Laura Christoferson

Montana State University, Billings; Energy Laboratories, Inc.
Billings, Montana

Logbook index

On land:

At sea:

Logbook entries

09.20.2005: Its amazing the things that inspire a person.

We are almost halfway through our program and I have yet to write a journal entry. Not for lack of truly inspiring moments, as there have been many, but simply because I have not wanted to stop experiencing this adventure long enough to write about it.

Our amazing encounter with the orcas in the fog at Lime Kiln on the first day of class was an excellent indicator of the magic yet to come. We are not quite halfway through, and already the majority of my expectations have been met and exceeded. I have had some amazing moments watching the whales and thinking about their environment. I have experienced some seriously intense learning and have, thus far, survived. I have had the exhilarating opportunity to pick the brains of people whose research I have been reading for over a decade, to stand with them and observe the creatures that have captured both our interests, and to realize that they too are just people fascinated by an amazing animal and driven by a desire to know more.

What really strikes me are the things that have little to do with the whales, but more with people. I am certainly learning a lot about myself. How much I love and miss my family and friends at home (even when I am "with" the whales). How daunting it was to find myself in a strange place surrounded by strange people and try to make it home. How quickly strangers can become friends. The remarkable capacity for compassion that we all have in us. Watching a group of people come together to support and take care of one another is a truly inspiring thing.

I'm looking forward to our adventures on the the "high seas" with this unique little tribe of characters we have. And for the record, we may not be strangers anymore, but we'll always be strange ... behold, the incredible power of Roche dough nuts! :)

"In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we know, and we will know only what we are taught."

09.26.2005: Monday, week 1

Home, sweet boat. And it really is sweet boat. The Gato Verde is very comfy and has a lot more room than I expected. Celia (my roommate on land and now my bunkmate) and I are nicely tucked away in the port stern double berth cabin, and we actually have about the same amount of room on the bed as we did on land.

After stowing an unbelievable amount of gear/food/clothing yesterday afternoon, we motored away from the labs at Friday Harbor and anchored in Park Bay on Shaw Island. I enjoyed cooking a meal (tacos) in the galley for the first time, and for our crew of nine too. Luckily I had plenty of help! There was a beautiful sunset over the mountains of Vancouver Island to set a mystical mood for our first night at sea. Our captain, Todd, capped off the night perfectly by reading us a tall tale about a modern day Jonah, a man who was eaten alive by a whale and amazingly survived.

After a solid nights sleep I was up to see a quick glimpse of post-sunrise before the fog set in. We learned about the daily necessities of cleaning to keep our new home in good shape. We also began learning about current tables, the rime it takes for us to get around the islands, and began the process of planning our route from day to day as well as week to week. Then the cleaning Lucky me, I got "head" duty right off. It wasn't too bad, however it is certainly my least favorite place to be on the boat! It's kind of like a cross between a camper bathroom and a port-a-potty. But there is a skylight hatch and an escape hatch that looks right out to the water between the hulls of the boat.

Next we got an intro to the parts of a sailboat, and since the fog had then lifted, we got to head out of the bay and begin sailing. What a wonderful feeling! (PS, I sailed on my first try! _) We had a fun afternoon of learning and getting used to our new setting. My favorite spot is lounging on the "trampoline" which is the net in the front of the boat between the hulls. It's like a big hammock! (In fact, that is where I am sitting while I write in my journal.)

As we got near to the northeast side of San Juan Island we heard reports over the radio of whales just around the northern tip. We motored ahead (no wind now) and soon we saw whale-watching boats a good sign that there are whales nearby. As we floated and waited we dropped a hydrophone in the water and instantly hear whistles and calls. After many weeks spent listening to recorded orca sounds it was exciting to hear them live! And soon the whales were coming closer. What a beautiful sight and sound to see the shiny black fins breaking the water and hear the percussive "pa-Whooosh" of their breath as they surface. Incredible! It was a spectacular end to our first full day on the water, and further proof of our group's uncanny orca magnetism!

