Author Archive

Localization Headaches

I’ve been spending a large part of my time doing analysis trying to localize calls in Ishmael. Since I never had a situation where the entire group was social. I have to localize the calls from each social period to see if they came from the social group or not. The way you do that is by opening the file in a program called Ishmael, imputing your hydrophone data, selecting a call, and pressing localize. When you do that Ishmael looks at the four channels that were recorded and calculates the difference in time it took for the sound to reach the four hydrophones. It can then use this to calculate the location of the call.

Unfortunately Ishmael is not perfect and neither are our recording conditions. Since the ocean is a noisy environment with lots of background noise there are times that it can’t distinguish above the background noise and will give you some strange answer that sometimes invloves the animal being millions of miles away. Also, if a call is made directly in front or behind the array it can’t localize well because the sound waves are coming straight on. Because of this I have a lot calls which can’t be localized well if at all.

All in all this is doing nothing to make the frantic last week of analysis and paper writing easier. That said, it is slowly bit by bit getting done and I feel good that I will be able to pull everything together and be able to have a good presentation ready come Saturday morning.

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Cliffs and calls

Our time at sea went from one end of the spectrum to the other. Our first two weeks we had no whales and the last couple weeks we couldn’t get away from the whales. That combined with our sailing curriculum, software problems, and general life on the boat made for some long days. We did have some chances to relax with episodes of the flight of the conchords courtesy of lindsay as well as a copy of the life aquatic courtesy of the staff.

We were also supposed to have some time off to go on a camping trip friday night on doe island. However, what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men is true. After making smores and singing around the campfire things went downhill rapidly. When I say things I mean me and when I say downhill I mean off the side of a cliff. As you can probably guess by the fact I am now blogging about it I survivied. Falling 25 feet down a cliff has left me with many painful cuts and bruises, some very interesting memories, and a new sense of the bigger picture. Although I was very lucky not to suffer any serious injuries (I was even able to climb back up the cliff) it could easily have been much worse. I do want to take a chance to thank everyone who made sure I was alright that night.

Now I have to turn my beat up body to the task of analyzing all my data and trying to draw some conclusions from them. Although I did not get as many socializing events as I would have hoped for, I certainly got more than enough to keep me busy. As much as my body would probably like a rest, science waits for no one and I have lots of whale calls to keep me company as I heal. That said I should get back to work.

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Take the Plunge!

We just got back from the FHL dock. The difference between this trip to the dock and previous ones is that this time the purpose was not an acoustic exercise with speakers and hydrophones. It was a swimming exercise/cold plunge. The water temp is about 9 degrees celsius which is cold enough. The idea behind the cold plunge is that if one of us were to fall off the boat, we would know what the water feels like. We all took the plunge, Val and Jason included. I don’t know about everyone else, but I had a lot of fun taking the plunge.

This quick swim was the second coldest water I’ve been in. As a freshman my school has the viking bath which consists of running into the waters on cape cod in late December. It is actually a little bit of a rush which is why I always enjoy swimming in cold water. The cold plunge today brings back a lot of those memories, but at the same time seemed very much different. Thanks to Val’s waterproof camera we will have some good documentation of our plunge.

As for our time at FHL campus, it is slowly drawing to a close for the time being. Sunday afternoon we begin loading our gear on the boat and set sail. As excited as I am about finally being able to go to sea and study the orcas, something I’ve wanted to do for as long as I can remember, it is also very much bittersweet as I start to get ready to go. I’ve gotten so use to seeing the other people here at the labs that it is going to be strange to not be able to see and interact with them as we have the past few weeks. People some times get so caught up with the work they are doing that the forget to notice the people around them who enrich their daily experiences. It is something that is more and more common in todays society and something which I hope I never take for granted.

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A little bit of everything

As Laura mentioned, it has been a busy week. However, I will try and mention a little bit of everything from each of our many events without ending up with a novel.

