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Kate Stafford

Principal Oceanographer

Affiliate Associate Professor, Oceanography





Department Affiliation



2000-present and while at APL-UW

Extreme diversity in the songs of Spitsbergen's bowhead whales

Stafford, K.M., C. Lydersen, Ø. Wiig, and K.M Kovacs, "Extreme diversity in the songs of Spitsbergen's bowhead whales," Biol. Lett., 14, doi:10.1098/rsbl.2018.0056, 2018.

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4 Apr 2018

Almost all mammals communicate using sound, but few species produce complex songs. Two baleen whales sing complex songs that change annually, though only the humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) has received much research attention. This study focuses on the other baleen whale singer, the bowhead whale (Balaena mysticetus). Members of the Spitsbergen bowhead whale population produced 184 different song types over a 3-year period, based on duty-cycled recordings from a site in Fram Strait in the northeast Atlantic. Distinct song types were recorded over short periods, lasting at most some months. This song diversity could be the result of population expansion, or immigration of animals from other populations that are no longer isolated from each other by heavy sea ice. However, this explanation does not account for the within season and annual shifting of song types. Other possible explanations for the extraordinary diversity in songs could be that it results either from weak selection pressure for interspecific identification or for maintenance of song characteristics or, alternatively, from strong pressure for novelty in a small population.

Near real-time underwater passive acoustic monitoring of natural and anthropogenic sounds

Baumgartner, M., K.M. Stafford, and G. Latha, "Near real-time underwater passive acoustic monitoring of natural and anthropogenic sounds," Observing the Oceans in Real Time, R. Venkatesan, A. Tandon, E.A. D'Asaro, and M.A. Atmanand, eds., 203-226 (Singer, 2018).

1 Jan 2018

Occasional acoustic presence of Antarctic blue whales on a feeding ground in southern Chile

Buchan, S.J., R. Hucke-Gaete, K.M. Stafford, and C.W. Clark, "Occasional acoustic presence of Antarctic blue whales on a feeding ground in southern Chile," Mar. Mammal Sci., 34, 220-228, doi:10.1111/mms/12441, 2017.

1 Jan 2018

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In The News

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

UW research: Listen to the 'crazy, crazy' songs of bowhead whales

Seattle Times, Sandi Doughton

Kate Stafford and her colleagues have been eavesdropping on the massive, mysterious beasts for a decade. Among their early discoveries was that the whales sing nearly nonstop throughout the dark Arctic winter, hidden beneath thick sea ice. Now, the researchers have published the largest set of bowhead recordings ever compiled, documenting an astonishing repertoire of vocalizations that may be among the most diverse in the animal kingdom.

3 Apr 2018

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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