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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