For wildlife biologists, geologists and other researchers, Yellowstone National Park serves as a living science lab unlike any other place on earth. From underground magma chambers and unique thermophilic microbes to grizzly bears and gray wolves, Yellowstone science research routinely makes headlines around the world.
For reasons of safety, logistics and other factors, the general public rarely has a chance to go behind the scenes to see how that research is conducted. Results are published in science journals and summarized in news reports, but there’s not much chance for park visitors to tag along for field work.
But now, a new audio series offers listeners a backstage pass to learn more about how research is conducted in Yellowstone, and what it means for the park’s wildlife and landscape.
Telemetry is a co-production of Yellowstone Park and Montana State University’s Acoustic Atlas. The new series promises to take listeners on a “sound safari” of Yellowstone, offering an in-depth look at how researchers conduct the work that helps inform policy decisions inside the park and across the region.
For Jennifer Jerrett, who produced Telemetry’s first episode focusing on loon captures, the project has taught her to try and carry an audio recorder whenever she ventures out.
“There have been times when I have not had a recorder with me, just while out on personal time, and I’ve missed an amazing experience,” Jerrett said.
“I was out hiking along the road a while back, and these otters came over to check us out. They were making a woof—a barky, seal-type sound—I just couldn’t believe I wasn’t getting that,” she said.
More recently, Jerrett spent time venturing out before sunrise to capture wolf howls, while past projects have offered short “audio postcards” of sounds from the bison rut or noises made by Wilson’s Snipe flights.
For Telemetry’s first long-form piece, Jerrett captured haunting audio of the four different types of loon calls — the yodel, the wail, the hoot and the tremolo. The 12-minute audio piece details how researchers work at night using decoy bird calls to lure loons in for safe capture on Wolf Lake. Blood is drawn and the birds are banded for further tracking and study.
The loon research is important because Yellowstone is home to only about a dozen breeding pairs, with the next closest population more than 200 miles away. Researchers worry that the birds are not breeding with outside populations, which could be a problem for their ongoing presence in the park.
For Jerrett, the audio segments are a way to focus listeners’ attention on specific aspects of the stories behind park science.
“The act of listening does seem old-fashioned in our visually dominated culture. But as a podcast listener, something totally different happens in your brain when you listen to a story versus watching a video,” she said. “You become a participant in envisioning the story.”
“When you’re listening to these sounds through headphones, it becomes a much more intimate experience. It’s like the sounds are in your head, and people connect with it in a deeper way,” Jerrett said. “When you unplug from the rapid-fire imagery of TV and videos, you’ll learn it’s just a deeper, richer experience.”
Jerrett said Yellowstone Park will highlight future editions of Telemetry on its social media channels, and the series may become a regular podcast if public reaction is favorable.
In the meantime, audio segments like Telemetry and Jerrett’s earlier work producing audio postcards offer a chance for richer content on the park’s low-power AM radio broadcasts for park visitors, as well as a way for the visually impaired to experience Yellowstone in a deeper way.
Meanwhile, Jerrett will continue carrying an audio recorder on many of her park outings.
“Sometimes things work out and you end up getting great audio. Other times you end up having to kill an idea,” she said. “But it’s a really great way to tell a story.”
Contact Ruffin Prevost at 307-213-9818 or [email protected].