Tuesday, September 18, 2007
After waking up in Mackaye Harbor, we motored away from Lopez Island and headed north to parallel the west coast of San Juan Island. The students continued to work on their final proposals and some began to read Kenna’s choice for this week’s journal club, Quantitative tools for comparing animal communication systems: information theory applied to bottlenose dolphin whistle repertoires. Once we saw a fleet of fishing boats, the students practiced their roles for data collection. Liz called out with boat, or “whale” to focus on while recording behaviors, Elise listened to “calls”, Kenna took ID photos, Heather measured bearing relative to the Gato Verde, and Wes recorded distance to our boat using the rangefinder. Afterwards, they discussed ways to improve and optimize data collection. Unfortunately, the whale’s locations were not in our favor today, so we headed back to Lopez island as the sun was setting. Wes prepared pasta with vegetables in cream sauce for dinner.
Monday, September 17, 2007
The new sea team (Liz, Elise, Kenna, Heather, and Wes) woke up to a cloudy day in Roche Harbor. After breakfast, we topped up the water tank and motored out of the harbor, while we discussed plans for the day. Unfortunately, there were no whales and no wind. So the students discussed how to optimize data collection as a team and organized who would be collecting what during whale observations. Then the students worked on their final proposals, while Jason and Shannon graded and returned previous assignments. After a delicious lunch prepared by Wes and Jason, the wind picked up enough for Mike to go through the points of sail. After practicing tacking and chicken jibing with the main sail and screecher, the students settled back down to their computers. We arrived into Mackaye Harbor at Lopez Island as the sun was setting and Heather was starting to prepare quesadillas for dinner. After dinner, the students finished up their work and we watched Life Aquatic.
Sunday, September 16, 2007
After breakfast, we began preparing for our weekly change-over. We pumped out our holding tank, topped up our water tank, cleaned the Gato Verde, and the students packed up their things. Pulling up the dock at Roche Harbor, we met the land team, who were bringing aboard their weekly grocery supply. Dr. Jim Ha from the University of Washington spoke to the entire BeamReach group about his graduate student, Jennifer Marsh’s thesis work on surface behaviors of southern residents, experimental design for behavioral studies, and using personal digital assistants (PDA’s) to collect behavioral data. After the talks, the students huddled by the heat lamps as they discussed boat and data logistics for the upcoming week. Jason’s group climbed onboard the Gato Verde and Liz prepared artichoke, spinach and mushroom casserole for dinner.
Wow, with the whirlwind of things that are constantly going on and that we have to stay mindful of, it’s hard to find a chance to blog, much less remember to. These days I don’t even have time to stay up to date on current events and politics anymore, which is pretty shocking for me. I really enjoyed today’s class though, so I want to make sure to write about it and to mention anything else recent that I can recall.
This morning we had a serious discussion about sustainability, and with Val serious means serious, we literally traced our food energy consumption back to the sun to compare the population levels that could be sustained on either wholly vegetarian or wholly carnivous diets, the two extremes. The difference was sobering, a factor of 10 that meant either you could sustain 17 billion vegetarians or 1.7 billion carnivores. Obviously most people fall somewhere in the middle, but it’s still way more complex than all that. We had to write up analyses about our calculations for homework, and it really got me thinking about the sustainability of food production systems overall. I’ve learned a lot about that over the years but especially last year with my environmental thesis. When you really sit and think about it all, from the perspective of energy and way beyond how much energy does each food provide but more how much energy does each food CONSUME and how completely messed up the current food production systems around the world really are…it can really drive you crazy. Or make you very depressed. That’s why I take a break from the environmental sustainability thinking sometimes to look at politics. Turkey refuses to take the military option off the table for Kurdish separatist groups in Northern Iraq? Somehow staying aware of as many of the countless calamities going on around the world seems to keep me from losing my mind over a single one.
