Archive for May 7th, 2010



Today was our departure for the first two-week boat excursion. Todd decided that, since he had access to Costco, he would do most of the re-provisioning which meant that his estimated time of arrival was 2:30 instead of 12:00 meaning a leisurely morning for us. At about 11:30 Jason called to tell us that there was another beached sea lion that he was going to retrieve if anyone wanted to go with. He arrived at about 12 and he and Libby left shortly there after to get the sea lion. We found out that the seal had died from blunt force trauma, probably caused by Transient orca practicing hunting.

Horace Kathryn and I stayed behind to bring the equipment down to the Gato Verde when it arrived. Libby called around 12:30 to tell us that the office had said that we needed to be out of S1 by 1:00. We panicked, stored our lunch in the kitchen, ran to S1 and hauled everything down to Lab 8 where the Beam Reach office is.

Afterword Horace went to the computer lab and Kathryn and I returned to the dining haul to finish our lunch. We spent the next little while looking up sea shanties that we wanted to learn. After Todd arrived and we got everything on board we decided to anchor at Jones Island again as we really like it there.


We decided to try and find the Southern Residents by sailing down the west side of San Juan Island, which we usually just call ‘the west side’. It was a beautiful day but by the time we reached Haro Strait, because the currents and wind were fighting each other, the seas were a bit uncomfortable. The sailing was amazing though and we even reached about 13 knots with sails only.

Libby and Horace raising the Mainsail

Unfortunately I was on lunch once again and due to the size of the waves, some even crashing over the bow, I got pretty seasick. Luckily I didn’t throw up but it was close a few times. We finally made it to calmer seas and I fell asleep. I woke up for our docking, which was at a place called Prevost Harbor on the North side of Stuart Island. It is very pretty and is densely forested, but to get to the land heads you have to hike up a very steep hill.

Todd taught us some theory about sailing and shortly afterward we got a call from Scott telling us that J pod had been spotted at Lime Kiln headed North an hour and half prior. We went back out to sea to see if we could spot them. At the point we saw what looked like a white line of breaking waves from the point across the middle of the ocean. It turned out to be the convergent zones of major upwelling areas caused by the strong tides moving over the rocks on the sea floor around the point. There was a massive amount of gulls there all feeding on the fish that were getting pushed up.

Shortly after crossing that area I spotted a dorsal fin! We had found the whales. We stayed out there for about 30 minuets, but it was getting late and the winds and currents were pretty bad. We didn’t get close enough for any ID photos but Jason thought that they were Residents! We are all really excited. We came back, had a very yummy soup and later that evening Jason made brownies and I made my new yummy peanut butter cookies!


This morning we departed from Prevost Harbor full of thoughts of whales. We headed out to the West side of San Juan Island hoping to catch them there. The weather was amazing but alas we couldn’t see any whales. We dropped # 4 of Blueberry (the blue 4 hydrophone array) from the stern of the boat to listen for them and though we heard a bunch of boats, still no whales.

After a few hours we heard that they had been spotted near Anacortes heading down Rosario Strait. They were too far for us to try and catch up to! We decided, after much deliberation, that we should go with the statistics and stay in Snug Harbor tonight betting that the Residents will hang around the West side tomorrow.

On our way back up to Snug we decided to calibrate the hydrophones. We tied all 6 hydrophones to a pole and deployed them off of the back of the Gato Verde while we deployed the speaker off of the front.  Kathryn and I spent the entire time holding the 4 hydrophones and two 8lb. weights in place away from the boat.

When we were finally done we also decided to try and find the lost Lime Kiln hydrophone again with the newly repaired SplashCam. This time we decided to deploy it from the bow of the Gato Verde. After getting it ready to deploy Horace and I waited on the trampoline for the go signal. We waited and waited and finally. . . it started to rain. The camera wasn’t working!

We packed everything back up and by the time we had passed Lime Kiln and put everything but the camera away Jason had fixed the camera. It was a great example of Murphy’s Law!


Today was a bit choppy. We didn’t hear anything about where the whales might be, much to our disappointment, so we decided to head down the West side. There was a lot of wind so we got to do a bit more sailing.

Coiling the main halyard

We didn’t see any whales and so shortly before lunch we decided to go to Mackey Harbor on Lopez Island because the tides wouldn’t shift for another 2 hours and drifting was beginning to become less and less pleasant. We pulled into the harbor and learned how to take the data from the calibration recordings and calibrate the hydrophones. It was a bit confusing but in the end I think I got it.

You can’t just look at the recordings and figure it out. You have to have a hydrophone with a built in tone creator that can create a tone that is a certain known amplitude. Then you have to look at another recording from the same hydrophone and, using the known tone, figure out what the received level of sound was in that recording. Then you use that known sound to calibrate the other hydrophones by looking at the same time on all of the recordings. Long and involved I know.