09.27.2005: Tuesday

Another beautiful day at sea! After breakfast, cleaning, and a lesson about tides and points of sail, we decided to motor south toward Race Rocks (near Victoria, BC on Vancouver Island) in search of whales. Near Kellett Bluff we encountered orcas. I glued myself to the port bow pulpit (all the way forward) and settled in with my camera and binoculars ready. I got several nice ID shots (dorsal fin and saddle patch markings) of one individual going by me about 200 meters away. Thanks to the "zoom" feature on my camera playback, Courtney and I were able to make a positive ID it was L78, a young (teenage) male or "sprouter." This was the first time that I have had success with my newly learned pre-focus technique to reduce lag time on my digital camera. I am very pleased with the result. Now my goal is to capture a breach!

After that encounter we decided to head south and hope to intercept the remaining pods if they made their east from the ocean or south from Kellet. Unfortunately, it was a fruitless expedition, although not a total loss. The weather was beautiful and sunny and our long trek gave us time and necessity to ponder the ethics of legal sewage disposal at sea, and to "calibrate" our holding tank indicator and begin to think about the many factors that will influence our science plan in the weeks that lie ahead.

09.29.2005: Thursday

Our second day with no whales, but what a great day. I woke sometime very early in the morning to the sound of rain on the deck above our cabin. I love rain! When I finally extracted myself from my cozy sleeping bag and trundled upstairs I was greeted by a gray and drizzly day. Ahh, the Northwest! We had been expecting a storm and it had finally arrived and brought with it plenty of rain, but also great wind for sailing. We decided to head south down Haro Strait (the "Westside" superhighway) and practice our upwind sailing and maybe run into our elusive whale friends along the way.

Once out of the protection of the bay, the waters were fairly rough. That means that although the 2 to 4 foot waves only qualified as sea state 2 level (out of ten), they looked and felt pretty intimidating to us "land lubbers." Fully decked out in our foul weather gear, we began learning to tack upwind. It was wet work, but really fun and rewarding to see us zipping along at 6+ knots solely under wind power. This is even more spectacular if you take into account the humongous pile of stuff we crammed aboard a few days ago! And the most rewarding part was all of us standing out on the bow watching Dahl's porpoises playing in our bow wave! There we were, standing at the bow in the rain and wind just feet away from these amazing and rare creatures. I have a feeling this adventure is just going to get more exciting!

09.30.2005: Friday

Today we did some of our first practicing with taking observations and conducting our research. We spent about three hours with the whales today on the West side of the island. All three pods were around and they were quite vocal. It was a little chaotic trying to organize ourselves and figure out the best approach, but I think we made some good progress, and we got some beautiful recordings, especially considering that we are very much novices at this point. I got many chances to take photos and am getting much better at capturing good photo ID shots. I think the best part was being able to watch the whales and hear them at the same time. I felt it brought us a step closer to understanding their world. A tiny step anyway. It was a very rewarding day!

10.01.2005: Saturday

Hello October! Wow, I can't believe that I have been away for six weeks now; it was August when I left! I was nice to make a couple phone calls and check email today for the first time in a week! And that shower tomorrow sounds terrific (it will be a week tomorrow - e!) Today we picked up our captain for next week, Judy, and did some sailing. We had two encounters with Dahl's porpoises playing in our bow wave and I got some great photos! What an incredible feeling to be 4 feet from the water where these neat creatures are surfacing. At one point I actually got spray in my face from their blow at the surface! And it is a neat feeling to see them come to purposely play with us! These experiences are absolutely priceless and I can't wait to share them in detail and photo! Have a great week everyone and I hope to have much more to report next week!

