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Kate Stafford

Senior Principal Oceanographer

Affiliate Associate Professor, Oceanography





Department Affiliation



B.A. French Literature, Minor: Biology, University of California - Santa Cruz, 1989

M.S. Wildlife Biology, Oregon State University, 1995

Ph.D. Interdisciplinary Oceanography, Oregon State University, 2001


2000-present and while at APL-UW

Cetacean distribution and diversity in Lakshadweep Waters, India, using a platform of opportunity: October 2015 to April 2016

Panicker, D., D. Sutaria, A. Kumar, and K.M. Stafford, "Cetacean distribution and diversity in Lakshadweep Waters, India, using a platform of opportunity: October 2015 to April 2016," Aquat. Mammals, 46, 80-92, doi:10.1578/AM.46.1.2020.80, 2020.

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1 Jan 2020

Prior stranding records suggest that at least 12 cetacean species occur within the Lakshadweep archipelago off the southwest coast of India. These islands consist of coral atolls and form the northern part of the undersea Chagos–Laccadive ridge. Distinct oceanographic features, seasonal monsoon cycles, and high productivity make this region a potentially rich cetacean habitat. In this article, we report findings from the first systematic visual cetacean surveys, which were conducted from high-speed passenger ferries that sail between nine Lakshadweep islands. The surveys were carried out between October 2015 and April 2016 during both the northeast monsoon (October to December) and inter-monsoon (January to April) seasons. We used a line-transect survey framework to record sightings as well as group size estimates. We documented 139 sightings over 3,880 km of which 78 sightings were during systematic survey effort. Eight odontocete species were confirmed from these sightings: Stenella longirostris, S. attenuata, S. coeruleoalba, Tursiops spp., Globicephala macrorhynchus, Pseudorca crassidens, Grampus griseus, and Feresa attenuata. One Balaenoptera sp. was also encountered during this survey. S. longirostris was sighted the most often (n = 22) followed by Tursiops spp. (n = 18) and G. macrorhynchus (n = 13). We documented significantly higher sightings in the northeast monsoon season compared to the inter-monsoon season. Along ferry routes, cetacean species differed significantly from each other with respect to their associations with seafloor slope gradients and distances to nearest landmass. We encountered mixed species assemblages of G. macrorhynchus with Tursiops sp. and S. attenuata with Tursiops sp. Given the confirmed high cetacean diversity and occurrence in this region, there is a need for in-depth, long-term studies on biogeography, ecology, and population status of cetaceans here.

Seasonal variation in Arctic marine mammal acoustic detection in the northern Bering Sea

Chou, E., R. Autunes, S. Sardelis, K.M. Stafford, L. West, C. Spagnoli, B.L. Southall, M. Robards, and H.C. Rosenbaum, "Seasonal variation in Arctic marine mammal acoustic detection in the northern Bering Sea," Mar. Mammal Sci., EOR, doi:10.1111/mms.12658, 2019.

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24 Dec 2019

Declines in Arctic sea ice cover are influencing the distribution of protected endemic marine mammals, many of which are important for local Indigenous Peoples, and increasing the presence of potentially disruptive industrial activities. Due to increasing conservation concerns, we conducted the first year‐round acoustic monitoring of waters off Gambell and Savoonga (St. Lawrence Island, Alaska), and in the Bering Strait to quantify vocalizing presence of bowhead whales, belugas, walruses, bearded seals, and ribbon seals. Bottom‐mounted archival acoustic recorders collected data for up to 10 months per deployment between 2012 and 2016. Spectrograms were analyzed for species‐typical vocalizations, and daily detection rates and presence/absence were calculated. Generalized additive models were used to model call presence as a function of time‐of‐year, sea surface temperature, and sea ice concentration. We identified seasonality in call presence for all species, corroborating previous acoustic and distribution studies, and identified finer‐scale spatiotemporal distribution via occurrence of call presence between different monitoring sites. Time‐of‐year was the strongest significant effect on call presence for all species. These data provide important information on Arctic endemic species' spatiotemporal distributions in biologically and culturally important areas within a rapidly changing Arctic region.

Quantifying spatial and temporal variation of North Pacific fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus) acoustic behavior

Archer, F.I., S. Rankin, K.M. Stafford, M. Castellote, and J. Delarue, "Quantifying spatial and temporal variation of North Pacific fin whale (Balaenoptera physalus) acoustic behavior," Mar. Mammal Sci., EOR, doi:10.1111/mms.12640, 2019.

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24 Aug 2019

In order to help develop hypotheses of connectivity among North Pacific fin whales, we examine recordings from 10 regions collected in the spring and fall. We develop a Random Forest model to classify fin whale note types that avoids manual note classification errors. We also present a method that objectively quantifies the note and pattern composition of recordings. We find that fin whale recordings near Hawaii have distinctive patterns, similar to those found in other regions in the central North Pacific, suggesting potential migration pathways. Our results are consistent with previous studies that suggest there may be two different populations utilizing the Chukchi Sea and central Aleutians in the fall and mix to some degree in the southern Bering Sea. Conversely, we found little difference between spring and fall recordings in the eastern Gulf of Alaska, suggesting some residency of whales in this region. This is likely due to fine scale similarities of calls among the inshore regions of British Columbia, while offshore areas are being utilized by whales traveling from various distant areas. This study shows how our novel approach to characterize recordings is an objective and informative way to standardize spatial and temporal comparisons of fin whale recordings.

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In The News

Whales, Ranked

The Cut, Madeleine Aggeler

When it comes to naming the best whale, opinions are divided. Kate Stafford says the bowhead is best and notes that what we don't know about whales far outweighs what we do.

19 Dec 2019

To get a count on bowhead whales, North Slope scientists head out onto the sea ice

Alaska Public Media, Ravenna Koenig

This spring, the North Slope Borough is conducting a census of the western Arctic bowhead whale population. Kate Stafford drops hydrophones into the ocean to listen for whales that cannot be seen in the distance.

24 May 2019

Meet the bowhead whale, the jazz singer of the deep

Science Friday

Kate Stafford joins host John Dankowsky on the radio program to talk about the diverse songbook of bowhead whales. Over a three-year period, Stafford recorded bowhead whales in the Fram Strait in the Arctic singing 184 different melodies. The whales also altered their songs from year to year.

6 Apr 2018

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Acoustics Air-Sea Interaction & Remote Sensing Center for Environmental & Information Systems Center for Industrial & Medical Ultrasound Electronic & Photonic Systems Ocean Engineering Ocean Physics Polar Science Center