Last week we went to a oyster farm in westcott bay. It was really cool looking around in the intertidal mud for oysters and so much more. Once you start looking closer you find so many creatures who have carved themselves a niche in the intertidal realm. The boots I borrowed when I got there had a hole in them which was pretty much the only downfall of the day. We also did water quality to see how healthy it actually is to eat the oysters we collected. The temp was 12.1 degrees Celsius which was probably warmer then it actually was since the sample had been sitting in the sun for a short time. The salinity was 28.9 ppt. The phosphate levels and nitrate levels were 0.23 and 0.27 ppm respectivley, which is much cleaner then the minimum standards.

After leaving the oyster farm we went to the Center for Whale Research and met some of the researchers working there. I was really excited to do that since I’ve been wanting to go there since I arrived and learn about the research that they are doing. Also, the view from their office is amazing. I’ve pretty much decided that is my dream job.

We also got to go to Vancouver this weekend. We went for the NW student chapter of the society for Marine Mammalogists conference at UBC. The conference was a great way for us to see what other researchers in marine mammalogy were doing and network. The campus at UBC was really nice as well. Saturday night we got to explore downtown vancouver which I would recommend to anyone who gets the chance. It is a neat city to be in.

Sunday we got a backstage tour of the vancouver aquarium and saw the research they were doing with Stellar sea lions. Seeing those animals up close like that gives you a new appreciation of their size and strength. The aquarium was cool and seeing beluga whales was great although the issue of animals in captivity on display like that rather than being in their natural environment has always been a difficult one for me. My own personal debates about the issue aside, the aquarium was really well done. I seem to have a growing list of aquariums which I have visited recently and this one is certainly high up on that list. Now enough about Vancouver.

Today we had the day off which was a much needed way for me to catch up on sleep. I also got a chance to relax a little and play soccer with some of the other people here at the lab. I quickly realized just how long it has been since I stepped onto a soccer field. As if that wasn’t enough of an assault on my body I then decided to go for a six mile bike ride with some other students here at the lab. We went after dinner with the sun beginning to set which made for an amazingly picturesque ride through the hills. Tomorrow I’m pretty sure I’ll be extremely sore but it was certainly worth it. It was a good way to recharge after the exhausting days of last week. As for my project proposal which I seem to have forgotten to mention I decided to look at the correlation between vocalizations and socializing behavior in the southern residents. I’m really excited now that our time at sea is less than a week away. Now that I have finished rambling about all the exciting moments over the last week I think I will leave you with one of my favorite pictures from our last orca encounter.

Orcas off of San Juan

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J Pod part II

       Much of this week has been spent closing in on our research proposals which were originally due this morning. However, the whales had their own ideas about how things would go this week. After getting a call about whales off of San Juan again. We quickly got our stuff together, packed some quick lunches from the dining hall and ran to meet the Western Prince at the dock to go on a whale watch. Since there was not enough room in the car for five students and two instructors, Ryan and I went by bike.

On a side note riding to and from town is in my opinon the best way to get there. Although it might be easier at times to row, riding is much more enjoyable working your way through the hilly roads into town. Coming back much of the road is downhill which makes for a great ride. Also, I’ve always enjoyed getting around by bike when and where possible.  But I’m getting a little side tracked…back to the whales.

After a seemingly short ride out of the harbor and around the island to where the whales were we finally got there. We were not alone. There was another whale watch boat getting there as we did and more soon showed up. There was also a research boat studing the whales. When the whales are sighted word travels fast and it seems like so many people drop what they are doing to see the whales if they can. Once again it was J Pod, which is the same group as last time. There were certainly noticable differences between sightings. The first time we saw them they were travelling slowly in a very widely spread out group. This time they were slowly milling back and forth in a much closer group.

Seeing them from the water was a great experience for us. It allowed us to get familiar seeing them from a boat for one. Also, it gave us an idea of how close 100 yards from the whales is. Since we need to stay 100 yards or more away at all times due to the whale wise regulations it was important for us to get that concept in our heads. Even from 100 yards you can still get a very impressive view of these creatures. The one slightly disappointing thing about the sighting was the lack of vocals. Twice a hydrophone was dropped of the boat, but it both cases we heard only silence from the whales.

