Leanna Matthews, a Ph.D. candidate in biology in Syracuse University’s College of Arts and Sciences, is the recipient of a Young Explorers Grant from the National Geographic Society. She has received the award in recognition of her cutting-edge study of the acoustic communication of male harbor seals.
Specifically, Matthews examines the reproductive advertising behavior of seals and how it relates to their reproductive success.
“I’m also looking at it as a conservation issue” says Matthews, who works in the Susan Parks Research Lab in the Life Sciences Complex. “I’ll be observing the effects of noise on these reproductive behaviors to determine if there are any human impacts on the seals’ mating success.”
The $5,000 grant will enable Matthews to travel to Elkhorn Slough, a narrow inlet near Monterey Bay, off the coast of Northern California. With just a kayak and an underwater microphone, she will record the subaquatic noises of a small population of harbor seals inhabiting the estuary.
“Sound travels much more efficiently in the water than it does in the air,” she says. “So a boat that is kilometers away can still affect a population of animals if they are underwater.”
Parks, an assistant professor of biology, is Matthews’ faculty mentor. “The National Geographic award is going to allow Leanna to do a much better thesis because it gives her more independence,” she says. “What’s really exciting is that [the award] is for young explorers. It highlights the global impact of the exploratory work we do at Syracuse University.”