Archive for April, 2009

Science blogbook: Reid Harbor – Snug Harbor

Reid Harbor – Snug Harbor

After an efficent morning chore period, we had a long discussion of our current scientific methods and how they need to be changed and improved.   Jason also began to examine the OrcaMaster data set.
In the afternoon, we sank a Vemco receiver in front of Val’s house to pick up the pings from the salmon experiments.  The Vemco was deployed at 14:45 at 48, 33.7 and 123, 10.81 in around 10 meters of water.  The serial number was 100913.
We did a quick drill with the hydrophone array and recorded the noise of the Gato Verde at 4 knots and varying speeds below as it slowed down. We did a quick man overboard drill with a hockey helmet that we’d found and then spent the early evening learning how to motor around in the dinghy.  After a filling dinner, everybody worked through the evening. Peter and Val analysed some of the data we took on the Gato Verde’s noise levels and found some interesting results that will need further experimentation.

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Man Overboard!

We’ve had a full, exciting day today, a perfect Beam Reach day. I woke a bit later than usual, rolling out of my sleeping bag at 7:50 and wandering into the kitchen to find that almost everyone had already eaten. Jason and Bubbles, his traveling sourdough starter, had made lovely sourdough pancakes.

Our morning meeting turned into an extended, incredibly helpful, strategy session. The conversation, led by Val and Jason, flowed smoothly and ranged from the last bits of research we need to complete for our proposals, to amendments to our data sheets and data collection systems to beginning to practice our analysis. I don’t know about the others but I ended up with two pages of notes and a long list of new things to address or research. About half way through, we decided to “make like plankton,” drifting from Stuart Island, south down Haro Strait, listening to various hydrophones all the while. We were so engaged that we almost, but only almost, worked past lunch.

Our morning meeting in the sunnny cockpit

Our morning meeting in the sunny cockpit

In the course of “making like plankton” we came across some interest flotsam. I asked for the definition of flotsam while writing this and Val promptly answered, “The things you find at garage sales.” It is actually, Todd tells me, the things you find floating in the water. Anyway, today we came across a hockey helmet, a construction hardhat and a circular piece of polystyrene (Styrofoam).

We had an equally busy afternoon, sinking a receiver in front of Val’s house to pick up the pings from transmitters put in salmon. Using an array (pun intended) of ropes, tapes, weights and boats, we managed to sink a cement block attached to the receiver and anchor it to land. As we left, we did a quick drill, pulling out the hydrophone array, as quickly and neatly as possible.

We were just beginning to relax again when Todd yelled, “Man overboard!” There was a great deal of running around without a clue where to turn, trying to decide who would keep their finger pointed at the “man” overboard. This was additionally confusing because for the first few seconds, none of us could see what was supposed to be the “man.” Hannah tossed the man overboard pole like a javelin and if it had actually been a person in the water, they probably would have been impaled. The hockey helmet, our “man” was successfully rescued and we proceeded into Mitchell Bay.

I had just gone to pull out my laptop and start work on the to-do list I generated this morning when Todd called us together and began dinghy training. Erica and I went first as the night’s cooks. It was like learning how to drive all over again only backwards, all with one hand and out in the wonderful, open blue.

The reason I wanted to blog about this day in particular was mainly an idea I had just before dinner while dicing garlic to fry with zucchini. It’s the “Man Overboard” thing. Not only did I feel like today was a bit of a continuous “Man Overboard” drill, in a good, thought-provoking, keep-you-on-your-toes kind of way, but I’ve sort of come to decide that all of Beam Reach is a bit like a “Man Overboard” drill.

It presents challenges that are usually unexpected, a bit nerve-wracking, and have an enormous payoff, if successful. All of our Beam Reach overboards seem daunting and confusing at first, but with helpful direction, good judgments, reliable instincts and hard work, we can complete the rescue successfully.

