Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Rincón Students Build Hydrophones - Can Record Sound Underwater!

On Thursday April 2, 2009, thirty 10th grade students from Brenda Cardona’s science classes at Manuel Garcia Perez High School in Rincón received a unique opportunity to gain hands-on experience related to humpback whale research. Graduate student Patchouly Banks of SUNY Buffalo educated the students about the humpback whales that visit Rincón’s coast each winter. Patchouly is part of a team of researchers including Jennifer Schneider and Dr. Eduardo Mercado III who have been coming to Rincón, PR for the past four years to study the songs of the humpback whales. The SUNY team has worked closely with Surfrider on outreach and education during each of their visits.

Their main goal is to locate singing whales and record their songs in order to investigate song function.

In order to do so, they use underwater microphones, called hydrophones. In an effort to make their research more "relatable" to the community, Patchouly taught the students how to build their own simple hydrophones, made from household items, including pennies and balloons. After constructing their hydrophones, the students placed them into buckets of water and listened through headphones to a variety of underwater sounds. The students also heard samples of recordings that the researchers have made here in Rincón, including snapping shrimp, fish, boat noise, and of course humpback whale song! The students really seemed to enjoy building their hydrophones, but they had the most fun using them to listen to the sounds they created in their buckets, including a crackling candy to simulate the sound of snapping shrimp!

Hopefully the students will take away a better understanding of the research that this team carries out here in Rincón, as well as a greater appreciation for the humpback whales.

Patchouly would like to thank Brenda Cardona for her interest and willingness to get her students involved in this project, as well as Annette Blasini of the Rincón Chapter of the Surfrider Foundation for all of her help coordinating and translating! And a big thank you to all of the enthusiastic students! This project was made possible by funding from the National Science Foundation.

For more info, Patchouly can be reached at