Take 10 with... Craig Radford

Associate Professor Craig Radford from the Institute of Marine Science gives us 10 minutes of his time to discuss his research on the intricacies of underwater sound and what marine animals use sound for.

Associate Professor Craig Radford, Institute of Marine Science
Associate Professor Craig Radford, Institute of Marine Science

1.  Describe your research topic to us in 10 words or less.

Understanding how marine animals use underwater sound.

2.  Now describe it in everyday terms!

Not many people know that the sea is very noisy and there is a range of noise sources, from the animals themselves to wind and waves to human sources (ships and boats).

My research focuses on three aspects:

What are and how do the sources of sound propagate in the ocean?
Do the animals have the physiological and morphological machinery to detect these sounds (e.g. how do they hear)?
How and what are they using the sounds for (e.g. reproduction or aggressive displays)?

3.   What are some of the day-to-day research activities you carry out?

Most of my day to day research activity is office based sitting in front of a computer analysing data, writing papers, grants and discussing student projects.

However, when I am lucky I get to go out into the field on the University’s research vessels to collect animals for physiological, morphological or behavioural lab-based experiments or collect or deploy hydrophones (underwater microphones) for measuring underwater sound sources.

If I am really lucky I will get to set up and measure how well these animals actually hear.

4.  What do you enjoy most about your research?

New discoveries! To find out the unknown, which then always generates more questions.

5.  Tell us something that has surprised or amused you in the course of your research.

This goes back to the start of my PhD and it was the realisation that the famous marine explorer Jacques Cousteau was actually wrong!

His famous 1965 movie “The Silent World” was incorrect. The underwater environment is really noisy and there are a wide range of animals that actually produce sound for everyday life activities.

6.  How have you approached any challenges you’ve faced in your research?

I have a number of collaborators both locally and overseas. If I am stuck I usually approach one or two of these people who I think are likely to have a solution to the problem. For example, I recently approached Peter Rogers (Georgia Tech) about how animals that don’t have swim bladders could theoretically determine sound direction.

7.  What questions have emerged as a result?

How do sharks localise sound?

8.  What kind of impact do you hope your research will have?

In terms of underwater sound policy New Zealand is behind the eight-ball compared to the rest of the world. New Zealand has a policy that focuses on generating underwater noise, but it is more of a Resource Management Act issue. Whereas in Europe it is now mandated that they monitor underwater sound. I'm hoping my research can help us catch up.

9.  If you collaborate across the faculty or University, or even outside the University, who do you work with and how does it benefit your research?

At the moment I collaborate with Professor John Montgomery (SBS and IMS), Associate Professor Rochelle Constantine (SBS) and Associate Professor Rachel Fewster (Statistics).

John and I have been collaborators since I graduated with my PhD and work on a wide range of questions. Rochelle brings more of a conservation aspect to the work, with how we can work with managers of government agencies to affect policy. Rachel brings a whole different aspect, where we are trying to use acoustics as a population management tool (i.e. use acoustics to count animals).

Outside the University I have many collaborators, but the ones I have the most going on with now is Kara Yopak (University North Carolina Wilmington) where we are using MRI to image shark ears and Peter Rogers (Georgia Tech) where we are working on a directional hearing algorithm for sharks.

10.  What one piece of advice would you give your younger, less experienced research self?

Don’t sell yourself short. Aim for the stars and you can accomplish anything you set your mind to.

In terms of science advice, don’t be one dimensional. Being a scientist and researcher means having many arrows in your quiver. You don't tend to use just one science to answer important questions. You incorporate a combination of sciences such as biology, statistics, chemistry, etc.