More relevant to the orca research part of the program, this morning we also finally looked at the calbration recordings from last Wednesday and Val explained some technical points that I was really confused about. Both of these things were really great for me because I needed the calibration in order to amend my data analysis so that it makes sense. And also, now at least I understand what the gain IS, and why it’s so important. Unfortunately I can’t do anything with all my newfound knowledge at the moment because the computer guys have been out this afternoon and so I can’t install the updated version of the Beam Reach Analyzer software that I need to look at my recordings with. And so I sit here blogging.
Last week on the boat was a MUCH better one for me. I think the first week was just really a shock because I’ve never lived in that type of environment before. But this time I was all armed and ready to face the cold, (note the large winter jacket, hat and gloves that I’m wearing in a few of the pictures that Val took) and I participated a lot more in sailing-related activities. (I still prefer the theory to the practice though.) But the really great thing was that we actually finally began testing our methods! I think my lack of a sense of where I was going with my research during that first week may have made me more anxious too. Now I have actual recordings to analyze! And Val gave me a completely new point to consider in my research yesterday, and I just hope I understand it well enough to make sense when I write it up for the final proposal that’s due Thursday. Remember what I said about that whirlwind of things to think about and do? Well, most of the summer I either had nothing to do or hated what I was doing, and that sure isn’t the case now.
Monday 10th September
So early this morning we had reports of J,K, and L pod up in the Strait of Georgia heading south. A superpod! JaMi last week got to witness a superpod on the west side of San Juan so I was really hoping we would get to witness it today. Now according to Val if the southern residents are up that way they often head south down Rosario Strait and around the south end of Lopez Island and San Juan Island into Haro Strait and Strait of Juan De Fuca. We were positioned at the southern tip of San Juan when we got the report so we had to make a call whether or not to predict they would come down Rosario or come back down Haro Strait. We decided to wait for more pagers but also gave a few calls around to our various “sources” to see if they knew any new information into which way the whales were heading. So as we were just drifting around the south of Lopez Island we were making plans/protocols as to what we would do when whales were around and who would do what. For example, who would deploy what hydrophones, who would take photos etc etc. As part of my project is looking at boat noise in controlled experiments where recordings can be done without whales, I would be able to give some assistance to others with their data collection. I still however need to get echolocation recordings and so the afternoon was spent with all of us “playing” with the equipment, me in particular (and Anne) playing with the high frequency recorder and making recordings. The whale pager system seemed a bit dodge today so we made for Aleck Bay on the south side of Lopez Island where we could deploy the hydrophones and speakers and make some recordings and get used to the equipment so ultimately when we do have whales we can be prepared and ready to collect some good data. So we anchored the dinghy in the middle of Aleck Bay, dropped the speaker over the side and played a consistent killer whale S_1 call. We then just cruised around Aleck Bay with our hydrophones dragging behind the GV and taking recordings, becoming more familiar with the equipment we would be using over the coming weeks. Val then jumped into the dinghy and I got him to do a couple of drive-bys at high speed so I could get a couple of recordings and get an idea of methodology, but more so to see what the high frequency boat noise data would look like on the computer. I’m still yet to look at the data but it’s on my computer ready to go! So we decided to drop anchor in Aleck for the night as the whales were still way up north. Val and I were on dinner so we cooked up a mean Spag Bog and Meatballs with garlic bread. Of course they weren’t real meatballs as this is a ‘nothing with a face’ vessel, but to be honest they did taste a little funky and although they say they “taste like meat” I could definitely tell there was something just not quite right about them. Still, I’m experimenting with these soy “creations” but so far I’ve concluded