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The last week of Beam Reach ‘07 – Week 10

I realise it has been 3 weekssince the program finished but I have been travelling and haven’t had time to post this blog. Here is how the final week of Beam Reach 07 went down.

 Monday 22nd October

What a bloody busy day! I’ve processed all of my boat data and put them into graphical form for ease of comparison. Still not sure of my stats yet but hope to get some idea for them tomorrow. Work work work.

Tuesday 23rd October to Sunday 28th OctoberAs I write this I am sitting at a table at the airport in Seattle and the Beam Reach Program is now over. Here’s how the one of the busiest weeks of my life went down.Tuesday to Thursday was the same as Monday. I wake up, go to breakfast, get my laptop, go to the library and work on my project. Some days I would change it up and work half a day in my room and half in the library. Exciting I know! I had meetings with Val everyday and we talked about how my project was going and what direction I’m heading in. Tuesday morning was a little different in that we each gave a quick oral presentation on our Sustainability Reports. As I have explained earlier, mine was on outfitting an existing whale watch vessel with a hybrid biodiesel/electric propulsion system. The sustainability part of it was that it’s using a natural fuel that when used is absorbed back into the carbon cycle, and the electric motor is almost silent underwater when slow motoring with the whales. The beauty of it is that whale watch operators could still be able to get to and from a whale watch site at high speeds and would be able to charge their battery in doing so. All it needs is someone to pioneer it. Granted it would be very expensive but if an operator did it and put a lot of marketing in it, who do you think the public would choose: an operator that is like every other operator, or an operator that has a propulsion system that is environmentally friendly and has minimal noise impact on the whales? I know who I would choose. Pretty soon the other operators would be getting the shits because this particular operator is actually the most “environmentally friendly” and getting the majority of the customers, and so the only way they can compete is to outfit their vessels with a similar system. The beauty with it is that as battery technology and electric power advances, the system can be modified to achieve greater efficiency. If only I had the money to do it myself.Thursday I analysed 101 individual echolocation clicks which was somewhat time consuming. I really should have done it earlier but I have a system with the way I work. As some of you probably know I’m somewhat of a perfectionist. I like everything to be organised and so when I write projects I think appearance is a vital part. What I mean when I say this, is that I like to have figures and formats all done before I finish the text part of my document. I hate to finish the paper knowing I have to go over everything and make sure it is all formatted. Granted that is probably how u should do it as content is the most important part of a paper, but I like to know when I’ve finished a paper, I’ve finished it (after a proof read of course), and not have to work about making sure all the graphs can be read easily. I started my presentation also, not surprisingly, I have similar “perfectionism” tendencies when creating powerpoint slides.Friday was crunch time. Up early, worked all day and yep, all night – got 2 hours sleep. Got everything finished of course but I spent way too much time “perfecting” things and could have got a lot more sleep, but I think it was the fact that I’d worked on this project for so long and it was mine, so I wanted everything to be just right. I’m quite happy with the paper overall, but of course, wish I had more time as there are so many more things I could have done with the data I had. Anyway, after 2 hours sleep on Friday night, well, early Sat morning, I got up, practiced my talk again and headed to the Commons at the Labs for the day of talks. Family members of about half the students were there, as were other well respected scientists and members of the industry (Giles, Ken Balcomb, Kari from Soundwatch and others). I was 5th off the rank, last one before lunch, and honestly I thought it went pretty well. It was the first official oral presentation I had done without notes and I was quite satisfied with my effort. I guess it was because I had worked on this paper for 10 weeks and knew it pretty much inside out so was quite comfortable in talking about it. I had to somewhat simplify the contents to make it more understandable to the general public, but I still maintained a scientific yet practical approach to the talk. It was videoed so I’ll be very interested to see what it came out like, as I have never seen what I look like when giving public presentations. During lunch I was chatting to Kari and she wanted a copy of my paper and explained to me the possibility of me going with her over winter to meet with legislators and explaining my science to them, just so they can get a basic understanding on boat noise and echolocation clicks, but particularly vessel types. Granted my work is based on a small sample size but it still really gives you an idea of what different vessels sound like underwater and how they can affect a killer whale’s ability to echolocate. I’m pretty excited as it gives me the opportunity to present science in a way that is different to giving it to an assessor for a grade for a subject. This is something that if happens, will be a fantastic experience.We finished the talks around 3 and overall they were awesome. It was really good to see exactly what everyone had been working on, as we have all been too busy to explain the specifics of our research, so it was exciting to hear what they had found. The quality of the research overall was awesome. We all had one thing in common, and that was the fact that we needed to increase our sample size. But nonetheless, awesome overall.After the talks half of the Beam Reach crew left on the 4:15 ferry so it was kind of a rushed goodbye to people I had got to know well over the past 10 weeks. As Ash and I were the only Aussies on the program and in the same group we formed a great friendship over the program and so it was tough to see her go. I know I will see her again back in Oz so I look forward to catching up with her. No doubt we will keep in touch over the next 12 months. I was absolutely buggered when I got back to the dorms so had to have an afternoon nap (2 hours of sleep will do that to you). We (half of the Beam Reach crew, family and staff) met up after dinner in the dining hall for a Leslie Veirs dessert (always amazing food) and had a bit of a slideshow presentation of some of the awesome photos taken on the program. I’m definitely blowing some of these up and framing them. It was then goodbye to the staff, but I know I will see them again as I’m going to be working (hopefully) only a few miles across the Haro Strait, and I’m confident I will see them out on the water for the Spring and Fall ’08 Beam Reach Programs. I mentioned to Scott about Beam Reach possibly being a co-supervisor for an Honours program I may do in 2009, and he definitely had a positive response so it’s something we can chat about when I settle back down in Canada. I’m excited about the prospect of continuing this kind of work that could potentially have an impact on setting a benchmark for whale watch operator vessels in the future. The operative word however being “potentially”.Anyway, after having a few drinks with the other students at the labs to celebrate the end of the program, Kenna and I went into town and met Wes and her husband there. I’d never actually been out in Friday Harbor so it was a good night as it was Halloween and pretty much everybody except us had dressed up. It would have been nice if all of us could have been there to celebrate our final night on San Juan Island but it was not to be unfortunately.Sunday I packed up all my gear, copied photos from the Beam Reach computer, said goodbye to Anne who was th
e only one left, and made my way to the ferry. Kenna and her family were on the ferry so I chatted to them, and upon arrival into Anacortes I had to go through Customs as it was an International Ferry from Sidney, B.C. US Customs being US Customs I missed my shuttle by 5 mins, which seriously annoyed me because I had booked the shuttle which you would think would wait for people to get off the ferry as the majority of its passengers would be on the ferry, but no, they left without me. I’m going to get almost a full refund so I guess that’s something. So I get out to the parking lot and yep, a woman had told me that the shuttle had just left. Foreseeing this happen I had already asked Kenna’s parents that if for some reason I miss the shuttle would it be cool if I caught a lift down to Seattle with them as they were flying out the next morning. They were more than happy to help me out so after they got through Customs in their car we re-arranged an already full car of luggage and made our way down to
Seattle Airport. They dropped me off, we said our goodbyes, and so here I am at the airport writing this final blog.The Beam Reach program has been a phenomenal experience, one that I will treasure and am very thankful for. It has helped me open up my eyes to what I want to do for the future and has given me invaluable experience to help me path that future. Don’t get me wrong, this experience was a hectic, very full on, sometimes frustrating one, but I’m happy with the outcome and how I conducted myself over the past 10 weeks.  It was a great networking opportunity and I was able to make some great contacts in the industry. I learnt al lot about the industry (both scientific in terms of marine mammal biology and bioacoustics, and eco-tourism) and this has definitely helped me get a foot in the door for potential work in the near future. Of course, the marine mammal interactions were fantastic and they will stick with me forever. I learnt a great deal and will be coming back next season to get another fix! Thanks again to everyone at Beam Reach for the great experience and the great memories, and thanks to Flinders University for allowing this program to count as the final part of my undergraduate double degree. I will definitely be promoting Beam Reach to all those that are interested, and would be happy to answer any queries people may have. Although these blog/log book entries have often been long-winded, I hope you have enjoyed reading them.

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A fork in the data road, wildlife rehab & teaching kids – Week 9

Monday 15th October – Tuesday 16th October

I slept in until lunchtime on Monday as lack of sleep had really caught up on me from the last week at sea. I was the last one to bed every night last week and knew it would catch up with me eventually. I’ve vowed to stay active and eat less each meal over the next 2 weeks. It will be easier to eat less but staying active is tougher because the weather has been pretty miserable here and there are not any treadmills or bikes at the labs. Also, the fact that we all have a lot of work to do and most of our time is spent in front of the computer analysing data and writing up, I can’t take too much time off to get a good work out. Guess I’ll just have to make do and do resistant exercises in my room.

Not much to report really. I was meant to go out with Giles today as we were pretty sure there would be whales around today (Tuesday) but nothing eventuated. Going out with Giles is meant to be part of my service project so if I don’t go out with her I’ve organised to go to a place with Ash called ‘Wolf Hollow’ that rehabilitates wild animals that have been injured or separated from their parents. That will happen tomorrow afternoon. Also, I’m going to help out Anne on Saturday at the

Museum with an elementary school education thing that she is helping to run. I’m a bit worried because I think the kids may find my accent hard to understand if I am trying to tell them about the whales. Either that or they’ll think it’s funny. Either way it should be fun and interesting. I’m going for a run now. Catcha.


Wednesday 17th October

Today I completed Part “Ichi’ (Japanese for ‘One’) of my Service Project as part of this program. Ash I went to Wolf Hollow this afternoon for 4 hours. It’s a place on a small property in the middle of

San Juan
Island that takes care of and rehabilitates all wild creatures great and small. We got there at around 1pm and got to see a harbor seal pup that had just come in. It was in the incubation chamber and just looked up at us with it’s beady brown eyes. I know it’s not a very guy thing to say but they really are cute. Then we cut up apples for almost an hour and a half to make apple sauce to bag and freeze for all the critters. Ash and I then cleaned out a squirrel cage. By clean out I mean faecal matter that the little lovelies had left for us, and scrubbing was a priority. We knew the volunteer work would involve these kinds of activities so we just got on with it.  The rest of the afternoon was spent going around with Penny (wildlife rehabilitator) feeding the animals. We fed yearlings (young deer) and got to see a white/brown deer that is apparently endemic to
Island (island west of
San Juan). It’s colouration is due to a genetic anomaly that apparently shortens an individual’s life span. Currently around campus there are a lot of male deer (bucks), and apparently it is due to the fact that it is coming up on hunting season and so the bucks come onto campus as they know they can’t be hunted here because it is a Biological Reserve. Smart creatures. I thought it was because it was mating season and they’re scoping out the females. I may still be right. Might see if I can film my own nature documentary. Anyway, after feeding the young deer we went to the raccoon enclosure. They had 19 young raccoons in this cage around a tree and it was a sight to see, all climbing, playing, hanging upside down and running around. Penny poured water into their bowls and because raccoons are very tactile creatures they like to rub their hands in the water as if they are washing them. It actually looks pretty funny. Pretty soon all of them were down around the water and coming right up to the fence and staring at us. We had to keep our distance of course as we don’t want to “humanise” them too much. I took some video of these playful, yet sometimes rabid, creatures and then was on my way. Next stop was back to the main house where they have four pools all with harbor seals in them. You must stay quiet while walking around the pools, but the seals always know you’re there, because they haul out onto the platform in the middle and just watch you. We then went inside and fed cut up bits of mice to an injured juvenile short-haired owl, but it just regurgitating the bits back up. There were 3 squirrels in a cage next to the owl that were very feisty. One of the squirrels was holding its acorn ever so tightly and would appear to give off a threat display by coming right up to the cage door and “puffing itself up”. After leaving the angry little squirrels we fed some ducks, fed a crow that had apparently attacked a little kid at a school, and got to see their resident eagles (I can’t remember what types they were, sorry). It’s interesting because Wolf Hollow rehabilitates animals that are from the mainland, then sends them back to the mainland as there aren’t any present on the
San Juan Islands (e.g. squirrels, o-possums). Wish I could have seen an o-possum. Anyway, we were invited to a seal release on Saturday arvo so that will be cool.

We had dinner and the JaMi group had docked at the labs as they have been having power issues on the GV. After dinner Shannon gave us a talk about

School (i.e. Masters or PhD) and a few things to consider before getting involved in it. Basically I took away from the evening that grad school is not really where I want to be, as research is not where I want to be. The thing about research is, you spend 30% of the time out in the field, and 70% in the lab or at a desk, and I want to be out there almost 100% of the time. I do get excited about the prospects of finding out something “new” and “cutting edge”, but what really interests me is being out there and educating people first hand about marine mammals and marine life in general, which is why I am going to seriously look into running my own eco-tour business. I know I’ve said this before but the conversation tonight made me realise that I don’t want to dedicate another 4+ years of my life to something I’m not completely passionate about. Granted a lot of research and background reading has to go into opening up my own business, but I love the idea of being my own boss and being the driver of my own success. Working in
Canada next season will certainly give me experience and I’m sure it will also give me ideas that I can take home to Oz. Watch this space.


Thursday 18th October

A definite data day today. I have gone through all of my sound files and determined at what point in the files I can use to create my spectrums. I had a meeting with Val this afternoon to further discuss how I am going to represent my data. I’m going to use the killer whale audiogram and relate it to all the vessel types at the two distances and speeds and determine which ones lie above or below the audiogram at certain frequencies. From this I can infer which vessels, and at what speed and distance may possibly be masking an orca’s ability to receive echolocation clicks. I’m not sure about what stats I’m going to use yet but I mustn’t get too far out of the scope of this program, as I only have 10 days to finish this, so I must be realistic as to what I can accomplish to a certain level (a high level that I always seem to put on myself). It’s amazing how much my project has evolved over the last 3-4 weeks. My methods for boat sampling advanced quite a bit and I got the time it takes to do a boat recording down to 15min. I guess though that’s how it is with research in the field, it’s a process of trial and error, only this research program is very fast paced and things evolve very quickly. I still have to write the sustainability report that is due on Saturday, so that may be a job for tomorrow as Saturday we have the Whale Museum educational talk for the kids and the afternoon is the seal release. As I said, all systems go! Better get back to work.