10.03.05 (Monday, week 2)

Whoa. That's about the only thing I can seem to get out to describe today. What an incredible day! Today was our first day out with our new captain, Judy, and our guest, Rachael and what a day it was. We got a beautiful ride down San Juan Channel to get out to the straits and an almost glassy calm sea once we were out there. Oh yeah, and we spent most of the day with the whales! We stayed pretty far away for most of the day, trying to observe in the most responsible and unobtrusive way, but toward the end of the day we had an amazing encounter. We had our motors shut down and were drifting, observing, and listening to underwater sounds. Brett and I were on the trampoline on the bow of the boat listening to a hydrophone we had deployed from the bow and dropped about ten feet down. Someone near the stern called out that we had whale heading directly at us. I looked around and went back to listening when Brett noticed a whale surface about 50 meters away and yelled to the people at the stern. We watched with a mix of excitement and nervousness as an orca surfaced about ten feet away from the boat, sticking it's tail flukes out of the water and giving a little slap about two or three feet from the edge of the was going under us. I stared in total awe through the netting as I watched the orca swimming through the green-blue water directly below me as I peaked out over the edge of the tramp. I would see the white pattern of its underside clearly defined as it rolled slightly onto its side, slowly and gracefully gliding along until it disappeared behind the starboard hull. It was an exciting moment, and yet it filled me with a certain sense of quiet reverence to this amazing creature so close. At that moment I felt very much like the outsider looking in on another world beyond my comprehension. Many times, including earlier today, I have sat on the bow seat and looked down into the dark water and wondered what it would be like to see an orca coming up out of the depths. I can't believe I actually saw it. I have been interested in studying and conserving these wild whales for well over a decade...that's just over half of my life and all of my adult life. Every day out on the water in the environment with these orcas feels like a dream come true...because it really is. I feel so lucky to be living out this dream and to know I may be able to contribute to their preservation and the conservation of their habitat.

10.04.05 (Tuesday, week 2)

On a scale of one to ten, today was a twenty. Yesterday, I couldn't imagine a better day, but today topped that by far! The theme today was... WOW! We were in the presence of whales for nearly five hours and we saw some amazing behavior and heard incredible sounds. For most of the day we saw the whales in larger than "usual" groups alternating between lots of activity and what appeared to be resting. At times they were very active and we saw all kinds of splashing, slapping and rolling! It looked like there was a party in the water! But the real gem of the day occurred as most unbelievably wonderful events do, right when its time to go home! We were watching a group of about ten whales surfacing at the same time side-by-side in a line. They began floating on the surface and making amazing noises ABOVE water, and loud too! We were about 100 to 150 yards away and the sounds were loud enough to show up on video recorders! Then, luckily Rachael noticed a line of whales doing the same surface-floating coming toward us from the was a greeting ceremony! This is a behavior that is unique to the southern residents and rarely seen. Usually it happens in the early summer when the pods reunite after being away at different wintering grounds. It was a once in a lifetime experience and very moving. The excitement between the two groups was palpable as they approached one another. Finally, with a couple hundred meters between them, the southern group suddenly lunged forward in unison, dove underwater and the groups joined. There was much commotion at the surface and periods of extremely intense sound below. It was a really touching thing to witness above water. And then the sound... I am sitting here at the table listening to my recordings from thins afternoon, and right around the time we saw the line forming there are some really magical sounds under water. Some loud echoing "yells" and then what sounds like distant answers. Is this the two groups calling to each other as they prepare to reunite? Scott and I sit and listen over and over timing the loud and soft calls to see if they are simply echoes, but the time between call and answer is different every time. And sometimes there are distant answers when there has been no recent call. It will take more analyzing to get a better guess, but just listening to it is mesmerizing. Suddenly now there are very loud high squeals like wrestling puppies and low, rough barking sounds that sound to me just like the sounds we were hearing above water! Is this a recording of that fantastic moment we witnessed earlier? Whatever it is, it is complex, intriguing, and absolutely beautiful! I must go to sleep now, but it is so hard to leave their watery, musical world once you've entered. Before I go to bed I need to take a minute to digest what I've experienced today. In all my studies into the lives of orcas, I could never have dreamed up how powerfully spellbinding observing them in the wild would be. They are truly amazing creatures and I am so thankful that their allure has stayed with me all these years and brought me to where I am right now at this moment. I can't think of a better place to be. I only wish that all of the people have helped and encouraged along the way were here to share it with me! Wish you were here!

