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Marie Zahn

Postdoctoral Scholar



Department Affiliation



B.A. Environmental Biology, Columbia University, Columbia College, 2016

PhD Aquatic & Fishery Sciences: Data Sci, University of Washington, 2023


2000-present and while at APL-UW

Accurate species classification of Arctic toothed whale echolocation clicks using one-third octave ratios

Zahn, M.J., M. Ladegaard, M. Simon, K.M. Stafford, T. Sakai, and K.L. Laidre, "Accurate species classification of Arctic toothed whale echolocation clicks using one-third octave ratios," J. Acoust. Soc. Am., 155, 2359-2370, doi:10.1121/10.0025460, 2024.

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1 Apr 2024

Passive acoustic monitoring has been an effective tool to study cetaceans in remote regions of the Arctic. Here, we advance methods to acoustically identify the only two Arctic toothed whales, the beluga (Delphinapterus leucas) and narwhal (Monodon monoceros), using echolocation clicks. Long-term acoustic recordings collected from moorings in Northwest Greenland were analyzed. Beluga and narwhal echolocation signals were distinguishable using spectrograms where beluga clicks had most energy >30 kHz and narwhal clicks had a sharp lower frequency limit near 20 kHz. Changes in one-third octave levels (TOL) between two pairs of one-third octave bands were compared from over one million click spectra. Narwhal clicks had a steep increase between the 16 and 25 kHz TOL bands that was absent in beluga click spectra. Conversely, beluga clicks had a steep increase between the 25 and 40 kHz TOL bands that was absent in narwhal click spectra. Random Forest classification models built using the 16 to 25 kHz and 25 to 40 kHz TOL ratios accurately predicted the species identity of 100% of acoustic events. Our findings support the use of echolocation TOL ratios in future automated click classifiers for acoustic monitoring of Arctic toothed whales and potentially for other odontocete species.

Acoustic differentiation and classification of wild belugas and narwhals using echolocation clicks

Zahn, M.J., S. Rankin, J.L.K. McCullough, J.C. Koblitz, F. Archer, M.H. Rasmussen, and K.L. Laidre, "Acoustic differentiation and classification of wild belugas and narwhals using echolocation clicks," Sci. Rep., 11, doi:10.1038/s41598-021-01441-w, 2021.

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12 Nov 2021

Belugas (Delphinapterus leucas) and narwhals (Monodon monoceros) are highly social Arctic toothed whales with large vocal repertoires and similar acoustic profiles. Passive Acoustic Monitoring (PAM) that uses multiple hydrophones over large spatiotemporal scales has been a primary method to study their populations, particularly in response to rapid climate change and increasing underwater noise. This study marks the first acoustic comparison between wild belugas and narwhals from the same location and reveals that they can be acoustically differentiated and classified solely by echolocation clicks. Acoustic recordings were made in the pack ice of Baffin Bay, West Greenland, during 2013. Multivariate analyses and Random Forests classification models were applied to eighty-one single-species acoustic events comprised of numerous echolocation clicks. Results demonstrate a significant difference between species’ acoustic parameters where beluga echolocation was distinguished by higher frequency content, evidenced by higher peak frequencies, center frequencies, and frequency minimums and maximums. Spectral peaks, troughs, and center frequencies for beluga clicks were generally > 60 kHz and narwhal clicks < 60 kHz with overlap between 40–60 kHz. Classification model predictive performance was strong with an overall correct classification rate of 97.5% for the best model. The most important predictors for species assignment were defined by peaks and notches in frequency spectra. Our results provide strong support for the use of echolocation in PAM efforts to differentiate belugas and narwhals acoustically.

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