Archive for April, 2010

Watching Whales

Evening sky at Griffin Bay

Hello from the Gato Verde!

Things have been going great so far — it feels wonderful to be out on the water.  I have not been sailing since 2008, and the moment I set foot on the Gato Verde, every reason for loving boats I had ever conjured in my mind came rushing back to me.  I actually used to have a great fear of boats. I think it began because my idea of being out at sea was based on one or two childhood whale watching experiences.  During one trip, I remember being so frightened that my mom had to literally sedate me with medication.  I spent most of the whale watch underneath my Little Mermaid towel, hiding from the wrath of the Massachusetts seas.  Despite my dramamine-induced drowsiness, I remember my panic reached a high point once we spotted whales.  Every single passenger scrambled to one side of the boat to get a better look, causing us to tip precariously (at least in my mind).  In this moment I remember feeling desperately out of control of my own fate…this boat was going to sink and there was nothing I could do to stop it.  Luckily, my fear of boating has gradually been replaced by a deep love of all forms of marine transportation.  This is the only instance where my fear of something has decreased as I have gotten older – all my other phobias have, unfortunately, seemed to increase with time.  Thankfully, the time for fear of boats has passed in my life, and I couldn’t be happier to be sailing again.  Everything has been working in our favor so far weather-wise (knock on wood), and things have been going very smoothly.  I even got to steer the boat for about 20 minutes yesterday!

After a relaxing first evening anchored in Griffin Bay, we rose early to get a head start on what we thought would be a very full day of sailing.  We had planned to sail to Neah Bay, where there is a hydrophone in need of repair.  Beam Reach has never sailed that far, so we were all looking forward to the exciting challenge of charting new territory.  I woke up early after a fitful night of sleep, soothed by early-morning fog banks and loon calls.  We departed on schedule and enjoyed a leisurely breakfast.  Around this time, I happened to look out the window; I had seen some sea lions sunning themselves on some rocks, and I thought I might see more in the water.  Instead, I saw a tall black shape sinking beneath the surface.  My breath caught.  No, I thought, there is absolutely no wayIt’s probably just a cormorant. Then, a blow.  “Whales!!” I cried, tripping over myself stupidly in an effort to get a better look.  “Whales, whales!!!”  I clapped happily, laughing in awe – I absolutely could not believe our luck.  Here we are, one day out from Friday Harbor, and we happen to stumble upon a beautiful group of transient killer whales.  Their pointed dorsal fins sliced through the water, and I sighed contentedly at hearing their piercing blows.  All plans of attempting a passage to Neah Bay lost, we followed the whales from nine in the morning until they gave us the slip around 3 pm.  The whales came within meters of the Gato Verde several times; during one encounter I even picked up the familiar smell of whale breath on the air (which, in my opinion, smells like rotten pumpkins).  I am happy to report that I recorded several videos of our time with the whales today…the quality, however, is somewhat compromised by the fact that I was leaping all over the boat in my uncontainable excitement.  If these past two days have been any indication, there will be much more to report soon!

Hope everyone is well,


Coming up for air

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On dock before deck

FHL to Griffin Bay

We left the Labs at about 3:45 pm and used the screecher sail and motor, each taking a turn at the helm. We arrived and got an introduction to anchoring around 5:00. Because it was our first day we didn’t do any science but Jason saw a seal. We had great weather.

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Anticipating departure

There was not much that went on during this week, despite the lectures, advisory meetings, and work time.  It was a week of work, to prepare for the following week which would be our first week in this program out at sea!

We refined majority of our methods this week and figured out any group data that we would be able to collect to ease the process.  We had talks about food consumption and how we can manage what we eat.  I learned that being a meat eater that does not eat responsibly makes a huge impact, such as global warming, to our atmosphere.  Localization of killer whales: now that lecture completely boggled my mind.  Technology is so advanced these days that computers can estimate where a whale is located from a call produced.  Vessel regulations were also gone over in our group discussion, regarding the conservation of southern resident killer whales.  Logistically, this week has been a less stressful one, but there was a lot more information to take in compared to last week’s Steller sea lion incident.

