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Oh hey Humpbacks!

Canada may be my new favorite place. Here’s why:

WE SAW HUMPBACKS!!!!!!! It was INCREDIBLE! It was my first time seeing humpbacks, and they got pretty close to our boat–they’re HUGE!!! We also got to see some characteristic fluke shots (they dove deep enough that their entire flukes came out of the water. We got some pretty incredible photos and even video! How many cool/awesome/amazing/gorgeous/inspiring moments can I keep having?!?!?! we also got to see transient killer whales, which we haven’t seen before. They look and behave so differently than the residents we’ve been seeing and it was so cool to compare them. Plus, I found a buddy with the transients: there was one that has scoliosis, so I bonded with it and feel especially attached to it (I have fairly advanced scoliosis so I feel bonded to all creatures, besides snakes, which a curvy spine!)! I’m in love with all the amazing creatures I’ve been getting to see!! Everyday is absolutely spectacular!

We were in Victoria for an acoustics conference, which was very interesting. It’s really cool to hear about how many ways acoustics is being used for different types of projects.  Many of the abstracts are up online at It was also held at Canada’s only carbon-neutral hotel, which was pretty cool.

The city of Victoria is gorgeous and fun to go out and explore, although we were all pretty overwhelmed coming into a city after having been on the boat (and out of contact with much of civilization).

Today we’re heading out for our final (!!!!!) week on the water. I have absolutely no idea where the time has gone. Certainly it’s flown by way too fast! I know I’m going to enjoy absolutely every minute out on the water because I doubt I’ll ever get this chance again. This program has been amazing, and I know the last week on the water will be the same!

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I’ve eaten porpoise spit, have you???

Ok, now I know what you might be thinking: Porpoise spit?? Disgusting! But, before you judge, consider what I mean. There we were, sailing along on a gorgeous sunny October day (that happened to be Megan’s 21st birthday—Happy Birthday!) when we were lucky enough to get Dall’s porpoises bow riding the Gato Verde again! How fortunate can one Beam Reach group get! They were so close that Megan and I, who were enjoying some fresh, crisp, amazingly delicious honeycrisp apples, got showered with some of the spray from their blows. HOW COOL IS THAT?? Too amazing. You’re jealous you haven’t gotten to eat porpoise spit, admit it.

How about some more random facts about the current Beam Reach experience:

1) I have now become a measure of temperature for the group. Despite my Midwestern roots, I am by far the coldest member of the boat at any time. I am typically wearing 2-3, sometimes 4 more layers than anyone else. Need an ice pack? Try my fingers!

2) Dave is pulling ahead in the cribbage competition. Which is absolutely not ok with this highly competitive girl…

3) Val Veirs (my current hero) has created a click detecting (aka “click counter”) program for my data analysis. Though this is wonderful and could make my data analysis infinitely easier, I’m still fighting with it, trying to get accurate and consistent results. I will keep you posted on my struggle with technology.

4) I am the first, and only, Beam Reacher to get stuck on an oar while climbing into the dinghy. This occurred while Megan, Cat, and I were attempting to go for a walk while anchored at Prevost. I won’t pretend that I’m the most graceful person, but I may have outdone myself with this stunt: wobble into dinghy, stumble down to the stern to make room for others, find myself (via the back straps of my lifejacket) attached to oar, attempt to free myself, only manage to flail about a bit, and nearly lose the oar in the water. Luckily, Megan had already successfully climbed into the dinghy and freed me from my trap. Whew. I think I impressed even Jason with that one.

5) The log of a number is the power of 10 that gets you the number!

6) When sewage doesn’t go where it’s supposed to go, it’s no fun for anyone. Seriously (thank you Capitan Todd!)

7) There isn’t a cooler view than standing on the roof of the galley. Well, maybe the roof of the cockpit is better. I don’t think you’ve lived until you’ve gotten a chance to experience a sunny day with an ocean full of whales until you’ve done that.

8 ) Orca shaped funfetti birthday cakes are the most delicious of all.

9) I’m running out of random facts.

10) When orcas pass your boat (that is fighting a strong current) and you can’t keep up with them, it feels exactly the same as when bikes pass your car while you’re sitting in traffic. Not a great feeling.

10) Oh oh! October 6, 2010 may have been one of the best days yet (are you sick of me saying that yet??)

