Our research program explores the sensory, cognitive, physiological, and behavioral ecology of marine mammals. The approach we apply to these areas is to study individuals in controlled and natural settings. Experiments conducted in the laboratory allow us to generate hypotheses about the perceptual and cognitive mechanisms that enable animals to acquire, organize, and utilize various types of information. Observations made in the field allow us to see how perception and cognition are translated into behavior. Comparative studies in both settings help us to understand how ecological, evolutionary, and life history factors have influenced different marine mammal species.

The program is based at Long Marine Laboratory at the University of California Santa Cruz. Here, a small group of marine mammals works closely with researchers in psychophysical and physiological studies. The animals are trained using operant conditioning and positive reinforcement to participate in various research procedures, many of which involve active decision-making. In the field, our work focuses on how individuals use sensory cues to communicate, forage, navigate, and avoid predation. We combine sensitivity measures obtained in the lab with vocalization and ambient noise measurements obtained in the wild to estimate biologically significant variables such as communication ranges, zones of masking in natural and anthropogenic noise, and directional propagation of vocal signals. These approaches help us to better understand how marine mammals use sound and other sensory cues in social and ecological contexts.
In terms of policy-making, our work has direct applications for understanding the effects of noise pollution in marine habitats. For example, we are interested in how exposure to noise may interfere with an animal's biologically significant activities, such as a female attending her pup or a male defending his territory during the breeding season.

The research program was developed by Dr. Ronald J. Schusterman and his collaborators over a period of more than 40 years. The project has been based at UCSC's Long Marine Lab since 1985, and is currently headed by Dr. Colleen Reichmuth.

How to Get Involved
The Cognition and Sensory Systems Laboratory is supported by a team of hard working individuals including research staff, graduate students, undergraduate research assistants, and interns. Volunteer research assistantships are typically offered to undergraduate students at UC Santa Cruz who work in the lab part-time year round. Internships last 3-4 months and are full time, unpaid positions available to college students close to completing their degrees, or to those who have finished their degrees and intend to pursue post-graduate education in some form. For more information about research assistantships or internships, please write to pinnipedlab@gmail.com. Individuals interested in graduate student positions with the laboratory should contact the PI at this address as well. The program seeks motivated individuals with background and/or interest in a variety of fields including biology, psychology, physics, engineering, environmental studies, computer sciences, and veterinary medicine.

More Information
Long Marine Lab is part of the Institute of Marine Sciences at UC Santa Cruz. The Seymour Marine Discovery Center at LML offers tours and additional information about the facility and ongoing research.

 

An aerial view taken over the Monterey Bay of Long Marine Lab and the Seymour Marine Discovery Center.

Our sound attenuating, hemi-anechoic chamber where we conduct in-air acoustic experiments (aka "the chamber").

 
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