that you just can’t beat the taste of something with four feet and a hearbeat. Todd our captain however did express an interest today in fishing and saying if we catch it can we eat it, as it will be from natural stocks and we will be eating “sustainably”. Val said he may be open to the idea, which sounds promising. I normally have fish at least once a week when I’m at home so if I can’t eat beef for a week it will be nice to have some fish sometime. I think I might just drop a lure overboard tomorrow and drag it and see what happens. Anyway, many comments were made at dinner about how good it was. I’ll let Val take most of the credit though, I just did the basic stuff. Did my exercises as well this afternoon while a couple of the others went for a swim around the boat. I have been doing various exercises somewhat regularly on the boat, bout 3-4 times a week. Because I can’t go for runs I still need/feel I have to do some sort of exercise so I’ve been doing dips in and out of my hidey hole, push-ups on the forward deck, lunges around the outside of the deck, lifting a 25 lb round weight on a small rope that is used with the hydrophones (have to do many reps so it can get a bit tedious, plus its not that comfortable to lift), and crunches on the forward netting. For Tim’ boat exercise videos go to www.crunchesoncatamaransandotherexercisesonaboat.com. Anyway, it’s pretty late on Mon night as I write this so I might make my way to my little hole. I really don’t mind sleeping in there, it’s quite cosy. Ask me again when it’s raining though. So I printed out my draft proposal for Val so I guess he’ll look at it over the next couple of days. I’m a lot happier with it now that what I handed up last time, but still it needs work, hence why they call it a ‘draft’. No superpod today though so bit bummed. Hopefully soon. Off to my hole. Night.
Tuesday 11th September
Well today was a very productive day. We had reports of J,K and L pod out west in the Strait of Juan De Fuca so it was decided we would slowly cruise over there in the hope that they would come east toward San Juan. We cut them off just at the southern tip of Victoria, Canada late in the afternoon, deployed the hydrophones, and put our methods to work. Anne and I had been hard at work the previous couple of hours designing a way to deploy the hydrophone array with the high frequency hydrophone underneath it. We had to rack our brains back to senior high school for a trigonometry lesson to work out lengths and angles but in the end we came up with something and tied off what we had to. It didn’t work exactly as planned, so next time we’ll put more weight on the rope so it drags vertically and the hydrophones drag horizontally. Once they were deployed we followed the whales back to San Juan and up the west side. I was primarily listening for clicks so when I would hear them I’d take short recordings (as the sampling rate on the high frequency recorder I’m using uses up memory quickly). Didn’t actually get to see the whales much as they were very spread out and I was at the back of the boat in the corner with my headphones on fiddling with settings but heard some awesome calls and definitely got some echolocation clicks so will no doubt see what they look like tomorrow. I really do love being out on the water. As we were cruising to meet the whales this afternoon we came across some Dall’s porpoises, although we were bummed because they didn’t ride the bow wave. Todd assures us that we will get to witness it. JaMi did last week, and they got a super pod encounter, lucky bastards! The weather has been just awesome, sunny clear days, and was just laying out in the netting before looking up at the stars. It was just so clear and the stars lit up the night sky. Just spectacular. In the water here there is also a lot of bio-luminescence at night. Basically little tiny creatures in the water (dinoflagellates for all you science minds) sparkle, and do even more-so when you stir the water up. It really is awesome! So again I said I would have an early night and I’m 40 min past when I said I would go to bed, so I’m going now. We’re anchored in a place called Westcot Bay, just south of Roche Harbor, so we’ll pump out tomorrow morning and calibrate the freshwater tank. Might even get to a have a bit of a shower as we will need to empty the freshwater tank to calibrate it. Think I might be fighting with the girls for that though…
Wednesday 12th September
