First sea component

The Gato Verde arrived under the helm of Captain Todd Schuster at 13:00 at the University of Washington ’s Friday Harbor Labs. Waiting on the dock, with all the food, science equipment and personal gear were the crew of 8. Shortly after arrival the Quarter Master Colleen Barry had the crew stowing the gear in record time for a departure from the dock at 17:00 hours. We were prepared for a short crossing to Parks Bay on Shaw, but found the anchorage full and so headed farther North to Jones Island for the evening. The weather was sunny and calm for our maiden voyage, and so we were not able to set sail, but rather relied on our electric motors and bio-diesel generators. Along the way we spotted several harbor seals, a number of large burgundy colored lion’s mane jellies and one of our crew (Juliette) managed to be the first to loose their camera overboard. All in all a pleasant hour and one half of passage time.

Sea date 9-12-06 (day 2)

After reveille and breakfast at 8:00 the crew turned out for cleaning of the Gato Verde followed by an introduction to the vessel and sailing. Winds were non-existent until around 11:00 when we set sail through Speiden Channel where we caught good sightings of the introduced Fallow and Sika deer, but did not see any of the Mouflon sheep. We did however get a close sighting of 2 harbor porpoises feeding behind the boat. From there we headed out to Haro Strait to take advantage of the light wind to practice our tacking techniques (see the zig zags on our route for the day). By late afternoon we steered a more direct course for Reid Harbor on Stuart Island and a calm and secure anchorage.

Sea date 9-13-06 (day 3)

Morning started with a hearty breakfast of sourdough pancakes prepared by yours truly and crew member Peggy Foreman, after which we got to experience our first pump out of waste material. Although not a very pleasant task, it is an essential part of our existence on the Gato Verde and a good way to force us to consider some of the impacts we have, at least in regards to direct waste products generated by our active physiologies. After leaving Reid Harbor we set forth into Haro Strait in the search of whales and wind. We were successful in finding patchy winds and made some good progress towards the south end of Haro Strait in an attempt to find some transient killer whales that had been reported off of Victoria , British Columbia , but did not sight any whales. We did however see some Dall’s porpoises in the Straits. We also made our first attempts at deploying our science gear. As it so happened we attempted to deploy our hydrophone when the wind was steady and we were sailing at a steady seven knots. At that speed our hydrophone refused to sink and so we had to fasten downriggers to force it down, which was successful, but we still had significant noise from the water flowing past the hydrophone as it undulated underwater. After consulting with our Beam Reach acoustics specialist, Val Veirs, we decided that for the next deployment of that hydrophone we would fasten a long cord to the trailing edge of the hydrophone to stop it from undulating, much as one fastens a tail on a kite to steady it in heavy wind. We ended the day in Mitchell Bay across from Snug Harbor . After a sumptuous meal prepared by Erin Soucy and Colleen Barry (following a recipe called “Rice with chick-peas, herbs, and sun-dried tomatoes”) we held our weekly journal club meeting. This endeavor helps us to sharpen our scientific acumen by reading and discussing research articles that spark our interest. Each week one of the students picks an article that is dear to their interests; we all read the article, and then have a discussion on the merits and weaknesses of the article, led by the student who picked the article. The article picked this week by Peggy Foreman was: Baird, R.W., Hanson, M.B. & Dill, L.M. 2005 Factors influencing the diving behaviour of fish-eating killer whales: sex differences and diel and interannual variation in diving rates. Canadian Journal of Zoology 83:257-267. As it turns out, it was a particularly apropos time to discuss this article as Robin Baird and Brad Hanson, two of the authors, are in the San Juans at the moment continuing their studies on the diving behavior of killer whales. In fact they gave talks to our class before we left port, and we bumped into them in Haro Strait this very day as they were out searching for more whales to fasten their suction cupped time depth recorders to. A couple of days ago they were successful in attaching their device to a transient (i.e. marine mammal eating) killer whale in Admiralty Inlet , and in retrieving it after it fell off. They are in the area for the next week and we hope we will hear further news of their success in studying these marine mammals.

Sea Date 9-14-06 (day 4)

This morning Captain Todd picked up Val from the dock in Mitchell Bay along with the hydrophone array Val has built for this class. We spent the morning listening to instruction of sailing and meteorology, followed by our first deployment of the hydrophone array. One of the hydrophones was not working that well, but was working nonetheless. We then made our way out into Haro Strait to field test our equipment further. Unfortunately the problematic hydrophone stopped working and another stopped working as well, leaving us with only two hydrophones working in the array. We nevertheless deployed the dingy with Val, Erin, and Rena so that they could bang on a steel pipe at a distance from the Gato Verde to see if we could record the sound and determine the direction from which the sound was coming using a software program called Ishmael. Even with two hydrophones we seem to be getting good measures of the direction the sound is coming from, something that is important to Emily and Colleen’s research projects. After we finished testing our equipment we were treated by a group of five transient killer whales that were swimming north through Haro Strait . Our first whales for the course! Oddly we also saw a number of porpoises and an elephant seal in the vicinity of the whales. Our day ended with a fabulous pasta repast prepared by Donna and Emily while at anchor once again in Mitchell Bay .