So. Here’s why today was awesome. Gorgeous, sunny, (albeit a little chilly) fall day. Lovely trip down to Discovery Island, where we drifted a little and came upon…WHALES! There were like 20 whales all bunched together. So cool! There was a ton of spyhopping, and I mean a TON….we’re talking up to 3 at a time and like 20 in the span of 2 minutes! And even better, DALL’S PORPOISES CAME TO PLAY (would you really play with a predator that can, and has killed your kind??) with the whales!!!! The porpoises were darting around with the whales, even following some of them directly. It looked like a blast, and was such an amazing sight to see two beautiful species interacting like that. Definitely a top 3 moment for me!! That was the most exciting whale adventure for the day, but after a slight wrong turn south at False Bay, we headed north with them and saw some great foraging behavior. After docking at Jones Island tonight, we got to enjoy a warm dinner, leftover birthday cake (some of us may or may not have skipped right to the leftover frosting…), stargazing, and….RACOONS! I know I should be used to how cute they are and accept them for the dirty pests most people see them as, but they climbed up on our boat and were just SO CUTE! They’d press their little faces up against the glass and peer in, we’d scare them away (well, not all of us), and then they’d return for more fun. It was adorable. Granted, now we have to sleep with all our hatches closed since one did attempt to climb in to cuddle with Jason. All in all, a terrific day!

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Gorgeous, gorgeous, and oh, gorgeous!

I thought things at Beam Reach were awesome last week, but man, they just keep getting better and better! These past few days have been absolutely STUNNING! It’s been clear, sunny, and even a little wild on the water! Monday we had some wild waves, and had our first true chance to test our sea legs. Luckily we all passed the test, and had a blast sitting out on the bow of the Gato Verde, enjoying the sunshine and salty wind on our faces as the boat plowed through the most significant waves we’ve experienced yet! And the best part was that we got to see orcas after riding what felt like a mini roller coaster!

Yesterday and today have been some of the most beautiful days we’ve had out on the water. It’s been bright and sunny and clear, and there have been huge, and I mean huge, amounts of whales gathered together! Today there were at least 40 clustered into 2-3 groups and we saw almost the same yesterday–someone (sorry, not sure which whale watching operator it was) called yesterday one of the best days of the season, and I believe it! The orcas were resting for a good portion of the day, and it was crazy to see them all gathered together, rising and falling in uniform synchronization in such huge numbers. Suddenly, around Turn Point, the whales woke from their resting state, and almost flew down the coast! They would absolutely blast through the water–it was porpoising like I’ve never seen before.

You truly get an idea of their speed and power when they’re in travel mode! We even got to observe foraging behavior, as many of the whales stuck around to feed, making quick lunges, deeper dives, and moving in random, sporadic movements! All the behavior changes were great for me, since part of my research question will be comparing echolocation click rates and behavior states; I got a lot of excellent data to analyze!

Today was just a continuation of yesterday’s amazing weather and behavior. I have never (granted, I’m still a newbie at this whale research thing) seen as many whales grouped together as I did today. We heard that members from J, K and L pods were clustered in the super-pod we followed! In addition to huge numbers of whales, they were so active: so many breaches (I saw at least 30!), spyhops, tail slaps, peck slaps, nuzzling…you name the behavior, the whales were doing it! I think they were enjoying the beautiful weather just as much as we were! I was honestly star-struck by the number of whales and gorgeous behaviors we saw today. I was honored to be able to observe their world, and so thankful that Beam Reach has given me this wonderful opportunity to pursue my love of orcas! I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again (likely every post I make!), these whales are more than gorgeous, they’re more than amazing. They inspire me to do everything in my power to help them, and I’m so glad that this is my life right now. I love every second of this!

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Best. Day. Ever!

Right now we’re currently anchored in Snug Harbor where we can borrow internet from the mainland and I couldn’t resist signing on and forwarding some pictures. I’ll have more details to come since internet access is limited and I have tons of work to do, but I had to share the potentially best day I’ve EVER had. Let me name the reasons: an incredibly gorgeous sunset last night segued into a peaceful, foggy morning today. We started our day seeing minke whales and an adorable baby harbor seal swimming around the boat, and trying to climb up our back stairs. We moved on to see orcas, lots and lots of orcas!
My favorite part was seeing a mom and calf interact and play around–it was amazing to see how curious and playful the calf was! Plus we heard orcas vocalizing in AND out of the water and saw so many(/much) peck flaps, tail slaps, spy hopping, breaches, playing around, nuzzling, familial bonding…The Southern residents were definitely out and about!
Our day ended with a stellar sea lion and both Harbor and Dahl’s porpoises, who were bow riding on another boat, on our way back. To top it all off? Mac and cheese and chocolate chips this evening! Seriously. You cannot top the day we had with the marine wildlife, especially the orcas. They are clearly such intelligent and playful animals, I’m continually amazed and awed and inspired by these beautiful creatures. I cannot believe this is my life right now.
Sorry I just word vomited out this amazing day. Everyone has been getting some great data for their projects, and I just couldn’t keep this day to myself!


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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

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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