But, I cannot contain my excitement about sailing out of the labs.  It will be a memorable experience to be able to go on a boat to conduct research.  This first week, since the southern resident killer whales will not come up quite yet, we will be learning how to sail.  We did hear some transient killer whales off of the Port Townsend hydrophone network however, so I am anticipating on catching some with my eyes out there.  Sailing has so many components that I have barely touched, since I come from living in a large city.  Boat terms, ocean currents, knots, and other materials will be taught to us.  I feel as though this sailing week will be a good one though, since it is a chance for us to bond in a smaller environment as a group.  We get to work together, socialize, cook and clean together.  That way, we all get to know each other better on a personal level and help each other when needed.

From what I have heard, the Gato Verde, the boat we will be boarding and sailing on, is a 42 foot long catamaran equipped with loads of bunkbeds, bathrooms, a galley, and decks for us to go out and observe nature.  With such a large boat and so few of us, I will find all the upcoming sailing weeks a pleasure!  Similar to what we did on Wednesday cooking granola together at S1, I feel we’ll have so much fun!

Lastly, before I end this blog, I just wanted to mention our Cold Plunge tradition of Beam Reach.  Every year, Beam Reach will require all students to jump into the waters by the dock to experience how cold the water actually is in the Pacific Northwest.  Instructors follow along as well, and other students not in Beam Reach are always welcome to join.  We had some students from the 3 Seas program join us this year and it was really fun.  I finally got to experience the cold waters myself and I have got to say, when people say its cold, IT IS COLD.

Nonetheless, I was awake for the rest of the day.  You should definitely try it out.

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Ready to Set Sail

Hello, everyone!

I am finally sitting down after a long stint of packing — I had no idea I could be so inefficient at packing a single bag!  We’ve all been busy buying groceries, doing laundry, and tidying up in preparation for our afternoon departure tomorrow.  I am unbelievably excited to re-immerse myself in boat life (time to re-learn how to tie a bowline and start thinking about what someone means when they say “pass the jib!”).  There have been reports of several large groups of transients in the area, so it is possible that we will have some orca sightings during our first leg on the Gato Verde.  Other than scrambling with last-minute logistical preparations, we have not done much besides refining our research methods (and having a much-needed impromptu dance party in our spacious duplex).  On Friday, we took a dip in the ocean as part of Beam Reach’s “cold plunge” experience.  I had been dreading this initiation process, but it turned out to be much more enjoyable than I expected — I might even do it again!  To see pictures of us freezing our buns off, click here.

Not much else to report — more to come once we’ve gotten settled into our new home.  I can’t wait to brush my teeth under the stars…


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Cold Much?


This week was pretty much a study week. We worked hard and learned a lot but also had a few adventures.

On Wednesday we made granola. I’ve never made granola before and thought that it would be rather complex and messy. It turns out it’s very simple. We decided to use most of the leftover dried fruit and nuts from my stash as well as all the stuff Jason brought over for the non-oatmeal ingredients. Amazingly during the entire process we only managed to spill a little, and no one burned or cut themselves or anything else! It was very fun.

Thursday was good. The person who was supposed to come couldn’t, which was disappointing, but we got to spend the day working on our proposals and finding the papers we needed for our projects. It was a somewhat relaxing day, though study intensive, and we all needed it.

On Friday afternoon, about two o’clock, we jumped off of the Friday Harbor Lab’s dock. It was excruciatingly cold. It is tradition for the Beam Reach students and faculty to jump off of the dock before the first sail, so there we were looking with great trepidation into the freezing water hoping desperately that something would intervene. We had told the rest of the FHL population that we would be doing this during the first week and amazingly enough a few students from the other programs joined us in our cold plunge. Of course Jason and Val jumped first since they weren’t as scared of the water as the rest of us. But we soon followed. On my first jump, after getting over the sudden “oh my god so cold!!” feeling, I swam over and climbed up the ladder that leads up to the tall dock. On my second jump Horace and I, with a 3..2..1.. countdown/encouragement from Val, jumped from the tall dock. I have to say, the stomach dropping feeling of jumping from high places does nothing to distract from the cold shock. On his first dive off of the tall dock, Val did an amazing swan dive. It turns out he used to dive competitively. Cool hunh!

Although the water was cold it was exhilarating especially once you got out. Because plunging yourself into cold water causes reduced circulation on your skin, you feel downright warm after getting out! It was kind of weird seeing all of us walking around I our swimsuits dripping wet in 60 degree weather not cold at all.

All in all it was an interesting week.

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“Tails” from the Dock

Hello cyber sailors,

All packed and ready to leave tomorrow for 2 weeks. I am pretty sure my internet will be lacking from the sailboat, but hopefully I will return with tales to fill your webspace.

