Archive for October 23rd, 2007

A fork in the data road, wildlife rehab & teaching kids – Week 9

Monday 15th October – Tuesday 16th October

I slept in until lunchtime on Monday as lack of sleep had really caught up on me from the last week at sea. I was the last one to bed every night last week and knew it would catch up with me eventually. I’ve vowed to stay active and eat less each meal over the next 2 weeks. It will be easier to eat less but staying active is tougher because the weather has been pretty miserable here and there are not any treadmills or bikes at the labs. Also, the fact that we all have a lot of work to do and most of our time is spent in front of the computer analysing data and writing up, I can’t take too much time off to get a good work out. Guess I’ll just have to make do and do resistant exercises in my room.

Not much to report really. I was meant to go out with Giles today as we were pretty sure there would be whales around today (Tuesday) but nothing eventuated. Going out with Giles is meant to be part of my service project so if I don’t go out with her I’ve organised to go to a place with Ash called ‘Wolf Hollow’ that rehabilitates wild animals that have been injured or separated from their parents. That will happen tomorrow afternoon. Also, I’m going to help out Anne on Saturday at the

Museum with an elementary school education thing that she is helping to run. I’m a bit worried because I think the kids may find my accent hard to understand if I am trying to tell them about the whales. Either that or they’ll think it’s funny. Either way it should be fun and interesting. I’m going for a run now. Catcha.


Wednesday 17th October

Today I completed Part “Ichi’ (Japanese for ‘One’) of my Service Project as part of this program. Ash I went to Wolf Hollow this afternoon for 4 hours. It’s a place on a small property in the middle of

San Juan
Island that takes care of and rehabilitates all wild creatures great and small. We got there at around 1pm and got to see a harbor seal pup that had just come in. It was in the incubation chamber and just looked up at us with it’s beady brown eyes. I know it’s not a very guy thing to say but they really are cute. Then we cut up apples for almost an hour and a half to make apple sauce to bag and freeze for all the critters. Ash and I then cleaned out a squirrel cage. By clean out I mean faecal matter that the little lovelies had left for us, and scrubbing was a priority. We knew the volunteer work would involve these kinds of activities so we just got on with it.  The rest of the afternoon was spent going around with Penny (wildlife rehabilitator) feeding the animals. We fed yearlings (young deer) and got to see a white/brown deer that is apparently endemic to
Island (island west of
San Juan). It’s colouration is due to a genetic anomaly that apparently shortens an individual’s life span. Currently around campus there are a lot of male deer (bucks), and apparently it is due to the fact that it is coming up on hunting season and so the bucks come onto campus as they know they can’t be hunted here because it is a Biological Reserve. Smart creatures. I thought it was because it was mating season and they’re scoping out the females. I may still be right. Might see if I can film my own nature documentary. Anyway, after feeding the young deer we went to the raccoon enclosure. They had 19 young raccoons in this cage around a tree and it was a sight to see, all climbing, playing, hanging upside down and running around. Penny poured water into their bowls and because raccoons are very tactile creatures they like to rub their hands in the water as if they are washing them. It actually looks pretty funny. Pretty soon all of them were down around the water and coming right up to the fence and staring at us. We had to keep our distance of course as we don’t want to “humanise” them too much. I took some video of these playful, yet sometimes rabid, creatures and then was on my way. Next stop was back to the main house where they have four pools all with harbor seals in them. You must stay quiet while walking around the pools, but the seals always know you’re there, because they haul out onto the platform in the middle and just watch you. We then went inside and fed cut up bits of mice to an injured juvenile short-haired owl, but it just regurgitating the bits back up. There were 3 squirrels in a cage next to the owl that were very feisty. One of the squirrels was holding its acorn ever so tightly and would appear to give off a threat display by coming right up to the cage door and “puffing itself up”. After leaving the angry little squirrels we fed some ducks, fed a crow that had apparently attacked a little kid at a school, and got to see their resident eagles (I can’t remember what types they were, sorry). It’s interesting because Wolf Hollow rehabilitates animals that are from the mainland, then sends them back to the mainland as there aren’t any present on the
San Juan Islands (e.g. squirrels, o-possums). Wish I could have seen an o-possum. Anyway, we were invited to a seal release on Saturday arvo so that will be cool.

We had dinner and the JaMi group had docked at the labs as they have been having power issues on the GV. After dinner Shannon gave us a talk about

School (i.e. Masters or PhD) and a few things to consider before getting involved in it. Basically I took away from the evening that grad school is not really where I want to be, as research is not where I want to be. The thing about research is, you spend 30% of the time out in the field, and 70% in the lab or at a desk, and I want to be out there almost 100% of the time. I do get excited about the prospects of finding out something “new” and “cutting edge”, but what really interests me is being out there and educating people first hand about marine mammals and marine life in general, which is why I am going to seriously look into running my own eco-tour business. I know I’ve said this before but the conversation tonight made me realise that I don’t want to dedicate another 4+ years of my life to something I’m not completely passionate about. Granted a lot of research and background reading has to go into opening up my own business, but I love the idea of being my own boss and being the driver of my own success. Working in
Canada next season will certainly give me experience and I’m sure it will also give me ideas that I can take home to Oz. Watch this space.