Amazingly enough hydrophones that can create an internal tone of known amplitude are pretty few and far between, outside of the Navy.

Around 4:00 we decided to motor back up to Snug Harbor because the weather on Monday is supposed to have wind up to 35 knots, which we can’t go out in, and we need to be in Snug on Tuesday to pick up Val!


The weather was amazing today. It was completely sunny till about 6:00 but the entire day it was blowing from about 20-34 knots in Haro Strait. So needless to day we didn’t leave Snug Harbor. We spend the day working on our various projects as well as doing our behavior exercise, which basically consisted of Jason in the dingy writing behavior states on the whiteboard and having us record the information on PDAs. It was incredibly amusing, even though we thought the PDAs were broken!

After dinner we got to watch an episode of the show produced by Jacques Cousteau, a true explorer. It was a relaxing and enjoyable day.


Val came aboard this morning!

The weather today was nice. It was sunny and warm with only a light breeze. We spent the day drifting on the tides staying North of San Juan Island.

We saw a few porpoises foraging in the convergent zone at Turn Point and even saw them jump out of the water and chase after the fish at the surface. It was pretty wild especially since I usually think of porpoises as ‘the dorsal fins that appear and disappear rapidly that don’t do much else’.

Porpoise dorsal fin

A while later, around 4:00, I saw some lightning strike land on the Vancouver side so we decided to head in to port. We stayed at Reid Harbor, which is the harbor  across from Prevost Harbor on Stuart Island. This side too had a major hill leading to the bathroom. On Stuart Island you have to EARN the use of the bathrooms.

Later that evening, we looked over our calibration exercise and found out that while blueberry is calibrated within expectable boundaries Libby’s hydrophone needs be re-calibrated.


Today we decided we needed to to pump out our holding tank (sewage) and conveniently enough there was a barge to do so in Reid harbor. We went over and started the process then realized that the pump wasn’t pumping, so we had to ditch the barge and go to Roche Harbor instead.

Kathryn, Jason and Horace in the Gatito

While there we pumped out, Val bought propane and Jason bought milk. Very exciting I know.

We head out to drift along the west side of San Juan Island to try and listen for the whales, now that we had an easy deployment hydrophone that Jason put below the Gato Verde that morning. We didn’t hear anything of note, but the weather was nice so we decided to revisit the light bulb popping exercise.

The first one at 100m from the boat went off spectacularly! The imploding light bulbs sound a little like gunshots. It was amazing to listen to! After that more and more problems just kept coming up.

During the exercise I was on the range finder, recording the distance between the Gato Verde and Gatito, as well as the radio. I have to say I am not the most adept at radio communication. It is kind of odd how flustered I got calling on the radio, it is a little like stage fright. I would say the most convoluted and confusing things because my mind blanked and I couldn’t think of the appropriate word. It was fun though. After that we decided to head back to Snug Harbor for the night.


We decided (again) to drift around North of San Juan Island and, once again, saw no whales! We think that the Residents have gone back out to sea for a while; apparently this happened last year as well, though not quite as late in the year.

Jason and Val gave us fake data sets today so we could see how we are going to analyze it and what data we really needed to collect. It turns out that my data sheet is completely useless and I will have to make a new one. I actually need to pay attention to fewer things, but that means that my current data sheet is unsuitable.

My hypotheses also have undergone serious reduction and refinement. I still have three hypotheses but the three I have now were actually only one of my original three.

Though organizing and analyzing the data was exceedingly useful, I spent the day trying not to destroy my computer while doing so in Excel. I am very aggravated with Excel right now and I wish I could easily give pc people numbers documents! I finally figured it out, with a lot of help from both Jason and Val, and have completed my fake data set analysis. Now we are sitting in Westcott Bay working on our proposals which are due on Friday.

Oh, we also saw some harbor seals that we think were mating, but were not sure they could just have been splashing around a bit while playing.


Today after breakfast, since we were in a quiet harbor, decided to recalibrate Libby’s hydrophone. It went well, but this time since we knew that there were harbor seals in the bay we decided to ramp up the tone amplitude slowly so the seals could move away from the sound if it bothered them.

After we headed out we decided to go north and drift hoping the whales would be there. Our proposal is due tonight and tomorrow is the open house so we will be docking at the labs.

While we were heading out north of San Juan Island we decided to have watches for marine mammals. I was on the bow and saw a number of porpoises as well as a sea lion.

At about 2:30 we were informed that there were a few Transients only a half hour from where we were so we decided to go check it out. We motored up and found them! It was awesome. There was one female and one adolescent male.  We deployed blueberry and managed to hear one call! Our first live acoustic recording! They were socializing and milling for a while before they decided to leave.

There was one very oblivious boater that motored at high speed right over where they were and only slowed down well after they passed them. This, for those who don’t know, is very much against the law as orca are an endangered species.

After that we decided to motor back to the labs to take showers and do some laundry!

Be joyous

Read More