Photo ID
Hilary Moors

Biology Department
Life Sciences Center
Dalhousie University
Halifax, N.S.
B3H 4J1
(902) 494-3723
Listening to whales

PhD Research

Northern bottlenose whale surfacing
Northern bottlenose whale calf breaching
Male northern bottlenose whale surfacing next to Balaena

Vocal communication and foraging ecology of northern bottlenose whales (Hyperoodon ampullatus) on the Scotian Shelf, Nova Scotia

My doctoral research focuses on vocal communication (particularly underwater echolocation clicks) and foraging ecology of northern bottlenose whales of the Scotian Shelf.

Although northern bottlenose whales are typically found in subarctic waters of the northern Atlantic such as the Davis Strait, Labrador Sea, Greenland Sea and Barents Sea, a small resident population (the Scotian Shelf population) resides in waters south of Nova Scotia primarily in a large submarine canyon known as the Gully. The whales have also been consistently observed in the nearby Shortland and Haldimand submarine canyons and appear to move regularly between these three locations.

Northern bottlenose whales are impressive as they are one of the deepest, longest diving marine mammals in the world. They often produce clicking sounds during their dives to echolocate prey. The submarine canyons appear to be prime habitat for the whales and offer an important source of food - it is thought that the whales feed year-round on deep-water squid that is concentrated in the canyons, and it has been suggested that their distribution and movement patterns are related to foraging and access to food resources. However, relatively little is known about the foraging behavior and distribution of these whales, or the extent to which they use these three canyons.

The Scotian Shelf population of bottlenose whales consists of only about160 individuals, is isolated from larger northern populations, and is found in a small core habitat at the extreme southern limit of the species range. These factors make Scotian Shelf bottlenose whales sensitive to human activities, particularly to anthropogenic noise. As a result, the Gully was designated a Marine Protected Area (MPA) in 2004 in part to help protect the whales, and the population was listed as Endangered on Schedule 1 of the Species At Risk Act in April 2006. Although these are positive steps towards conserving Scotian bottlenose whales, a better understanding of the distribution and behavior of these animals is essential in defining their critical habitat and evaluating the effectiveness of any conservation measures taken towards protecting the population.

I study the foraging vocalizations of the whales by making long-term recordings (weeks-months) of their echolocation clicks using hydrophones mounted to the ocean bottom at various locations in and around the Gully, Shortland and Haldimand canyons. These recordings allow me to study the foraging vocalizations of the whales in both spatial and temporal contexts (such as how often foraging vocalizations are emitted, and when and where the vocalizations are heard). This offers valuable information about the foraging behavior of the animals as well as their daily, seasonal and yearly distribution and movements in and around the canyons. The effects of anthropogenic noise (e.g., ship noise) on the natural vocalization behavior of the whales from these recordings will also be exmained, which will provide the background information required to fully assess the effect of human activities on the whales, especially as noise has been identified as a likely threat to these animals.

Northern bottlenose whales surfacing
Northern bottlenose whale dorsal fin
Northern bottlenose whale surfacing

Education and Other Research

Master's Research:
Harp Seal
Calling depth and related attribiutes of harp (Pagophilus groenlandicus) and Weddell (Leptonychotes weddellii) seal underwater vocalizations

MSc, University of New Brunswick Saint John
May 2003 - October 2004
Supervised by Dr. Jack Terhune

For my Masters study, I investigated acoustic communications of harp seals (of the Northwestern Atlantic), and Weddell seals (found in Antarctica). Both of these species breed on sea-ice and possess a large underwater vocal repertoire. For my project, I was interested in determining the depth in the water column at which harp and Weddell seals emitted their calls. I was able obtain rough depth approximations and more precise point depth estimates of calling seals by calculating the arrival time and amplitude differences of signals recorded on two channels of a small vertical hydrophone array. My results showed that seals of both species called predominately from shallow depths (< 40 m), that their calls changed very little with depth (with regards to call types emitted, element repetition, duration, and frequency).

