Archive for May, 2008

Echosounding the west side with J pod

Ship track for 05/23/08Snug Harbor to Snug Harbor

This morning we learned one of Newton’s laws of motion, that an object in motion stays in motion unless acted upon by an outside force. In this case the object was the wet mooring line and the outside force Lindsay’s face. Still giggling, we headed out of Snug Harbor and surveyed for fish 1/8nm offshore down to Lime Kiln. There we encountered the leader of J pod heading northward. Continuing to collect echosounder data as we began to parallel sub-groups of J pod, we traveled offshore to near Hein Bank before heading back northward to Lime Kiln during a strengthening flood tide. The whales left us around 4pm, so we conducted a bathymetric survey of Lime Kiln. En route to the Sound Watch celebration back at Snug, we collected echosounder data 1/4 mi offshore from Lime Kiln northward and then cooked up rosemary potatoes, steamed broccoli, and a big greek salad.

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Orca echos and diatom blooms

Thursday 05/22/08
Snug Harbor to Snug Harbor

This morning we got a voice message letting us know that the whales were spotted at Hein Bank at about 8:00 AM. After an invigorating breakfast of scrambled eggs and toast, with a dash of onions and peppers, we set off to go south from Snug to catch up with the whales.

While we were busy beginning to deploy the Echosounder to get some bathymetric data around Lime Kiln, the leaders of the pod got to us first, so we began a scramble to deploy our hydrophones. Unfortunately, the CRT gave us some difficulty, so we spent some time cleaning out the phantom box, and testing different flow noise sources of the hydrophone and by going at different speeds. Eventually solving the problem, we were back on track to re-deploy and gather some data! We began to log Echosounder data as we recorded hydrophone data.

We had a very exciting first session right in the main shipping lane, with one whale breaching twice in a row off our portside stern, proceeding later with more breaches and tail slaps. We were quite astonished. After the spectacular show, the whales seemed to mellow out, and began to slowly travel/rest north along the west side.

At about 1:30 in the afternoon we decided we would tilt the Echosounder 90 degrees in order to try to ensonify a whale and see what a 200 kHz whale echo looks like. With much luck and Scott’s excellent angling abilities, we were able to track a group of whales at ranges of up to 170 meters.

Meanwhile, during this macroorganism action we also had some very exciting microorganism action. Robin and Lindsay used two 20-micron plankton tow nets to collect diatoms off of Lime Kiln. They filtered the water they collected in the homemade single-use coffee press and looked at the remaining diatoms left on the filter paper under the microscope. We found that there was a single species bloom, which is unusual because the samples Robin has taken at the labs have contained many species.

Afterwards we began to record some more hydrophone data, following the resting whales until they reached Boundary Pass, where they began to vocalize and regroup from their scattered positions (we estimated about 9 whales in the group). It was a very interesting display of tail slaps and pectoral slaps, with the whales getting silent as a large ship passed through the scene.

To avoid the growing flood, we made our way back to Snug Harbor (while flying a kite along the way), dropping off the lovely Robin. We ended the evening with some sunset dingy lessons from our wind blown Capt’n Mike.

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Double breach video

One of the Beam Reach students, Ryan Spragg, captured this double breach on video today:

It’s a notable clip in part because we were towing 4 hydrophones at the time, one of which is calibrated and sensitive up to about 50kHz. Another student, Lindsay Delp, will use the recorded underwater sounds of the breaches to compute the source levels (after she determines the ranges from the calibrated hydrophone to the percussive sounds).If she succeeds, this could be the first time that the “loudness” of such magnificent breaches is determined. The measurement may help us decide whether breaches (and other percussive behaviors like tail lobs and pectoral fin slaps) have a communicative function or not.

The first spring Beam Reach program is nearing completion. Don’t miss learning about how loud breaches are — along with other interesting recent findings — at the final presentations at Friday Harbor labs this June, 7, 2008. If you can’t make it in person, final papers and talks will be available at the students’ home page —

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Resting on the west side

Garrison Bay to Snug Harbor

After taking Jason to the dock for some well-deserved shore leave we transited to Snug Harbor and welcomed Dr. Robin Kodner.  Emerging into Haro Strait at a very low tide we headed south on advice from Jeanne and were surprised to find about 8 members of J pod (J2 matriline?) resting in a tight group off of False Bay.  We listened to them as they slowly made their way up the west side of San Juan Island, but hear neither click nor calls for more than two hours.  As we passed Kellett Bluff, J1 separated from the group and headed NW across Haro Strait.  We paralleled him and gathered detailed data about how his clicking related to his surfacing and dive times.  The echosounder was on throughout and showed intermittent targets at mid-depths.