Friday 19th October

A somewhat productive day today but no where near as much as I would have liked. I worked on my sustainability/impact reduction report, went into town to get a haircut, then went to the

Museum to actually go upstairs and check out the exhibits. It has some really awesome displays up there. A full minke and an orca skeleton hanging from the ceiling, seal skulls and foetuses, video footage, interactive sound boards created by the fearless VaTo instructor, Mr Val Veirs. It was an educational hour or so, but nonetheless a distracting hour or so that could have been spent working on my project. I’m back working now in the library so better get back to it.


Saturday 20th October

I enjoyed today. I went with Anne this morning to the

Museum as she had organised as part of her service project to have a few hours of activities to help kids learn about whales. I helped Anne set up activities that involved kids wearing a glove of butter in cold water to see the insulating properties of blubber. Another activity involved little bits of dried parsley (simulating plankton) in a tub of water and using a comb, small plastic bag and a straw to simulate different ways that whales feed. The comb simulated baleen for those whales that are “skimmers”, the small plastic bag for those that are “gulpers”, and the straw to blow bubbles for those that are “bubblers (i.e. humpbacks). Another activity was using olives, butter and staples in a tub of water to get kids to understand buoyancy. There was a whale ID section where kids used the ID guide for the Southern Residents to identify individuals that we had photos of, and Anne had a computer set-up with different underwater sounds that can be heard in these waters (e.g. speed boats, cargo ships, and of course killer whales!). It was just Anne and I in the morning to start with (other VaTo members came later), and that was actually the busiest time of the whole session (11am-3pm). I really enjoyed teaching the kids about whales, but what was even more rewarding was chatting to the parents and actually teaching them a thing or two! I really think I will enjoy working on the whale watch boats next season, as I really want to educate people about marine mammals and having them ask questions that I can answer is something I find very rewarding.
This work today will count towards Part “Nee” (two in Japanese) of my Service Project, so now I’m all done! At about 2pm Ash and I went a harbor seal release that the Wolf Hollow people were doing. Two harbor seals were being released that had been in rehab for a couple of months after being stranded as pups. It was really satisfying seeing them being released back into their natural environment. Overall it took about 10-15min, as once they were out of the cages they swam around for a little bit, constantly popping their heads out of the water and looking around, then seemed to get further and further away. They were released near a known haul out site so no doubt they will meet other seals there and get on with their fish eating, sun baking, heavy breathing pinniped life.

It’s Saturday night as I write this and I have just finished my Sustainability report. As I mentioned last week, I have chosen to do it on hybrid diesel-electric marine propulsion systems. I have explained basically what the system is, used the Gato Verde as a case study, then stated what would be needed to outfit a whale watch boat with a similar technology, and why this is a sustainable practice. If you would really like to read it then go to and look under ‘Hybrid diesel-electric propulsion systems’. It’s really late, and the JaMi group is coming in pretty early tomorrow, and then we begin the huge Gato Verde clean-up!


Sunday 21st October

An eventful day here at the Friday Harbor Labs. The JaMi group got into the dock at around 9am and the clean-up began. Of course it rained all morning which made things just grand.
Shannon was dropped off at the ferry at 8am to leave the Beam Reach program and continue on another path in her life. I said goodbye to her on Wed night. It was bloody great having her on the program, as she brought a good mix to the situation and of course her marine mammal knowledge and paper writing skills were a great resource. Plus the fact the she had lived in Oz for a few years and has been through similar things that I have been through really made my time out on the boat just that much more enjoyable, even more enjoyable than what it already was! I wish her all the best over in the UK and then next season in
Antarctica as a Marine Mammal Biologist. What an awesome job that would be! Something I may indeed look into after I have a bit more experience in the field. Anyway, so we were all assigned jobs to do on the GV, and I got galley and pretty much cleaning storage areas in, on and above it, yes that included the ceiling. I don’t mind cleaning, and within about 4 hours (it did take a while) the GV was looking pretty shmick! Cleaner than when we boarded 8 weeks ago anyway! That afternoon, well it ended being after dinner, and after an afternoon of technical issues, I watched the Rugby World Cup Final with Irish Dan up in the Commons. We were able to stream it and then watch it projected from the computer with decent speakers, so it was really like watching it at the pub on the big flatscreen. I was happy the Springboks got up, as I didn’t really want
England to win it two World Cups in a row. I was in two minds initially though to tell you the truth;
England knocked the Wallabies out so I didn’t like them for that, but half my family is English so I felt I should barrack for the country of my heritage. Still, although it wasn’t a very eventful game, the celebrations from the South Africans were awesome to watch.

I had to move rooms this morning as I shared a room with Heather when we rotated from sea to land, and because the JaMi group was coming back, we the VaTo team moved to the spare rooms in the dorm to make their transition back to land flow more smoothly. I’m writing this knowing that when I wake up in the morning it’s going to be head down bum up to get this paper and presentation done. Bring on the Red Bull!

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Last week on the water – Week 8 (at sea)

Monday 8th October

Well, it’s the end of the first day of my last week at sea on the Beam Reach program, and we had whales today! We got some unbelievable recordings, it was literally a chorus of killer whale sounds. I was hearing sounds I’d never heard before – clicks, whistles, calls and sounds that were similar to rubbing two wet balloons together, and ones similar to rubbing two rocks together. It was awesome!

We left

Harbor after receiving reports (text messages and phone calls) of whales down near Lime Kiln. Todd successfully detached the cracked generator bracket and we successfully motored on one alternator down to the whales. We could only go around 4 knots but it was better than being stuck at the dock! The whales were heading south so they were at the southern end of
San Juan heading towards Hein Bank by the time we got a visual on them. On the route down we had a single Dall’s porpoise ride the bow wave. It was quite calm so I got some awesome video footage as I was able to lie right down on the trampoline and get very close to the surface of the water. The whales then turned and headed back north up the west side of San Juan so we spent the good part of an hour following them in order to position ourselves in front of them (within regulations) so we could vertically deploy the hydrophones. We were able to get in a fairly good position just south of Lime Kiln (about 800m offshore) so we deployed and waited. I had a few issues with ropes detaching and getting tangled but sorted them out just in time for what was a chorus of orca vocalisations. There were around 15-20 boats in the vicinity (whale watch, private and research) and were all powered off as the whales spread out and were foraging. We had J and L pods swimming randomly and surfacing in the vicinity of the GV as I sat there with the headphones on recording frantically the numerous amount of clicks coming in. Anne (who was listening on the array hydrophones) were just looking at each other in awe as to the amount of vocalisations coming through. It literally was like they were singing in a chorus as there were numerous calls at one time. These recordings would be like those played on DVD menus for killer whale documentations. That just gave me an idea… The orcas vocalised for a good 20-30 minutes, then it was as if they’d all been given instructions and then just left the area and headed west. One of the whale watch boats parked next to me was from Canada that I had spoken with and gone out with back in early August when I was checking out
Vancouver Island, so I called her up on the radio and had a chat (Liz from SeaQuest Adventures in Sidney B.C). It was actually with SeaQuest that I saw my very first killer whale in the wild and I’m very thankful to Liz for letting me go out with her to see what the business is all about. The whales were travelling off in the distance by this stage, and I had organised with a
Vancouver whale watch business to get some boat recordings so we headed slightly in-shore and set up the floating buoys on the man overboard pole and got some recordings at 100m at both speeds. Unfortunately I couldn’t get 400m recordings as they had to head back to Vancouver, but hey, something is better than nothing, and I think that’s how it’s going to be this week as I don’t expect them to come out solely to get boat recordings. I had another business lined up to record but they had to pull out at the last minute so said we would try and organise something this week. While I was recording clicks Todd was on the radio to another wildlife tour business from Pt Townsend that saw us with our hydrophones in and got talking to him, and it turns out this guy would like to get his boat recorded also so Todd got his number, and after chatting to him earlier tonight, I might be able to organise something for the morning. Only problem is, weather is meant to kick in tonight and tomorrow with winds up to 35 knots, so I may not be able to get any recordings done. See what happens when I get up in a few hours for breakfast. We are anchored again in

Bay as it provides good protection from weather and has good anchoring grounds. The JaMi group accidentally ripped the mainsail on Saturday so we have taped it up and are in the process of stitching it up. Quite a lot has ripped so Anne, myself, Val and Todd have all done a bit of sewing, still have a quite a bit to do tomorrow. Shiftwork will be in order I think. We watched ‘Who Killed the Electric Car?” just earlier, and it was very interesting. Makes you think so I would recommend watching it. I still have to see ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ which I’ve been told is a must see. One final thing before I hit the sack – due to the tension and indecisiveness in our group over the past weeks we have now adopted a “leader of the day’’ in which one member of the group organises and makes major decisions throughout the day. It was an idea put forth so we can get jobs done quickly and efficiently and not sit around discussing what we do next. Ash was today and she did a bloody great job. She hasn’t really exhibited any leadership role while on the program so far, but today she proved she was definitely capable. We have a quick “de-briefing” after dinner and give constructive criticism and positive feedback to the ‘leader of the day’ so they can think about areas to work on. I’m not till Wednesday I don’t think so I’ll see how I go. Anyway, its almost 1am so I’m off to my cold birth. Had to sleep fully clothed last night! Fun times.


Tuesday 9th October

What a full on day! We had warnings of gail force winds and 4-6ft swell arriving mid-morning, but that’s all they were, warnings. There was not a single time during the day that it seemed as though a storm was approaching or the winds were picking up, so we had a bloody great day, all day, with the whales. The weather forecasters got it pretty botched up. Anyway, so I started this morning by recording ‘Glacier Spirit’ from Port Townsend at the NW entrance to

Harbor. The recordings were awesome and we were all done in 20 min. Glacier Spirit is a whale watching boat based out of Pt Townsend USA and is currently on a 3 day sightseeing trip around the San Juans, and when he saw us out on the water yesterday he contacted Todd (as I mentioned) and so this morning we arranged to meet up, as they were staying at Roche last night, and get some recordings done. After we were done with Glacier Spirit, I opportunistically got a ferry recording and we began our trek down south to where there were reports of whales off False Bay (
SW San Juan). Todd had repaired the alternator bracket last night so we were back up to travelling at our normal speed of 5-6 knots. On the way down I chatted to Anna (POW) and she had the all clear from her boss to get boat recordings (with a few quid pro quo’s of course). We headed the whales off heading north at Eagle Point, J’s and L’s, and I decided today that I didn’t need to get any more echolocation clicks as I have literally hundreds and need to get a mean spectrum for each individual one. Instead, I decided I would be on camera and learn to use the Beam Reach camera and try and get some good orca shots. The camera is one of those ones with a really fat long lens that has an awesome zoom so it was pretty easy to get good shots. Anway, so as I was taking photos, a POW boat came onto the scene so I chatted to them on the radio, it was cleared by headquarters, and I was able to record them as they headed back to Victoria. For any future Beam Reach students that wish to do controlled boat noise recordings I suggest getting in touch with the businesses within the first few weeks, NOT the middle few weeks, because it’s really no good getting in touch with the drivers as they ultimately need the all clear from the bosses. Still, it’s worked out well for me in this last week. I plan on getting another recording (Jim Maya’s Peregrin) in the morning, weather permitting of course, as the change is starting to come in now as I write this. So after I recorded Ocean Magic II we continued north up
San Juan past Lime Kiln and just parked ourselves, dropped the hydrophones, and listened to the abundance of calls and clicks coming in. There were around 30-40 whales in a 2km radius of the GV and they were primarily foraging and playing with spyhops, tail slaps, and a few observed “business times”. (Listen to “Business Time” by Flight of the Conchords to know what I’m talking about). I ended up getting a photo of the elucid “elf shoe”. Again if you can work out what killer whale “business time” is then you can work out what I mean by a killer whale “elf shoe”. We had whales coming in all directions so literally all we could do was just sit there and wait till it was clear to move. There were only a couple of boats on scene as most of them had figured the weather would be bad today so had cancelled their trips. It was awesome because it was calm and we got the whales almost all to ourself! I did record a few clicks but was quite happy to take photos and help Anne with her vertical array. I have spent most, well pretty much all of my time with the whales sitting on the cabin table with the headphones on, so today was my day to enjoy and watch the whales and get some good photos so I can photo ID them in my spare time. We hung around the whales until well after 5pm, after being with them since 11am, so it was a long day of focussing. I loved sitting there watching them in tight groups of 4-5 individuals spyhopping, leaping, diving and tail slapping. J’s and L’s were together so it was much like a party we would have as humans, just socialising. We know they are very social creatures and just witnessing that today was truly amazing. I really do feel soo lucky to be all the way over here, on the other side of the world, seeing these creatures do things I’ve only seen on posters and documentaries. It makes me want to stick around here even more, which is why I’ll be here next summer.

We are anchored again in

Bay tonight. We were all pretty exhausted after today so a couple of people had naps this arvo. I wish I could have as I’m always last to bed (except when Scott is on board), but I choose to stay up-to-date on my blog. If the weather is bad like it says it will be then I may have a kip tomorrow arvo. I have to ring Ivan from Western Prince first thing tomorrow morning as he can skipper Jim Maya’s boat. Hopefully the weather is ok to get it done, out of the way, in the computer, and ready for analysis. Today was definitely one that will stick in the memory bank.


