was named chief marine mammal scientist for the U. S. Navy’s Whales ’93 dual- uses program. In 1996-97, he teamed with Kurt Fristrup and Peter Tyack as co-PIs for the Low-
Frequency Active Scientific Research Program (LFA-SRP) investigating the potential impacts of the Navy’s low-frequency active sonar on large whales. In 2006-08, Clark worked as co-PI with a group of top marine mammal scientists investigating the impacts of the Navy’s mid-frequency active sonar on beaked whales. His current research areas include studies on the potential chronic influence of cumulative man-made noise sources (e.g., commercial shipping and seismic airgun surveys) on large whale distributions, behaviors, and movements in different regions (e.g., British Isles, Baffin Bay, Chukchi Sea, Gulf of Mexico). In particular, Clark is deeply concerned about the continued loss of marine animal acoustic habitat as a result of multiple anthropogenic noise sources operating over large scales for extended periods of time.

Chris has engaged in many collaborative research efforts integrating physical oceanographic and biological productivity measures, aerial surveys, genetic and photo-ID data, and acoustic detections (projects funded by NOAA, Northeast Consortium, MA Division of Marine Fisheries, NOPP-ONR). He leads the development and application of the near-real-time, auto-detection network for North Atlantic right whale acoustic monitoring in the Boston shipping lanes.

Clark has published more than 200 papers and given innumerable presentations. Under his leadership, BRP initiated the passive acoustic monitoring project along the majority of the U.S. Atlantic coast in order to understand the spatial occurrence of the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale and other co-occurring species of cetaceans. As a result of these ongoing major acoustic projects, BRP developed a suite of advanced analytical procedures and metrics to quantify the acoustic spatio-temporal variability in an ocean habitat. In collaboration with a group of experts (William T. Ellison, Brandon Southall, and Dom Tollit), what has evolved through this process is a new, ecologically based paradigm for evaluating and measuring biological risks from anthropogenic activities at individual and population levels. Most recently, Chris has devoted considerable effort to scientific advocacy through documentary films ( and and outreach.

Listen to Chris giving a TED talk here:

Recent Publications

Clark, C. W., Gagnon, G. J. and Frankel, A. S. (2019) ‘Fin whale singing decreases with increased swimming speed’, Royal Society Open Science, 6. doi:
Clark, C. W. et al. (2018) ‘Acoustic data from the spring 2011 bowhead whale census at Point Barrow, Alaska.’, Journal of Cetacean Management and Research, 19, pp. 31–42.
Malige, F. et al. (2018) ‘Annual decrease in pulse rate and peak frequency of Southeast Pacific blue whale song type using a new mathematical model of pulsed sound’, Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, In Press.
Gabriele, C. M. et al. (2018) ‘Underwater Acoustic Ecology Metrics in an Alaska Marine Protected Area Reveal Marine Mammal Communication Masking and Management Alternatives’, Frontiers in Marine Science, 5, p. 270. doi: 10.3389/fmars.2018.00270.
Cholewiak, D. et al. (2018) ‘Communicating amidst the noise: modeling the aggregate influence of ambient and vessel noise on baleen whale communication space in a national marine sanctuary’, Endangered Species Research, 36, pp. 59–75. doi:
Muirhead, C. A. et al. (2018) ‘Seasonal acoustic occurrence of blue, fin, and North Atlantic right whales in the New York Bight’, Aquatic Conservation, 1–10. doi: 10.1002/aqc.2874.
Cholewiak, D. M. et al. (2018) ‘Songbird dynamics under the sea: acoustic interactions between humpback whales suggest song mediates male interactions’, Royal Society Open Science, 5:171298.
Davis, G. E. et al. (2017) ‘Long-term passive acoustic recordings track the changing distribution of North Atlantic right whales (Eubalaena glacialis) from 2004 to 2014’, Scientific Reports, 7(1), p. 13460. doi: 10.1038/s41598-017-13359-3.
Lacy, R. C. et al. (2017) ‘Evaluating anthropogenic threats to endangered killer whales to inform effective recovery plans’, Scientific Reports, 7.
Buchan, S. J. et al. (2017) ‘Occasional acoustic presence of Antarctic blue whales on a feeding ground in southern Chile’, Marine Mammal Science. doi: 10.1111/mms.12441.
Salisbury, D. P., Clark, C. W. and Rice, A. N. (2016) ‘Right whale occurrence in the coastal waters of Virginia, U.S.A.: Endangered species presence in a rapidly developing energy market’, Marine Mammal Science, 32(2), pp. 508–519. doi: 10.1111/mms.12276.
Thomisch, K. et al. (2016) ‘Spatio-temporal patterns in acoustic presence and distribution of Antarctic blue whales in the Weddell Sea’, Endangered Species Research, 30, pp. 239–253. doi: 10.3354/esr00739

Watercolors by
Sarah Stapler