So we did pump out this morning and yes we all had a shower in order to use up the freshwater so we could calibrate the tank. Every morning we have a person on ‘Systems’ log and part of their job is to check the level of the water tank. The problem is when the tank was at a certain level in cm according to the ‘freshwater stick’ we never actually knew how much water we had left. Well now we do, and we had a lot more than we thought we did. It took bloody ages to empty the tank, even after we had all (except Val) had really quick showers (which in hindsight could have been a lot longer). Theoretically though we could all shower every couple of days because we need to pump out every couple of days anyway and we always fill up with water when we pump out. But I suppose we are being ‘sustainable’ by not showering every day, but maybe at least one a week wouldn’t hurt… So no close reports of whales today as we had to stick around the north western end of San Juan to be picked up. We have a lot of data to look through though, so the afternoon was spent discussing ways in which we could improve our data collection as a “team”. My boat noise work relies mainly on me as I’m the only one doing the high frequency boat noise, but when whales are present I need echolocation clicks as well, as does Anne, so we’ve been throwing ideas back and forth as to how to sample effectively. Experimental design/sampling technique is a tricky business. We also had a sailing theory lesson with Todd this afternoon and a knots practical. I’m really interested in the sailing part so was eager to learn, and it was a good break from looking at frequency spectrograms. The knots I pretty much already knew from my days as a Scout, so it was a good re-cap. When I win lotto I’m definitely buying a house on the water with my own dock and a sail boat. Maybe also a power boat for those days when you just want to get away fast. A man can dream can’t he… We had a talk by Robin Baird tonight at the Whale Museum on transient killer whale foraging. He is one of the leading scientists in this field that has published many papers and written a few books. I bought his book tonight – ‘Killer Whales of the World’, and got him to sign it. It was a fascinating talk, and I’d love to get into that area of research. I mean what could be better than watching a killer whale every day throw a harbor seal into the air and then eat it?! It was really good to see the other group again and it really is a bummer that we only get to see them for such a short period of time. I’d like more social interaction with them as that’s when you really get to know people, away from an academic setting. Hopefully we can sort something out with the instructors. Anyway, I’m again the last one to go to bed while writing on my computer here in the galley. Hopefully whales tomorrow. Catcha.
Thursday 13th September
No whales again today. Grrr. Instead we calibrated all the hydrophones so we could get a better representation of what our data files would look like. We were at Snug Harbor/Mitchell Bay last night and stayed there till lunchtime. Wind picked up in the arvo so we finally got out and did some real sailing! I tell you what, pulling the mainsail up is bloody tough work but a great workout. No winch help needed for this bloke! So we sailed up north to Stuart Island, I took a couple of large commercial ship and ferry recordings with the high frequency recorder on the way, to get a sense of what it will be like when I collect proper data for my project. JaMi nicknamed the high frequency recorder the ‘pothead’ (‘cos it records at very high frequencies compared to most hydrophones), genius I know. I wanted to call it the ‘oober doobie’, but because the other group named it first we didn’t change it. We do have two different high frequency recorders that plug into the hf hydrophone so Anne and I named them ‘Arj’ and ‘Cecil’ (one records A named files, other records C named files, genius I know). We moored in Reid Harbor, which is on the other side of Privost Harbor where we moored last time at Stuart Island. It’s a thin little harbor, a great little spot. Went for a swim this arvo as well. Got another jumping shot off the bow so I can add that to my ‘Jumping Around The World’ pic catalogue. Water is bloody cold though. You should only stay in the water for 10 min as apparently after this time you start to develop hypothermia. I’m not gonna stay in there longer than 1 min at a time, let alone 10 min! Anyway, I thawed out, Alex cooked up a great Greek vegetable dish for dinner, and we watched the movie ‘Stripes’. The group will tell you how I’ve been singing that tune all week. It’s because everytime the whale beeper goes off it sounds as if it’s part of the theme song, so I whistle along. They watched the movie and now understand where I’m coming from so now when the beeper goes off all they can hear is the ‘Stripes’ theme song! Hilarious! I want it as my ringtone!