Wednesday 10th October

I woke up to drips on my head this morning as I had left my hatch on the ventilation setting and rain was dripping in. Fun fun. It was dead calm on the water with a little rain first thing but it soon cleared and we had clear blue sky all day. Awesome October weather! I was leader of the day today so had to be on my game. I called Ivan this morning but he was a bit crook so was unable to get Peregrine recording. We had reports of whales sighted off Pender Bluff (NW San Juans) so rang around to confirm the reports. It seemed as though that was the word on the water so we headed north out of Garrison and parked at Turn Point on

Island and deployed a hydrophone. We sat there floating for a couple of hours, had lunch, by which time other whale watch operators had navigated up to Active Pass into Strait of Georgia and down to Boundary Pass, but found nothing. I really enjoy chatting on the radio, and I think it definitely helps me to get to know the drivers out here, and ultimately assist me in getting employment next summer. As there were no whales and we had to be at Roche at 4 to meet JaMi, we headed back SE to Spieden Channel where Val and I went out in the dinghy and made recordings of the GV. It was dead calm so I was able to get some great recordings. After that was done it was time to head in Roche and meet up with JaMi to get a tour of the Roche Harbor wastewater treatment plant (part of the sustainability component of the course). Surprisingly it was interesting and quite odourless. The guy that runs it there is very passionate about his work and does a great job keeping things natural with basically no environmental impact. When you talk about water conservation I believe it comes down to what people are prepared to do, and I think that what people don’t know won’t hurt them. That may be a crude attitude but I truly believe that we will have to end up drinking treated wastewater, as water really is a precious resource and I’ve known that all my life growing up in the country living off rainwater tanks and having water restrictions. One thing that disgusted me was the fact that Victoria, BC pump their wastewater directly into the
Strait of Juan De Fuca, without any treatment at all. I might end up living there! Apparently there is pressure for them to change their ways which is a bloody good thing! It sickens me to think that what goes straight from their toilet ends up directly in the ocean without any kind of breakdown or treatment. Anyway, enough about wastewater. We talked more about water conservation at dinner on the GV and Jason seemed to be interested in things we do Down Under in terms of building houses, harnessing run-off, and financial incentives for doing so. I think Americans can learn a lot from us Aussies, particularly when it comes to water conservation. I mean, the half flush/full flush toilet is apparently only just catching on here! JaMi left straight after dinner so we went and had a much needed shower at Roche. I know we’re trying to be water conscious on the boat but seriously, one shower a week is not much to ask, and I think it’s more a personal hygiene issue rather than a sustainability issue. It’s the last week at sea anyway so it’s a non-issue now. After showers we pulled off the dock and after one failed attempt and pulling up letting out and pulling up almost 200ft (almost 70m) of chain, we were able to anchor securely. I had my ‘leader of the day’ debriefing and pretty much good comments all round. The general consensus was that today was really a day where I couldn’t fully show my leadership potential as it was a day where a lot of the time people were just doing their own thing (mainly data analysis). They said they’ve definitely witnessed me step up to a leadership position in previous weeks so know what I am capable of. I agreed, as the last two days we had whales and so systems were go go go, but today, a lot of people were tired, and so it was pretty unstructured while we were waiting around to hear reports. Comments were also made that when jobs needed to be done I just went ahead and did them, and didn’t delegate them. In my defence, they were just little jobs (pumping out, filling up freshwater, starting dishes etc) and I felt I could do them all myself, and didn’t want to delegate them. It was also stated that they always felt that I knew what was going on and that made people feel comfortable. Overall I guess I was happy with what I did today but I didn’t really get to truly display what I am capable of, but do believe I have already demonstrated this in previous weeks at sea.

On a final note before I head to my hole, when arriving back to Roche today and meeting up with the JaMi group, and Jason and Val were off chatting, and everyone else (i.e. 9 other females) were socialising, I had the major realisation that I didn’t have a bloke to chat to and kinda felt alone. Not that it’s a big issue and I really don’t know why I’m blogging about it, but I guess if there was a situation for a future male Beam Reach student to be in the same situation I am in, he could probably relate to how I feel. Look, I get along with everyone, but being the only guy I still do feel somewhat isolated and don’t feel comfortable in the girly conversations where they’re chatting soo bloody fast and soo bloody loud that nobody can get a word in either ways. I lived with two chicks back home, and when they were with their friends and chatting and laughing I could hear them through 3 doors and 3 walls in the house! There are all things we miss on this program, but I guess for me the major thing for me is to not be able to sit down with blokes my age and just talk about bloke stuff, over a nice cold ale. Just being there when the 2 groups interact it’s an in-your-face reminder of the fact that I’m surrounded by females and really just want to get away for a moment, but can’t. Don’t read into this too much, cos in 2 weeks I’ll be partying it up in the MIA with old mates and will look back at this and laugh. But, this is a snapshot of how I feel right at this moment. Last week was really good ‘cos there is an Irish guy studying back at the labs and we talked World Cup all week. Women probably wouldn’t understand it, but sometimes guys just need to talk “guy stuff”, and it’s bloody great to do it over a cold fermented vegetable drink.


Thursday 11th October

As I write this we are docked in
Port Angeles, USA! Not much to report today. I finally got boat recordings of Peregrine this morning (Jim Maya’s boat, although his character of a neighbour was skippering it). What a funny bloke Noris was. Would love to have a beer with that guy sometime. Water was almost dead calm today so we did the recordings at 9:30am just out the front of Mitchell Bay, then made our way south with the hope of getting to Race Rocks to see some pinnipeds life. Realistically it was a bit too far as it’s west past Victoria up into the Strait of Juan De Fuca, which is why we are docked in Port Angeles tonight and plan to catch the ebb to Race Rocks in the morning, cruise around checking out elephant seals and Stellar sea lions, maybe even see a Humpback or two (4 have been in the region the last two days so we are hopeful) then cruise the flood back into San Juan tomorrow night. Today was spent analysing data and finalising my Methods section. I’m finalising to a point that will be just a cut and paste into my final report. They have changed slightly in terms of boat recordings so need to adjust that accordingly. I’m pretty happy with the amount of boat recordings I have but would very much like to get a zodiac if I can this week. If not, then so be it.

We got into Pt Angeles at around 5pm. Anne actually used to live here so she spent the evening catching up with old friends while we went to a coffee shop with free wi-fi and got up-to-date on our emails and the like. Ash and I were on dinner, cooked spaghetti and fake meatballs again. It’s a no-brainer but tastes good so I stick to what I know. Watched a dvd on killer whales in
New Zealand that was awesome and now I’m writing this. I’m on breakfast in the morn so better be off. I look forward to seeing elephant seals and Stellars tomorrow! Val promises they will be there! And maybe even catch the southern residents as they come back into the Strait from the open ocean (they have been away since Tuesday, and typically go out for 2-3 days at a time). Fingers crossed!


Friday 12th October

What a marine mammal filled day! These waters are like a marine mammal playground. We saw your regular harbor seals, harbor porpoises and Dall’s porpoises, but we also saw Stellar sea lions and Humpback whales! We left
Port Angeles at around 9am and headed NW across to Race Rocks. Now to familiarise you with Race Rocks it’s a place that is very much frequented by whale watch operators when killer whales are not in the region. They have Stellar sea lions, which are the biggest of the sea lions, actually the biggest of the otariids (for you biologists) and Northern elephant seals this time of year (summer fall), and of course harbor seals that are abundant throughout these waters. But, no elephant seals this morning so I was really disappointed. Apparently the Navy had been letting off blasts above the water in the area which may have scared them off. Buggers! So we cruised around Race Rocks and got some great shots of the Stellars then got a radio call that told us that were humpbacks about 5 miles from Race Rocks in the direction we were going to head to get back to San Juan so off we went. We, the Gato Verde have definitely established ourself out on the water in terms of being known and what we’re doing. People call us up to find out where the whales are! In return of course we tell them, it’s all a big network and no-one gives anyone else false reports. I have definitely established myself out there, being the only Aussie on the radio I mean, so it has put me in good stead for recognising drivers and vessels and hopefully aiding in job prospects next summer. So we headed across to the humpbacks and boy did we get a show! They were very active – tail slaps, pec slaps, lunges and really really loud blows. Unfortunately no breaches but that is definitely something special if you witness that. There were several Stellars playing with the 4 humpbacks and we witnessed the sea lions porpoising out of the water. Got some great photos using the Beam Reach camera, a camera that is a million times better than mine for zoom wildlife shots. There were POW zodiacs in the region but it was just too unsafe to get recordings around humpbacks when they can go down for up to 40min and could surface anywhere., so I decided against contacting them. We left the humpys at around 3pm as it was around 3 hours travel to any of our
US waters anchoring spots. At about 5pm we got a report of J-pod coming in the
Strait of Juan De Fuca and were sighted 2 miles south of Race Rocks, where we were this morning! Grr! Ahh well, we have people monitoring the hydrophones at Lime Kiln and Val’s place in case they come up past Snug where we are anchored tonight. Had bloody great weather today, have actually had bloody good weather most of the week. I really didn’t think our final week at sea was going to be this calm. I guess it means we can’t go sailing as there is just not any wind, so maybe tomorrow we can get a bit of sailing in. Depends if we get whales or not I guess!


Saturday 13th October

‘Twas our last day at sea, and yes, we got whales! Killer whales that is! We woke up at 7:30am to reports from Val’s wife Leslie that she could her vocalisations on the hydrophone out the front of their house, so we hauled anchor and motored out of Snug (Mitchell Bay) to see if we could get a visual on the whales and a direction of travel. As we were motoring out the calls on the hydrophones stopped so it was a bout 15min before we got a visual, well, till I got a visual. I spotted one just off Kellet Bluff heading north around

Island, but then they changed direction heading back down south slowly while foraging. I got on the phone to one of the Victorian whale watch operators that had helped us out in getting to the humpbacks yesterday, as we were the only boat on scene. They were very much appreciative! I’m definitely in their good books, ahh job please. We identified them as J pod, which matched reports of them coming in late yesterday afternoon. They were extremely spread out across

Strait heading in a southerly direction so we followed them and tried to get in front of them in order to stop completely and drop the hydrophone array vertically. I have enough click data so didn’t deploy the high frequency. We got past Lime Kiln, stopped, deployed and watched J1 (aka Ruffles) surface about 60m off our port stern. Then, the fog set in. I have literally never seen anything like it on the water. I’ve seen it on a footy field back home where you can’t see the other end, but being out on the water with a visibility radius of around 100m is quite daunting. But the cool thing is you can hear the blows of the orcas, and they sound really close, but you can’t see them, and then you see what appears to be ghost of a dorsal fin surface off in the distance. Your eyes play tricks on you. As it was very foggy I volunteered to sound our foghorn every two minutes, only our foghorn was human lung operated, so every two minutes I’d blow into this horn that sounded like a dying bird. We also had an air-horn that after a bout half an hour I decided to start using. We were in the fog for a few hours only encountering a few other J-pod individuals. J27 and J30 (two young males) surfaced together around 40m off our starboard and that was awesome, but it wasn’t until just after lunch that the fog finally lifted, and that’s when the boats appeared. The background noise from the boats was just phenomenal. I had planned on getting a vessel recording of the Western Prince but couldn’t hear it over the abundance of boats (20+ within a few kilometre radius) so I decided to cancel, and have hopefully organised to record first thing tomorrow morning before we do the changeover with JaMi in

Harbor. There were plenty of POW zodiacs around but again, background noise was just too prominent so I couldn’t get recordings. At least I have one twin outboard motor recording for my project. J-pod was extremely spread out in the southern Haro Strait so we tried to get ahead of groups and deploy but as their direction was constantly changing it wasn’t long before they were ahead of us again and boats were motoring to catch up with them, thus making recording clicks and calls for other members of the VaTo team very difficult. It was around 3pm that we decided we had to leave to get to an anchorage at a reasonable time. It was kinda sad leaving the orcas, as today was most likely the last day this year we’ll get to see them (I may be able to next week if I go out with Giles to help her). It didn’t bother me too much as I know I’ll be back next season to spend much more time with these awesome cetaceans. We are anchored in North Bay tonight on the east side of
San Juan. I will be recording Western Prince in the morning before we head around the corner to

Harbor to do the changeover.  We had our sailing assessment this arvo, of which I got a perfect score, so I was pretty chuffed. I then had one last cruise on the dinghy with Todd. I opened it right up, and we hit around 20knots as it was dead calm. I parked it quite well this time, no going underneath the cat or anything like that. We watched ‘Whale Rider’ this evening. It wasn’t quite what I expected but still, not a bad movie. I also spoke to Todd tonight about hybrid electric propulsion systems as I want to do that for my sustainability report and look into putting electric motors onto smaller whale watch vessels such as a zodiac, so they can motor silently when in the vicinity of the whales. It’s better for the environment, and better for the whales. As I write this I’m again the last one to go to bed. It’s  been bloody cold in my berth the last couple of nights. I’ve been fully clothed with my beanie all curled up in a 0 degrees sleeping bag and a blanket! Oh well, one more night of it then back to a heated dorm room. Today was a great day, and made even greater by the fact that it’s our last day at sea and we got to see whales. I’m gonna miss the GV, as I really did enjoy living on the boat and sailing, although unfortunately this week we didn’t get the winds to sail. It was evident that living on the boat was not for everyone, but I could definitely do it.


Sunday 14th October

Well, the sea component of the Beam Reach Program is now over. I was on breakfast this morning and awoke to a magical sunrise over
North Bay. I was leader of the day again today so made a list of all the chores we needed to do for the changeover while I recorded Western Prince just off

Island. We pumped out and filled up at

Harbor and were 10 min early at the labs dock. Good work team! We unloaded the GV, I had a moments silence and reminisced over the awesome 4 weeks I had out at sea on this vessel, then we went to a friend of Jason’s who have chosen to live their life sustainably as possible. We all sat down and had a chat with them. The interesting thing was, they (parents and a single child) are living very similar to they way I lived when I was a kid growing up in country
Victoria. We were on rainwater tanks so were very water conscious, we had a compost and a veggie patch, Mum made a lot of our clothes and we often bought food in bulk as we lived a fair way out of town. So the discussions we were having were not really new to me. I guess the difference is though not everyone can bring a family up in a house that can have a compost or a veggie patch, so we discussed how you can you try and live sustainably when you’re in a flat or a house in the middle of the city. This program has definitely opened my eyes to more things and how not to leave as big a carbon footprint, but a lot of the little things I was already doing, and so will continue to do these things when I get home, and develop even more habits to try and live more sustainably. A lot of the focus though when we talk about sustainability is in regard to an American way of life, and so it is often very different to the situation back Down Under. Anyway, so we headed back to the labs, the JaMi group unpacked their gear onto the GV, we farewelled them off, and it was time for an early dinner and a much needed shower and cold beverage to celebrate the end of our sea component. I’m happy with the amount of data I have so the next 2 weeks will be spent in front of a computer writing everything up. It’s gonna be all systems go! I’ve decided NOT to state business names in my report and presentation, instead just the propulsion systems and vessel specifics. I’ve stated this to the various whale watch operators that I have measured and also that I am not out to say that one vessel is “louder” than another, as that is not the purpose of my research. Hopefully all reply with the all clear. I’m also very happy with how I have established myself out on the water in this region among whale watch operators and researchers, as it will definitely assist me in gaining employment next summer in
Canada. I feel very grateful to have been able to communicate with the whale watch operators while out at sea on this program, but even more grateful to Beam Reach for giving me the opportunity to network with people from all over the industry.