Sea Date 9-15-06 (day 5)

We had wonderful rain last night and awoke to the sun shining through the mist in Mitchell Bay , truly magical. We did our morning chores and then picked up Val from the Snug Harbor dock. He had spent yesterday evening fixing our hydrophone array in his garage. After running a few experiments, such as measuring the salinity and temperature of the water in Mitchell Bay to get a direct measure of the speed of sound in that water, we headed out to the deeper waters of Haro Strait to continue debugging our equipment. We think we have finally found a good way to deploy our single hydrophone and minimize any exterior sounds such as water turbulence and boat noise. So that Val could continue work on the array we dropped him at Roche Harbor , pumped out our holding tanks and took on more fresh water. Oh, we also took advantage of the store at Roche Harbor for a few sundries to please the palates. Upon leaving Roche Peggy and I started on dinner: fresh baked sourdough bread and Moroccan tagine over couscous, with cilantro, jalapeno, and lime salsa. We ate underway and lowered our anchor in Deer Harbor just as we finished our evening meal. Tomorrow morning we pick up our relief captain in Deer Harbor .

Sea Date 9-16-06 (day 6)

We awoke to a glorious Fall morning in Deer Harbor and sent Peggy and Rena ashore to conduct part of their service project which involves marking creosote logs on public beaches. Todd also picked up our relief captain Mike Dawson at the dock in Deer Harbor . We then set sail into and down San Juan Channel towards Parks Bay on Shaw Island where we attended the annual meeting of the Friends of the San Juans. This allowed us to go ashore and explore the Ellis Biological Preserve and the grounds of the Ellis homestead including their memorial bells. To top off the lovely lunch we heard a talk given by Peter Ross on “Toxics in the Mammals of the Salish Sea : Orcas, Seals, and Humans”, altogether a wonderful way to spend a lovely afternoon. We then set sail across San Juan Channel to dock at the Friday Harbor Labs.

Sea Date 9-17-06 (day 7)

We started today with a later start since it was our ‘shore’ day where we clean the boat thoroughly, re-provision, fill up the water tanks, refuel, and pump out the holding tanks. After cleaning the boat we headed to town for all our errands and then had a little time off this afternoon for showers, laundry and calls/emails to home before once again setting sail for Parks Bay . Winds were very light for the crossing, but under the guidance of Captain Mike we managed to make it across with a few tacks here and there (see track on map for today for the wonderful zigzag patterns that Rena made while at the helm).

Sea Date 9-18-06 (day 8)

Today we navigated south through San Juan Channel and Cattle Pass into the south end of Haro Strait where we ran a series of experiments with our single hydrophone and hydrophone array to make sure that all systems were functioning correctly. As a bonus, after we had brought our equipment back in we spotted two minke whales in the area of Salmon Bank. We spent a good hour with them as they fed before heading back to Griffin Bay . While traveling back through Cattle Pass we spotted three California sea lions, one of which swam towards the boat and made aggressive displays. Once in Griffin Bay we picked up Val on the shore in the dingy so that he could join us for a couple of days aboard the Gato Verde.

Sea Date 9-19-06 (day 9)

We decided to head back out into Haro Strait and towards the Straits of Juan de Fuca, with the thought that if the resident killer whales were going to return to these waters, they would probably come back in through the Straits between Vancouver Island and the Olympic Peninsula. Our instincts were correct as all three resident pods heading back into the inland waters. We had some difficulty with our electric motors along the way, but thanks to skillful sailing by Erin (as the Captain was fixing things), we managed to intercept with some of the whales and follow them to the north as we gathered our first set of data. All were very excited as whale calls were heard through our recording equipment. Our final encounter with the whales was off the west side of Henry Island , so we decided to head for Stuart Island to overnight.

Sea Date 9-20-06 (day 10)

We awoke to rain, forecasts of heavy winds and an electrical system that was not working completely well, so we decided to head across Speiden Channel and into Roche Harbor where we tied up to the docks to recharge our batteries and continue repairs on the electrical system. I forgot to turn the GPS unit on for today, so we don’t have our track on the map. We seem to have made headway on fixing things on the boat, and people seem to appreciate coming in to the dock to catch up on phone calls to family and friends.

Sea Date 9-21-06 (day 11)

Today we headed back out into Haro Strait to test our equipment some more and managed to have a good recording session with the whales. Unfortunately our propulsion system had completely failed us by that time and so we could not maneuver out of the way as the whales swam past. This did allow us to capture some good quality data as we tried to sail out of the way with only a light breeze. After the whales passed Mike rigged up the dingy behind the boat, which we then used as our motor to get back in to the dock at Roche Harbor . An ingenious way to rig up an alternative propulsion system. Bravo Mike. We were joined in the evening by James Ha, a professor from the University of Washington who gave us a stimulating talk on animal behavior.

Sea Date 9-22-06 (day 12)

We were unable to repair the electric propulsion system, so we decided to limp back to the UW Friday Harbor Lab docks where Todd could eventually fix the system. We were escorted back to the Labs by the M/V Buzzard (the Whale Museum ’s marine mammal stranding response boat) as a safety precaution. It was a pleasant journey that took a bit over two hours, but we were glad to make it back to our ‘home’ dock and a week back on terra firma.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.