Friday 14th September
Whales today! Bout bloody time I hear you cry! We went for a hike early this morning on Stuart Island, bout a 10km round trip to the lighthouse at the northern most tip. We all went as walking is not something you can do readily on a boat so we made the most of our hiking opportunity. Stuart Island is a cute little island. It has a school that we walked past and checked out, but it had closed down this term as apparently the only students were the children of the teacher. They had souvenirs for sale to raise money for the school, but it’s all on an honesty system, so the merchandise is all there you are just expected to leave money in a box or post them the money. I got a couple of postcards so put my money in the box. I love the fact that you don’t have to lock anything up, especially in these small island towns. It’s just a normal thing here, which I wish applied in other parts of the world. It would be nice to know you could trust everyone not to steal from you. Anyway, so we motor-sailed down the west-side of San Juan and caught the whales near Lime Kiln. Anne had rigged up a new array/pothead configuration so we deployed that but got horrible flow noise for some reason. I’m looking specifically for clicks so tapping is NOT something I want to hear. Unfortunately Val deployed the blue box hydrophone that ended up being caught in the propeller. We stopped, Sam dove down and managed to recover part of it. Val dove down as well and they both recovered it although the cable did snap in half but Val said it’s repairable so we’ll take his word for it. I seriously don’t know how they can keep their head under this water for that long. I did 3 strokes of fly when I last went for a swim and got major brain freeze! We have this unofficial thing called an ‘Icepackt’, where if you agree to join it (so far it’s Sam, Val, Anne, and myself) then whoever in the packt that calls a swim and goes through with it, then all the other members of the packt have to swim as well. However, the person that calls the swim can drop out at anytime and not swim, and so neither do the other members. Sam loves to go swimming so we’ve said to her that an ‘Icepackt’ swim is void if she calls it when it’s clearly not a smart move to jump in (I.e. stupidity). So anyway, another tangent again, sorry. I had my headphones on the rest of the arvo while we followed the whales. I only ended up taking one recording as the tapping on the flow noise was just making things difficult. We will re-assess it tomorrow if there are whales. Very windy night tonight here in Fish Creek, and the coldest we’ve had in a long time. Everyone else is in bed. I’ve just spent the last hour and a bit writing a detailed food inventory for the JaMi group, and spent another half hour trying to get internet connection to email it to them. Got help from Ash which was great, although now I have to help her when she is Quartermaster, which really I don’t mind because I’ve created the template on the computer which will make it a lot easier. Everyone else was working on their preliminary data product assignment (basically show how we will present our data in our final report) so that involves a bit of number crunching. I’ll start mine tomorrow, hopefully with better echolocation click data.
Saturday 15th September
It’s really late as I write this so I’ll try and make it quick as I’m on breakfast in the morning. Woke up this morning feeling like I had gone on a 10km hike the day before. Was feeling, still am feeling, tenderness in the gluteus maximus (not exactly sure on spelling) area. Had whales again today, and got the calls early so we were with them at around 10:30am just SW of False Bay on the western side. Deployed the array and pothead hydrophone rig but was still getting tapping flow noise so we pulled it back up and then deployed the pothead separately on the other side of the boat. Tapping noise was gone so I spent the next couple of hours with the headphones on listening very carefully for clicks and recording them. Got some really good recordings but as the day progressed more boats came onto the scene, the whales spread further apart and appeared to be diving longer. Can you blame them? At one point I counted over 30 boats within a 1km radius of our boat and the whales, mainly whale watch operators. 3 days ago a county law was passed on San Juan Island stating that it is now illegal to get within 100m of the whales. If you do and are caught you have to hand over 750 big ones. It applies to all vessels (except with research permits) and is a really great thing for these whales. 