Thursday 18th October

A definite data day today. I have gone through all of my sound files and determined at what point in the files I can use to create my spectrums. I had a meeting with Val this afternoon to further discuss how I am going to represent my data. I’m going to use the killer whale audiogram and relate it to all the vessel types at the two distances and speeds and determine which ones lie above or below the audiogram at certain frequencies. From this I can infer which vessels, and at what speed and distance may possibly be masking an orca’s ability to receive echolocation clicks. I’m not sure about what stats I’m going to use yet but I mustn’t get too far out of the scope of this program, as I only have 10 days to finish this, so I must be realistic as to what I can accomplish to a certain level (a high level that I always seem to put on myself). It’s amazing how much my project has evolved over the last 3-4 weeks. My methods for boat sampling advanced quite a bit and I got the time it takes to do a boat recording down to 15min. I guess though that’s how it is with research in the field, it’s a process of trial and error, only this research program is very fast paced and things evolve very quickly. I still have to write the sustainability report that is due on Saturday, so that may be a job for tomorrow as Saturday we have the Whale Museum educational talk for the kids and the afternoon is the seal release. As I said, all systems go! Better get back to work.


Friday 19th October

A somewhat productive day today but no where near as much as I would have liked. I worked on my sustainability/impact reduction report, went into town to get a haircut, then went to the

Museum to actually go upstairs and check out the exhibits. It has some really awesome displays up there. A full minke and an orca skeleton hanging from the ceiling, seal skulls and foetuses, video footage, interactive sound boards created by the fearless VaTo instructor, Mr Val Veirs. It was an educational hour or so, but nonetheless a distracting hour or so that could have been spent working on my project. I’m back working now in the library so better get back to it.


Saturday 20th October

I enjoyed today. I went with Anne this morning to the

Museum as she had organised as part of her service project to have a few hours of activities to help kids learn about whales. I helped Anne set up activities that involved kids wearing a glove of butter in cold water to see the insulating properties of blubber. Another activity involved little bits of dried parsley (simulating plankton) in a tub of water and using a comb, small plastic bag and a straw to simulate different ways that whales feed. The comb simulated baleen for those whales that are “skimmers”, the small plastic bag for those that are “gulpers”, and the straw to blow bubbles for those that are “bubblers (i.e. humpbacks). Another activity was using olives, butter and staples in a tub of water to get kids to understand buoyancy. There was a whale ID section where kids used the ID guide for the Southern Residents to identify individuals that we had photos of, and Anne had a computer set-up with different underwater sounds that can be heard in these waters (e.g. speed boats, cargo ships, and of course killer whales!). It was just Anne and I in the morning to start with (other VaTo members came later), and that was actually the busiest time of the whole session (11am-3pm). I really enjoyed teaching the kids about whales, but what was even more rewarding was chatting to the parents and actually teaching them a thing or two! I really think I will enjoy working on the whale watch boats next season, as I really want to educate people about marine mammals and having them ask questions that I can answer is something I find very rewarding.
This work today will count towards Part “Nee” (two in Japanese) of my Service Project, so now I’m all done! At about 2pm Ash and I went a harbor seal release that the Wolf Hollow people were doing. Two harbor seals were being released that had been in rehab for a couple of months after being stranded as pups. It was really satisfying seeing them being released back into their natural environment. Overall it took about 10-15min, as once they were out of the cages they swam around for a little bit, constantly popping their heads out of the water and looking around, then seemed to get further and further away. They were released near a known haul out site so no doubt they will meet other seals there and get on with their fish eating, sun baking, heavy breathing pinniped life.

It’s Saturday night as I write this and I have just finished my Sustainability report. As I mentioned last week, I have chosen to do it on hybrid diesel-electric marine propulsion systems. I have explained basically what the system is, used the Gato Verde as a case study, then stated what would be needed to outfit a whale watch boat with a similar technology, and why this is a sustainable practice. If you would really like to read it then go to and look under ‘Hybrid diesel-electric propulsion systems’. It’s really late, and the JaMi group is coming in pretty early tomorrow, and then we begin the huge Gato Verde clean-up!


Sunday 21st October

An eventful day here at the Friday Harbor Labs. The JaMi group got into the dock at around 9am and the clean-up began. Of course it rained all morning which made things just grand.
Shannon was dropped off at the ferry at 8am to leave the Beam Reach program and continue on another path in her life. I said goodbye to her on Wed night. It was bloody great having her on the program, as she brought a good mix to the situation and of course her marine mammal knowledge and paper writing skills were a great resource. Plus the fact the she had lived in Oz for a few years and has been through similar things that I have been through really made my time out on the boat just that much more enjoyable, even more enjoyable than what it already was! I wish her all the best over in the UK and then next season in
Antarctica as a Marine Mammal Biologist. What an awesome job that would be! Something I may indeed look into after I have a bit more experience in the field. Anyway, so we were all assigned jobs to do on the GV, and I got galley and pretty much cleaning storage areas in, on and above it, yes that included the ceiling. I don’t mind cleaning, and within about 4 hours (it did take a while) the GV was looking pretty shmick! Cleaner than when we boarded 8 weeks ago anyway! That afternoon, well it ended being after dinner, and after an afternoon of technical issues, I watched the Rugby World Cup Final with Irish Dan up in the Commons. We were able to stream it and then watch it projected from the computer with decent speakers, so it was really like watching it at the pub on the big flatscreen. I was happy the Springboks got up, as I didn’t really want
England to win it two World Cups in a row. I was in two minds initially though to tell you the truth;
England knocked the Wallabies out so I didn’t like them for that, but half my family is English so I felt I should barrack for the country of my heritage. Still, although it wasn’t a very eventful game, the celebrations from the South Africans were awesome to watch.

I had to move rooms this morning as I shared a room with Heather when we rotated from sea to land, and because the JaMi group was coming back, we the VaTo team moved to the spare rooms in the dorm to make their transition back to land flow more smoothly. I’m writing this knowing that when I wake up in the morning it’s going to be head down bum up to get this paper and presentation done. Bring on the Red Bull!

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