This past week went really quickly, beginning with a visit from a few good friends! It was great to see and explore San Juan Island with them, go for a hike up Mount Young, visit English camp, and eat some fried food in town. I took a ton of flower/plant pictures.

Roche Harbor

Sunrise. Waiting for the ferry

Flower on the hike up Mount Young

Remember when I said I would love to help do a necropsy on the sea lion from last week? Well, it happened. I got to be knee deep in the intestines of a marine mammal and let my inner child and scientist run free! I am not attaching any photos because they are bloody, but if you would like to see some, let me know.

Schoolwork and proposals filled the rest of the week, but my stories come from a late  night walk.

I like to sit at the dock after the sun goes down and look at the stars, see the lights reflecting off the water from Friday Harbor, and listen to the quiet. I have started remembering to bring my headlamp lately for fear of sneaking up on some raccoons and deer that hang out in the area. They must hear me coming, but each time I come around a corner, they scare me worse than I scare them. So, I have become cautious with peaking around corners and checking each building parameter for creatures.

Last night I went for such a walk and was admiring the water critters that glow with a reflective light. I was playing around with seeing if they still glow with a red light – and they do! How cool is that? Just then, I thought that my imagination was running wild because it was like I was in a sci-fi film. Two large, beady red eyes with a small red line between them were flying toward me from about ten feet off the dock in the water. It was moving to quickly. By the I fumbled my headlamp into the white light position, it was almost at my feet. To my surprise, it was not my imagination at all but a sea otter who ducked under the dock just as I to the white light stable enough to spot him. From that point on, I decided to step back a bit, just in case he decided to jump onto the dock. I didn’t want to surprise him by being the landing pad.

I was slowly lulled back into my comfort zone by the stars above and talking to Loretta on the phone. Each little squeak and creak registered in my ears, but my logic told me to calm down, the adventures were probably over for the night. After all, the otter knew I was there, so it would logically leave me alone.

I sat for a long time in the dark, but the dock is pretty uncomfortable, so I laid down to get a better view of the stars. The squeaks of the fender against the boat, the dock shifting, and something else kept registering in my brain. Then, I couldn’t identify the noise. There were a number of squeaks that seemed too close to be the boat (mind you, my head is on the ground), so I turned my face to the right to help identify the noise.

Not three feet from my cheekbone was a large rodent! I screamed bloody murder and jumped to my feet just in time to see a rat butt scamper across the adjoining dock and disappear into the darkness. I picked up my wits and pretty much jogged the 50 or so feet to safe ground. There is something about the body’s reaction to fright that is impressive. You really can move quickly, be completely aware of your surroundings, and see better, even in the dark. Don’t get me wrong, I am pissed that I keep getting lulled into this sense of security, then proven a fool. It’s like the animals here are as upset that I’m in their space as I am with them in mine. I actually enjoy periodically running into beautiful wild creatures…but on the dock….at night….3 feet from my face…? That’s a little much for me.

I went to the safety of the indoors to finish my conversation and had almost forgotten about the whole thing by the time I started walking home. By almost I mean that my heart might never forget and my light was on top alert. I checked all the normal raccoon spots with no sightings and was getting relieved as I got close to home. I was distracted by something in one of the buildings just enough that I momentarily forgot about my frightening encounters until I glanced over to the right to see three raccoons, frozen and five feet from me, waiting for me to pass…hoping they would go unnoticed. Geez. Talk about topping off an evening. It’s hard to rest easy when your body has been startled into alert three times in one evening stroll.

I don’t know if I am brave enough to venture to the dock alone again tonight. It is so pretty…I just can’t help myself.

Yesterday was the “cold plunge” where everyone in our program invites the community to join us in jumping over the dock into the Salish Sea water. I grew up in cold water and used to love swimming in the pool while it was filling up with water from the hose (brrr), but this is slightly different. The air was warm enough for Washington, but when you look around at dinner, there are a few winter jackets in sight. We stripped to our bathing suits and jumped into the breath-taking water. Even I came up for a breath with a start. Not to be outdone by our instructor, I jumped in a few more times from the top of the dock, which is about 20 feet from the surface of the water. Surprisingly, my body felt quite warm in the air compared to the water temp. It was not as bad as I might have thought, and we decided that in order to live a little, we might do it again just for fun. (

The sailboat leaves tomorrow so I am packing my life into one bag once again, this time in search of orca whales.

I hope that all is well!


