Archive for October 3rd, 2007

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

We emerged from Prevost Habor after enjoying a quiet night on the dock and the chance to stretch our legs.  We listened with Lon’s single hydrophone while we drifted in Boundary Pass on the flood tide.  After an intercalibration of the array with the Interocean Systems hydrophone, we sailed southward at various speeds using a protractor to understand how the angle of the weighted line changes as function of boat speed.  After pulling the hydrophone the wind picked up.  An exciting moment occurred when attempting to furl the screecher.  It wrapped near the top, but a substantial patch of sail ballooned out and halted the roller furler.  There was a classic rattling of sail as the entire team worked to lower the sail to the deck and control it.  Finally, we had it lashed securely in the nets and headed for Roche.  There we pumped out, dropped Scott off, and the completed our transit to Garrison Bay and our Wednesday evening rendevous with the land group.  Mike Vouri capped the day with a presentation on the history of the San Juan Islands.

Read More

Dall’s, Minke’s, and a one orca day – Week 6 (at sea)

Monday 24th September

Today was a bloody cold day! First real cold day out at sea and I guess a taste of the week to come. It’s the end of September so it’s only going to get colder. No whales today unfortunately, but it was a productive with hydrophone calibration and then subsequent data analysis. I created a calibration curve for the high frequency hydrophone so it will be easier to interpret my sound data in the software program I am using for my project, and possibly subsequent students for future programs. Marla has brought her expensive NOAA hydrophone equipment aboard so it was interesting to see how the “professionals” do it. As there were no whales we were up in north Haro Strait and I got some cargo ship and ferry recordings. We positioned ourselves, well Todd did, and did it perfectly so that the ferry would pass us by and get around 400m from us at the closest point (which is what I need). I knew the ferry time as it’s the same one Ash and I caught over to Sidney a few days ago. As we were north of San Juan we went into Reid Harbor, the dock was free so instead of anchoring we just tied up there for the night. I’m going to go for a walk with Shannon in the morn as any opportunity I get to exercise on this boat I’m going to take it!

Tuesday 25th September

Again, no whales today! I’m guessing it may be a similar pattern to our last week at sea, as we had not had whales for the first three days, but then got them the last three. Fingers crossed! Shannon and I went for an early morning walk on Stuart Island, we headed back out into Haro Strait after breakky (aka breakfast) and did some sound propagation calibration with all the hydrophones. Val and I went out on the dinghy, aka ‘Gatito’ which means ‘small cat’, with the underwater speaker and played killer whale calls and fake echolocation clicks at various distances from the GV that had a number of hydrophones deployed (the array, the high frequency, the blue box, and Marla’s array). We did this as a sound propagation exercise as it’s important for our projects and helpful when analysing our data. Val and I then did some drive-bys of the high frequency hydrophone to record data for my project. I thank Anne very much for taking control of the high frequency recorder and getting the data for me while I was out on the water with the wind in my hair. It took a few tries to get the ranges right but we got it in the end. After looking at the data I was annoyed to find that the hydrophone was playing up and almost all of the dinghy recordings were all distorted, so Anne and I did a bit of troubleshooting after lunch and worked out the problem. We created, with the help of Todd, an outrigger to keep the hydrophone away from the edge of the boat and attached it to a weighted rope. It recorded perfectly after that! Val and Sam then went back out on the dinghy and I got some more drive-by recordings. I think Val just loves going at high speeds! It was getting late so we pulled in the gear and headed across to Prevost Harbor (Stuart Island), exactly opposite where we docked the night before. Saw a Northern Elephant Seal on the way into Prevost, well it’s head anyway. Those things sure are ugly! Was on dinner with Anne tonight, and we cooked up a storm, ‘twas a hit all round! Still not a fan of tofu but I can cook it at least! Wednesday 26th September

