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Kate Stafford

Senior Principal Oceanographer

Affiliate Associate Professor, Oceanography





Department Affiliation



B.A. French Literature, Minor: Biology, University of California - Santa Cruz, 1989

M.S. Wildlife Biology, Oregon State University, 1995

Ph.D. Interdisciplinary Oceanography, Oregon State University, 2001


2000-present and while at APL-UW

Quantifying spatial and temporal variation of North Pacific fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus) acoustic behavior

Archer, F.I., S. Rankin, K.M. Stafford, M. Castellote, and J. Delarue, "Quantifying spatial and temporal variation of North Pacific fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus) acoustic behavior," Mar. Mammal Sci., EOR, doi:10.1111/mms.12640, 2019.

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24 Aug 2019

In order to help develop hypotheses of connectivity among North Pacific fin whales, we examine recordings from 10 regions collected in the spring and fall. We develop a Random Forest model to classify fin whale note types that avoids manual note classification errors. We also present a method that objectively quantifies the note and pattern composition of recordings. We find that fin whale recordings near Hawaii have distinctive patterns, similar to those found in other regions in the central North Pacific, suggesting potential migration pathways. Our results are consistent with previous studies that suggest there may be two different populations utilizing the Chukchi Sea and central Aleutians in the fall and mix to some degree in the southern Bering Sea. Conversely, we found little difference between spring and fall recordings in the eastern Gulf of Alaska, suggesting some residency of whales in this region. This is likely due to fine scale similarities of calls among the inshore regions of British Columbia, while offshore areas are being utilized by whales traveling from various distant areas. This study shows how our novel approach to characterize recordings is an objective and informative way to standardize spatial and temporal comparisons of fin whale recordings.

Seasonal occurrence of fin whale song off Juan Fernandez, Chile

Buchan, S.J., L. Gutierrez, N. Balcazar-Cabrera, and K.M. Stafford, "Seasonal occurrence of fin whale song off Juan Fernandez, Chile," Endangered Species Res., 39, 135-145, doi:10.3354/esr00956, 2019.

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27 Jun 2019

Fin whales Balaenoptera physalus were the species of baleen whale most widely caught by commercial whaling fleets off the Chilean coast and are globally classified as Endangered. However, very little is known about the present distribution and seasonal movements of fin whales off the coast of Chile. Passive acoustic data collected at the HA03 station of the Preparatory Commission for the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Organization off the Juan Fernandez Archipelago (JFA) between 2007 and 2016 were analyzed. The temporal occurrence of fin whale song was examined using automatic detection via spectrogram cross-correlation of song notes and by calculating the average acoustic power in the frequency bands of fin whale song. Fin whale song off JFA was composed of regular 17 Hz notes associated with high-frequency components at 85 Hz, with singlet phrasing at a dominant primary inter-note interval of 14.4 s and a secondary interval of 30.8 s. There was a clear seasonal pattern in acoustic presence that was consistent across all years: low or no song during the austral summer and a peak in song occurrence in austral winter. A propagation loss model estimated the detection range at this site to be 186 km. Where the fin whales that are heard off JFA spend the summer months remains an open question. Possible locations include the Western Antarctic Peninsula and/or off northern-central mainland Chile. Further studies should be pursued to better understand the distribution and seasonal movements and to support the conservation of this Endangered species.

Antarctic blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus intermedia) recorded at the Equator in the Atlantic Ocean

Samaran, F., A. Berne, E.C. Leroy, S. Moreira, K.M. Stafford, M. Maia, and J.-Y. Royer, "Antarctic blue whales (Balaenoptera musculus intermedia) recorded at the Equator in the Atlantic Ocean," Mar. Mammal Sci., 35, 641-648, doi:10.1111/mms.12559, 2019.

1 Apr 2019

More Publications

In The News

To get a count on bowhead whales, North Slope scientists head out onto the sea ice

Alaska Public Media, Ravenna Koenig

This spring, the North Slope Borough is conducting a census of the western Arctic bowhead whale population. Kate Stafford drops hydrophones into the ocean to listen for whales that cannot be seen in the distance.

24 May 2019

Meet the bowhead whale, the jazz singer of the deep

Science Friday

Kate Stafford joins host John Dankowsky on the radio program to talk about the diverse songbook of bowhead whales. Over a three-year period, Stafford recorded bowhead whales in the Fram Strait in the Arctic singing 184 different melodies. The whales also altered their songs from year to year.

6 Apr 2018

Bowhead whales, the 'jazz musicians' of the Arctic, sing many different songs

UW News, Hannah Hickey

"If humpback whale song is like classical music, bowheads are jazz," says Kate Stafford. "The sound is more freeform. And when we looked through four winters of acoustic data, not only were there never any song types repeated between years, but each season had a new set of songs."

3 Apr 2018

More News Items

Acoustics Air-Sea Interaction & Remote Sensing Center for Environmental & Information Systems Center for Industrial & Medical Ultrasound Electronic & Photonic Systems Ocean Engineering Ocean Physics Polar Science Center