100m is actually really close when you’re out there on the water. I missed most of the action today as I was heavily concentrating on what I was hearing and not really looking around. I did however see one breach about 100m off our starboard. That’s the only bad thing about what I’m recording, I miss out on watching the whales, as does Anne, cos we’re too busy with our head down in the computer or the recorder. May have to rectify that next time we’re out at sea. In saying that I mean take half an hour off to marvel at these awesome creatures, and get some good pics and video footage. Mid afternoon came and the whales kept foraging slowly south but we had to be up north for the changeover at Roche tomorrow so said goodbye to the orcas and made our way back up the west coast. I spent the afternoon putting data in the computer and re-doing our systems log. We are anchored in Snug Harbor again and will make our way up to Roche in the morning for the changeover and a lecture. Worked with Val tonight on how to represent my data so will finish my prelim data product tomorrow. Spoke to Shannon about fine-tuning my experimental design/sampling methods and she was a great help as she did her PhD on Australian Sea Lions in Kangaroo Island. So she knows all about Aussie lingo, places in Oz etc, although I do often jog her memory about certain things that she’s forgotten. Happy to help though of course! Val said he wants to learn another Aussie song on guitar (he knows Waltzing Matilda) so I’m going to look up the tune to ‘Give me a home among the gum trees’ and we can all have a sing-along in 2 weeks when we’re back on the boat. Ash just rolled her eyes at me. Had an interesting conversation at dinner tonight about sustainability in relation to showers and vegetarianism on the boat. As I mentioned earlier in the week we definitely have enough water in the tank to at least have one or two showers each a week. And to me I don’t see how not showering is practising sustainability as I’ve been having short showers ever since I was a kid and had rainwater tanks in the country. We’ve actually been really good with conserving water so a shower or two a week is well deserved, and practical as well! Vegetarianism however, I didn’t want to get into too much. I know the arguments for, but the whole feedlot beef situation over here is totally different to what it is back in Oz. I didn’t realise cattle here are put in feedlots and fed corn to fatten them up quickly. A big part of the argument is that humans eat corn, and the amount of fossil fuel it takes to grow, transport and sell these cattle that are fed on a human food supplement is apparently equivalent to a barrel of oil per animal per lifetime. Yes that is a lot, but I still think cattle can be farmed sustainably, and they pretty much are back home. My argument is that these animals are bred to be farmed, we are not taking wild stocks, and so it can be done sustainably under the right circumstances. Not eating meat for a week at a time is not fussing me that much though, because I know the week after it I can eat as much meat as I want. Still it would be nice to have fish or something on the boat. Anyway, it’s bloody late and I gotta go to bed. The Rugby World Cup has started so this week I gotta keep my eye on the net for results. Hopefully I can get sms updates somehow to see how it’s all going. The other instructor Jason is a rugby fan, but he is with the other group so there’s no chance we can go to the pub and watch a game. Hopefully though a Friday Harbor pub may televise a game. If not I’ll just to take up all the internet bandwidth at the labs!
Sunday 16th September
So I’m back on land, all clean, and bloody tired! Had rain today for the changeover and it got pretty cold as a cold front came in. Changeover was at Roche Harbor, and we also had a couple of lectures by a guy named Jim Ha, a behavioural specialist from the Uni of Washington. He spoke about studying animal behaviour and his work with studying killer whale behaviour of the last couple of years. It was very interesting. I’m really glad that I can go to all these talks and hear the leading people in killer whale research. I think that is one of the many great things about the Beam Reach program. So we had Jim speak, exchanged info with the JaMi group (science log stuff, boat logistics etc) then the group went back to the GV and we went back to the labs. Jason (the other instructor) is a rugby fan so we agreed to go halves in internet access to watch all the Rugby World Cup games. I watched the highlights from the two Wallabies games tonight so hopefully for their game on the 23rd Sept I can be online for live updates (it will be early Sun morning here). Americans I know here (except for Jason) have no interest whatsoever in the World Cup, which is fair enough as Rugby is not a prominent sport over here. So guess I’ll cheer by myself in my room! I have a preliminary data product that I’m in the middle of finishing but thought I would finish this weeks blog. I’m not gonna post the blog now though, its early Mon morning, I’m hella tired, and still have some numbers to crunch. Tomorrow will be a long day I feel. I spoke to Giles earlier so if there are whales in the arvo I’ll go out with her. Better get back to my work. Overall though a bloody great week at sea.