Archive for April 11th, 2010

Blood, Guts and Lunch?

Just a note, farther down this blog entry are graphic pictures of insides of a marine animal. If this kind of thing disturbs you please don’t read past 4/8.


This morning a very cool guy named Russell came to talk to us about the juvenile salmon that use the San Juan Islands as a nursery. It was a very interesting talk and I learned quite a bit about the ecosystem that salmon spend their juvenile time in and how we can affect it.

After he left Jason taught us about the anatomy of whale sound production and reception. It was extremely cool! The anatomy of sound production and reception between terrestrial and aquatic mammals is very different and even the production difference between baleen and toothed whales is pretty significant. Whales don’t hear through holes on the surface of their heads like we do, instead they most likely hear through the surface of their head and along their jaw! I find the different ways that animals evolve amazing, especially things like basic senses.

After lunch we went down to the dock to play with the recording equipment. We got to lower a microphone to make sounds, one of the orca calls on a loot, that we could then record with the hydrophone. It was great. We each did all of the different jobs from moving the hydrophone box and recording, to measuring the distance between the hydrophone and the speaker. About half way through we saw a harbor seal pop up to look around. We surmised that it was looking for the predators it could hear under water. It was pretty cool.

When we got back to S1, the duplex we live in, we entered the data into Excel and made a graph. Most of us are still a bit confused but we will be doing more tomorrow since our lecture got cut short. We did learn that “The log of a number (x) = the power of a base that gives you the number (x)”.

Val’s Board


We spent the morning learning a bit more about sound and how it is related to energy. That was pretty cool and a little less confusing. It is amazing seeing Val work on the board because you can tell that he loves what he does and he gets so into it!

After that lecture we go to head down to Lime Kiln to clean out the lighthouse as part of our group community work. It was actually quite fun and very therapeutic. Horace and Val replaced the radio tower that streams live sounds to people with receivers in the park. Kathryn, Libby, Jason and I worked at cleaning out the lighthouse and organizing the computers. After the inside was mostly put together I got to take the grounding wire from one side of the rocks below the lighthouse and move it to the other. Basically I got to jump around on rocks with a green wire for 30 min! It was fun!


The proposal rough draft is due tomorrow so today is study study work work!


We had a very informative lesson on statistics today from Jason. We were introduced to the “Happy Face Stats Family” which entertained us all while being very informative.

Happy Face Stats Family

Around 12:30 ish Jason got a call from Amy, a person who then informed us about a stranded sea lion that she needed us to pick up. We set out about 40-50 min later in the buzzard to pick up a sea lion that was floating in a harbor. When we got there the sea lion had washed to the shallows on the beach and, although the Buzzard is made for that kind of situation, Jason didn’t want to get too close to shore cause getting back out to sea can still be problematic. So we went to the beach to inspect our options and decided to have two people, Horace and Libby, stay with the sea lion, tie a rope around its flippers and throw us the line so we could drag it back out to sea. The sea lion was still in pretty good condition and was just a bit bloated so it floated really well. Of course by this time it had started to hail and snow! After we got back to the dock we decided that the best cores would be to pull sea lion into the boat. This was a big mistake! We tied the rope around its feet to the winch and started to winch it into the boat, when we had about half of the sea lion in the boat the winch broke! For the next 20 min or so we tried to pull it in by hand. Not an easy feat as you may imagine since it weighed about 1 ton. Finally the winch came back, as did the sun, and we got the sea lion in the boat. Te sea lion firmly on the boat and all of us perched on the back to balance out its shear mass, we set out only to realize that the wind had picked up and the boat was too heavy. So we went back to the dock, pulled the sea lion off the boat, by tying it by its armpits to the dock and the other to the boat and driving away, and cinch it to the dock so we could come back the next day and pick it up.  Then we rode home and got back about 4:45. I slept well that night!


Today we got a call from Jason at 7:15 telling us that he was heading back out to pick up the sea lion at 7:45 and of course all of us once again jumped on the chance. The ride out was very smooth and absolutely gorgeous!  We got there quickly and found him in the same spot we left him, tied to the dock. We unhooked him and decided that since we had ropes around his tail, torso and snout we should tie him to the side of the boat rather than hope that we could get him all the way back to the labs towing him. Because of our extra load and the careful manner in which we drove, it took us about an hour to get back to the labs.