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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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SEA LION… and some other details

Wow. Things have really picked up around here.

Each class portion builds on the material from the one before it, so I feel like I am becoming an expert in a variety of fields very quickly. This also means that the workload is starting to pull my brain in various directions as I try absorb each piece and appreciate the overall meaning of it.

We had a guest lecturer of particular interest to me named Anna Kagley visit our classroom yesterday to talk about the tracking of salmon populations throughout the shoreline. NOAA is expanding her study to the bays of San Juan Island, so there will soon be high frequency receivers strategically placed throughout the inner waters here. On a personal level, I was eager to distract her from this lecture (although that was also informative) to talk about a recent brain-trust type of seminar which labeled possible impacts of hydropower turbines around the world and at variable distribution levels. Oh how I would love to be even a fly on the wall at one of those meetings. Even if I were squished by the end, I think I would be satisfied to be a part of such meaningful and applied science. My imagination seems to thrive on the possibilities of what could happen, although my core also strives for practicality. This seems to be a perfect combination to draw me towards topics such as hydropower and establishing MPA’s on the west coast of San Juan Island. The scientist in me is slowly being satisfied and intensely awakened after being dormant in my realtor’s assistant body for so long. However, I must add that I am more technically savvy and better at solving problems than my college self. My heart is content to be on this current path. Anna said they are working with the County a lot, here is their website: Click on the “OpenHydro Technology” link to the right.

Typically, when there is a large piece of writing due (as was this morning), my body begins to yearn for the outdoors. Luckily, we are living in a biological preserve with great running trails. Just before dinner, I decided to take advantage of our surroundings and go for a jog. Once I realized that I forgot my camera, I knew it would be a memorable experience. First of all, the trail is sloped towards the middle and is therefore never really dry in this climate. A jog on this trail looks more like a dance with the Lost Boys (Peter Pan) than a form of exercise, which I must say, is where the 10 year old in me excels. I explored a little further than normal and discovered a cove along the beach that is quite protected from other visitors. There are huge mushrooms sprouting just inland of the coast, and even a bright purple seastar rigidly stuffed between rocks of the estuary-type environment. Clearly, if a girl from MN decided to take a nap on these rocks and forgot about the tides, you could be in for a rude awakening. Here is a typical outdoor photo from a different hike:

The jog was not complete without almost twisting an ankle, getting my foot completely sucked into a mud puddle, and scaring the snot out of an oblivious deer. Today, the sun is shining and it is bright enough to make cloud figures from the sky. Apparently it is supposed to snow for our sailing excursion tomorrow. Figures.

So, we were finishing lunch today (mac & cheese and tomato soup) when Jason found us with a gleam in his eye. He had just gotten a call about a floating (dead) stranded sea lion just off the coast of Lopez Island, and asked if we wanted to help retrieve it. Yea!!  All four of us ran back to the house and threw on some warm clothes and rain gear, then headed out on “The Buzzard” across the Straight. Although they call it island hopping, we were not exactly hopping, or even skimming/fluttering – more like skuttering. Laughter filled the salty air as we set off on our adventure with the sun in the sky and the sea in our veins. The bumps and bruises didn’t matter because we were on the water again.

We arrived at the north end of Lopez Island and found a huge male Stellar sea lion with no indication of trauma, just death. It was quite a production for one instructor and four students to maneuver this guy against the will of gravity, the waves, and the wind but we were rewarded with eventual success. During the muscle-aching portion of our endeavor it began to snow/hail for about 8 minutes. My boots were already full of brisk salty sea so by that time I hardly noticed except to see the humor in it. The photo is of Jason and I trying to get the rope around the shoulders to haul it in the boat. Getting the Rope The sea lion filled the boat – making it look like merely a dingy with it’s massive flippers, torso, and head (length is 3.5 meters). I had never been so close to such a huge (and not moving) marine creature before and was able to let the scientist and the ten year old go free at the same time. The front four teeth are ground down to almost nothing, and the bottom ones that match them are about the same. They should really consider renaming the canine teeth, because the size on the ones in this guy’s mouth could out-bite pretty much any canine I know.

The ride home was cold, bumpy, and overall a drenching experience. The weather picked up and tried to mangle us to pieces, but the shower at our house has never been as appreciated as it was tonight.

The sea lion will be examined by real scientists tomorrow, and I am trying to finagle my way into the experience. Once again, I would love to be a fly on that wall.

Make the most of your day!


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