10.07.05 (Friday, week 2)

This has been a week full of amazing experiences. Wednesday was quiet. The whales had gone north to the Frazer River and we had constraints keeping us from following, so we drifted around off the south end of San Juan Island. A day without whales is always a little disappointing, but it was also a welcome break from the fast-pace of data collection. We decided to stay south in hopes that the whales would head south in the morning and we would be in the area to meet them. We tucked in to anchor around the southern horn of the island on the east side in a little place called Fish Creek, part of Griffin Bay. It was a beautifully calm night, so Scott, Rachael, and I dropped our captain Judy off at shore with the dingy and did some engine noise recordings of the Gato Verde from various distances. After returning everyone to the boat, Val gave me a lesson in dingy navigation. It was a little scary because it is a very small little boat, very close to the water, and boy does it go fast! I have to admit that it was a white-knuckle experience getting on plain for the first time. Val is a brave soul! That night we did our first anchor watch rotation. Each person is on watch for one hour of the night and has some chores to accomplish so that we can get away earlier in the morning. Getting up to clean the head at three in the morning is not a compelling experience! But an hour goes by pretty quick and getting back into my sleeping bag was reward enough. The next morning, I got to try out my piloting skills as I drove Scott and I to shore in the dingy to pick up Val who had left early for an appointment on land. I made to land and back without wrecking and got over my fear a little. We even got up to full throttle...for about two seconds. I hate to boast, but I think I'm a natural! :) After everyone was safely back on board we headed back out to the straits and spent the rest of the day with the whales. We had a close encounter right off the bat with a young male who seemed to be circling near our boat before finally swimming right by the port side. Once all the whales were back from the north we headed over to Iceberg point on Lopez Island where the reunion was taking place. It was grey and rainy which made for a crowded cockpit, but it was a great day for studying whales. We got some amazing sounds and sightings. At one point a mother and juvenile swam right under the bow of our boat. The mom turned to look up at us as she swam underwater just off the bow of our boat and I could see her white eye patch (which is a cool blue-green underwater) for some distance as she swam just under the surface. The youngster swam beneath the boat and I could see his white patches flashing through the netting of the trampoline as he jetted ahead to catch up with his mom. A few minutes later we were able to use my pictures to identify them as L67 (Splash) and her son L101. This was really exciting, because she is also the mom of a six-year-old whale, Luna (L98) that our guest Rachael studied last year. Luna is lost on the west coast of Vancouver Island. Hopefully some day soon his mom and family will go close enough that he might hear them and reunite. It's amazing how far sound travels underwater. It has become common for us to be able to hear orcas loud and clear without being able to see them. We spent last night anchored in MacKaye Harbor on Lopez Island and this morning we headed back to Friday Harbor to take care of some errands. This afternoon we got news that the whales had headed north again, so we headed off to a northern anchor will be closer to them tomorrow morning. We landed here on Sucia Island, tied up to a dock, ate dinner, and went for a walk just as the sun was setting. What a beautiful sight! These islands become a mystical place in the colors and mist of sunset and it looks like a landscape straight out of a fairytale. I don't know what it is about this place, but I always feel to at home and at peace here. And the stars are incredible. I even saw a shooting star while I was talking to Pat on my cell phone. Sometimes I feel like I need someone to pinch me so I know that this is all real!

Week 3

Monday, 10-11-05

Another week begins, gray and cloudy, and I cannot shake an equally gloomy feeling on the inside. As we go about our day, taking care of the business of holding tanks and cleaning, I catch echoes of the blues in those around me as well. Most of us have been away from our loved ones for at least five weeks now or longer and I know I feel the strain of operating in an intense setting without my emotional backup. What I wouldn't give to get a hug from my husband, my sister, my mom! But that's not entirely it. I can't believe we are starting week three of the sea component, three weeks to go. This experience so far has been one of the most incredible adventures of my life. There have been so many moments with the whales already when I have just stood in total awe of what was happening around me. Some very old dreams of mine have come true, as I have effervesced at length about in previous accounts.

However, one phenomenon I have yet to discuss is not exactly whale related. As expected, the sea component is going by so quickly, and I have begun to realize that this experience will soon be drawing to a close and I will have to go back to the real world. Don't get me wrong, there are many people I miss very badly and I cannot wait to see them again. But I love being here and I really love doing this. The thought of a YEAR without so much as the possibility of waves and whales is heartbreaking. And then there is this rag-tag group of pirates/researchers who have become my family for nearly two months now. How can I possibly go on without them? I came here expecting to love my experiences learning about and studying the orcas. I knew I would not want to leave this place.

