Our first blog features April Houweling, a local bioacoustician. Read on to learn more about her amazing work.
April Houweling is a 27-year-old naturalist raised in British Columbia (BC), Canada. After completing her degree in Biological Sciences at the University of British Columbia (UBC), April started her career in marine acoustics as a research assistant in the Cetacean Ecology and Acoustics Laboratory (CEAL) at the University of Queensland, Australia. Her love for exploring the natural world led her to work in environmental monitoring in New Zealand for two years and further her acoustic career on a small Polynesian island. April studied humpback whale song and coral health around Niue Island for half a year until she returned to her home of BC. She currently works as a bioacoustician employed by JASCO Applied Sciences analyzing marine mammal vocalizations and sound disturbance underwater. April enjoys freediving, spearfishing, surfing, sailing, scuba diving, and almost all watersports. She also enjoys hiking, skiing, running, photography, and anything that brings her to enjoy the beauty of the natural world. She is just about to leave to crew a 43’ C&C sailboat from New Caledonia to Coffs Harbour, Australia.
“The sad realization was that dolphins are sharing these same waters and don’t have the same opportunity to turn it (headphones) off as I did”
This is such an obscure field of work, yet quite intriguing, what does environmental impact assessment look like on a daily basis?
Specifically, regarding environmental marine acoustic monitoring, every day is a little bit different. Some days I am out on a vessel deploying an acoustic mooring with hydrophones that will stay on the seafloor for a year to monitor marine mammal presence or ambient noise in an area, other days I am deploying an array of equipment that is towed behind a vessel to conduct Passive Acoustic Monitoring (PAM) for marine mammal mitigation during seismic work. And some days, I am in an office analyzing Southern Resident Killer Whale (SRKW) acoustic data by annotating wave files to help create a real-time AI detector. My work is quite varied and that is what I love about it . You never know what you will discover in the ocean, and acoustics helps us locate specific marine fauna that spend a majority of their life underwater.
What sparked your interest in marine acoustics?
I was a research student at the Cetacean Ecology and Acoustics Laboratory (CEAL) on Stradbroke Island, Queensland, Australia with the University of Queensland when I first heard marine mammal vocalizations underwater. I came to learn each individualistic signature whistle of the resident Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins and their varied repertoire. The variation of calls and frequencies used amazed me however, this was also the first time I encountered vessel noise underwater. I remember rapidly taking my headphones off to avoid the loud noise of a vessel flooding into my ears. The sad realization was that dolphins are sharing these same waters and don’t have the same opportunity to turn it off as I did. Equally, the beauty of marine fauna vocalizations and the fight to diminish the noise disruption polluting the soundscape both led me to this field and my current job working for JASCO Applied Sciences.
You work with environmental conservation organizations, government, oil & gas - which do you enjoy most?
No doubt, I enjoy working with Research Organizations the most. Academics are always a great working environment fueled by continual learning. They also appreciate the monitoring I do.
What source of noise accounts for the largest impact on marine life? Jet skis greatly trouble me.
As I see it, jet skiers are the motorcyclists of the sea. Jet skis can be fun when you are on them, but I would agree they are noisy. Nonetheless, vessels have a greater impact on the Howe Sound, especially the tankers heading up to Squamish. Marine construction can also have quite large impacts on noise level.
What do you consider a major accomplishment in your field of work?
In my opinion, real-time monitoring is a huge accomplishment, where data can be collected and almost instantaneously analyzed. I am working with the HALLO group from Simon Fraser University (SFU) to create a real-time SRKW (Southern Resident Killer Whale) detector to detect and predict where SRKW are and will be, which is huge regarding their protection efforts and dictating shipping routes.
I've been a huge fan of Roger Payne's work since the late 80's, are you familiar with his work?
Of course! He is the godfather of whale acoustics. I have done a lot of acoustic work with humpback whale song along the coast of BC, as well as in the Southern Pacific Ocean, including a tiny island called Niue where I was diving with humpback whales to collect skin samples to match song data with genetic populations.
Did you take part in Howe Sound becoming a UNESCO biosphere region?
I personally was not a part of this. It is a great accomplishment, however, let’s hope the nomination holds some weight and influences decision making.
What is coming up next in your career?
When time allows, I will pursue a MSc in Statistics at SFU with supervisor, Ruth Joy to further my data analysis capabilities for JASCO. The goal is to work in conjunction with the HALLO project to create a real-time detector for Southern Resident Killer Whales in the Strait of Georgia and further shipping lanes around Vancouver (SFU researchers developing warning system to protect killer whales from marine traffic - SFU News - Simon Fraser University).
Next year with JASCO, I hope to travel to the Arctic to retrieve and redeploy Autonomous Multichannel Acoustic Recorders (AMARs) to monitor and understand seasonal marine mammal presence and spatial distribution, as well as work with Slocum Glider data from the east coast of Canada to detect and protect the endangered North Atlantic Right Whale (OceanObserver Glider | JASCO Applied Sciences).
Deploying hydrophones for GEOMAR SO294 Expedition
Pacific White Sided Dolphins
Passive Acoustic Monitoring (PAM)
Stellar Sea Lion preying on an octopus.