We were met there by whale museum volunteers who often assisted the Orcus Island veterinarian named Joe who routinely performs necropsies on stranded animals that are brought to the labs that are still in good shape. Joe hadn’t gotten there yet but Jason called him and it was decided that it would be best to perform the necropsy in the boat. So once again it was ‘haul the 1 ton sea lion into the boat’ time! The winch broke AGAIN but only for a few minuets and since we had some experience it went much quicker this time. After the sea lion was in the boat and we took some measurements of girth, length, etc., Joe got down to business.  It was awesome!

I have ever seen a necropsy, excluding cat lab in college and the few frogs and squid from elementary school. The shear size of everything boggled my mind. The heart was the size of my head! Its blood has two kinds of oxygen carriers in it making the muscles look very dark red and it had a good 3 inches of blubber. During the necropsy Joe would quiz us on different parts and explain what he was doing. He was great and answered all of our questions.

We found out that the sea lion has suffered some major trauma and had a lot of hemorrhagic tissue in his chest cavity. Trauma like that was most likely caused by a run in with a ship or some orca. We got to look at a bunch of different organs up close and Joe even went through the anatomy of the heart and cut it open for us to look at all of the parts. The liver was strange because it had abnormal yellow and black spots on it but Joe didn’t know if it was just a natural oddity or a sign of disease. The kidneys were also interesting because instead of having one outer area filtering into one inner area like ours, it basically had hundreds of little kidneys all filtering into one area.

After Joe was finished with the necropsy it was about 12:30 and time for us to eat lunch lest we miss it! After lunch we got finished cleaning the boat, a very stinky and messy job, and then got sailing lessons from Val in his sail dingy.

The first time we went out we were with Val so he could explain what to do.  Libby and Kathryn were first and then Horace and I went. The second time all four of us went, that was hilarious because we barley all fit into the boat! After that Val put on the jib sail and we went out in our pairs of two, this time without the guidance of Val. Libby and Kathryn did good as did Horace and I, given that none of us really knew what we were doing. Horace and I got stuck in no wind areas a few times and spent a lot of time going in circles. It was a lot of fun and a great end to a stressful week!

In case you missed it no lunch was actually mentioned.

Be joyous!

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Another Week Bites the Dust

Hello everyone!

Walking the sea lion around the bow

The team!

Me and Libby sailing

Sorry for the silence – between turning in a rough draft of our project proposals, participating in a Steller sea lion necropsy, and venturing out into the bay on our first sailing trip, we have been a bit short on free time.  Even though this past week was somewhat of a whirlwind, I am truly in awe of how much information I absorbed.  We had seminars on advanced acoustics, scoured the scientific literature for papers relating to our proposal topics, and got our first taste of boat life during excursions on the R/V Buzzard and Val’s dinghy.  I learned how to hoist a 1-ton, male Steller sea lion out of the ocean amidst hail and wind, and I learned about its fascinating anatomy and physiology as I watched a marine mammal scientist conduct a necropsy.  This was probably the most exciting part of our week (as evidenced by my fellow bloggers’ posts), and it was certainly a unique experience.

When Jason approached us about picking up a dead sea lion on Lopez Island, I was dragging my feet, just trying to make it through the day after staying up late finishing my proposal.  Almost instantaneously, my head felt lighter and my face lit up – the mere prospect of setting foot on any kind of boat was enough to lift my spirit.  Since other blog posts have already chronicled the beginning of our sea lion adventure, I will keep this part of my blog post short.  Suffice it to say that attempting to pull an animal the size of a couch into our little boat (during a hailstorm) was very interesting…as was trying to pull him out again after discovering he was too heavy to keep in the boat.  Several kind locals allowed us to tether the sea lion to their dock for the night with the understanding that we would be back early the next morning to retrieve him.

Picking up the sea lion the next day was a much less trying experience than our initial retrieval operation; this time we had the weather on our side.  We tethered him to the side of the boat and started back (slowly) toward Friday Harbor Labs.  As we rode back, I started to become uneasy about conducting a necropsy – wasn’t it disrespectful to mutilate this creature, even in “the name of science?” I had never spent so much time with an animal I was about to cut open, and I struggled to justify what we were about to do.