But what I didn't expect is how much I don't want to leave these people! We really have become like a family. We certainly annoy each other plenty at times and probably want to wring each others necks from time to time... but I think that is part of what makes it great. It is certainly challenging at times, but when you know that there is no chance of getting more than forty feet away from someone for several weeks, you find yourself inspired to make an effort to understand and accept the people around you. And of course our mentors, Val, Scott, and Todd, have played a huge role demonstrating that personal tolerance. I have never witnessed such enduring patience and kindness or had instructors work so hard to ensure that I get the best possible experience. Scott seems to eat approximately three times his body weight in food each day, four if you count midnight snacks, and I think its because he exudes the energy of half a dozen people and the patience of a saint! Val is the wise wizard of all things electronic and mathematical, and he always seems to find both the time and the words to explain just about anything. And Todd is the great marine ninja, able to somehow maneuver around whales, boats, and waves with six students having orca-nniptions and pulling out gear and wires all around him. I feel like I have grown immeasurably through this experience and look forward to continuing to grow after I leave. But I don't want to think of that now... the important thing is that we are still here now and these experiences are amazing enough to carry me through whatever lies between now and my return to this amazing place.

Tuesday, 10-12-05

Orcas and Frenchmen in the moonlight.

Finally, the moment I've been waiting for... a night observation! And not a moment too soon. The weather report for the rest of the week speaks of high winds and rain and my hopes of exploring the southern residents' lightless hours have begun to wear thin. I can feel the slow panic creeping in to my head. What if I don't get any night data? With a much-needed boost from Courtney and Nicole, I get my head and myself together and back into the moment. The weather is beautiful, calm and clear and we stumble upon orcas returning from Whidbey Island in the late afternoon. Perfect conditions to follow the whales north as the sun sets. Among the whales cruises a familiar little boat with Ken Balcomb at the helm, skipping along with the orcas almost as one of their own. He pops over to chat with us for a minute, and then turns back to the business of photo ID shots. It amazes me to think of the whales he has seen over the last several decades spent among the southern residents. I can't help but hope that one day I may have that kind of knowledge about these beautiful creatures to share with a new generation of wide-eyed students.

We stayed with the whales as the sun disappeared, casting pinks and oranges on the snowcaps of Mount Baker and Mount Rainier in the distance. There we were, basically alone with the orcas for the first time yet in our journey. The calls we heard over the hydrophones were clear, loud, and sounded almost foreign without the background whine of outboard engines and tankers. Enter our nemesis, a particularly bothersome Canadian radio station forever popping up in our recordings via the preamps on our hydrophone cables. This is an absurd phenomenon, particularly when listening to the orcas ephemeral calls with some guy mumbling in French in the background. Tonight "Frenchy" was out in full force and completely destroying our one-on-one time with the whales. Our futile attempts to wrap him in foil and drown him in a bucket of seawater were to no avail. C'est la vie! I am Le tired. Still, what sounded like old-time show tunes did add an interesting aspect to the acoustic experience. As the light disappeared, so did the whales, seeming to all switch direction at the same time and begin heading offshore. We last spotted them heading southwest into the moonlight, with their calls remaining audible for quite a while later as if they were calling us to follow them. Where do they go? A question that must be left unanswered for tonight...

After a cold and tense trip toward our northern anchorage, straining to scan for logs and debris on the smooth dark water, we paused briefly to listen again before tucking in to Snug Harbor for the night.

Rest of Week 3...

Another great week with lots of fun and adventure. Unfortunately, the busier we are, the less I have time to write! How about a quick list of highlights from this week:

I know there's more, but you'll have to tune in next week...

