The Expedition Begins!

Living in my Northface fleece

We were all so excited to get on the boat. We planned to meet Captain Todd at 11:45 on Sunday to load our gear and begin our high seas adventure. It was a beautiful sunny day. We loaded all our gear and set sail. Todd decided to take us to the infamous Cattle Pass, which is known for its wildlife. On the way there we all sat on the trampoline and watched the water pass underneath our feet. At Cattle Pass we saw some Stellar seals hauled out on a rock and a bald eagle. As darkness descended upon us, we made our way to McKay Harbor where we moored the boat for the night. Sleeping on the boat was colder than I expected it would be. I wore a lot of layers to bed, but I was warm.
To keep the boat in ship shape and stay organized, we are assigned different jobs that we rotate through every day. On Monday, my job was to be the navigator. Being the navigator, I was in charge of charting our course. This is a cool job that involves looking at all the charts with a divider, I felt pretty nautical. I had to listen to the weather report on the radio and check the tide and current books to see where we should go and when. There were no reported sightings of orcas in the area, but there was a sighting of gray whales in Saratoga Pass, which unfortunately was pretty far from where we were. I chose to go north to Sung Harbor and we got our Gato Verde introduction on the way.

On Tuesday we made our way south to Port Townsend, because there were reports of transients south of Whidbey Island. We wanted to be wherever the orcas were. I was the science lead, so I was in charge of keeping everyone organized and outlining the priorities for the day. On the way, we deployed our precious hydrophone array and recorded some sounds so we could practice analyzing the sound files. The hydrophone array is a big deal because that’s how we record the whales. We have a line of 4 hydrophones spaced our across 10m increments that we tow behind the boat. We docked our boat in Port Townsend for the night. The dock had a Marine Science Center on it with all sorts of cool tide pools and aquariums. That night on the boat was also cold. I slept in many layers again. At this point it dawned on me that I was probably going to be spending my week in many layers.
Wednesday I was the systems reporter. To do this job I checked our water and sewage levels and biodiesel supply. I entered the levels into the computer and reported the daily water use per person, so we could keep track of our water use. Mandy was the navigator and she, like all of us, was on a mission to find whales and with no orcas in the area, we turned to the gray whales. We charted a 10 hour cruise up around Whidbey Island ending at Penn Cove. It was awesome. We sailed all day and it was a gorgeous sunny day. Mandy, Emalie, and I rode the bow all day and kept our eyes peeled for whales. Around lunch we saw something amazing. Val spotted a breaching Minke whale! These whales rarely jump out of the water and this one breached 5 times! It was really cool. It caught us all by surprise, so we only got 1 photo. Val was quick enough to get a shot of its little dorsal fin. We reported our sighting to Orca Network. Due to our lack of credibility and rarity for Minkes to breach, they reported “beam reach students reported what they believed to be a Minke Whale”. Taken back by their lack in confidence in our sighting, we compiled a case, sent in our Minke fin picture and earned some street cred. Check out Mandy’s post dedicated to whale identification here. We also saw many porpoises. They were really cute. As we continued around Whidbey, it became clear that we wouldn’t make it to Penn Cove before dusk. As we realized this, we got a call that there were gray whales in our area. No sooner had we looked to the horizon when blows were spotted. We quickly decided to anchor in a closer location, Elgar Bay , so we could spend the rest of our afternoon with the gray whale. We watched as it was feeding and recorded the time between its breaths. It was such a fun day!

Gray Whale

Since we hadn’t gotten as far as we planned on Wednesday we had to get up extra early on Thursday to time the current leaving Deception Pass. Deception Pass, as I will explain, was one of the coolest parts of the trip. My job Thursday was to be the science reporter and report on what we did the day before. Scott helped me make a graph of the gray whale breath times from the day before. From my graph we found a dive pattern. It was really neat. Going through Deception Pass was so beautiful. It is an extremely narrow channel and it was possibly the most beautiful thing I have seen in the San Juans so far. We anchored in Aleck Bay early in the afternoon so Mandy could do a sound spreading exercise for her project. We sent Scott, Robin, Mandy, and Kelsey out on Gatito, the dingy to play sounds from different distances. Emalie and I recorded the data from the sound on the boat and enjoyed the beautiful day.
Friday we spent out day traveling north to Snug Harbor. One the way we did a lot of science. We stopped for a while in Salmon Bank and took samples for Kelsey’s project. Again, it was an amazing day and spending it out on the water made it all the better. We also deployed the most expensive piece of science technology on the boat, the CTD. The CTD is a device that can measure nearly everything possible to measure in the water. It records the temperature, salinity, chlorophyll levels, light particles, pH, and oxygen levels. We tied two “oh crap lines” aka back up lines to that device.

Deception Pass


On Saturday we had a guest speaker, Jessica Lundin come and talk to us about her work of gathering and analyzing orca scat samples. That was really interesting. We spent the rest of the day gathering plankton samples and deploying the CTD offshore from Lime Kiln State Park. As we needed more water and a place to pump out the sewage, we headed to Roche Harbor. Roche harbor is a very interesting place. It was hands-down the nicest port we had stayed in, having giant yachts and sea planes all over. It was such a warm day I was down to 1 layer, it was very exciting. After dinner, Mandy and I wandered the town and visited a sculpture garden. This was the most elaborate sculpture garden I have ever seen, we were there admiring and wandering for 2 hours. Later that night when we were working we heard J-Pod on the hydrophone! Sweet irony. We spent a week at sea hoping to see J-Pod and they come back the night of our last day at sea. At least they’re back.

Sculpture Garden

On Sunday, we unloaded the boat and we’re welcomed home with an Easter brunch from Leslie and Val. It was so sweet of them. They even hid chocolate eggs all over the house for us. It was a great way to end a great week.

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