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Rain, deer and “I feel like…” – Week 7

Monday 1st October to Wednesday 3rd October

It’s been an interesting couple of days back on land. We had our peer and program evaluations due just before we got off the boat and it has become evident that there is a bit of tension within the VaTo group. Now me being the only guy in the group and pretty much oblivious to issues between females, I had no idea that there even was tension between certain members. I thank Ash for bringing it to my attention, otherwise I would have had no idea! When she told me I was really surprised. She just looked at me and said “You’re such a boy”, obviously implying I know nothing about the dynamics of females living in close quarters with each other and how little small things can escalate into big issues. I guess if there was another guy my age on the program, and we clashed in one area or another for some reason, we’d lay it out, sort it out, and move on. Pretty simple. Anyway, we had a discussion last night (Tues) and talked about how we can make the last week on the boat much more pleasant and issues between members of the group seem to have been resolved. Time will tell. I got my peer evaluation back and was very pleased with the results. It seems as though I’m doing everything ok and don’t have any complaints so I’ll just continue on the way I’m going. I think it’s important to laugh and I try to bring that to the group. I want to try and make sure everyone is happy and smiling in what can sometimes be a very stressful environment. The happier we are, the more relaxed we can be, and I think the more productive we can be also. I know I don’t want to be in an environment where people are all quiet and awkward around each other, so I think laughter is the best medicine, and I believe I have the remedy! Anyway, enough of that. I have also received my proposal marking back and there are a few things I need to work on, but overall I’m happy with it. Got some data analysis to do this week, and a couple of exercises due this week so have been working away at those. I’m definitely going to give myself a night off as I think it’s important to just relax so that will probably happen Fri night. I’m hoping to go out with Giles this week also when she gets back from
California. We’ve been told to get cracking on our service projects and so I’m really hoping the whales are around so I can get out with Giles and take some boat surveys for Soundwatch. As I write this it’s Wednesday arvo and we may or may not be meeting up with the other group at British Camp (

Bay) as they could be out with the whales and obviously need the data. The pager system is no longer because it finished up at the end of September, so now when we want to find out where the whales are we have to be paying close attention to the radio and get on the phone and ring our “special contacts”.

I’d better get back to work but thought I’d leave with an idea that has been running through my head since I’ve been on the program. I’m pretty sure that research is not where I want to head as a career path, well not bio-acoustics anyway. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy listening to the whales but I just want to get out there and educate people about marine life and not be stuck in front of a computer analysing data. Out on the water is what I love, and so I’ve been thinking I’m going to look at opening up my own business when I get back Down Under. I have Beam Reach to thank though for giving me the experience out on the water. I had a good chat to Todd last week about running your own business, and so I now know basically what needs to be done for me to get on the right path. Watch this space! I’m going for a much needed run through the reserve. Catcha.


Thursday 4th October

In theme with the title of this week’s blog I thought I’d clarify why I named it that. Ok, rain, because we’ve had it every morning and some evenings since we got back on land. Deer, because they are bloody everywhere! Apparently San Juan Island is at carrying capacity for these black tail deer and every morning and every evening you just see them wandering around campus. I was walking to the library the other night and there were 4 deer (one buck, a female and two foals) on a patch of grass between some of the lab buildings. One of the foals was making a ‘bleeting’ sound, so I began to ‘bleet’ back at it, and it started to follow me! I continued on my way and it came round the corner in the dark and was staring at me. I thought it was probably a good idea to stop bleeting as I didn’t want to piss mum off, which may in turn piss the buck off, and he had some big antlers! Anyway, so you’re probably wondering why I wrote ‘”I feel like” as the final part of my blog title, well, it’s because this American phrase seems to be rubbing off on me. Help me! It’s not as bad as you may think, I don’t have an accent or anything, thank goodness, (not that having an American accent is bad or anything ;-S ), but I find myself beginning a thought or idea with “I feel like…” and then say what I want to say. The phrase “I feel like…” seems to be a very common introduction when someone wishes to put forth an idea. For example, when discussing a navigation plan on the boat, someone may put forth an idea by saying “I feel like maybe we should consider heading….” I say it sometimes but immediately stop myself after I say “feel”. It may not come across as a big deal in writing but believe me, it’s certainly noticeable for me, and a habit that I will quickly get myself out of. I’ve started using some American words as well instead of the Aussie ones just so I don’t have to repeat myself. For example, “trash” instead of “rubbish”, “trash can” instead of “bin”, and “fosset” instead of “tap”. It’s bad I know, I’m becoming American-ised! But the accent I will never succumb to I promise you that! I put on a pretty good American accent when I need to though.

Back on track now. Last night we went to British Camp on the western side of
San Juan to meet the JaMi group. While having dinner we had a talk given to us by a National Parks historian about the history of British and American Camp on the island and the ‘Pig War’ back in the 1860’s. The history was fascinating, learning about the British and the Americans in these parts back in the day, and how they went about deciding who got what land etc, and how a war almost broke out because someone shot a pig. It turned really cold quite quickly so the JaMi group got back on the boat and we the VaTo group went back to the labs.

Today was spent doing an acoustics exercise that was due in the afternoon. I did mine on the high frequency hydrophone calibration that we recorded early last week. I also had an advisor meeting with Val later in the afternoon. I feel like… (just kidding), that things are on track for my project, I just have to fine-tune my Methods section that is due on Sunday. Off to the Whale Museum in the morning for what is known as ‘Gear-Down’ where local naturalists on board the whale watching vessels on the island get together, listen to talks, and discuss the summer. We as Beam Reach students are on the agenda so will stand up and give a quick spiel about what our research projects are. Should be good.


Friday 5th November to Sunday 7th November

Friday saw us at the Gear Down held in

Harbor. Val gave a talk then we stood up and explained our research to the local naturalists and

Museum staff. I felt comfortable talking about my research as it’s something that I have planned out all on my own and after 7 weeks, should have a bloody good understanding of it all. We also listened to a couple of other talks on harbor seals and seabirds. I think being a naturalist would be an awesome job, and it’s something that I will essentially be next summer should I get a job with a whale watch company. I know all about the whales, just need to touch up on my seabirds and local natural history. I have all winter! Friday arvo we shopped for decorations and presents for Liz for her 21st that is on Monday 8th. Friday night I spent a lot of my time on Skype chatting to family back home and just generally relaxing.

Saturday we were up ready to shop at 10am for the following week’s food inventory on the boat. It rained all day so after shopping and lunch, I was in desperate need of a nap so went and crashed and woke up just before dinner. If there were whales around I was meant to be going out with Giles but obviously she didn’t call me so there were not around (well not till the arvo I heard anyway by which time I’m guessing it wasn’t worth calling me). Saturday night was spent packing up ready for my final week at sea and fine-tuning more of my Methods section.

It’s late Sunday night as I write this, actually it just turned Monday morning, Happy 21st Liz! We, Team VaTo, decorated Liz’s room this morning with photos, balloons and streamers for her 21st, so when she arrived back at the dorms this arvo she got a pleasant surprise. A call from her late this arvo came through saying she loved it and was very thankful that we did that for her. A 21st is a big deal, so even though we couldn’t be on land to celebrate it with her, we did the next best thing. Earlier on today though a major event happened in the VaTo team. Sam has decided that she was not going to get on the boat this week (for reasons I’m not going to go into), so we’re a person less on the GV this week. The changeover at Roche was a wet one, as it was last week. The other group was really keen to get off (hot showers beckoned), so we had a cake for Liz that Leslie made and sang Happy BDay to her, ate it all cos it was bloody delicious, then JaMi headed off to what I’m sure will be a celebratory night for Liz. We were about to head off when Todd opened up the engine hatch to find the bracket that attached the alternator is cracked, so it needs to be either welded or replaced, so we’ll find out about that in the morning if we can get the part or not. So we may not be going anywhere tomorrow, but fingers crossed it sorts itself out. I haven’t heard back from Anna so wrote her an email this evening and hope to chat to her tomorrow about hopefully (really hoping) that I can get some boat recordings.
Shannon arrived back on the boat around 8pm after having almost a week off in the Big Apple. We then all had a chit-chat about the days gone by and why we were one group member short, and then looked forward to the week ahead and what we can do to make it run smoothly and efficiently. It’s going to be a busy week, even if we don’t get whales everyday (which I can pretty much guarantee we won’t). Last week at sea and it’s all happening, so come this time next week I’m going to be in desperate need of a good night’s sleep I’m sure!

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Dall’s, Minke’s, and a one orca day – Week 6 (at sea)

Monday 24th September

Today was a bloody cold day! First real cold day out at sea and I guess a taste of the week to come. It’s the end of September so it’s only going to get colder. No whales today unfortunately, but it was a productive with hydrophone calibration and then subsequent data analysis. I created a calibration curve for the high frequency hydrophone so it will be easier to interpret my sound data in the software program I am using for my project, and possibly subsequent students for future programs. Marla has brought her expensive NOAA hydrophone equipment aboard so it was interesting to see how the “professionals” do it. As there were no whales we were up in north Haro Strait and I got some cargo ship and ferry recordings. We positioned ourselves, well Todd did, and did it perfectly so that the ferry would pass us by and get around 400m from us at the closest point (which is what I need). I knew the ferry time as it’s the same one Ash and I caught over to Sidney a few days ago. As we were north of San Juan we went into Reid Harbor, the dock was free so instead of anchoring we just tied up there for the night. I’m going to go for a walk with Shannon in the morn as any opportunity I get to exercise on this boat I’m going to take it!

Tuesday 25th September

Again, no whales today! I’m guessing it may be a similar pattern to our last week at sea, as we had not had whales for the first three days, but then got them the last three. Fingers crossed! Shannon and I went for an early morning walk on Stuart Island, we headed back out into Haro Strait after breakky (aka breakfast) and did some sound propagation calibration with all the hydrophones. Val and I went out on the dinghy, aka ‘Gatito’ which means ‘small cat’, with the underwater speaker and played killer whale calls and fake echolocation clicks at various distances from the GV that had a number of hydrophones deployed (the array, the high frequency, the blue box, and Marla’s array). We did this as a sound propagation exercise as it’s important for our projects and helpful when analysing our data. Val and I then did some drive-bys of the high frequency hydrophone to record data for my project. I thank Anne very much for taking control of the high frequency recorder and getting the data for me while I was out on the water with the wind in my hair. It took a few tries to get the ranges right but we got it in the end. After looking at the data I was annoyed to find that the hydrophone was playing up and almost all of the dinghy recordings were all distorted, so Anne and I did a bit of troubleshooting after lunch and worked out the problem. We created, with the help of Todd, an outrigger to keep the hydrophone away from the edge of the boat and attached it to a weighted rope. It recorded perfectly after that! Val and Sam then went back out on the dinghy and I got some more drive-by recordings. I think Val just loves going at high speeds! It was getting late so we pulled in the gear and headed across to Prevost Harbor (Stuart Island), exactly opposite where we docked the night before. Saw a Northern Elephant Seal on the way into Prevost, well it’s head anyway. Those things sure are ugly! Was on dinner with Anne tonight, and we cooked up a storm, ‘twas a hit all round! Still not a fan of tofu but I can cook it at least! Wednesday 26th September

No whales again today! Grr! We had reports of a superpod mid-morning resting south of Vancouver Island, which was just too far away from us, plus we had to be back on land to meet the other group mid afternoon, so Todd gave us some sailing classes/revision. I’m all about the sailing classes as it does interest me and I hope to own my own sail boat one day. We had to be back at Snug to drop off Marla and her gear off at 3ish so we did that and then was picked up by Jason at 3:30, with rugby ball in hand! As you know it’s the World Cup right now so I’m trying to keep up to date as best I can but it’s bloody hard when out on the boat and limited or no internet access. Lack of sporting activity has really got to me on this program so having that rugby ball to throw around (even if I was just throwing it to myself) was great. We headed back to the labs as there was a much needed logistics and data collection meeting with the JaMi group. After that was all said and done the VaTo group grabbed a much needed shower and headed to a special dinner put on by the Friday Harbor Labs to introduce all the staff and researchers studying here for the fall quarter. Some really interesting research is being done here (lots of intertidal stuff, worms, crabs and lots of microscope related studies) that I was unaware of, but we are the only group doing killer whale research. After the talks we had to leave the labs, farewell the JaMi group again, and head back to Snug and back to the Gato Verde. When we were waiting at Snug we witnessed a harbor seal mother and it’s pup foraging for fish in the shallows under the dock light. The pup would stick it’s head out of the water and just stare at us. Not to get all girly girl but the pups really are cute. We watched a DVD I had sent over from home called ‘Lolita Slave To Entertainment’, which looks at the only Southern Resident killer whale surviving in captivity after 37 years in the confines of a small tank at Miami Seaquarium. I have seen Lolita at Miami Seaquarium, and there is a big push to have her retired to a bay here on San Juan Island, but it’s going to take a lot to get the owner of the Seaquarium, Arthur Hertz, to give Lolita up. She just makes him way too much money. If you get a chance you should check out the DVD. Scott came aboard tonight, he’s here for a week, so we’re now 9 strong again on the GV.

Thursday 27th September

Well we had reports of a superpod just south of Vancouver today so because we hadn’t seen whales in 3 days and we really need data we decided it was worth the risk to head north in the hope we could cut them off if they began to head south. So after we pumped out and filled up at Roche, we headed north, then on our way motor sailing through the Spieden Channel up to Flattop Island we then got reports of some L’s down on the south side of San Juan Island. Bugger! So we had to make decision which way to go. We got on the phone and rang around to confirm the reports and both were on the money, so we made the decision to head back down south. The wind was in our favour but we had lost an hour and so it was going to be a few hours before we got back down to the west of San Juan. We saw a Minke whale on the way south! My first Minke! Obviously they’re not as agile as the killer whale but can be sometimes, just not this time. Still I saw it surface and breathe so I can say I’ve seen a Minke whale now. Anyway, I had organised with Jim Maya from Maya’s Charters to do some drive-bys later that afternoon (as he is based out of Snug Harbor where we regularly anchor) but as it turned out we didn’t catch up with the whales because they began to head further south, so we did some sailing tacking back and forth down to Lime Kiln instead. Todd tells me I “pinch” the wind a bit too much, which is something I need to work on, but I only do it because I want to get to the destination more directly and tack less. I’ll have to work on it. Jim passed us on his way back from the whales down south so I called him up on the radio as we headed north to Snug also but he only had a spare 15 min so we organised to get the recordings first thing tomorrow morning. Let’s hope I can get some good boat data tomorrow.

