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Cadet Makes a Splash with Marine Research

by Stefanie Senkow
September 6, 2018

Mystic AquariumNEW LONDON, Conn. -- A day of water play with beluga whales at the nationally-renowned Mystic Aquarium is creating a ripple effect for “first-of-its-kind” research at the Coast Guard Academy.

“I’m studying two whales at the Aquarium, Kela and Juno,” said First Class Cadet (1/c) Valentina Giraldo Torres. “I’m taking recordings of their blows, plotting those recordings on a spectrogram and analyzing them to see if there are similar characteristics and whether blows from different whales have unique signatures.”

And her findings are making a splash in the marine science world, being the first study of its kind, as she sets out to prove the theory that we can track a whale’s distinct sound from its blow. In partnership with Dr. Aaron Thode of Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, CA, 1/c Giraldo Torres has spent the latter half of her Academy career spearheading this project with plans to be published in a scientific journal by the end of 2019.

“This data is relevant to the Coast Guard in terms of legislation and policy making,” said 1/c Giraldo Torres. “Can we use these unique signatures to track whales and marine mammals in the future for conservation and ecological purposes? That’s what we’re trying to figure out.”

In her final year at the Academy, 1/c Giraldo Torres will continue to work with Kela & Juno at the Mystic Aquarium as well as collect recordings from other whale species and test this theory with other marine mammals.

And although her cadet career at the Academy will be ending come May 2019, 1/c Giraldo Torres’s pursuit of this research path will continue into the future.

“My goal is to graduate and go to a seventh district billet that allows me to continue my research while also contributing to other Coast Guard missions. I hope that once my results publish, more people will be interested in carrying out this research but in the very least, I will continue searching for the answers even after I leave CGA. Do animals have distinct voices? One day I hope to find that out.”