Highlights of the first three weeks

Hello there!

Fall 2010 Beam Reach is going full force. Tomorrow we leave for our first adventures on the Gato Verde, and we’re all pretty excited to get out on the water and start conducting the research we’ve been so busily planning!

But before we head out, I thought I should give some highlights of our first three weeks in Friday Harbor:

1) Lime Kiln Lighthouse: We went to the lighthouse to view the setting and soak in the environment around it. We let the sights, sounds, and smells around us inspire us to write 21 question’s we’d like to answer about the orcas and the ecosystem around them. Sadly, we didn’t see any whales, but we did think of some interesting questions!

We ended up going back the next week to help clean up the area around the lighthouse, and even inside the lighthouse itself, and we got to see the amazing view from the top. Still no whales, but you can’t be too disappointed when you’re looking out at the view pictured left. It’s a pretty incredible area out here!

2)  Hiking around Friday Harbor Labs:

Cat, Megan and I have been enjoying the hiking around the island and exploring some of the trails that start right in the backyard of the Friday Harbor Labs. The weather has been beautiful for the most part–sunny and not too hot, the perfect hiking weather. I think my favorite moment of the hikes was coming into a clearing and seeing Mount Baker rising about the San Juan channel. This midwestern girl still isn’t used to seeing all the mountains out here!

3) Learning! Ok, this may be an extremely cheesy highlight, but this whole program is about learning, and we’ve had some great opportunities.

Our lessons range from lectures to discussions to hands on opportunities, and it’s been a fun mix of everything. One of my favorites was getting the hydrophones out and listening to what they really pick up. And my goodness, the water around the Friday Harbor Marina is LOUD, especially when ferries go by! It was a good opportunity to hear what recordings sound like, and try to figure out what sounds come from what source. That will be a needed skill when I’m trying to sort out the difference between an echolocation click vs a click train vs a noise made by a boat or other noise source. It’s harder than I expected!

4) Rowing into town: The labs have rowboats that you can check out and row into town. Our main options of getting to town are biking, walking or rowing (with the occasional ride being offered). I’ve walked and rowed, and both are quite enjoyable, although the rowing is definitely more scenic. And I think the noise my oars  make will diminish as I learn to row more effectively–I’m a bit uncoordinated still! I’m sure all marine wildlife will appreciate when I’m a little more fluent! We’ve even seen a harbor seal in the Marina, although we’ve yet to see the resident seal who hangs out by the seafood restaurant.

5) Sailing: Although we’ve yet to see the Gato Verde, Jason took us out in a smaller sailboat so we could get our feet wet (although thankfully, not literally). I must admit, small sailboats make me a tad nervous–I just don’t appreciate how tippy they can be! But it was a beautiful day and we all had a great time. It definitely got us anxious to get on the Gato Verde and go!

6) The Plunge: Yes, that’s right, the “fun rite of passage” all beam reachers do before they set sail. Jumping off the dock into the very chilly waters, just in case we didn’t respect how fast hypothermia could set in. Wow. That water is cold! It literally takes your breath away, and you have a pretty hard time talking, or at least I did. I wasn’t brave enough to jump off the jetty a few meters above the water, but many of the other members were. I commend their bravery, and definitely respect the waters (and sharp barnacles!) around the San Juans!

7) WHALES!!!!!  Dave, Megan, Cat, and I all got to see whales off the coast at the State Park. I think the caption of this highlight speaks for the extreme excitement we all felt. Definitely a top moment of the term thus far 🙂

8) Soundwatch:

Soundwatch is an educational program that (among other things) helps inform private boaters the “be whale-wise guidelines,” which is essentially guidelines for boaters to follow (some laws, some suggestions that aren’t laws but recommended to help protect the whales). It was really amazing–Cat and I went out on the boat with Capitan John and their summer intern, Kate. It was a relatively quiet day in terms of whale-watchers, but we still approached a lot of boaters, handed out a lot of informational packets (from a moving boat–not an easy feat!), and luckily for Cat and I, saw lots of whales! It’s an amazing effort, and I’m so impressed with the dedicated staff and volunteers who are out there everyday in the summer, trying to protect the whales. If you’re ever thinking about whale watching in this area, make sure you know and follow the Be Whale Wise guidelines, which can be seen at http://www.bewhalewise.org/

Well, there have been many more good times, but it’s getting late and we’ve still got lots of packing and loading to do before we’re ready to set sail tomorrow. So for now, cheers from Friday Harbor!

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