Walk into the New Bedford Whaling Museum in Massachusetts and you see a shining example of the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) Division Newport legacy and talent. Its marine mammal research and undersea bioacoustics devices remain on display for the public after a year of pandemic closures and uncertainty, and continue to highlight the Navy’s critical role in the undersea domain.
Monica DeAngelis, a marine mammal biologist in the Environmental Branch of the Corporate Operations Department, and colleague Dr. Christin Murphy, head of the Signal Process Algorithm Development Branch in the Sensors and Sonar Systems Department, each star in a video. DeAngelis presents “The Science of Seal Tracking” and Murphy presents “Seal Whiskers.”
The videos are part of the Naval Horizons program to introduce high school students to cutting-edge science and technology topics that impact the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, and unique naval challenges. Students are intended to watch the videos, and then submit an essay about how it inspired them to pursue STEM careers.
Filmed on location at the museum by 5:00 Films & Media, “The Science of Seal Tracking” video underscores the Division’s broad scope of work and the potential value it provides to students who participate in the Education Outreach Program.
“This video is an educational outreach effort,” Candi Desjardins, director of Division Newport’s Education Outreach Program, said. “We are looking at how we do things. We do so much outreach, so we’re trying to fix some of that awareness. The videos are great outreach to our younger students.”
DeAngelis explained that her video discusses her work tracking seals using 3D satellite imagery, in a similar way that cell phones communicate with radio towers and send signals to determine where it’s located.
“We’re in the middle of developing the technology that we use in our career, and it could be used in students’ careers for the Navy,” DeAngelis said. “Math wasn’t my favorite subject in high school, but here I am using math in my career. I’m crawling around in the dirt, getting pooped on, which doesn’t seem all that glamorous. But for a high school kid who has their face buried in a cell phone and gets mad when it doesn’t work, learning about this satellite technology and its modern impacts could be cool.”
The New Bedford Whaling Museum, which reopened to the public in April, signed an Educational Partnership Agreement with Division Newport in 2017. Division Newport first collaborated with the museum to highlight its extensive work with pinnipeds and whales. The two organizations are furthering their relationship this year with updated exhibits and new panel displays, starting with the museum’s summer season opening in April.
“It’s great for us to have a partner that’s really been a critical part of bioacoustic research since bioacoustic research started,” Bob Rocha Jr., director of the museum’s Education and Science Programs, said. “So it’s a great pairing, especially since receiving the William A. Watkins database of marine mammal audio recordings from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, and to combine that with assets and support from the Navy, which has been a major funder and organizational pioneer.
“Also with fabrication and professional support in terms of expertise for exhibit development, that has been so important. When we were putting together the ‘Whales Today’ exhibit, we may not have been able to create or fund it on our own. So Division Newport’s involvement there meant funding was available for us to create other resources. So that’s certainly beneficial.”
New items this year include gyroscope oil, which was used to lubricate and preserve torpedo bearings in the early 1900s. DeAngelis said the jug of oil was discovered serendipitously in a Massachusetts garage.
“Fast forward: we got it, and took it to the museum so they could put it on display,” she said.
The Division also made additional modifications and updates to existing items in their “Whales Today” exhibit, including new graphics and replaced worn decals with museum-quality acrylic panels. The traveling display panels showcasing pinnipeds that were made in advance of Navy Day festivities in 2020, and were shelved once the coronavirus pandemic hit, are ready for use this year.
Graphics were provided by Division Newport’s Visual Information Branch staff Keith McClenning, branch head; Kerri Spero, visual information specialist; and contractor Joshua Robinson.
“Kerri and Keith saw how displays were peeling, which is an indicator of the displays’ popularity. So they decided to create something new out of acrylic,” Rocha said. “These panels will be sturdier and longer lasting.
“Once people are in more regularly, we can do programming and events in person, tap into expertise at Division Newport and how it relates to bioacoustics,” Rocha said. “That would be great, and it would give us another way to make better use of the Watkins marine mammal database. There are still ways for us to explore that to connect people to it. Our historian is diving deep into the relationship between the Navy and whaling, back when muscle and wind power were king. That will be coming along with a full display.”
Other collaboration efforts, such as Navy Day, a day that allows employees free admission to the museum, as well as lectures and presentations that share NUWC Division Newport expertise, are being planned.
“Every interaction with NUWC partners in this project has been a good one. Everyone is completely professional, responsive, fun and engaged,” Rocha said. “It’s great for us to have partners like that.”