Parks was part of a collaborative multi-institutional consortium that has spent a decade monitoring Humpback feeding behaviors in the Gerry E. Studds Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary
, off the coast of Massachusetts. Whales were tagged with special underwater recording devices so Parks could determine how specific acoustic sounds correlated with successful seafloor feeding. The investigation revealed that whales make "tick-tock" noises while hunting together at night in deep, pitch-black water, but are silent when hunting alone.
On the menu? Mostly sand lance—eel-like fish known to bury themselves in the sand of the ocean floor. Parks suggests that whales' vocal sounds may help flush the sand lance out of hiding to where they're scooped up and eaten.
SBNMS file photo by Susan Parks, Syracuse University, taken under NOAA Fisheries Permit #605-1904
The clock-like sounds created by whales may also serve as a dinner bell of sorts for other nearby whales during late-night feedings.
"Hints of behavior suggest that other whales who overhear the sounds are attracted to them and may eavesdrop on other whales hunting for food," Parks adds.
Prior to joining Syracuse's faculty in 2011, Parks held various appointments at The Pennsylvania State University, Cornell University, and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. She is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers, the U.S. government's highest honor for scientists and engineers.