10.17.05 Monday week4

What a Monday! Gray and drizzly and just on the verge of being completely socked in with fog all day...and no whales. However, for most of the day I had a great time. You know how I love gray and rainy days! And I have most certainly decided that a boat is the best place to be on a day like this. Or any other day really. :) Amidst our hopeless search for whales in the fog I saw a few remarkable things today. First, the gallows constructed for the movie "Practical Magic" that is still standing on the shore of San Juan Island. It was so fitting though somewhat eerie approaching the picturesque scene from the water while surrounded all about by fog. And Val was kind enough to snap some great pictures of it - especially for you Weezie! Second amazing thing, we saw salmon porpoising like...well, porpoises I guess, coming partially out of the water over and over. It was a first for all of us who saw it! And then the best: Our favorite group of Dall's porpoises came and rode our bow for and unusually long time as we slowly motored along. For some reason the lighting was just right and water was so smooth and clear that we could see them in full detail as they skimmed along just under the surface of the water. It looked as if they were floating in space just a few feet from my face! The detail with which I could see the contours and textures of their bodies was incredible. Unlike their usual high-speed fly-bys, today they hardly seemed to expend any effort at all, gliding lazily in front of the bow and pausing for long periods just in front of us.

I wonder if they too were taking advantage of the conditions to get a better look at us. What interesting creatures we must seem from their vantage, suspended in a net above the water bundled up in brightly colored foul-weather gear (foulies) smiling, laughing, and clinging to the boat as we lean over the water for a better look. Several times one seemed to meet my gaze and I couldn't help but wonder what it thought of me. Spectacular - and instructive at the same time... Never, ever, ever take anything for granted or become complacent about the beauty around you every day. We have seen the Dall's several times now and though they are always fun to see, they have grown to be a little "old hat" these days and I didn't hurry out to see them. They had already been riding for at least five or ten minutes when I finally went out to take a look. I'm glad I did finally get out there. It was absolute magic watching them glide effortlessly through the water, and to think that I almost missed it because I thought I had already experienced all that the Dall's had to offer. One of the many unexpected and unquestionably valuable lessons this experience has taught me.

After dinner we practiced with the night vision tools that our guest Bob McLaughlin kindly borrowed from BE Meyers company in Seattle. It really is remarkable how well you can see with it! I hope we see orcas tomorrow so we can make use of the technology while we have it. Or we may just never let Bob leave, I mean we are pirates, right?

Ah, the ticking clock! I'm not sure that I've ever been in a situation were I was so acutely aware of the passing of time as now. The whales are far south, we are socked in with fog, there are thirteen days left until I return stress-o-meter is maxed and holding! Twelve days until we present in front of many people...and I have one partial night of data. Ack! I am now wishing I had taken up yoga before I left! Deep breath, chin up, never give up - right? Come on calm seas, sunny weather, and a superpod!

10.18.05 Tuesday, week 4

Today was a long day spent in pursuit of whales. We had a hydrophone in the water and recording by 8:20 this morning, the earliest by nearly a half hour by my recollection. We floated and listened at several times and locations, and more often than not we heard the orcas calls from somewhere in the distance. There was word of sightings and we expended much energy trying to get to where they were. We eventually got word of L pod heading west near the mouth of Juan de Fuca, and set off in that direction. Exhausted from many nights with little sleep, I napped while we were on our way. I woke to word that the whales were in sight! My boat mates were gearing up for our first ever through the night follow! The possibility was very exciting, but after ten minutes on the bow watching whales traveling fast out to sea, I realized this was not the best situation. The weather had been pretty foggy but was now clear, but chasing a pod of fast-moving orcas far from our familiar grounds in the dark did not seem to be the best situation. After much time spent trying to find the whales and planning how to observe them, it was extremely difficult to decide to follow them or not. The conditions were good, but not perfect. The weather was still not certain and the open strait is not where I wanted to try our fledgling system. Did I want to follow them and risk exhausting the crew in a fruitless effort to keep up? Did I want to turn for home turf, allowing much needed sleep, and run the risk of losing our last chance to study the Ls this season? It was by far the most personally difficult decision I have had to make in this experience thus far. As we let the whales disappear into the west and turned our own course to the north, I had several hours to think about the choices made. What strikes me now as most notable about the whole thing is the effect of others' reactions on my own. The frustration and disappointment I felt around me from others was actually a huge relief. I'm not glad anyone felt that way, but the companionship of defeat is soothing, especially since my mentors were among that group. Scott and I had a lengthy discussion about whether we made the right decision and what we could have done better and why. The opportunity to confer with another frustrated person was cathartic as was the process of exploring another's interpretation of the afternoon and the events that ensued. All told, I think we made the right decision. Something tells me that we will see L pod again. I ended the evening by spending over an hour atop the cabin watching the sun set and the moon rise. Frustrating or not, I love this! And for the first time in five years, I really feel like I'm on the right path toward attaining my longstanding goals. Wind on my face, water and islands surround me lit up by sunset and moonlight...all is well. 10.19.05 Wednesday