Bachelor's Degree and Honors Project Research:
Repetition patterns in harp (Pagophilus groenlandicus) and Weddell (Leptonychotes weddellii) seal underwater multiple element calls

BSc majoring in Marine Biology, 1st class honors
University of New Brunswick, Saint John
September 1999 - April 2003
Supervised by Dr. Jack Terhune

My honors project involved investigating rhythmical repetition in harp and Weddell seal multiple element underwater calls. Element and interval durations, as well as dominant frequencies of each element within multiple-element calls were measured. Harp seal multiple element calls occurred with three distinct timing patterns within the intervals of the calls, while frequency within any one multiple element call remained constant. Weddell seal calls showed greater variability and occurred with seven timing patterns within the elements and intervals, including increasing and decreasing duration patterns. The frequency of the Weddell seal calls also tended showed increasing and decreasing patterns.
Weddell Seal

Diplomas and Certificates:

Relevent Work Experience

Field Experience:
(UNBSJ and Dalhousie University)
  • Marine Mammal Observer onboard CCGS Hudson, conducting oceanographic studies on the Scotian Shelf (3 weeks, June 2008)
  • Acoustic Technician for several trips onboard fishing vessels and large Canadian Coast Guard ships ( HUdson, Sir William Alexander, Edward Corwallis) to the Gully and surrounding areas for deployment/retrieval of acoustic recording systems (varying duration of 3 days - 3 weeks, September 2006- May 2008)
  • Primary Researcher onboard a small sailing vessel Balaena conducting research on northern bottlenose whales in the Gully and surrounding areas (2-3 weeks, July/August 2006 and 2007)
  • Acoustic Technician onboard a small boat conducting a study on the impacts of sonar noise on cetaceans off of Kauai, Hawaii (3 weeks, July 2006)
  • Canadian Scientist Representative onboard US educational research vessel/tallship Corwith Cramer travelling from Woods Hole, Massachusetts to Halifax, Nova Scotia (3 weeks, July 2005)
  • Research Assistant onboard a small sailing vessel Balaena conducting sperm whale research in the Saragsso Sea, travelling from Bermuda to Halifax (3 weeks, June 2005)
  • Research Assistant onboard small sailing vessel Balaena conducting sperm whale research in the Carribean Sea off Dominica (6 weeks, January-February 2005)
  • Primary Researcher conducting acoustic studies of harp seals on the ice floes off the Magdalene Islands, Quebec in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence (2 weeks, March 2003)

"Studying for Success" Academic Coach:
(Dalhousie Student Services, August 2006-present)
Design and facilitate workshops and coach university students on a one-on-one basis on how to increase their academic success by improving their study skills and becoming more efficient and effective learners.

Teaching Assistant:
(Dalhousie, September-December 2005)
Was a teaching assisstant for the undergraduate level "Marine Mammology" course offered by Dalhousie. Helped organize and mark class assignments and tests, presented as a guest lecturer.

(University of New Brunswick Saint John, September-December 2003)
Was a teaching assistant for undergraduate level courses "Introduction to Biochemistry" and "Introductory Genetics". Helped organize labs, teach labrotory methods and mark lab assignments.

Fish Ecology and Aquaculture Lab Technician:
(Dr. M.K. Litvak, University of New Brunswick Saint John, October 2000- April 2003)

Worked in a fish ecology laboratory aiding with graduate student experiments and general lab maintenance. Tasks included taking care of fish, monitoring lab equipment and systems, helping run experiments, performing daily maintenance tasks and supervising high school co-op students. Knowledge of fish husbandry (larval, juvenile and adult stages), rearing algae and phytoplankton, re-circulation and flow through systems, water quality control, cryopreservation techniques and experimental design gained.

Sunset on our research vessel Balaena

Publications and Presentations

Peer-Reviewed Publications:

Moors, H.M. and Terhune, J.M. (2005) Calling depth and time and frequency attributes of harp (Pagophilus groendlandicus) and Weddell (Leptonychotes weddellii) seal underwater vocalizations. Canadian Journal of Zoology. 83: 1438-1452.

Moors, H.M. and Terhune, J.M. (2004) Repetition patterns in Weddell seal (Leptonychotes weddellii) underwater multiple-element calls. Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. 116: 1261-1270

Moors, H.M. and Terhune, J.M. (2003) Repetition patterns in harp seal (Pagophilus groenlandicus) underwater calls. Journal of Aquatic Mammals. 29: 278-288.


