Kate Stafford

Associate Professor

Office: 541-737-0183

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NRC Post-doctoral Research Associate, NOAA/AFSC/National Marine Mammal Lab
PhD Interdisciplinary Oceanography, Oregon State University
MS Fisheries and Wildlife Sciences, Oregon State University
BA Biology and French Literature, UC Santa Cruz
Research/Career Interests: 

My research, which focuses on the use of passive acoustic monitoring in the ocean to study marine mammals, is at the intersection of animal behavior, and biological and physical oceanography. I use tools from dipping hydrophones to gliders to better understand our oceans. I am keenly interested in understanding how animals interact with their environment and how changes in that environment drive variability in occurrence, phenology and habitat use of different species. My research focuses on the study of how the environment in which they live influences the behavior of marine mammals. To do this, I use passive acoustic monitoring (PAM) to “eavesdrop” on vocal animals and integrate the presence of different species with environmental variables to develop predictive models of the occurrence of whales based on environmental change. Acoustic monitoring has become one of the most important tools for broadening our understanding of these elusive species because it permits us to study them continuously (24 hours a day) in any weather conditions, over weeks to years, and over distances of a few to several hundred kilometers. The analysis of such data provides insight into geographic variation within a species, allows migratory pathways and timing to be tracked, and increases our understanding of vocally-driven behavioral ecology. When combined with satellite- or underwater instrumentation- derived environmental data, PAM can be a powerful tool in understanding how a changing environment drives changes in local biodiversity.

My current research is largely, although not exclusively, focused on the Arctic using both fixed instruments but also novel underwater robots that can move about and record environmental and acoustic data. The Arctic is experiencing rapid and extreme changes in sea ice extent, thickness, and seasonality due to climate change, but not everywhere is change happening equally. I am particularly interested in how Arctic ecosystems, especially at gateways between the sub-Arctic and the Arctic, are being reorganized by this change. Are sub-Arctic species such as fin, killer, and humpback whales spending more time in the Arctic and moving further north? Has the migratory timing of Arctic species (bowhead and beluga whales, bearded seals and walrus) changed with decreases in seasonal sea ice? What about competition for prey or “acoustic space” between these summer and winter whales? How has the opening of the Northern Sea Route and the Northwest Passage affected the ambient soundscape of the Arctic and what are the conservation concerns of increasing shipping through narrow straits? To address these pressing questions, I collaborate with physical oceanographers, zooplankton ecologists and sea ice experts and technological advances that can overcome some of the difficulties of working in remote, seasonally ice-covered, environments.

If you are interested in potentially joining the lab as an undergraduate intern, graduate student, or postdoc, please read my Letter to Prospective Applicants.

Professional Affiliations: 
Society for Marine Mammalogy
Arctic Institute of North America
Acoustical Society of America
American Geophysical Union
Scholarly Union of BioPhysical Arctic Researchers
Affiliated with: 
Marine Mammal Bioacoustics and Ecology Laboratory
Marine Mammal Institute
Hatfield Marine Science Center
My Publications