Friday 28th September

Well today was a long but very fulfilling day. We got whales!!! And Dall’s porpoises riding the bow wave!!! Twice! And then to top if off I saw a Minke whale!

Ok, I’ll try and make this quick as it was a bloody long day. Leslie (Val’s wife) rang us first thing (8am) this morning saying she could hear whales on the hydrophone out the front of their house (that’s right they live on the western side of San Juan Island overlooking the water where killer whales swim by quite regularly over the summer, tough life I know). So we hauled anchor and made our way round the corner, and it literally is just around the corner from Snug. I had to ring Jim Maya and tell him that I wasn’t able to get the boat recordings as we had reports of whales and hadn’t seen them all week and we all really needed the data. He was cool about it and I said I’d give him a buzz later on. So we first got sight of the whales just north of Lime Kiln, deployed the hydrophone, and began to follow a few individuals south. The whales were travelling at a faster speed than we could go while still towing the hydrophones and getting clear recordings with minimal flow noise, so we had to increase speed, stop recordings, and then position ourselves in front of them (>100m of course and out of their path). Turned out we just weren’t fast enough and they headed south down to Hein Bank which is south-west of the southern end of San Juan Island. I realise as I write all these names of places most of you have no idea where I’m talking about. I should put a note at the top of my blog stating that this blog requires supplementary material for ease of understanding, (that supplementary material being a map of the San Juan Islands!). We spent the majority of the morning and early afternoon checking pager data and making phone calls to see exactly where they were. While all this is happening I get a phone call from Anna (from Prince of Whales in Victoria) saying that she wanted to know more details about my research and had to clarify it with the head boss before I was allowed to get boat recordings of their zodiacs and Ocean Magic. So I spent an hour or so, between recording echolocation clicks, writing an email explaining what my research was about and what I plan to show with the data I collect. That has now been sent off so I hope to hear from her soon and get the all clear to go ahead with recordings if given the opportunity. We sailed south, tacking towards Hein Bank to meet up with the whales, and this is where we had our very first experience with Dall’s porpoises riding the bow wave. It was awesome! These small cetaceans are incredibly fast and agile. They exhibit what is known as a “rooster tail” – when they surface to breath at high speeds water sprays off their dorsal fin and it looks like a rooster tail. The Dall’s didn’t stick around for long and we positioned ourselves in southern Haro Strait as the orcas had now started to head back north. We deployed the array and the high frequency vertically (as opposed to towing it behind) and waited for the whales. Unfortunately upon deployment of the high frequency hydrophone the rope attached to the end (approx. 6ft) drifted into the propeller and got stuck and ripped off (hydrophone was fine). So we had to sail from then on as Todd did not want to engage the propellers for fear the rope would wrap further around and damage the propeller. Lucky we had the winds for sailing, so we were able to keep up with the whales and actually overtook them as they headed back up the west side of San Juan. They seemed to mill south of us but we caught up with J1 (aka ‘Ruffles’) as he often leads the pod by himself quite a distance in front of the rest of the pod. It was interesting to observe a few Dall’s swimming along with J1, so we stopped, checked the starboard propeller, it was fine and clear of the rope, so we re-deployed the hydrophones. Following J1 we came across a group of researchers from Global Research and Rescue that were taking breath samples of individual orcas to analyse bacteria. Apparently they are only allowed to take one breath per orca per year. We got chatting with them on the radio and I asked if they were able to do some drive-bys for me as they were using a jet-drive engine. They were happy to as they wanted to hear what their boat sounded like underwater also. So I set up the floats attached to the man overboard pole and a portable radar reflector and positioned ourselves 100m from the floating device. I communicated with Bob (captain) on the radio and he drove by a couple of times- only problem was I could hardly hear the boat over the echolocation clicks and calls coming from nearby whales and the background cargo ship noise. Guess that says something really good about jet-drive engines! Perhaps this could be something to look into for the whale watch industry… I got Bob’s details in the hope we could re-record in an area of minimal background noise tomorrow. Hopefully I can. We kept the hydrophones deployed and continued to get calls and clicks coming through. It was getting dark but we were still getting great recordings so kept the hydrophones deployed and just floated there on the western side up near Snug Harbor. We were having dinner, next thing we knew two juveniles came right near the boat and vocalised right next to the hydrophone, it was bloody loud! Just when we thought the whales had gone a group of about 15 individuals were heading in our general direction northbound. They must have been milling/foraging further south out of our sight, but unfortunately no vocalisations as they passed. So we decided to call it a night, as it was after 7 and the sun was almost completely behind the Vancouver Island mountains. As I was packing up the gear I saw another Minke pas about 100m from the boat! No one else saw it unfortunately because it didn’t surface it again. Then as we were motoring back up into Snug, Dall’s porpoises began to ride the bow wave! I got right down on the trampoline and could almost touch them as they swam past. Such agile and graceful little creatures. We racked up 37 miles today, what a long day, but what an awesome day.

Saturday 29th September

Well as I write this we are anchored in Garrison Bay and there are 40 knot winds outside. Yep, that’s right, 40 knots! Actually we just hit 42! Let’s go sailing…. kidding. Today was a rough day out on the water, but we got some great sailing and hit the top speed for the Beam Reach program… 9.4 knots! Wonder if the JaMi group will better that next week. We went up to Roche this morning where we pumped out, filled up, got a caffeine fix (and a meat one ;-o). We had reports of whales way down south off Victoria and so decided to brave the winds (bout 20 knots) and 3ft swell to get to them, as having one day of data (more like half a day actually) was really not enough considering we were a week at sea. We can’t control the whales though and so you must be realistic and accepting of the fact that we may not be able to get to them all the time. Turns out this week the whales were just going to be with us for that one day. Sailing down Haro Strait it began to get quite rough (well, the roughest we have had as a group), and the reports coming in from the pager were somewhat unreliable (suprise surprise). We often get really bad reports from the pager people sitting up on the hill. Sometimes they tell us whales are on land, then they send reports that sorry there weren’t any whales after all, when we never got a page from them saying there were any! I think they’re doing more than smoking cigarettes and drinking water up on that hill. Anyway, we ate lunch, quesadillas, we didn’t go down well. I’ve come to the conclusion that American cheeses are far more oily than Aussie cheeses, so I came up with the saying “oil and swell don’t go well” (genius I know). I had a piece of bread though and I was fine. So we made the group decision to head back, as some of us weren’t feeling that crash hot and the weather forecast was winds picking up 30-35 knots so Todd wanted to be well anchored and settled in by 5pm. So we tacked back up north along the west side of San Juan and that’s where we hit 9.4 knots. Had more Dall’s riding the bow wave, and this time they stuck around for a couple of minutes. Got some great video footage. It was too rough to get boat recordings so I didn’t end up contacting Bob from Global Research and Rescue, nor Jim Maya. We tacked our way back up to Henry Island, each having a turn at the helm. Next time we’re out at sea a lot more will be expected of us in terms of navigating the vessel, which I’m looking forward to. The only way to learn how is to be given more responsibility and I feel I’m up for it. We anchored in Garrison Bay at around 3:30pm and then Anne and I went for a dinghy lesson. I want to get more boat experience so the opportunity presented itself and I took it. Todd, Anne and I got decked out in out waterproof gear (I was yet to christen mine) and away we went just hooning around the bay doing figure of eights and sharp turns to get a feel of how the dinghy handles. Then came “parking” the boat, i.e. pulling up behind the GV. My first attempt was, for lack of a better word, perfect. I came up behind the GV, cut the engine and we coasted smoothly between the two dangling ropes that haul the dinghy in. Todd was impressed and said “Ok, let’s see if you can do that again, no pressure”. Ok, now I was feeling pressured. So I came back around behind the GV and the wind slightly changed and swung the boat slightly so I re-adjusted my path. Just as I was about to put it into neutral and cut the engine, the GV swung slighty so I re-adjusted my direction but accidently put on the throttle a bit and so we accelerated up underneath the hull of the catamaran. Yeah, I know, what an idiot! I felt soo bloody stupid. The pressure really did get to me. We were able to stop as we weren’t going very fast, so I cut the engine and we pushed ourselves back out into the open. It was a huge joke and Todd and Anne were cracking up. I felt like a right twat but at least we could laugh about it. So I came around again and parked the boat a lot better this time, we got out, laughed a bit more as we told the rest of the group of my “accident” and then settled into the cabin for the night. We got up-to-date on the data entry for our science and sustainability log, had dinner, then watched ’40 Year Old Virgin’ for a good old fashioned laugh. It’s late as I write this and I need to be up in the morning as I’m hopefully going to get boat recordings from Jim Maya, although the weather for the morning is still winds of 30 knots so I’m doubtful.

Sunday 30th September

Well I’m back on land after what I would call a very unsuccessfully week of data collection.  We got some good sailing in but that’s not going to help us write our paper. It was too windy this morning to get boat recordings of Jim, and he is going away for 2 weeks, but fortunately he has other skippers that can operate his boat so I’ll give them a call this week to tee up something for next week. And hopefully POW gets back to me so I can tee up something up. It was pretty miserable when we woke up this morning so we headed around the corner to Roche, pumped out, filled up, and cleaned up ready for the JaMi group to come aboard. JaMi arrived at around noon, it was still drizzling rain, so we did the change over, loaded the vans, then talked and socialised and had a lecture on transportation and bio-fuels. The afternoon went quickly and it was once again time to farewell the sea group. I really hope they get more whales than we did this week, otherwise our data sets are going to be pretty small. Still, they have 2 weeks left on the boat so even if we didn’t get much data next time we’re out, we can hopefully get more from the JaMi group the following week. I will be at a disadvantage though as none of the JaMi group use the high frequency hydrophone. I feel I have enough clicks to analyse, but the boat recordings are really what I need, so hopefully next week out at sea I can get them all. It’s late, and has been a busy week. Just spoke to my bro and Dad back home, although had really dodgy internet connection. I guess it’s because we now have 10 more people staying in the dorms and so the bandwidth gets used up. They informed me that Melbourne Storm won the NRL (Rugby League) Grand Final! Woohoo! (That’s the team I go for). Well I’m all showered up and clean ready for a good night’s sleep. 3 weeks at sea down, 1 to go. Bugger! Oh how time flies when you’re writing a scientific paper.

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Reading, writing, and ‘Oh Canada’ – Week 5

Monday 17th September to Wednesday 19th September

Well its mid week of Week 5 back on land, and it’s been hectic to say the least. When I say hectic I mean we have had reports to do, papers to read, and final proposals to write. Monday morning we went to Lacrover Farm again and did some manual labour, pulling up of pea plants to be exact, but we got to feed the four pigs they have which had grown quite substantially since a fortnight ago, so that was cool. I really do plan on posting pics up on the Beam Reach gallery of my trip so far, but have just been too busy to sit down and wait for them to upload, but I promise I will get on that. So I had hoped to go out with Giles on Mon arvo but no whales were reported. Same thing happened on Tuesday and today (Wednesday), no whales. I felt bad for the other group as they have now had 3 days with an orca sighting, and therefore no data collection. Thankfully though that is an advantage of my project where I’m not relying completely on the presence of whales, all I need is boats, and there are plenty of those around. So I’m writing this as a break from my proposal that is due tomorrow. We have had a few little exercises/reports so far this week, as well as readings for journal club so as I said it’s been a little bit hectic. Had another Whale Museum lecture this week, Giles (Debbie) spoke about her PhD work, but as I had already been out with her I kinda already knew what she was working on. Still, it’s fascinating work and very thorough. So my proposal is due tomorrow so I better get back to the finishing touches. Off to Victoria Canada tomorrow arvo as well! We get 2 days off every fortnight so Ash and I decided we would go to Victoria as she had never been, and I really like it, plus I want to utilise the opportunity to speak to some whale watch operators about doing some drive-bys for me next week when I’m at sea. Well better get back to my proposal.

Thursday 20th September to Sunday 23rd September

I’m writing this on the boat on Sunday night after spending 2 days in
Victoria, Canada. So here’s how the last few days went down…

Thursday arvo I handed my proposal into Val after having a chat with him about it. I’m pretty happy with it because I know it’s feasible, and I know what I have to do. It definitely needs some fine tuning but it’s well within the scope of the program, and somewhat original. I mean it changes now anyway as it no longer becomes a proposal, but an actual report. Anyway, it’s in now so will get feedback on it early next week no doubt. So Thurs arvo Ash and I caught the Washington State Ferry across to
Sidney, British Columbia, for a total of $6. Bargain! We met a couple on board that we chatted to and they had just been on a whale watching tour earlier that day with a local San Juan operator, Jim Maya, who we have met, and Jim said he would be more than happy to do some drive-bys for me to get some recordings. The couple were asking us about our research and about the killer whales in general, and it was really good to be able to spread our knowledge to members of the general public. So we got into Sidney just after 5pm, then caught a public bus to
Victoria. I had done this trip a few times before when I stayed in Victoria and was going to
Sidney to speak to the whale watch operators, so knew where we had to get off and how long it would take. Ash and I grabbed dinner and a few drinks and headed out to check out the Victorian night life. We went to a pub called Darcy’s and ended up meeting this guy who was a restaurant manager in town, he had a few connections and after Darcy’s we got into a club for free. It all closes pretty early on Thurs night in
Victoria but it was a great night and we had organised on the Fri to go grab lunch at the restaurant this guy manages. So Friday Ash and I grabbed lunch at the restaurant, with a discount from our newly made manager mate, then went down to Prince of Whales whale watching company to speak to them about possibly doing drive-bys for me next week when I’m out on the Gato Verde. Well, it went exceptionally well, much better than I had anticipated. I seriously thought I would have to go to several operators but Laila at Prince of Whales was awesome. I chose Prince of Whales because I had spoken to them 7 weeks ago when I was in
Victoria sussing out possible job opportunities for next year (I have a 12 month Canadian working visa) and they said get in touch with them when I finish this program. The woman I spoke to 7 weeks ago that works there also does acoustic research on porpoises but when I contacted her again a few days ago I was unable to get in touch with her. However, that didn’t really hinder me in anyway as Laila (head of land operations) was extremely positive and also a conservationist, so when I explained what I ultimately planned to do in my research she was more than happy to help out. So we teed up next week, Ash and I got chatting to her about all things marine mammals, and she asked if we wanted to go out on the last tour of the day, we didn’t have any plans, so agreed. Oh yeah, should also mention, it was for free! I guess when you think about it it’s pretty funny, we study whales for 10 weeks, then on our days off we go to
Canada, and go whale watching! Still, we saved $70 each which is bloody awesome, and what was even more awesome was that it was the best killer whale experience of my life! Yep, it topped the one we had on our second day out on the water. It truly was phenomenal. Here’s what happened:

