Archive for April 15th, 2008

week 2

Into the third week already. I just returned from the commons where most every student here at Friday Harbor Labs got together to watch Finding Nemo; last week it was the Blue Planet series, deep ocean episode. So far it’s been great being surrounded by so many other students excited about marine biology. Though we only see each other at meals in the dining hall, the occasional dance party and the organized movie nights, we’ve been getting along great. It’s really rather refreshing to be part of a conversation where I can openly discuss my fascination with oceanography without an awkward silence following, or hear someone else exclaim their love for seaweed and everyone else chimes in with “me too!”, or “whoa, that IS cool”. It’s great sitting around a table where lame jokes and puns are about invertebrates or marine megefauna instead of the typical crude topics which often come up in non-marine bio dork social circles. I’m surrounded by people who are obsessed with microscopic marine worms! Not my forte, but still cool. The other students here are really a great crowd and the added company has really helped the social dynamics of the small Beam Reach class remain comfortable. The only downfall: my interesting facts are always followed by “I knew that already” instead of “wow, great random fact”. Oh, also, another major downfall–I have competition in the intertidal to collect cool shells!

Our days have been packed with lectures all morning, pertaining to topics ranging from sound propagation through water, detecting sound, calculating the speed of sound, critical ratios, salmon life history and whale watching guidelines to sound spreading and statistical programs and tests. We also………….WENT ON A WHALE WATCH! J-pod was hanging out at the mouth of the strait, moving slowly enough and surfacing often enough to allow me to begin identifying them individually-I now know Ruffles (J-1), Granny (J-2), Mike (J-26), and Blackberry (J-27)-he’s my favorite! I can also check stellar sea lions off my list of must-sees-before-I-die.

The afternoons have been proposal writing. Unfortunately, I only established a question that was both feasible AND exciting the day before the proposals were due. On the other hand-so relieved to finally have a research question! I will be addressing temporary threshold shifts (TTS) in the southern resident killer whales (SRKW) in Haro Strait and neighboring waters. After reviewing the primary literature, whale watch traffic does not seem likely to be causing TTSs in SRKWs, however, container ships as well as oil rigs that pass by, emitting low frequency sounds for extended periods of time, do have great potential to cause such damage. Further investigation into the literature, combining various authors’ findings, lead me to believe that if the southern residents are, in fact, experiencing TTSs, then it is likely that if SRKWs continue to experience the same sound levels over the next 10-15 years, they could experience permanent threshold shifts. Slightly important to know for such an acoustically active species. I’m not sure exactly how I am going to demonstrate this yet, but I’m sure it’s complicated, involves way more math than I’m comfortable with, and will cause me to question what I got myself into multiple times along the way-BUT, it is something I’m really interested in looking into and the management implications are too great to divert to an easier question.

On a lighter note, this past weekend was great! The class drove up to Vancouver, BC, for a marine mammal conference, student chapter. While I was hoping to meet professors and network with potential graduate profs, figure out my future, etc., listening to what grad students themselves were studying was just as useful. Hearing and seeing where I hope to be within the next couple years was extremely helpful in gauging what to realistically expect. It was also a very reassuring experience after being able to speak with many of the students; I approached many of them with questions such as what kind of experience they had prior to grad school and I was surprised to find that my own progress is right on track with successful students’ in positions and schools that I hope to be in as well. Many had worked on whale watch boats as naturalists, researchers, or deckhands and had also spent lots of time working on boats. I was also slightly surprised that many students were addressing marine mammal science from a conservation perspective, but aspects of such a perspective that didn’t seem to be the most important research questions needed answered to truly get at the core of their protection. Further, none of them really had answers as to why it is important to protect marine mammals in the first place beyond my own answer: because I like them-a question I’ve been thinking about for the past couple years.

Vancouver aside from the conference was also fun. Great food and a beautiful city! Skyscrapers, snow-peaked mountains-everywhere-the ocean, cherry trees, and a sunset, all in one picture shot! After our teachers retired to the hostel, the rest of us finished our card game of Egyptian Rat Screw (of which I remain the undefeated champion…) on the beach and headed into downtown to explore. We ended up at an arcade where I had my first dance dance revolution experience. It wasn’t all that. Perhaps because it is not one of my strongest skills but hey, I’ll take Egyptian Rat Screw over DDR. Soon after, Laura and I were ready to go find the next cool place and were met with yawns by the rest of the crowd so we shoved them in the direction of the hostel and went in search of live music-we were successful! We found a blues bar with a live band playing old songs and classics. We were too tired to dance with the rest of the crowd so we sat and watched…by the speakers. I may have experienced a TTS. We ended our stay in Vancouver with a bang at the Vancouver Aquirium where we were introduced to the data collection techniques, tools and subjects-stellar sea lions! So far this experience has been great: new places, new animals, new people, new concepts, new music, new outlooks, and learning something new every day–as someone said at the conference: “change is a constant”

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A little bit of everything

As Laura mentioned, it has been a busy week. However, I will try and mention a little bit of everything from each of our many events without ending up with a novel.

Last week we went to a oyster farm in westcott bay. It was really cool looking around in the intertidal mud for oysters and so much more. Once you start looking closer you find so many creatures who have carved themselves a niche in the intertidal realm. The boots I borrowed when I got there had a hole in them which was pretty much the only downfall of the day. We also did water quality to see how healthy it actually is to eat the oysters we collected. The temp was 12.1 degrees Celsius which was probably warmer then it actually was since the sample had been sitting in the sun for a short time. The salinity was 28.9 ppt. The phosphate levels and nitrate levels were 0.23 and 0.27 ppm respectivley, which is much cleaner then the minimum standards.

After leaving the oyster farm we went to the Center for Whale Research and met some of the researchers working there. I was really excited to do that since I’ve been wanting to go there since I arrived and learn about the research that they are doing. Also, the view from their office is amazing. I’ve pretty much decided that is my dream job.

We also got to go to Vancouver this weekend. We went for the NW student chapter of the society for Marine Mammalogists conference at UBC. The conference was a great way for us to see what other researchers in marine mammalogy were doing and network. The campus at UBC was really nice as well. Saturday night we got to explore downtown vancouver which I would recommend to anyone who gets the chance. It is a neat city to be in.

Sunday we got a backstage tour of the vancouver aquarium and saw the research they were doing with Stellar sea lions. Seeing those animals up close like that gives you a new appreciation of their size and strength. The aquarium was cool and seeing beluga whales was great although the issue of animals in captivity on display like that rather than being in their natural environment has always been a difficult one for me. My own personal debates about the issue aside, the aquarium was really well done. I seem to have a growing list of aquariums which I have visited recently and this one is certainly high up on that list. Now enough about Vancouver.

Today we had the day off which was a much needed way for me to catch up on sleep. I also got a chance to relax a little and play soccer with some of the other people here at the lab. I quickly realized just how long it has been since I stepped onto a soccer field. As if that wasn’t enough of an assault on my body I then decided to go for a six mile bike ride with some other students here at the lab. We went after dinner with the sun beginning to set which made for an amazingly picturesque ride through the hills. Tomorrow I’m pretty sure I’ll be extremely sore but it was certainly worth it. It was a good way to recharge after the exhausting days of last week. As for my project proposal which I seem to have forgotten to mention I decided to look at the correlation between vocalizations and socializing behavior in the southern residents. I’m really excited now that our time at sea is less than a week away. Now that I have finished rambling about all the exciting moments over the last week I think I will leave you with one of my favorite pictures from our last orca encounter.

Orcas off of San Juan

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