Under the Sea

January 31, 2009
Breadth and depth: Friedlaender's photos help visitors to Sant Ocean Hall grasp complexity of marine life.

Breadth and depth: Friedlaender's photos help visitors to Sant Ocean Hall grasp complexity of marine life. Chip Clark/Smithsonian Institution

As a child, Ari Friedlaender loved visiting aquariums and museums. But he never imagined that, one day, his own work would be on display at one of the world's best-known museums.

Friedlaender Ph.D. '06, a research scientist at the Nicholas School of the Environment, is one of many scientists contributing to the exhibitions in the Sant Ocean Hall at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, which opened in September. 

His photographs from the Behavioral Response Study (BRS), a multinational research initiative examining the effects of underwater noise on beaked whales, appear in the hall's "Ocean Today" kiosk, which highlights ongoing ocean research projects. They are displayed alongside a life-size model of a female North Atlantic right whale and an Indo-Pacific coral reef aquarium holding up to seventy-four species of marine life.

Friedlaender, who is based at the Duke Marine Lab in Beaufort, North Carolina, and his BRS colleagues are working to understand more about the behavior and critical habitats of beaked whales.

Originally, Friedlaender's photographs were used mainly for identification purposes during the BRS study, which involved putting suction-cup tags on beaked whales and pilot whales and observing how they reacted and changed their behavior when exposed to various types and levels of underwater noise.

"These are very elusive and cryptic whales that feed over a mile down under the ocean on squid, and they are susceptible to noise," Friedlaender explains. "Some types of sonar have been linked to stranding events, and we're trying to find out at what level animals respond to these noises."