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Spreading experiments; Js up at Point Roberts

Mackaye Harbor to Garrison Bay

At noon we pumped out at Friday Harbor, refilled propane, and picked up Scott and Ford’s call catalog. Ivan and Jeanne said hello as they headed up towards Point Roberts where J pod was reported about noon. We went up San Juan Channel and discussed whether we should go north to Sucia or west to the west side. Eventually, we decided on Garrison Bay and set a science goal of measuring spreading somewhere in Haro Strait. After passing through Spieden Channel we deployed the array and high frequency hydrophone and recorded four impulsive sounds at a range of about 25-45m. The we transited to Garrison Bay and set anchor, troubleshooting the port prop where we found the saildrive had disengaged. With a sigh of relief, we dined on cheesy potato patties that called for no cheese. Luckily, Ryan and Dominique added plenty along with a green salad and we all went to bed with bellies full of energy for the chilly night.

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J pod in the E Strait of Juan de Fuca

Pelican Beach to Mackaye Harbor

Since we had left the southern residents heading north in Rosario the night before, we headed northwards to seek them out again and maybe visit Sucia Island.  Mike got a friendly call telling us they had somehow doubled back, passed us as we slept (with Jason listening to the hydrophone all night), and were actually down south.  We reversed course, came back down Rosario and encountered J pod off the southern end of San Juan Island.  We paralleled them almost half way to Dungeness Spit before leaving them (heading west towards the open Pacific) and seeking safe harbor at Makaye again.

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J pod recording in North Rosario Strait

Friday Harbor Labs to Pelican Beach (Cypress Island)

We departed Friday Harbor at approximately 9:30 in the A.M. and headed south through Cattle Pass. Then, on word that J pod were nearing the north end of Rosario Straight, we headed east in hopes of meeting up with them in the process. As the day progressed, we learned more of J pod’s whereabouts and eventually we were able to catch up with them. We started recording at 17:39:30 and captured lots of clicks, calls, and whistles. During our recording, one whale surprised us by suddenly breaching close by. We captured the breach on film and hopefully in the recordings as well. Our evening data-collecting stroll came to a close amidst a sunset and the sound of distant blows as the whales headed north. In short, the day was a productive one despite only recording for about an hour. Hopefully we get some more tomorrow!

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whales, sharks, and good times

what a day for whale watching it was this last thursday!

off the southern end of San Juan around noon time we found two leading whales from J pod, with the rest of the group scattered widely further south amongst the many whale watch boats. while we did manage to get some good click data, the whales were generally quiet and it was hard to find or get to them considering how spread out they were.

But finally after all the whale watch boats left Salmon Bank our patience paid off and we found a group of 5-6 whales and recorded many clear calls, clicks, and whistles in very serene calm water and clear sunny skies – we saw a lot of action too – pectoral and tail slaps, breaches, and yes, even some dork!!!!! (all within 100-200m!) we think these two lovebirds were just playing- we did make a few matches, and with further analyzing we’re going to try to ID those two as well. Hands down we all agreed it was our best day yet.

We tried again yesterday to catch up to the whales, but they moved too quickly north for us to catch up. The day was still exciting- we encountered a headless shark around False bay, which we believe is a thresher shark- and it looks like there are teeth mark where the head was taken- suggesting perhaps some Orcas got to it! We brought it aboard (and it sure was soupy) and passed it along to FHL for them to necropsy- and I spent the rest of my day getting some echosounder data from False bay to Lime Kiln, and then burst another light bulb at a deeper depth- I think I really got some good sound on this one!

so it looks like our work it cut out for us these next 3 weeks- i can’t believe we only have 3 weeks left- I’m going to try and make the most of it while I can

i’m off to try and make my own anemone for my service project…

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Thresher shark and flow noise

Mackaye Harbor to Friday Harbor Labs

Today the whales were spotted near Val’s house in the morning, but they headed up north faster than we could get up to them, eventually heading east at Point Roberts. We did still have an eventful day – we found a stranded shark around False Bay that we think was thresher shark killed by a Transient. Later in the day as we made our way to Friday Harbor Labs we tested another bursting light bulb to calculate source level and tested the Blue Box hydrophone’s flow noise through the water quality. We now our making great speed as we sail fast with clear skies back to FHL!

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Serene sounds over Salmon Bank

Snug Harbor to Mackaye Harbor

Today was a terrific day of clear skies and whale sightings! We encountered two leaders from a further southern scattered part of J-Pod off Eagle point around noon time, starting to record at 13:36. We followed them back North to Lime Kiln, only hearing clicks as they traveled fast and far past our hydrophones. We then made our way slowly back around the Southern side of San Juan, encountering a large, spread-out group of whales, where it was hard to keep track of them or catch up to individuals. But our patience paid off, and after all the whale watch boats left we encountered a group of 4-5 whales and heard loud and clear calls, clicks, and whistles! It was a serene moment as we followed them through Salmon bank. We observed breaching, tail and pectoral slaps, spy hops, foraging, and even some social-play mating-like behavior! Confirmed ID’s we’ve made so far are J27, J17, J28, J19, and possibly J30. We stopped recording at 18:45, leaving the whales at the Salmon bank buoy around 18:45, where we hope to catch up with them again tomorrow. Definitely our best day yet!

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