Moors, H.M. (2004) Calling depth and related attributes of harp (Pagophilus groendlandicus) and Weddell (Leptonychotes weddellii) seal underwater vocalizations. Masters of Science thesis. University of New Brunswick. pp. 127.

Moors, H.M. (2003) Rhythmical repetition in harp (Pagophilus groendlandicus) and Weddell (Leptonychotes weddellii) seal underwater multiple-element calls. Honors thesis. University of New Brunswick. pp. 65.

Conference Presentations:

Moors, H.B. and Terhune, J.M. (2005) Underwater calling depth of harp and Weddell seals. XVI Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals (Dec. 12-16, 2005). San Diego, California. Peer-reviewed oral presentation.

Terhune, J.M., Moors, H.B. and Charlton, L.D. (2005) Source levels and communication ranges of a harp seal underwater call. XVI Biennial Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals (Dec. 12-16, 2005). San Diego, California. Peer-reviewed poster presentation.

Moors, H.B. and Terhune, J.M. (2004) Determinig calling depth of harp seal (Pagophilus groenlandicus) underwater calls. The 43rd Annual Meeting of the Canadian Society of Zoologists (May 11-15, 2004). Wolfville, Nova Scotia. Oral presentation.

Moors, H.B. (2003) Seals with rhythm - patterning in Weddell seal multiple-element underwater calls. XV Biennial International Conference on the Biology of Marine Mammals (Dec. 14-19, 2003). Greensboro, North Carolina. Peer-reviewed poster presentation.

Scholarships and Awards

Sunset on our research vessel Balaena International Awards:
  • 2004/05 - Golden Key International Honors Society Scholar Award

National Awards:

  • 2005/07 - NSERC CGS-D (Canadian Graduate Studies Award)
  • 2003/04 - NSERC CGS-M (Canadian Graduate Studies Award)
  • 2002 - NSERC USRA (Undergraduate Studies Research Award)
  • 2001 - NSERC USRA (Undergraduate Studies Research Award)

Institutional Awards:

  • 2008 - Dalhousie Faculty of Graduate Studies Scholarship
  • 2005/06 - Dalhousie Lett Fund Bursary
  • 2003/04 - UNB John S. Little Fellowship Award
  • 2003/04 - UNB Vaughan Graduate Fellowship
  • 2003/04 - UNB Craig S. Fleisher Award for Scholarship and Volunteerism
  • 2003/04 - UNB Board of Governors Merit Award for Graduate Studies

Other Activities

Leadership Activities:
  • Dalhousie Biology Organization of Graduate Students - President (2007/08), Secretary (2005/06, 2006/07)
  • Northeast Biology Graduate Student Conference 2007 Organizing Committee - Volunteer Coordinator (2006/07)
  • Saint John Animal Rescue League - volunteer and fundraising committee member (2003/04)
  • UNBSJ Graduate Student Association - Vice President External (2003/04)
  • Multiple Schlerocis Society Supercities Walk, UNBSJ Team Captain (2004)
  • Saint John Hospital Ralley of Hope, UNBSJ Team member (2004)
  • Golden Key International Honours society, UNBSJ Chapter - Graduate Student Advisor(2003/04), President (2002/03), Secretary (2001/02) and general member (2000/01)
  • UNBSJ Biology Society - Graduate Student Advisor (2003/04), President (2002/03), Vice President (2001/02), General member (1999-2001)

Athletic Activities:

  • Halifax Xplosion Female Tackle Football Team - executive board member and player (2005-present)
  • Dalhousie Rowing Club - executive board member and crew member (2005-2007)
  • UNBSJ Rowing Club - President (2001-2004) and crew member (1999-2004)
  • Saint John Seagals Female Tackle Football Team - team member and 2004 Provincial champions
  • UNBSJ Varsity Badminton - team member (2000-2004), 2001/02 and 2003/04 team Female MVP
  • Helped coach Saint John peewee football team (2004)
  • SCUBA certified (2001) and completed Advanced Divers Course (2004)
Sunset on our research vessel Balaena

Return to Dalhousie Whale Research

Last Updated June 2008 by H. Moors