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Science blogbook: Garrison Bay – Roche Harbor – Reid

Garrison Bay – Roche Harbor – Reid Harbor
We first started off our day heading towards Roche Harbor to do a captain switch and pick up Val.  Before we went into Roche Harbor we did a range (distance estimate) exercise.  We had to guess how far an object was then Jason told us the real answer.  Then we got to play with the radar and see the difference.  Then I got to radio the Harbor Master to find out where we were going to dock while we waited for the rest of the crew!!  While we were there the meat eaters got their fix.  Once Todd showed up with the supplies we refueled the Gato Verde and headed out to Reid Harbor.  Before we went to Reid we floated around Haro Straight hoping to see the Southern Residents.  We deployed the listening hydrophone at a latitude of
48 degrees and 38.7 North and a longitude  of 123 degrees and 12.72 West.  We did see plenty of Harbor porpoies, but we heard no whales.  So then we turned everything off and had journal club discussion which I lead.  The title of the paper was “Underwater noise of whale-watching boats and potential effects on killer whales (Orcinus Orca), based on an acoustic impact model” by Christine Erber.  During journal club we reached Reid Harbor and Matt and I started to cook.  We did not see any whales today, but I am sure we will see them as the season goes on.

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Science blogbook: Port Angeles – Garrison Bay

Port Angeles – Garrison Bay
The stong ebbing in the Straight of Juan de Fuca kept us anchored at Port Angeles until lunch.  We spent the morning working on our research proposals and calculating the calibration for the array of hydrophones.  As the currents began flooding, we cruised along keeping an eye out for the Southern Residents.  We deployed the listening hydrophone at 15:35 for a period of 15 minutes to try to hear the whales.  After a day of searching, all we were able to find was a couple of harbor porpoises.  Since people have been paying attention in the 1970s,the Southern Residents have always returned to these waters in April.  So we should have a better probability of seeing them with each passing day.

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Western patrol and Race Rocks turbine

Snug Harbor – Race Rocks – Port Angeles

Today we had an early start so that we could get out to Port Angeles in hopes of catching whales coming in the straight. We stopped by Race Rocks along the way so that we could deploy a hydrophone and see if the current generator makes any noise.
We made two recordings and watched the stellar sea lions sun bath on the rocks nearby. There were also three bald eagles and a lot of harbor seals sun bathing as well.
After the recordings we milled around the area and deployed a hydrophone every once in a while to see if we could hear any whales in the area but we had no such luck!
Eventually we headed into Port Angeles to anchor for the night and plan our trip back to the islands tomorrow. Our new science goals that we discussed are to calculate the calibration for the hydrophone array, and work on the behavior exercise.
We also plan to read this week’s journal article by wednesday for a discussion on it. The biggest goal that everyone agreed on was to find those whales!

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No wind but plenty of science

FHL to Mitchell Bay

We slept in and left FHL at about 10:30 this morning.  We cruised south through cattle pass then headed along the southwest side of the island.  There was no wind for sailing, so after rescuing the sea from a lost red balloon, we calibrated the hydrophones in the array and did a behavioral data exercise involving Jason in the dinghy with uncooperative dry erase markers.  After all that we headed to Mitchell Bay, where we moored for the night, anticipating a long and exciting trip to Port Angeles tommorow.

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Following up on the mystery 'clanging' in Haro Strait

Mitchell Bay to Griffin Bay

After a hearty breakfast of chocolate chip pancakes thanks to Hilary we had an early start from Mitchell Bay out into Haro Strait.
As we headed south in Haro Strait we ended up with a decent breeze from the SE which we took advantage of for some nice sailing.
We practiced tacks, chicken jibes and a hove to. The hove to was performed in between Discovery Island and Beaumont Shoals, the area we thought was the potential source of the mysterious clanging on the hydrophones at Lime Kiln and Orca Sound.  Although we listened for 15 minutes we heard no clanging, but did hear the numerous container ships passing by. There was not a lot of wind and we were at slack low tide, so it may not have been the appropriate conditions needed to generate the mysterious clanging.
The breeze died down in the afternoon, but we did manage to ride what wind was available and the currents towards the south end of San Juan Island and into Cattle Pass.
We got to experience Cattle Pass on a raging flood. As we were sucked north by the current we managed to see 16 Stellar sea lions hauled out on Whale Rocks as well as cormorant nests on Goose Island.
Rounding the bend Captain Mike showed us how to anchor off the shore of American Camp in Griffin Bay where we worked on our localization exercise using the software Ishmael.

Altogether a sunny, breezey and pleasant day.

