A U.S. Navy research grant allows Sacred Heart University Assistant Professor of psychology Dr. Deirdre Yeater to work to investigate the diving patterns of marine mammals.
It is well known that some naval technology has undesirable side effects on marine mammals.
Accepting the grant, Dr. Yeater said “The Navy is developing a model to evaluate the effects of anthropogenic sound on marine species – they want to see the human impact. They want to protect marine animals while allowing for the Navy to perform their at-sea exercises that are important for homeland protection.”
Dr. Yeater will collect scientific data, compile articles, and review data sources to create diving profiles for verious species of marine mammals. She will review the movement and diving pattern by species. She says in some cases, this will vary for a single species in different geographic regions or seasons.
Dr. Yeater explains that “This way if the Navy has a proposed exercise in a certain region at a certain time of year, then they would know what animals might be in the area and what the movements of those animals would be.”
Thanks to the grant, Dr. Yeater will be able to provide research-assistant opportunities for three of her students. Her budget included money to employee three SHU undergraduate psychology majors. These three, and four other volunteers will help compile data during the coming summer semester. The three employed students already worked on the project in Spring.
“The students were each assigned a species to help compile data on, so they became experts on their species,” Yeater said. “They got to gain experience doing this kind of research, reviewing primary literature and picking out important or relevant parts of the dataset that we’re interested in, and then applying it. They also got to understand the reality of working with data, that marine-mammal studies aren’t always just looking at swimming dolphins or something – it’s actually doing data analyses and looking through the literature. That’s valuable experience for their career and their future no matter what field they go into.”
Lisa Moffett, a senior psychology major, and a resident of Franklin Square, New York, and a member of the Phi Eta Sigma Honor Society was one of the students working on the project.
Ms. Moffett said “I focused on pilot whales, researching their diving patterns, whether they took short dives or long dives, if they were foraging, and so on. It was a little hard because there’s not much information on pilot whales and their diving patterns. But the pilot whales were interesting because it’s not a really popular species, people don’t really discuss them. So it was interesting to see their diving patterns and what they actually do, and how it’s actually changed since years ago.”
Moffett gained research experience as well as a new perspective on the Navy’s concern for the environment. “When you really put all the research together, it makes a difference,” she said. “I think most people think the Navy doesn’t really care about this issue, especially for species that aren’t well known. But it’s nice to know that they do care about all these different species and what actions and behavior might be affecting them.”
Before attending the University of Southern Mississippi to earn her master’s and doctorate degrees, Dr. Yeater was commissioned in the U.S. Navy Reserve, working with Naval research laboratories in Newport Rhode Island and San Diego California and private institutions. She still serves as a lieutenant in the Navy Reserve.
Depending on a budget extension, this research program will continue through the 2009-’10 academic year.