Kelly Benoit-Bird: Sounding the Deep

Peter Krupp

Associate professor, College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State University. Age: 34

When her cell phone rang at 7:30 one morning last September, marine scientist Kelly Benoit-Bird eyeballed the caller ID and decided it was a prank or a wrong number. Seven months pregnant and in desperate need of some quality shut-eye, she turned over and went back to sleep. But when the phone rang again half an hour later, she relented, picked up, and croaked a groggy hello. The Oregon State University [OSU] faculty member had let the first call from the MacArthur Foundation go to voicemail. As Benoit-Bird listened, she learned she had won one of the foundation’s coveted “genius grants.”

METHOD: Benoit-Bird was told that she had been selected as a MacArthur Fellow because of her use of innovative acoustic gadgets to paint a dynamic picture of the inner...

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1 The young PhD student also uncovered a key feature of dolphin echolocation behavior that had escaped other marine researchers: the animals modulate the strength of the signals they use to sense prey as circumstances dictate and with as much precision as any man-made sonar device.2

Benoit-Bird’s research shows tremendous cleverness and dexterity, says Whitlow Au, her PhD advisor at the University of Hawaii. “Kelly is very good at using tools.”

DISCUSSION: These days, Benoit-Bird continues to use ingenious acoustic technology to expand our knowledge of how the oceans’ teeming masses move. For example, she’s recently charted the daily movements of sardines and anchovies off the West Coast, describing how they school at daybreak and disperse at night.3 “Kelly is a bundle of energy and new ideas,” said Mark Abbott, dean of OSU’s College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences. “It’s hard to use too many superlatives to describe her.”

Literature Cited
1. K.J. Benoit-Bird, W.W.L. Au, “Prey dynamics affect foraging by a pelagic predator (Stenella longirostris) over a range of spatial and temporal scales,” Beh Ecol and Sociobiol, 53:364–73, 2003. Cited 44 times.
2. W.W.L. Au, K.J. Benoit-Bird, “Automatic gain control in the echolocation system of dolphins,” Nature, 423:861-63, 2003. Cited 45 times.
3. A.M. Kaltenberg, K.J. Benoit-Bird, “Diel behavior of sardine and anchovy schools in the California Current System,” Mar Ecol Prog Ser, 394:247-62, 2009. Cited 2 times.

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