We jumped into our ‘Mustang’ suits (full-bodied orange suits designed to keep u warm and act as a flotation device should we fall into the drink) and hopped aboard the Zodiac (steel hulled open inflatable boat). The driver, aka ‘Radar’, announced he had some acoustic researchers on board, and Ash and I signalled him with much professionalism as we jumped into the seats up front. Laila said these seats are the best as they are the ones where you get the real ‘Zodiac experience’. We have been travelling a maximum of 6-7 knots out on the water while aboard the ‘Gato Verde’ so we certainly felt the need for speed, and the zodiacs (very common whale watch operator vessel in these parts) certainly zip along (~25-30 knots). The ride out was awesome to say the least. It was spitting with rain so the droplets felt like little pin pricks on your face but it was all worth it with the 2ft swells and the air-time we were getting of the waves. It took about 40 min to get to where J pod and some of the L’s were, but waters were really calm and we were only one of three vessels out there (west side of San Juan Island around Eagle Pt). The ‘Gato Verde’ was out there also so I called them up on the radio and we had a chat then went over to say G’Day. It was just after 5pm by this stage so the GV had to leave to get to an anchorage before dark, and the other whale watch boat left, so we were the only one’s out there with the whales. We positioned ourselves in front of the whales and 100m from their general direction if travel and watched spyhops, breaches, lots of tail slaps, and just general playful behaviour. Next thing we knew a group of about 10 individuals somewhat spread out started heading toward our boat and before we could get out of the way they were right next to us. It was un-bloody-believable! We had a whale swim just under the surface the entire length of the boat (it was as long as the boat) just looking at us, then we had whales surface about 2m from where we were standing, their breaths seeming soo loud and their dorsal fins coming up to my eye level. It was truly spectacular. The water was like glass which just made the experience that much more beautiful. Now when whales decide to come and check you out (it rarely happens but as we were the only boat out there I guess they were curious) the best thing you can do is just let them pass and when you think it is safe, engage the ignition and slowly motor away to a safe distance. In this instance the whales were actually curious and so came right up to us as they swam past. The last thing you should do is try and get out of their way as the ignition of the engine and then the engagement of the gears actually makes quite a large “clunk” underwater, and so may startle the whales. I know this because I felt like I was deafened when I had the headphones on right where a boat engaged its gears. Furthermore, engaging propellers runs the risk of bumping into whales when they are underwater and out of driver sight. So we just floated there silently while killer whales milled around our boat and swam off. Radar (the driver) had a basic hydrophone that he deployed and the vocalisations we got were just unbelievable! Ash and I were amazed and really wish we had a recorder at that time. We were meant to be the “researchers” but we couldn’t contain our excitement and kept telling the others on board that what you are witnessing is absolutely amazing and a one in a lifetime experience. We have been out on the water for 2 weeks and pretty much all of the time the whales are little black dots in the water, so this experience is one I will forever treasure. The passengers on board (7 in total incl. us) were asking us questions all about the orcas and between us, Ash and I could answer them all. The driver kept pretty quiet, whether or not because we were on board I don’t know, but he had been doing it for 12 years so knew his stuff. Anyway, it was great practice for me as the driver could be me this same time next year. I got some great video clips but it was often hard to properly focus as it was cloudy and drizzly for parts of it. One of the highlights I think was when J42 calf and it’s mum (sex of calf unknown) came less than 5m from the boat and the calf was spyhopping and jumping around just playing like a typical child would, and mum was just hanging there in the water keeping a close eye on her playful child. J42 in it’s playful behaviour all of a sudden vocalised as it came up out of the water, and Ash and I just looked at each other in amazement then looked at Radar and he was just as surprised. It was absolutely amazing! We eventually had to leave the orcas and head back to Victoria but it was definitely a memory that will stick with me and one that I’m very appreciative to have witnessed. Some days you just get lucky.

So Ash and I headed out that night to check out more of the Victorian nightlife. It was good to get across to Victoria and head out in the evenings, as you don’t really get the opportunity inFriday
Harbor, so let’s just say we enjoyed our two nights away from the labs. Saturday we walked around Victoria, Ash did some shopping, then it was a bus back to Sidney and a ferry back to

Harbor in the evening. One would think that the troubles I had the first time I went back in to the
US in August would be well behind me and I could expect to go straight through customs and onto the ferry, but ahh, no. I’ve said it before, US Customs is a bloody joke! For some stupid reason the old bloke that stamped my student visa back in mid August when I entered the US from
Canada stamped mid September on it, I have no idea why. The woman at the customs desk in
Sidney looked at it weirdly and asked me all about it and why it was stamped for September when the program ends at the end of October. Of course I had no idea, but I told her that the old guy at the border that processed my student visa didn’t appear to know what he was doing. She couldn’t work out what was going on as Ash’s documentation was all fine so I had to step aside while she processed everyone else. While that was happening I felt a sense of deja vu, as this is what happened last time in August and I was holding people up on the bus, and now I had scenarios of what the hell I would do if they wouldn’t let me back in to the US. Fortunately enough the woman issued me with a new visa card and I was allowed through. When on the ferry a lot of the people in the line were saying how lucky I was as most US Customs officials aren’t as nice as this woman was. Guess I got lucky, but still, I had all the documentation necessary and it ended up being an error on their behalf… bloody US Customs! Anyway, Ash and I got back to

Harbor and pretty much crashed out.

Today, Sunday, we had the changeover from the JaMi group atRoche
Harbor. Marla Holt gave us a talk (who had spoken at the

Museum a few weeks back) and then she hopped aboard and will be spending the next three days with us. Marla is a post-doc with a great deal of hydro-acoustics knowledge and experience so she will be a great asset to us all these next three days I’m sure. I was hauled up the mast this afternoon, 63 feet above the water, it was awesome! Got a great view of
Bay (

Harbor) and the sunset where we are anchored tonight. If you have seen the film ’28 Days’ with Sandra Bullock and can recall the scene where they must climb a wooden structure all harnessed up, and the gay blonde guy with glasses is climbing… well if you’ve seen it I don’t need to go on. Let’s just say I’m a bit tender at the moment, but it was worth it to be that high up above the water.

So just before I head to bed I have to make sure that I have a towel above and below my mattress as yesterday the JaMi group had some high seas and water splashed into the vents of the forward births and so the mattresses got quite wet. Todd and I spent an hour this afternoon soaking up water in our respective births. Fun times. I plan on getting boat recordings this week so hopefully all goes well.

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Oh whales where art thou? – Week 4 (at sea)

Monday 10th September

So early this morning we had reports of J,K, and L pod up in the Strait of Georgia heading south. A superpod! JaMi last week got to witness a superpod on the west side of San Juan so I was really hoping we would get to witness it today. Now according to Val if the southern residents are up that way they often head south down Rosario Strait and around the south end of Lopez Island and San Juan Island into Haro Strait and Strait of Juan De Fuca. We were positioned at the southern tip of San Juan when we got the report so we had to make a call whether or not to predict they would come down Rosario or come back down Haro Strait. We decided to wait for more pagers but also gave a few calls around to our various “sources” to see if they knew any new information into which way the whales were heading. So as we were just drifting around the south of Lopez Island we were making plans/protocols as to what we would do when whales were around and who would do what. For example, who would deploy what hydrophones, who would take photos etc etc. As part of my project is looking at boat noise in controlled experiments where recordings can be done without whales, I would be able to give some assistance to others with their data collection. I still however need to get echolocation recordings and so the afternoon was spent with all of us “playing” with the equipment, me in particular (and Anne) playing with the high frequency recorder and making recordings. The whale pager system seemed a bit dodge today so we made for Aleck Bay on the south side of Lopez Island where we could deploy the hydrophones and speakers and make some recordings and get used to the equipment so ultimately when we do have whales we can be prepared and ready to collect some good data. So we anchored the dinghy in the middle of Aleck Bay, dropped the speaker over the side and played a consistent killer whale S_1 call. We then just cruised around Aleck Bay with our hydrophones dragging behind the GV and taking recordings, becoming more familiar with the equipment we would be using over the coming weeks. Val then jumped into the dinghy and I got him to do a couple of drive-bys at high speed so I could get a couple of recordings and get an idea of methodology, but more so to see what the high frequency boat noise data would look like on the computer. I’m still yet to look at the data but it’s on my computer ready to go! So we decided to drop anchor in Aleck for the night as the whales were still way up north. Val and I were on dinner so we cooked up a mean Spag Bog and Meatballs with garlic bread. Of course they weren’t real meatballs as this is a ‘nothing with a face’ vessel, but to be honest they did taste a little funky and although they say they “taste like meat” I could definitely tell there was something just not quite right about them. Still, I’m experimenting with these soy “creations” but so far I’ve concluded that you just can’t beat the taste of something with four feet and a hearbeat. Todd our captain however did express an interest today in fishing and saying if we catch it can we eat it, as it will be from natural stocks and we will be eating “sustainably”. Val said he may be open to the idea, which sounds promising. I normally have fish at least once a week when I’m at home so if I can’t eat beef for a week it will be nice to have some fish sometime. I think I might just drop a lure overboard tomorrow and drag it and see what happens. Anyway, many comments were made at dinner about how good it was. I’ll let Val take most of the credit though, I just did the basic stuff. Did my exercises as well this afternoon while a couple of the others went for a swim around the boat. I have been doing various exercises somewhat regularly on the boat, bout 3-4 times a week. Because I can’t go for runs I still need/feel I have to do some sort of exercise so I’ve been doing dips in and out of my hidey hole, push-ups on the forward deck, lunges around the outside of the deck, lifting a 25 lb round weight on a small rope that is used with the hydrophones (have to do many reps so it can get a bit tedious, plus its not that comfortable to lift), and crunches on the forward netting. For Tim’ boat exercise videos go to Anyway, it’s pretty late on Mon night as I write this so I might make my way to my little hole. I really don’t mind sleeping in there, it’s quite cosy. Ask me again when it’s raining though. So I printed out my draft proposal for Val so I guess he’ll look at it over the next couple of days. I’m a lot happier with it now that what I handed up last time, but still it needs work, hence why they call it a ‘draft’. No superpod today though so bit bummed. Hopefully soon. Off to my hole. Night.

Tuesday 11th September

Well today was a very productive day. We had reports of J,K and L pod out west in the Strait of Juan De Fuca so it was decided we would slowly cruise over there in the hope that they would come east toward San Juan. We cut them off just at the southern tip of Victoria, Canada late in the afternoon, deployed the hydrophones, and put our methods to work. Anne and I had been hard at work the previous couple of hours designing a way to deploy the hydrophone array with the high frequency hydrophone underneath it. We had to rack our brains back to senior high school for a trigonometry lesson to work out lengths and angles but in the end we came up with something and tied off what we had to. It didn’t work exactly as planned, so next time we’ll put more weight on the rope so it drags vertically and the hydrophones drag horizontally. Once they were deployed we followed the whales back to San Juan and up the west side. I was primarily listening for clicks so when I would hear them I’d take short recordings (as the sampling rate on the high frequency recorder I’m using uses up memory quickly). Didn’t actually get to see the whales much as they were very spread out and I was at the back of the boat in the corner with my headphones on fiddling with settings but heard some awesome calls and definitely got some echolocation clicks so will no doubt see what they look like tomorrow. I really do love being out on the water. As we were cruising to meet the whales this afternoon we came across some Dall’s porpoises, although we were bummed because they didn’t ride the bow wave. Todd assures us that we will get to witness it. JaMi did last week, and they got a super pod encounter, lucky bastards! The weather has been just awesome, sunny clear days, and was just laying out in the netting before looking up at the stars. It was just so clear and the stars lit up the night sky. Just spectacular. In the water here there is also a lot of bio-luminescence at night. Basically little tiny creatures in the water (dinoflagellates for all you science minds) sparkle, and do even more-so when you stir the water up. It really is awesome! So again I said I would have an early night and I’m 40 min past when I said I would go to bed, so I’m going now. We’re anchored in a place called Westcot Bay, just south of Roche Harbor, so we’ll pump out tomorrow morning and calibrate the freshwater tank. Might even get to a have a bit of a shower as we will need to empty the freshwater tank to calibrate it. Think I might be fighting with the girls for that though…

Wednesday 12th September

So we did pump out this morning and yes we all had a shower in order to use up the freshwater so we could calibrate the tank. Every morning we have a person on ‘Systems’ log and part of their job is to check the level of the water tank. The problem is when the tank was at a certain level in cm according to the ‘freshwater stick’ we never actually knew how much water we had left. Well now we do, and we had a lot more than we thought we did. It took bloody ages to empty the tank, even after we had all (except Val) had really quick showers (which in hindsight could have been a lot longer). Theoretically though we could all shower every couple of days because we need to pump out every couple of days anyway and we always fill up with water when we pump out. But I suppose we are being ‘sustainable’ by not showering every day, but maybe at least one a week wouldn’t hurt… So no close reports of whales today as we had to stick around the north western end of San Juan to be picked up. We have a lot of data to look through though, so the afternoon was spent discussing ways in which we could improve our data collection as a “team”. My boat noise work relies mainly on me as I’m the only one doing the high frequency boat noise, but when whales are present I need echolocation clicks as well, as does Anne, so we’ve been throwing ideas back and forth as to how to sample effectively. Experimental design/sampling technique is a tricky business. We also had a sailing theory lesson with Todd this afternoon and a knots practical. I’m really interested in the sailing part so was eager to learn, and it was a good break from looking at frequency spectrograms. The knots I pretty much already knew from my days as a Scout, so it was a good re-cap. When I win lotto I’m definitely buying a house on the water with my own dock and a sail boat. Maybe also a power boat for those days when you just want to get away fast. A man can dream can’t he… We had a talk by Robin Baird tonight at the Whale Museum on transient killer whale foraging. He is one of the leading scientists in this field that has published many papers and written a few books. I bought his book tonight – ‘Killer Whales of the World’, and got him to sign it. It was a fascinating talk, and I’d love to get into that area of research. I mean what could be better than watching a killer whale every day throw a harbor seal into the air and then eat it?! It was really good to see the other group again and it really is a bummer that we only get to see them for such a short period of time. I’d like more social interaction with them as that’s when you really get to know people, away from an academic setting. Hopefully we can sort something out with the instructors. Anyway, I’m again the last one to go to bed while writing on my computer here in the galley. Hopefully whales tomorrow. Catcha.