No whales again today! Grr! We had reports of a superpod mid-morning resting south of Vancouver Island, which was just too far away from us, plus we had to be back on land to meet the other group mid afternoon, so Todd gave us some sailing classes/revision. I’m all about the sailing classes as it does interest me and I hope to own my own sail boat one day. We had to be back at Snug to drop off Marla and her gear off at 3ish so we did that and then was picked up by Jason at 3:30, with rugby ball in hand! As you know it’s the World Cup right now so I’m trying to keep up to date as best I can but it’s bloody hard when out on the boat and limited or no internet access. Lack of sporting activity has really got to me on this program so having that rugby ball to throw around (even if I was just throwing it to myself) was great. We headed back to the labs as there was a much needed logistics and data collection meeting with the JaMi group. After that was all said and done the VaTo group grabbed a much needed shower and headed to a special dinner put on by the Friday Harbor Labs to introduce all the staff and researchers studying here for the fall quarter. Some really interesting research is being done here (lots of intertidal stuff, worms, crabs and lots of microscope related studies) that I was unaware of, but we are the only group doing killer whale research. After the talks we had to leave the labs, farewell the JaMi group again, and head back to Snug and back to the Gato Verde. When we were waiting at Snug we witnessed a harbor seal mother and it’s pup foraging for fish in the shallows under the dock light. The pup would stick it’s head out of the water and just stare at us. Not to get all girly girl but the pups really are cute. We watched a DVD I had sent over from home called ‘Lolita Slave To Entertainment’, which looks at the only Southern Resident killer whale surviving in captivity after 37 years in the confines of a small tank at Miami Seaquarium. I have seen Lolita at Miami Seaquarium, and there is a big push to have her retired to a bay here on San Juan Island, but it’s going to take a lot to get the owner of the Seaquarium, Arthur Hertz, to give Lolita up. She just makes him way too much money. If you get a chance you should check out the DVD. Scott came aboard tonight, he’s here for a week, so we’re now 9 strong again on the GV.

Thursday 27th September

Well we had reports of a superpod just south of Vancouver today so because we hadn’t seen whales in 3 days and we really need data we decided it was worth the risk to head north in the hope we could cut them off if they began to head south. So after we pumped out and filled up at Roche, we headed north, then on our way motor sailing through the Spieden Channel up to Flattop Island we then got reports of some L’s down on the south side of San Juan Island. Bugger! So we had to make decision which way to go. We got on the phone and rang around to confirm the reports and both were on the money, so we made the decision to head back down south. The wind was in our favour but we had lost an hour and so it was going to be a few hours before we got back down to the west of San Juan. We saw a Minke whale on the way south! My first Minke! Obviously they’re not as agile as the killer whale but can be sometimes, just not this time. Still I saw it surface and breathe so I can say I’ve seen a Minke whale now. Anyway, I had organised with Jim Maya from Maya’s Charters to do some drive-bys later that afternoon (as he is based out of Snug Harbor where we regularly anchor) but as it turned out we didn’t catch up with the whales because they began to head further south, so we did some sailing tacking back and forth down to Lime Kiln instead. Todd tells me I “pinch” the wind a bit too much, which is something I need to work on, but I only do it because I want to get to the destination more directly and tack less. I’ll have to work on it. Jim passed us on his way back from the whales down south so I called him up on the radio as we headed north to Snug also but he only had a spare 15 min so we organised to get the recordings first thing tomorrow morning. Let’s hope I can get some good boat data tomorrow.

Friday 28th September

Well today was a long but very fulfilling day. We got whales!!! And Dall’s porpoises riding the bow wave!!! Twice! And then to top if off I saw a Minke whale!

