What happened to Sysaphus? Hopefully it was a happy ending…

Have you ever come so close to your goal that you can literally see it breaching out of the water in front of you, only to have it slip away? Or perhaps you recall the tale of sysaphus, pushing his boulder up the hill only to have it roll back down again just when he got to the top. Or maybe your team had the other pinned deep in their own territory, 4th down and 26 with less than a minute to go, only to watch that victory slip away? Well, not to be too dramatic, but that’s how close we were to seeing some Orcinus orca the last two days but not quite getting there. First we weighed anchor on Friday with the knowledge that fall was really upon us: K-pod was heading down admiralty inlet towards Seattle in search of the fall chinook and chum runs. Off we went, though it would prove to be a five hour trip down there. Admittedly, some of us were secretly pleased that we wouldn’t be recording data right away, given the 5:00 deadline for our proposals. Maybe we dusted ourselves with a little karma with those thoughts. Suffice to say that we pulled in to Port Townsend sans whale sightings (they were too far down Puget Sound). BUT, when we were playing around with our underwater camera and microphone at 10 at night, well fed and relieved to have turned in our projects, checking out the nudibranchs, nutridiums and nerocystis on the ocean floor, suddenly, an S16 call comes in the speaker. We rush up to the dock, turn on the hydrophone up there, and listen as our quarry passes us in the dark, heading north. ALAS!

In the morning, we are hopeful that somehow there might be a few whales still in the sound, or that they turned around and came back in. Did we come all the way down here just for an evening of cell-phone service and flush toilets? We linger, hopeful. That lingering proved too much. By the time we’re sure that no reports will come in from the sound, after we listened to 45 minutes of live internet broadcasts from Lime Kiln (www.orcasound.net, listen to sample orca calls: S17 (possibly) recorded 9/14/10, S6 (recorded 9/14/10), S1 (recorded 9/16/10), S2 recorded 9/22/10, (1st call in 2 hours, preceded a change in direction), S9 (sample file)), we’re fighting currents in our quest to get back to the islands. Reports are coming in left and right: whales at Hannah Heights! Black and whites at Kellet Bluff! K-pod at turn point! Our usual stomping grounds are silly with whales, but we’re dodging shipping traffic in the straight of Juan de Fuca. Then, just as we’re nearing our potential harbor for the night, we hear reports. They’re just around the corner. They’re heading south (towards us!). We change plans and sail off towards them. We get closer and closer. More reports come in: they’re calling a lot! They’re…heading north! (d’oh!) We’re so close we can see spouts and the occassional breach. But now they’re traveling. And the sun is setting. And we have to head to harbor for the night. We settle our stomachs with some gourmet burritos, settle our academic interests looking at the moons of jupiter, and go to bed hopeful for what will be tomorrow.

Oh yeah, and if any of you happen to know (or be) my mother, tell her happy birthday!

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