The necropsy itself was, thankfully, a fairly subdued affair.  It was clear that Joe, the veterinarian leading the dissection, wanted to be careful while still learning as much as he could about the animal.  I very much enjoyed listening to his external monologue because it allowed me to follow his thought process.  I didn’t feel uncomfortable at all until the very end of the necropsy when Joe decapitated the sea lion.  After all we’d done to the animal, I had a hard time even watching him do it.  I have always enjoyed necropsies, so long as I can separate the experience from the animal itself; holding this magnificent creature’s 30-pound head in my hands forced me to reconcile the fact that we had just marred the body of a once living thing.  Despite my slight discomfort, I found the necropsy to be an extremely valuable learning experience – one I definitely never would have gotten in Maine!

After a long Friday full of grimy work, we were rewarded with our first sailing trip.  We went out in Val’s dinghy, two at a time, and tried our hands at working with the wind to propel ourselves around the bay.  It was difficult, but we had a lot of fun!  This experience made me realize that I am absolutely itching to get out to sea – one of my major life goals is to become an able-bodied sailor (I would love to get my captain’s license someday).  In a continuing boating theme, Horace, Nora, and I decided to row into town on Saturday since it was such a calm, sunny day.  I had never rowed before, so I was nervous about how I would do.  I ended up rowing back to the labs with Nora, and I unfortunately didn’t do as well as I would have liked.  I plan to practice, though, and I am hoping to be an expert rower by the time I leave San Juan Island!  Overall, things have been going pretty well here at FHL – I am definitely ready to get out on the water.  The whales have yet to make their debut around these parts, so I am keen to get out there and start looking for them myself!


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Unexpected Steller aboard

Another week has passed here on the San Juan Islands, and overall, it has been an adventure indeed.

This week, logistically, we went over a lot on statistics, acoustics, and equations that would scramble the neurons in your brain.  I did my best to keep up with the work.  On Monday as I recall, we were able to head down to the dock to collect sound data.  We all had great practice in using the sound equipment, in preparation for our main research projects that are coming up.  Gathering the data was a lot of fun, because we finally got a chance to get hands-on with what we were doing.  We hung a speaker on one side of the dock and kept it there, as we inched our way down the dock with the hydrophone, measuring at different distances.  With the data set we collected, we used what we learned in statistics and sound to start on our dock spreading exercise.

On Tuesday afternoon, we went back to the Lime Kiln Lighthouse to do some cleaning!  It felt very refreshing to just contribute to the status of the lighthouse itself.  I helped Val move the lighthouse antenna to the top of a tall post nearby.  It was a hassle to get through those feisty tree branches, for me and Val had an interesting time maneuvering through the branches with the ladder and our bodies.  Once we got it up there though, we felt really accomplished with our task.  Better yet, before we even got the antenna attached to the pole, Val climbed up the ladder to dismantle the older satellite dish.  And guess what?  It was supposed to come crashing down like we predicted, but those branches supported it. Anticipation of a giant falling satellite dish was ruined.  But the entire afternoon was sort of an adventure already.

But the unexpected granted this week to be really adventurous indeed.  Jason got a call to go pick up a Steller sea lion corpse off on one of the islands.  And he called us to come along.  So on Thursday, we needed out on the Buzzard, a small research vessel, to retrieve the corpse.  It was a semi-windy afternoon when we left.  We found it drifting alongside the shore of Lopez island.  It was the first time I have ever seen such a humongous sea lion this close.  It must have weighed over half a ton.  After a tiresome couple of heaves, we got the humongous sea lion on board.  However, the wind prevented us from going any further out in the open waters and thus, we had to leave it tied to the dock for the night.  Even though we were not able to bring it back that exact moment, we began our trail back to the labs.  The wind eventually grew much stronger, and water began to find its way into the boat.  Because I sat on the front alongside Kathryn to balance the Buzzard, we ended up getting soaked from head to toe.  But the whole journey was filled with nothing but jokes and laughter, even if we were getting pelted to the face by salt water.  The next day, we set our course towards Lopez Island once more to retrieve that sea lion.  This time, the sun was out with the least amount of wind that I have experienced here on the islands.  Once we brought it back after an hour long boat ride, we contacted the people to perform a necropsy on the sea lion.  I have never been so intrigued about anatomy in my life, after seeing a grown male Steller get dissected in front of my eyes.  And to top the morning off, we were taught how to sail by Val in the afternoon!  Nora and I made a couple of 360 degree turns out in the waters as Val and the others laughed.  We figured how to get back to the dock eventually.

We finally finished our research proposals on Thursday and just got them returned an hour ago.  It is soon getting closer and closer to the day when we actually can sail out and do our research!

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