Ok, I’ll try and make this quick as it was a bloody long day. Leslie (Val’s wife) rang us first thing (8am) this morning saying she could hear whales on the hydrophone out the front of their house (that’s right they live on the western side of San Juan Island overlooking the water where killer whales swim by quite regularly over the summer, tough life I know). So we hauled anchor and made our way round the corner, and it literally is just around the corner from Snug. I had to ring Jim Maya and tell him that I wasn’t able to get the boat recordings as we had reports of whales and hadn’t seen them all week and we all really needed the data. He was cool about it and I said I’d give him a buzz later on. So we first got sight of the whales just north of Lime Kiln, deployed the hydrophone, and began to follow a few individuals south. The whales were travelling at a faster speed than we could go while still towing the hydrophones and getting clear recordings with minimal flow noise, so we had to increase speed, stop recordings, and then position ourselves in front of them (>100m of course and out of their path). Turned out we just weren’t fast enough and they headed south down to Hein Bank which is south-west of the southern end of San Juan Island. I realise as I write all these names of places most of you have no idea where I’m talking about. I should put a note at the top of my blog stating that this blog requires supplementary material for ease of understanding, (that supplementary material being a map of the San Juan Islands!). We spent the majority of the morning and early afternoon checking pager data and making phone calls to see exactly where they were. While all this is happening I get a phone call from Anna (from Prince of Whales in Victoria) saying that she wanted to know more details about my research and had to clarify it with the head boss before I was allowed to get boat recordings of their zodiacs and Ocean Magic. So I spent an hour or so, between recording echolocation clicks, writing an email explaining what my research was about and what I plan to show with the data I collect. That has now been sent off so I hope to hear from her soon and get the all clear to go ahead with recordings if given the opportunity. We sailed south, tacking towards Hein Bank to meet up with the whales, and this is where we had our very first experience with Dall’s porpoises riding the bow wave. It was awesome! These small cetaceans are incredibly fast and agile. They exhibit what is known as a “rooster tail” – when they surface to breath at high speeds water sprays off their dorsal fin and it looks like a rooster tail. The Dall’s didn’t stick around for long and we positioned ourselves in southern Haro Strait as the orcas had now started to head back north. We deployed the array and the high frequency vertically (as opposed to towing it behind) and waited for the whales. Unfortunately upon deployment of the high frequency hydrophone the rope attached to the end (approx. 6ft) drifted into the propeller and got stuck and ripped off (hydrophone was fine). So we had to sail from then on as Todd did not want to engage the propellers for fear the rope would wrap further around and damage the propeller. Lucky we had the winds for sailing, so we were able to keep up with the whales and actually overtook them as they headed back up the west side of San Juan. They seemed to mill south of us but we caught up with J1 (aka ‘Ruffles’) as he often leads the pod by himself quite a distance in front of the rest of the pod. It was interesting to observe a few Dall’s swimming along with J1, so we stopped, checked the starboard propeller, it was fine and clear of the rope, so we re-deployed the hydrophones. Following J1 we came across a group of researchers from Global Research and Rescue that were taking breath samples of individual orcas to analyse bacteria. Apparently they are only allowed to take one breath per orca per year. We got chatting with them on the radio and I asked if they were able to do some drive-bys for me as they were using a jet-drive engine. They were happy to as they wanted to hear what their boat sounded like underwater also. So I set up the floats attached to the man overboard pole and a portable radar reflector and positioned ourselves 100m from the floating device. I communicated with Bob (captain) on the radio and he drove by a couple of times- only problem was I could hardly hear the boat over the echolocation clicks and calls coming from nearby whales and the background cargo ship noise. Guess that says something really good about jet-drive engines! Perhaps this could be something to look into for the whale watch industry… I got Bob’s details in the hope we could re-record in an area of minimal background noise tomorrow. Hopefully I can. We kept the hydrophones deployed and continued to get calls and clicks coming through. It was getting dark but we were still getting great recordings so kept the hydrophones deployed and just floated there on the western side up near Snug Harbor. We were having dinner, next thing we knew two juveniles came right near the boat and vocalised right next to the hydrophone, it was bloody loud! Just when we thought the whales had gone a group of about 15 individuals were heading in our general direction northbound. They must have been milling/foraging further south out of our sight, but unfortunately no vocalisations as they passed. So we decided to call it a night, as it was after 7 and the sun was almost completely behind the Vancouver Island mountains. As I was packing up the gear I saw another Minke pas about 100m from the boat! No one else saw it unfortunately because it didn’t surface it again. Then as we were motoring back up into Snug, Dall’s porpoises began to ride the bow wave! I got right down on the trampoline and could almost touch them as they swam past. Such agile and graceful little creatures. We racked up 37 miles today, what a long day, but what an awesome day.