Thursday 13th September

No whales again today. Grrr. Instead we calibrated all the hydrophones so we could get a better representation of what our data files would look like. We were at Snug Harbor/Mitchell Bay last night and stayed there till lunchtime. Wind picked up in the arvo so we finally got out and did some real sailing! I tell you what, pulling the mainsail up is bloody tough work but a great workout. No winch help needed for this bloke! So we sailed up north to Stuart Island, I took a couple of large commercial ship and ferry recordings with the high frequency recorder on the way, to get a sense of what it will be like when I collect proper data for my project. JaMi nicknamed the high frequency recorder the ‘pothead’ (‘cos it records at very high frequencies compared to most hydrophones), genius I know. I wanted to call it the ‘oober doobie’, but because the other group named it first we didn’t change it. We do have two different high frequency recorders that plug into the hf hydrophone so Anne and I named them ‘Arj’ and ‘Cecil’ (one records A named files, other records C named files, genius I know). We moored in Reid Harbor, which is on the other side of Privost Harbor where we moored last time at Stuart Island. It’s a thin little harbor, a great little spot. Went for a swim this arvo as well. Got another jumping shot off the bow so I can add that to my ‘Jumping Around The World’ pic catalogue. Water is bloody cold though. You should only stay in the water for 10 min as apparently after this time you start to develop hypothermia. I’m not gonna stay in there longer than 1 min at a time, let alone 10 min! Anyway, I thawed out, Alex cooked up a great Greek vegetable dish for dinner, and we watched the movie ‘Stripes’. The group will tell you how I’ve been singing that tune all week. It’s because everytime the whale beeper goes off it sounds as if it’s part of the theme song, so I whistle along. They watched the movie and now understand where I’m coming from so now when the beeper goes off all they can hear is the ‘Stripes’ theme song! Hilarious! I want it as my ringtone!

Friday 14th September

Whales today! Bout bloody time I hear you cry! We went for a hike early this morning on Stuart Island, bout a 10km round trip to the lighthouse at the northern most tip. We all went as walking is not something you can do readily on a boat so we made the most of our hiking opportunity. Stuart Island is a cute little island. It has a school that we walked past and checked out, but it had closed down this term as apparently the only students were the children of the teacher. They had souvenirs for sale to raise money for the school, but it’s all on an honesty system, so the merchandise is all there you are just expected to leave money in a box or post them the money. I got a couple of postcards so put my money in the box. I love the fact that you don’t have to lock anything up, especially in these small island towns. It’s just a normal thing here, which I wish applied in other parts of the world. It would be nice to know you could trust everyone not to steal from you. Anyway, so we motor-sailed down the west-side of San Juan and caught the whales near Lime Kiln. Anne had rigged up a new array/pothead configuration so we deployed that but got horrible flow noise for some reason. I’m looking specifically for clicks so tapping is NOT something I want to hear. Unfortunately Val deployed the blue box hydrophone that ended up being caught in the propeller. We stopped, Sam dove down and managed to recover part of it. Val dove down as well and they both recovered it although the cable did snap in half but Val said it’s repairable so we’ll take his word for it. I seriously don’t know how they can keep their head under this water for that long. I did 3 strokes of fly when I last went for a swim and got major brain freeze! We have this unofficial thing called an ‘Icepackt’, where if you agree to join it (so far it’s Sam, Val, Anne, and myself) then whoever in the packt that calls a swim and goes through with it, then all the other members of the packt have to swim as well. However, the person that calls the swim can drop out at anytime and not swim, and so neither do the other members. Sam loves to go swimming so we’ve said to her that an ‘Icepackt’ swim is void if she calls it when it’s clearly not a smart move to jump in (I.e. stupidity). So anyway, another tangent again, sorry. I had my headphones on the rest of the arvo while we followed the whales. I only ended up taking one recording as the tapping on the flow noise was just making things difficult. We will re-assess it tomorrow if there are whales. Very windy night tonight here in Fish Creek, and the coldest we’ve had in a long time. Everyone else is in bed. I’ve just spent the last hour and a bit writing a detailed food inventory for the JaMi group, and spent another half hour trying to get internet connection to email it to them. Got help from Ash which was great, although now I have to help her when she is Quartermaster, which really I don’t mind because I’ve created the template on the computer which will make it a lot easier. Everyone else was working on their preliminary data product assignment (basically show how we will present our data in our final report) so that involves a bit of number crunching. I’ll start mine tomorrow, hopefully with better echolocation click data.

Saturday 15th September

It’s really late as I write this so I’ll try and make it quick as I’m on breakfast in the morning. Woke up this morning feeling like I had gone on a 10km hike the day before. Was feeling, still am feeling, tenderness in the gluteus maximus (not exactly sure on spelling) area. Had whales again today, and got the calls early so we were with them at around 10:30am just SW of False Bay on the western side. Deployed the array and pothead hydrophone rig but was still getting tapping flow noise so we pulled it back up and then deployed the pothead separately on the other side of the boat. Tapping noise was gone so I spent the next couple of hours with the headphones on listening very carefully for clicks and recording them. Got some really good recordings but as the day progressed more boats came onto the scene, the whales spread further apart and appeared to be diving longer. Can you blame them? At one point I counted over 30 boats within a 1km radius of our boat and the whales, mainly whale watch operators. 3 days ago a county law was passed on San Juan Island stating that it is now illegal to get within 100m of the whales. If you do and are caught you have to hand over 750 big ones. It applies to all vessels (except with research permits) and is a really great thing for these whales. 100m is actually really close when you’re out there on the water. I missed most of the action today as I was heavily concentrating on what I was hearing and not really looking around. I did however see one breach about 100m off our starboard. That’s the only bad thing about what I’m recording, I miss out on watching the whales, as does Anne, cos we’re too busy with our head down in the computer or the recorder. May have to rectify that next time we’re out at sea. In saying that I mean take half an hour off to marvel at these awesome creatures, and get some good pics and video footage. Mid afternoon came and the whales kept foraging slowly south but we had to be up north for the changeover at Roche tomorrow so said goodbye to the orcas and made our way back up the west coast. I spent the afternoon putting data in the computer and re-doing our systems log. We are anchored in Snug Harbor again and will make our way up to Roche in the morning for the changeover and a lecture. Worked with Val tonight on how to represent my data so will finish my prelim data product tomorrow. Spoke to Shannon about fine-tuning my experimental design/sampling methods and she was a great help as she did her PhD on Australian Sea Lions in Kangaroo Island. So she knows all about Aussie lingo, places in Oz etc, although I do often jog her memory about certain things that she’s forgotten. Happy to help though of course! Val said he wants to learn another Aussie song on guitar (he knows Waltzing Matilda) so I’m going to look up the tune to ‘Give me a home among the gum trees’ and we can all have a sing-along in 2 weeks when we’re back on the boat. Ash just rolled her eyes at me. Had an interesting conversation at dinner tonight about sustainability in relation to showers and vegetarianism on the boat. As I mentioned earlier in the week we definitely have enough water in the tank to at least have one or two showers each a week. And to me I don’t see how not showering is practising sustainability as I’ve been having short showers ever since I was a kid and had rainwater tanks in the country. We’ve actually been really good with conserving water so a shower or two a week is well deserved, and practical as well! Vegetarianism however, I didn’t want to get into too much. I know the arguments for, but the whole feedlot beef situation over here is totally different to what it is back in Oz. I didn’t realise cattle here are put in feedlots and fed corn to fatten them up quickly. A big part of the argument is that humans eat corn, and the amount of fossil fuel it takes to grow, transport and sell these cattle that are fed on a human food supplement is apparently equivalent to a barrel of oil per animal per lifetime. Yes that is a lot, but I still think cattle can be farmed sustainably, and they pretty much are back home. My argument is that these animals are bred to be farmed, we are not taking wild stocks, and so it can be done sustainably under the right circumstances. Not eating meat for a week at a time is not fussing me that much though, because I know the week after it I can eat as much meat as I want. Still it would be nice to have fish or something on the boat. Anyway, it’s bloody late and I gotta go to bed. The Rugby World Cup has started so this week I gotta keep my eye on the net for results. Hopefully I can get sms updates somehow to see how it’s all going. The other instructor Jason is a rugby fan, but he is with the other group so there’s no chance we can go to the pub and watch a game. Hopefully though a Friday Harbor pub may televise a game. If not I’ll just to take up all the internet bandwidth at the labs!

Sunday 16th September

So I’m back on land, all clean, and bloody tired! Had rain today for the changeover and it got pretty cold as a cold front came in. Changeover was at Roche Harbor, and we also had a couple of lectures by a guy named Jim Ha, a behavioural specialist from the Uni of Washington. He spoke about studying animal behaviour and his work with studying killer whale behaviour of the last couple of years. It was very interesting. I’m really glad that I can go to all these talks and hear the leading people in killer whale research. I think that is one of the many great things about the Beam Reach program. So we had Jim speak, exchanged info with the JaMi group (science log stuff, boat logistics etc) then the group went back to the GV and we went back to the labs. Jason (the other instructor) is a rugby fan so we agreed to go halves in internet access to watch all the Rugby World Cup games. I watched the highlights from the two Wallabies games tonight so hopefully for their game on the 23rd Sept I can be online for live updates (it will be early Sun morning here). Americans I know here (except for Jason) have no interest whatsoever in the World Cup, which is fair enough as Rugby is not a prominent sport over here. So guess I’ll cheer by myself in my room! I have a preliminary data product that I’m in the middle of finishing but thought I would finish this weeks blog. I’m not gonna post the blog now though, its early Mon morning, I’m hella tired, and still have some numbers to crunch. Tomorrow will be a long day I feel. I spoke to Giles earlier so if there are whales in the arvo I’ll go out with her. Better get back to my work. Overall though a bloody great week at sea.

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Back on land – Week 3

Monday 3rd to Thursday 6th September

Well the last 3 days on land have been spent fine tuning our research proposals. I’ve decided to focus on high frequency boat noise and create frequency power spectrums from these recordings and relate them to power spectrums of the killer whale high frequency echolocation clicks. I decided to change my research area slightly when I found out that we have a high frequency hydrophone and measuring echolocation clicks and boat noise at these higher frequencies is a somewhat novel idea. The great thing about this program is the resources and technology we are able to get our hands on, and thus are able to do some good quality science. I knew pretty much nothing about acoustics before I came to this program and in the last 2 weeks my knowledge has increased dramatically, to the point where I’m pretty comfortable in looking at a sound and being able to explain it.

We went to a place called Lacrover Farm on Monday, which is a sustainable organic farm. We picked some fruit and veg for them to take to market and got to keep some. The strawberries and raspberries were probably the best I have ever tasted. After the farm we got to visit the Center for Whale Research (CWR). Now some of you may or may not be aware of this place but punch it into Google and see what you get. Basically the CWR, created and directed by Dr. Ken Balcomb, has kept track of the Southern Resident Killer Whale (SRKW) population since the 1970’s. We got to meet Ken and chat to him and it really was bloody awesome as I’ve read a lot of his work and he was one of the ‘founding fathers’ I guess you could say on research on the SRKW population. I didn’t realise the CWR was actually just Ken’s house, but it’s right on the water and overlooks Haro Strait where orcas often swim close to shore as they head up the west side of San Juan Island, so its’ an ideal location. Unfortunately we didn’t get to stay long but I could have picked his brain for hours. Hopefully I’ll get to do that some more in the near future.

Monday night saw Ash and myself go raccoon hunting and we came across 6 trapped in an industrial bin near the dining hall. Ash will tell you I was scared but I maintain that I kept my distance because although these little creatures appear cute and cuddly, they are often rabid and I didn’t really fancy getting rabies that evening, nor any other evening for that matter! Ash insisted that we rescue them from the bin as they were stuck in there, so we got some great photos and video, put a broom in there so they could climb out and then watched them one after the other manoeuvre themselves up the thin broom handle and out around the edge of the bin and scurry away. Ash thinks they are just the cutest things but I just have one word that I say to her… “rabies!”

Wednesday night we had another public lecture at the whale museum about SRKW prey diet that was very interesting. We met the sea group there, known as ‘JaMi’, after Jason and captain Mike, and we are called ‘VaTo’, after Val and captain Todd. Had a small meeting after the talk then we went back to the labs and the other group went back to the boat that was moored on the other side of the island. It’s a shame our contact is so minimal but I guess that’s the way it has to be for the program to work. Last night I spoke to a researcher named Giles who I am volunteering with this Friday as part of my Service Project for the program. Originally I was going to be going out with Soundwatch but as I said last week their engine gave up the ghost so I’m going to go out and help Giles with her behaviour studies. I just wanted my service project to be out on the water as I love being out there and cruising around looking at orcas. Didn’t get sea sick at all last week (touch wood) so being out there doesn’t bother me in that respect.  So yeah, looking forward to that tomorrow. It’s Thursday the 6th as I’m writing this, we don’t have class till this afternoon so I’m going to post up all that I’ve written in the last 3 weeks, as per Tracy’s request ;-P. I had planned on doing it anyway, just feel bad it’s been this long. Well enjoy and you’ll hear from me again with another Beam Reach update.