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More transients and localization

Prevost Harbor to Mitchell Bay
At 09:30 hours Val did a lecture on localization.  Right after the lecture we did an exercise on localization involving the ‘clangs’ at the OrcaSound and Lime Kiln hydorphone’s (there are some msyterious clanging/clinking sounds that have been heard intermitently on the hydrophones this winter/spring).  Our results indicated that the hyperbola leads to Discovery Island / Beaumont Shoals.  This is just an estimate from where the sound source may be.
Then at 13:25 hours we had an encounter with three transients whales.  We have IDed them as T10,T10B, and T10C.  We first saw them at Mandarte Is. and they were traveling northwest.  Then at 1400 hours they switched direction and started heading north towards Stuart Island.  Then entire time they were traveling.  We also found traces of whale poo!  It was another interesting encounter with the Transients.  It was a surprise encounter as well because they just popped out of the water and shocked us all!  Finally at 16:20 hours we did the localization exercise with the array and our sound source on the dinghy.  The position of the exercise was at N 98 degrees 34.902 W 23 degrees 11.881.
The data was uploaded to the Beam Reach computer and will be analyzed at a later date.

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Update on Science blogs from the Gato Verde

During this first week of our time aboard the Gato Verde we have been getting accustomed to life aboard, running the boat systems and working with our research methods and equipment. As part of doing our research we are getting in the habit of taking notes about where we have been and what we have done so that we have a log to go back to in the future as we start analyzing our data. In order to have a backup of that data and to share our daily experiences with you, we have been posting those science logs as blogs. To make it easier I have been uploading them as we have internet connection, but the reality is that we have all been taking turns writing the science log. So although it shows my name on the blog, in reality it is usually one of the students who have written the daily log. So that you know who wrote each log we will put their initials at the end of the blog.

We hope you enjoy following along with the research experience!

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Boat Life

Despite the amount of build-up, preparation and thought that went into our departure, I’ve come to find that I had very few concretely formed expectations regarding boat life. I now believe that even if I had formed expectations, they would have been thoroughly altered after the first two hours.

So many small things in life need to change to make life on a boat possible. At home, my mixed family live in a strangely laid-out mother and law house. My mom and I joke by calling our part of the house, the ‘Paris apartment’ because it is so small and compact. The concepts required for peaceful cohabitation in the ‘Paris apartment’ must be multiplied tenfold to be acceptable on the Gato Verde.

One of the first rules of a small space is keeping it clean and uncluttered, particularly in communal spaces like kitchens and bathrooms. At home that meant leaving my school books In a tucked away corner of the living room, vacuuming at least twice a week, and always, always neatening my room once day. Here, it means cleaning every communal area at least once a day, never leaving your personal belongings in a communal area and living out of a backpack.

Val, Hannah and Peter getting some work done in our main communal quarters

Val, Hannah and Peter getting some work done in our main communal quarters

We get up in the morning and the first thing after breakfast is completing our chore rotation. The breakfast dishes have to be washed, the systems and holding tanks for water sewage and fuel checked, the deck squeegeed and wiped, the galley cleaned, the floors swept and the weather and currents for the day reported on.

In chemistry, the term limiting reagent refers to the substance which determines how much of the reactants can completely turn into products. On the Gato Verde, the limiting reagent which determines whether or not we can keep sailing during the day is black water. I’m not, of course, talking about the erstwhile security contractor but about sewage which is what drives us to a fully functioning harbor more often than freshwater, food, or fuel.

Depending on your frame of reference, the Gato Verde can be accurately described as palatial or miniscule. I tend to try to classify it another way. Emotionally, the space is miniscule. Physically, the space is palatial for a boat. It’s trying to live in a place where everyone knows where everyone is and what they are doing every moment of every day. There just aren’t very many places to hide and have alone time on a boat.

All of that said, however, the experience has been incredible. The ability to travel over water, close to it, powered by it and living in it is an absolutely awe-inspiring one and something I have never been able to experience the same way. From a research perspective, it is an amazing opportunity. We tie up every night in beautiful secluded places and breathe clean, cool air, smiling into the wind, as we drift among islands covered in trees. We’ve watched otters, bald eagles, buffleheads, cormorants, harbor seals, transient orcas, Dall’s and harbor porpoises, and elephant seals all while learning loads and laughing.

Who could ask for more? It’s just that lovely.

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