Saturday 29th September

Well as I write this we are anchored in Garrison Bay and there are 40 knot winds outside. Yep, that’s right, 40 knots! Actually we just hit 42! Let’s go sailing…. kidding. Today was a rough day out on the water, but we got some great sailing and hit the top speed for the Beam Reach program… 9.4 knots! Wonder if the JaMi group will better that next week. We went up to Roche this morning where we pumped out, filled up, got a caffeine fix (and a meat one ;-o). We had reports of whales way down south off Victoria and so decided to brave the winds (bout 20 knots) and 3ft swell to get to them, as having one day of data (more like half a day actually) was really not enough considering we were a week at sea. We can’t control the whales though and so you must be realistic and accepting of the fact that we may not be able to get to them all the time. Turns out this week the whales were just going to be with us for that one day. Sailing down Haro Strait it began to get quite rough (well, the roughest we have had as a group), and the reports coming in from the pager were somewhat unreliable (suprise surprise). We often get really bad reports from the pager people sitting up on the hill. Sometimes they tell us whales are on land, then they send reports that sorry there weren’t any whales after all, when we never got a page from them saying there were any! I think they’re doing more than smoking cigarettes and drinking water up on that hill. Anyway, we ate lunch, quesadillas, we didn’t go down well. I’ve come to the conclusion that American cheeses are far more oily than Aussie cheeses, so I came up with the saying “oil and swell don’t go well” (genius I know). I had a piece of bread though and I was fine. So we made the group decision to head back, as some of us weren’t feeling that crash hot and the weather forecast was winds picking up 30-35 knots so Todd wanted to be well anchored and settled in by 5pm. So we tacked back up north along the west side of San Juan and that’s where we hit 9.4 knots. Had more Dall’s riding the bow wave, and this time they stuck around for a couple of minutes. Got some great video footage. It was too rough to get boat recordings so I didn’t end up contacting Bob from Global Research and Rescue, nor Jim Maya. We tacked our way back up to Henry Island, each having a turn at the helm. Next time we’re out at sea a lot more will be expected of us in terms of navigating the vessel, which I’m looking forward to. The only way to learn how is to be given more responsibility and I feel I’m up for it. We anchored in Garrison Bay at around 3:30pm and then Anne and I went for a dinghy lesson. I want to get more boat experience so the opportunity presented itself and I took it. Todd, Anne and I got decked out in out waterproof gear (I was yet to christen mine) and away we went just hooning around the bay doing figure of eights and sharp turns to get a feel of how the dinghy handles. Then came “parking” the boat, i.e. pulling up behind the GV. My first attempt was, for lack of a better word, perfect. I came up behind the GV, cut the engine and we coasted smoothly between the two dangling ropes that haul the dinghy in. Todd was impressed and said “Ok, let’s see if you can do that again, no pressure”. Ok, now I was feeling pressured. So I came back around behind the GV and the wind slightly changed and swung the boat slightly so I re-adjusted my path. Just as I was about to put it into neutral and cut the engine, the GV swung slighty so I re-adjusted my direction but accidently put on the throttle a bit and so we accelerated up underneath the hull of the catamaran. Yeah, I know, what an idiot! I felt soo bloody stupid. The pressure really did get to me. We were able to stop as we weren’t going very fast, so I cut the engine and we pushed ourselves back out into the open. It was a huge joke and Todd and Anne were cracking up. I felt like a right twat but at least we could laugh about it. So I came around again and parked the boat a lot better this time, we got out, laughed a bit more as we told the rest of the group of my “accident” and then settled into the cabin for the night. We got up-to-date on the data entry for our science and sustainability log, had dinner, then watched ’40 Year Old Virgin’ for a good old fashioned laugh. It’s late as I write this and I need to be up in the morning as I’m hopefully going to get boat recordings from Jim Maya, although the weather for the morning is still winds of 30 knots so I’m doubtful.

Sunday 30th September

Well I’m back on land after what I would call a very unsuccessfully week of data collection.  We got some good sailing in but that’s not going to help us write our paper. It was too windy this morning to get boat recordings of Jim, and he is going away for 2 weeks, but fortunately he has other skippers that can operate his boat so I’ll give them a call this week to tee up something for next week. And hopefully POW gets back to me so I can tee up something up. It was pretty miserable when we woke up this morning so we headed around the corner to Roche, pumped out, filled up, and cleaned up ready for the JaMi group to come aboard. JaMi arrived at around noon, it was still drizzling rain, so we did the change over, loaded the vans, then talked and socialised and had a lecture on transportation and bio-fuels. The afternoon went quickly and it was once again time to farewell the sea group. I really hope they get more whales than we did this week, otherwise our data sets are going to be pretty small. Still, they have 2 weeks left on the boat so even if we didn’t get much data next time we’re out, we can hopefully get more from the JaMi group the following week. I will be at a disadvantage though as none of the JaMi group use the high frequency hydrophone. I feel I have enough clicks to analyse, but the boat recordings are really what I need, so hopefully next week out at sea I can get them all. It’s late, and has been a busy week. Just spoke to my bro and Dad back home, although had really dodgy internet connection. I guess it’s because we now have 10 more people staying in the dorms and so the bandwidth gets used up. They informed me that Melbourne Storm won the NRL (Rugby League) Grand Final! Woohoo! (That’s the team I go for). Well I’m all showered up and clean ready for a good night’s sleep. 3 weeks at sea down, 1 to go. Bugger! Oh how time flies when you’re writing a scientific paper.

Read More