Although J Pod was certainly the highlight of the trip, there was more to come. On the way back we saw porpoises, harbor seals, stellar sea lions, a bald eagle, and oystercatchers. All in all it was a pretty good day. As for our research proposals, they were still waiting for us when we returned. Due to the change in plans our instructors were kind enough to push the deadline to Thursday morning. Now all of us are hard at work finishing them up before the end of the day. Speaking of which I need to get back to mine now that I have spent enough time telling everyone about our exciting second encounter with the whales.

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Proposals and rocky shorelines

Going into the second week I think some of us are a little nervous about our initial research proposals which are due Wednesday morning. The good news is most of us our narrowing in on our topics. I still have some uncertainty on mine, however I am leaning towards the vocalizations made during socializing in southern residents. Now I just need to see if I can narrow it down to specifics and define the behaviors I am looking at.

As for the local area I am loving it more and more. This weekend a bunch of us went into town to check out the whale museum which was really well done and had a really nice exhibit set up on acoustics so that we could quiz ourselves on specific orca calls. Then Sunday I went over to Orcas island with some other people from the lab and poked around on the beaches there for a while. Digging around in the rocky inter-tidal zone to see what can be found can be really interesting. Although sandy beaches are really nice, rocky shorelines offer a lot more fun in my opinion. Below is a little something I did while killing time on the beach last week.

Beam Reach

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J Pod Welcomes us to Washington

      So we just finished an intense first week at Beam Reach. Our first day way was spent touring the labs and taking in the view from scenic Lime Kiln State Park on the west side of San Juan Island. Our second day became even more exciting as we got our first sighting of Orcas. J Pod was along the west side and we were able to get over there in time to see them from a distance of about 1/2 a mile or so. Even at that distance we were able to clearly hear their blows when they came to the surface. It was an exciting way for the whales to welcome us to washington.

Since then we’ve been doing a lot of work with the math and physics of sound and learning about the differences between sound in the air and sound in the water. As someone who hasn’t been in a physics or math course in a while it was very good for me to relearn all these important concepts. I’m sure they will ocme in very handy in the coming weeks.

Today we also got an introduction to sailing and underwater acoustics off of the back dock. Using a little dingy we each sailed out and back. We also used an underwater speaker to play sounds underwater and record them to practice sound analysis this weekend. During the playback a seal popped up near the dock perhaps curious to see what these new sounds were. All in all it was a good way to wrap up the final week of work here.

One thing I love is the atmosphere of the small island community. As someone who has spent most of his life on Cape Cod I would like to consider myself a small town islander but in reality the development of the Cape in recent years has caused it to move away from that small town feeling. Only Nantucket and the Vineyard still come close. However, here in Friday Harbor everyone is friendly and there is a feeling of trust. Nothing around the lab is locked and the town is equally  picturesque. As for the scenery, it can’t be beat. With rocky shorlines coming downing to meet the chilly blue waters of the Pacific Northwest its easy to feel at home on the island. In the distance mountains loom adding to the overall effect. I’m greatly looking forward to the coming weeks.

Another exciting thing about living here is the wildlife. As I write this two foxes just ran across the grass in front of my window. In addition to that I’ve seen quite a few black tailed deer along the way and a bald eagle on the way to Lime Kiln our first day. Looking out over the water it is not uncommon to see a seal looking back at you. One seal in particular might come say hello when rowing into town. His name is Popeye due to the fact he is blind in one of his eyes. Our first time rowing into town he came right up to the dock as we tied up our boat and said hello before swimming off again. This weekend I am looking forward to doing some trail running through the woods near the lab.

As for my specific research project I haven’t quite narrowed it down yet. I first wanted to do something with the effect of sonar on orcas but realized that logistically might pose some difficulties. I was also interested in differences in calls between specific age groups but localizing the calls to a specific whale of known age could prove difficult. It seems like every time I come across a new paper I come up with more possibilities and it fuels my motivation. Hopefully this weekend I will be able to narrow it down more. In the mean time I still have some papers I am interested in reading.

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