This is crew is incredible! After a long day of looking for whales to no avail, we tucked in to Fish Creek for the night. After dinner I got to drive the dingy with Scott and Brett to the nearby docks to pick up Leslie. No Leslie, but we did pick up a couple cute new pets...Shrimps! Jacque, our French ami and his green little companion Jacqueline. We might be losing our minds just a little. Upon returning to the Gato Verde, I discovered that it was all a sham! Our vessel has been taken over by pirates wearing eye patches and bearing gifts! And they strangely resemble our crew... What a great surprise! The galley was decorated and with a pirate theme! I love these guys! It was a great birthday, and I hope that it is a preview of the year to come.

To the crew (Celia, Val, Leslie, Nicole, Courtney, Scott, Brett, Freddie, and Kevin): Thank you guys! It was a birthday that I will remember for a long time. You made me feel loved and at home on a hard day to be far from loved ones. I can't believe that you went to all that trouble, and that in a space so small you were able pull that off! Go team!

10.20.05 Thursday: "Here comes the sun..." I woke to today to a beautiful morning and song in my head. There are a few clouds, but its clear over the water ...NO FOG. It is a good day! With no whales sightings yet, we decided to head to Race Rocks to check out the humpback whales that have been hanging out there for months. We saw five or six humpbacks and many stellar sea lions. It was fun to take time to observe different marine mammals. And, best of all, I got hoisted up the mast of the ship! I went about 25 feet up to the shroud spreaders where I could stand and look around. I got to observe my fellow observers (fun to watch from above as the whole crew occasionally scurried from one side of the boat to the other) as well as the local wildlife. A HUGE stellar came over to check us out and seemed to be suspended in mid air below me. My fear of heights appears to be directly relative to how well I am attached to my surroundings, and of course, what I'm looking at!

10.21 and 22.05 Friday/Saturday

Early this morning we found the whales, and suddenly my ability to stop and journal gets pretty bad... Well, basically, it stops. Sorry! Also, here the division between night and day and awake and not gets blurry. Let me sum up for you. Thursday morning at 8:30 we ran into L pod heading east near Victoria, we were able to deploy our towed hydrophone, a.k.a. "the toad," while sailing near the whales. They cut across our wake and came up within feet of us! It was incredible! We stayed with them all day, decided to try a night follow, and eventually lost them between 10:30 and 11:00 at night. It was a great test and our night following technique worked pretty well. We ended up heading back to Port Angeles around two in the morning, arriving sometime around five. We headed out again around noon and ended up meeting up with J pod around three in the afternoon. They were traveling south and soon formed a "resting line" which is a behavior I am very interested in and is part of my study. We decided to stay with them and activated into night follow mode again. We tried to sail with them again, but the wind picked up fast and we lost them with conditions getting too choppy to follow anyway. I was thrilled that we were able to stay with them for over two hours while they rested! We headed into Port Townsend for the night. Although it got off to a slow start, this week was full of action! We had some great experiences and got a lot accomplished. Kevin was a fun addition to our crew. He really seemed to mesh well with our group and added plenty of humor and a calm and mellow attitude. I am personally grateful for his willingness to go for it on the night follows and to operate on not much sleep to help me advance my project.

Kevin: Thanks for the countless hours you put in! I hope you have fun taking some time off and studying frogs in Panama. Good luck in all your endeavors and keep us updated about where you go from here! Rrrrroooogeeer! Gato Verde out. :)