aerial photo of a whale spouting

Geology Lecture: Whale Seismology!

Anne Matthews News

Coos Bay, OR – Southwestern Oregon Community College’s Geology Lecture series continues virtually for 2021. On Tuesday, January 26th at 7:00 pm, Dr. William Wilcock (University of Washington) will present the 16th Annual Cascadia Anniversary lecture on “Whale Seismology!”. Additionally, Dr. Wilcock will give us an update on the Cascadia Initiative and Axial Seamount.

Dr. Wilcock joins us as an IRIS/SSA Distinguished Lecturer and is the Jerome M. Paros Endowed Chair in Sensor Networks in the School of Oceanography at the University of Washington. His research interests include using geophysical techniques to understand seafloor volcanoes and hydrothermal systems, developing new tools for seafloor geodesy at subduction zones, exploiting cabled seafloor observatories for scientific studies and earthquake and tsunami early warning, and studying baleen whales using opportunistic recordings by seafloor seismometers. He holds a B.A. from Cambridge University, an M.Sc. from Imperial College, a Ph.D. from the MIT/Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution and was a postdoctoral scholar at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at the University of California, San Diego.

Large whales are amongst the most captivating animals on Earth, but they are challenging to study because they are too big to hold in tanks, they spend most of their time underwater, and individuals can range over thousands of miles. Recording their vocalizations is one of only a handful of tools available to scientists, but such data can be expensive to obtain, particularly in the deep ocean. The two largest whale species, blue and fin whales, create very loud repetitive sounds at frequencies of about 20 Hz that overlap those of earthquakes, and they are commonly recorded by the networks of seafloor seismometers deployed for geophysical studies. Whale recordings on seafloor seismometers are sometimes viewed as a bothersome source of noise that obscures seismic signals, but beginning with some pioneering work in the 1990s, a small but growing community of marine seismologists are taking advantage of earthquake monitoring experiments in the oceans to study blue and fin whales. Many of the seismological techniques to locate earthquakes and determine their size and frequency characteristics can be adapted to whales.

In his talk, Dr. Wilcock will describe the origin of his own interest in whale seismology and discuss ongoing efforts to exploit extensive seismic data sets in the northeast Pacific and elsewhere for whale seismology.

For more than 15 years, the Incorporated Research Institutions for Seismology and the Seismological Society of America have been pleased to offer fascinating non-technical presentations on earthquake science topics to general audiences across the US.

Geology Lecture Series talks are free and are currently being held virtually from the college website, Click on the Livestream button at the time of the talk. For those not able to watch live, lectures are archived, with access from the College’s website at

Additional talks this year include: Dr. Sean Davis (NOAA) with a climate change talk on Tuesday, February 23 at 7:00 pm; Dr. Scott Burns (Portland State) discussing “Radon – The Invisible Geological Killer” on Saturday, March 13 at 7:00 pm; Dr. Jessica Labonté (Texas A & M) with life around hydrothermal vents on Friday, April 9 at 7:00 pm; and Dr. Guoqinq Lin (University of Miami) on “The 2018 Kilauea Volcano Eruption: Expected or a Surprise?” on Tuesday, May 11th at 3:00 pm.

Lecture series sponsors include DB Western, The Mill Casino, IRIS/SSA, Ocean Discovery Lecture Series, the Southwestern Foundation, and the College.

For additional information, please contact Ron Metzger at 541-888-7216; [email protected].