Friday 7th September – Sunday 9th September

Well Friday saw my day off and I had volunteered with a woman named Giles who is doing her PhD on killer whale group cohesion and geographic location. I’m volunteering as part of my Service Project for the program, so what better way to do it than out on a research boat studying killer whales! As I mentioned previously I was originally meant to be going out with Soundwatch but because they are out of action, Kari from Soundwatch put me onto Giles (named Debbie but she prefers to be called Giles), and so I went out with her. I was picked up on Friday morning by her assistant Lindsay and we headed across to the west side. Met their driver Aimee, who is also the curator of the Marine Mammal Stranding Network here on the island, and another female assistant of Giles’, Gurard. So even on my days off I’m still surrounded by women! Still, I guess I’m used to it now. So we had reports of transients down near Race Rocks heading into Haro Strait so we headed over, putting along at 10 knots ‘cos that’s as fast as the boat would go (engine difficulties). I was bloody pumped as I haven’t seen transients yet and would love to see them make a kill on another marine mammal. Somewhat cruel/disgusting I hear you say, well, that’s the food chain baby! But unfortunately the whales were too far out for our little boat to get there and back so we had to call it a day. Bugger! Good thing did come out of the day though. Aimee gave me a lift back to the labs and I helped her unload a harbor porpoise and a juvenile Dall’s porpoise from the freezer. We put them in a netted bag and tied them off the dock so they could thaw out for a necropsy next week. Bad thing is the necropsy is on Monday and I will be out at sea. Double bugger! Still, I got to see them and take photos.

I volunteered to be Quartermaster this trip out to sea so I’ve had to organise the shopping list and discuss meals with the group. I’ve also had to liaise with the sea group to see what food they have left so we don’t double up on items. So Saturday we went to the local Farmer’s Market and got most of our produce. The market seems to be a big thing here in

Harbor. I guess you can’t beat freshly picked produce. After the market we headed to the supermarket and got all of our other food items, were way under budget (good work Tim ;-P ), and then took it back to the lab. Grabbed lunch and then rowed into town with Sam (member of the VaTo group with me). I guess I should establish now the five in the VaTo group. We have, in order of life experience (i.e. age) Anne, Me, Alex, Sam and Ash. Great bunch of women, very different, but that’s what makes things interesting! So Sam and I went into town ‘cos I needed to buy myself a sunnies strap (so my super duper polarised Arnette sunnies don’t fall into the drink) and a Nalgene drink bottle. Now for those of you that don’t know a Nalgene bottle is one of those bottles that you can run over with a car and it won’t break. Pretty much everyone on this program has one so I thought it would be a good investment. Plus the fact that I’ve been using a Gatorade bottle which apparently, is not good for you because after you use it several times the plastic starts to deteriorate into the liquid and poison you. Fun times! So now I’m part of the Nalgene crew so all is good. I’ve been doing my proposal as well, trying to finalise it (draft) and get some hypotheses and methods stated. Not sure if research is where I want to end up as a career but while I’m here I’ll give it a bloody good shot! Who knows, 6 weeks time I may change my tune, but I do love being out on the water…

So Sunday saw the changeover at the Friday Harbor Labs dock. Was great to see the other group (JaMi) but I think the only thing on their mind was a shower, so pretty much as soon as we’d had a chat, had lunch and unpacked their gear they were off up the hill to fight each other for the only 3 female showers in the dorm. I’ve actually been really lucky with showers as I don’t have any other group members to compete with, but I do have the occasional members from other groups that come and stay at the Labs. At the beginning of the week I had the whole bathroom to myself (3 loos, 3 showers) so every time I’d leave I’d turn the light off, being the energy efficient individual that I am. Only problem with getting into that habit is when more people come to the dorms you continue to do it and so one night I actually turned the light off on some poor bloke on the loo. I walked out and instantly remembered there was a guy in there, so quickly turned around and flicked the light back on and gave a “Shit sorry mate”. I heard a mumble from the cubicle but couldn’t make out what he said, something very polite I’m sure. Anyway, after sorting out all the food as Quartermaster, with help that was greatly needed, we set off from the labs dock and went and pumped out at
Marina and filled up with freshwater. We then travelled around to North Bay on the eastern side of

San Juan
Island and anchored for the night. I’m glad to be back on the boat as I really do love being out on the water. I’ve stayed up late to finalise my draft proposal so am off to bed. I plan on posting this sometime this week, depending on when we can pick up internet connection.

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Whales, "cats" and seals – Week 2 (at sea)

Monday 27th August

After spending the first night in my little hidey hole at the forward starboard, and getting up at 12:30am to see Mars appear to be a small moon (apparently this won’t happen again in 2000+ years), I awoke and poked my head out of my hatch to see flat calm water and I gotta say, it was awesome. The day consisted of boat orientation and learning the systems onboard, rules etc. No whales unfortunately but we witnessed a purse seine fisherman take in a school of salmon, with much difficulty I might add. We just kinda cruised around and got familiar with the boat. We anchored in
MitchellBay (
Snug Harbour marina), got some great sunset shots, and the evening was spent doing work for our proposals. After reading some papers I have decided that I want to look at boat noise of the various whale watching vessels, including recreational vessels that are out on the water in the Southern Resident Killer Whale habitat, and then somehow look at killer whale calls in the presence of these vessels. It’s not defined as yet but it’s only the draft proposal due on Wednesday so I can work on methodology over the next couple of weeks.

Tuesday 28th August

Today was the best bloody day I have had in a long time. Something happened that I have wanted to happen ever since I found out I was coming on this trip. Ok, so the morning started and we had reports of J Pod down on the SW side of San Juan Island, heading North. We had anchored on the NW side, but had to pump out (get rid our “waste”), so we went up to Roche Harbour, got rid of our business, then made our way down the west side. Now the catamaran we are aboard has an electric bio-diesel engine, so when we run the engine (generator) and it charges the batteries and when fully charged, we can travel about 2 hours at a speed of 3-4 knots, running solely on the electric motors. ‘Gato Verde’ translates to “Green Cat”. Green meaning it is environmentally friendly and Cat because it’s a catamaran. The GV is the only commercial hybrid bio-diesel electric vessel on the Western coast of the US, so I’m feeling very privileged to be able to be on this vessel knowing that we’re not contributing to underwater noise pollution. So it’s a very sustainable vessel, but not a fast vessel, but can average about 5 knots (engine on), and we did that on way down the west side of San Juan. On the way down we passed what we thought was a dead harbor seal in the water. So we turned around, approached the seal and it actually turned out to be one seal on top of the other, and they were in fact very much alive, and engaging in mating behaviour (must have been adopting the “slow and steady” position). The two seals just looked at us as if to say “Do you mind!?”, and so they slowly sunk down the water column, still grasping at each other. Gotta say it was pretty bloody funny. So having witnessed the sexual behaviour of 2 phocids we got back on course heading south and before we knew it we were watching J Pod travelling very close to shore. They were extremely spread out and travelling in groups of 2 or 3. No measurements were going to be taken today, as we just wanted to watch the whales and observe what sort of behaviour they display, as well as the behaviour of other vessels. We were abiding by the ‘Be Whale Wise’ guidelines and staying a 1/4 – ½ mile off shore and 100m away from the whales. We were also running silent (using the electric motor) and so our noise in the water was barely noticeable compared to other vessels (something that I wish to measure and compare in my research). Now the whale watching guidelines are not law, yet (give it a few weeks and they will be), so boaters are not legally obliged to abide by them. There are however enforcement vessels that let boaters know if they are doing the wrong thing, although they can only be in one place at one time and so we witnessed several incidents of recreational boaters getting too close or going too fast, and even cutting them off. I’ve said it before, but there really are some d$#&heads out there. So we just cruised back up north following the killer whales and watching them breach, tail slap, spyhop and porpoise up the coast. We did stick the hydrophone in and could hear them making calls, so Val took some recordings just so we could get familiar with the equipment and learn how to transfer data to our computers. Time came up to about 4:30 pm and all the whale watch vessels had gone hours before as K and L Pod were heading in from Strait of Juan De Fuca and so the afternoon trips would have gone there. So it was pretty much us and J Pod cruising up the coastline and this is when it became one of the best days I’ve had in my life. We were keeping our distance (100m) and getting some great photo shots. This happened for over half an hour as we cruised up passed NW San Juan Island and up Stuart Channel towards Stuart Island. Next thing we knew, at Turn Point on Stuart
Island, the whales took a dive and the front few surfaced right next to our boat! It was incredible!  We cut the engines, there were about 8 individuals and we could see the white on their bodies as they were about 2m under the surface of the water. They surfaced again this time right under the forward starboard section of the cat, less than 2m from where we were standing! It was incredible to see their almost 6ft tall dorsal fins protrude out of the water with such grace. I told myself that while I’m up here out on the boat I really want to all of a sudden see the orcas surface right beside the boat, and it happened the second day I was on the boat! It was bloody awesome and I’m sure if you videoed me I would have looked like a little kid getting excited when he opens his xmas presents. Mind you, we were all extremely pumped and adrenaline was rushing. It truly was an exhilarating experience to be that close to such a large graceful creature, one that I will treasure forever I’m sure. I got a couple of good photos and a video of the experience but my excitement missed some good shots. Can you blame me?! The whales headed in a different direction to where we were due to moore for the night, so we cruised on into Privost
Harbor on the NW side of Stuart Island and set up “camp” for the night. It was an awesome day, witnessing one of my favourite creatures in their natural habitat and being soo lucky that they chose to change path and appear right next to the boat I was on. Days like this make me realise how lucky I am to be here.

Wednesday 29th August

Whales again today! We witnessed parts of the superpod coming across Haro Strait around lunchtime. We dumped the hydrophone in the water as we paralleled them but no audible sounds could be recorded. We couldn’t follow them for long as we had to make our way back up to Roche
Harbor to meet the land group. To clarify, the Beam Reach group has been split in two, five students in each group, as we can’t all fit on the Gato Verde. Val Veirs is our group instructor and Jason Wood is the other group’s instructor. So it was good to catch up with them as we bonded pretty well in the first week. Scott Veirs is the founder/creator of Beam Reach and he came aboard tonight and will be spending the next week onboard. It was bloody great to finally meet him as we have exchanged many an email. We anchored at British Camp in Garrison Bay that night after spending the evening with the land group and going to a public lecture at the Whale Museum presented by Dr. Marcia Holt. I found the presentation very interesting and it gave me ideas for my proposal. Speaking of proposals, our draft was due today and I gotta say I know I did a shocking job. Being on the boat is very distracting, our resources are limited, and I haven’t been in a science frame of mind for over 8 months. I know what I want to say in the proposal but couldn’t get it all out in the time we had. My final research proposal will be a million times better as I know what I have to do because I’ve written research proposals before. I’ve also been thinking about my methods and I gotta say I’m pretty pumped because what I want to look at has only been looked at once before and apparently it was done poorly. So I’m excited to be looking at individual boat noise and getting some good data.

Thursday 30th August

Unfortunately no whales today but we got some good winds and so put the sails up and tacked down
Haro Strait down to the southern end of
San Juan Island. I really like sailing, letting the power of the wind take you. I’m really keen to learn as much as I can while on this program. I was at the helm and we hit 8 knots! So far that’s the speed to beat. I think my Dad’s passion for sailing is coming out in me. We went through some crazy currents in Cattle Pass in the afternoon (body of water between
San Juan Island and Lopez Island) before anchoring on the northern side of the southern tip of San Juan
Island – place called Fish Creek.

Friday 31st August

Did an experiment this morning that measured the source level of the ‘Gato Verde’ (GV) generator. Deployed hydrophone at various distances behind the GV to determine the sound propagation of the new bio-diesel generator and compare with data taken in 2005, but with the old standard diesel engine. I processed the data in Excel and Val’s Beam Reach Analyser program and saved it onto the Beam Reach ‘Black Box’ external hard drive. Gained a better understanding of using the program which will definitely aid me in analysing boat noise files and killer whale calls when I collect my own data (in terms of dB anyway, frequency analysis is the next step). Had rain today, first time since we’ve been out on the water. Headed out south of San Juan Island and back up around the west side just after lunch. Had no reports of whales today. Anchored in Snug Harbor.

Saturday 1st September

Went up to Roche Harbor to pump out. I was in charge of Science log this morning so had to give a report on the data we collected on Friday for the GV source level. Every morning we each have our chores on a rotating roster. Chores include cleaning the heads, galley, deck etc; preparing a systems log where we monitor our power and other usage onboard; preparing a navigation log where we look at the tides and decide what course and at what time we should take it. Our movements are pretty much based around what the whales are doing so we basically go where they are (if they are nearby). Often the whales will go out west (past Strait of Juan De Fuca) for days at a time so we can’t really get out that far in our vessel (nor is it feasible for the whale watch operators to go out that far). We have a pager that was given to us by the Whale Museum in Friday Harbor so we get pages everyday where whales have been spotted by spotters on the Canadian side of Haro Strait. Our instructors Scott and Val Veirs have contacts all over the place so if whales are around we will know where they are, but often it’s the case of not being to get there because it’s too far away (for our vessel anyway as I said).So we headed south again out of Roche Harbor after pumping out and picking up Mike (the other Captain that will take over Todd for the next group that boards on Sunday). We headed down south of the island as we’d had reports of J-pod just west of the tip. We got down there and there was an abundance of boats. It’s Labour Day weekend here at the moment so there are lots of recreational boats out on the water. J-pod was very spread out and it appeared as though many boaters were breaking the ‘Be Whale Wise’ Guidelines. An organisation called ‘Soundwatch’ operates out of the US here and is basically out there on the water to let boaters know about these whale wise guidelines and speak to those boaters that do break the rules. At the moment they are only guidelines but it is hoped that they will be enforceable laws within the next month or so. Unfortunately ‘Soundwatch’ blew its engine in the last couple of days and is out of action until they can somehow get it fixed or get a new one. They rely on funding and donations so it is unknown when they will be back out on the water. I had offered to volunteer with them next week but at the moment it doesn’t look like I’ll be going out if they don’t get the engine fixed. There is however a Canadian counterpart, ‘Straitwatch’ that does exactly the same thing and fortunately they were out today. We had a chat to them and explained what we were doing with our research and they type of vessel we were operating. I asked them if they could do a drive-by for us so we could measure their underwater boat noise and they happily obliged, so there is already some data there that I can analyse for my research paper. The whales had changed direction by time we finished with Straitwatch and were heading north up the west side of San Juan. We finally caught up with them and I just couldn’t get over the amount of boats that had parked themselves offshore to the whales and had created what looked like a passageway up the west coast. We decided to deploy the hydrophone array (4 hydrophones on a single line that drags horizontally behind the boat, specifically used for localising orca calls), and initially we got nothing but after half an hour we got some unbelievably clear sounds coming through the speakers and we could see a calf less than 80m away from the boat travelling parallel to us. The calls were so clear it sounded as if the calf was right next to the hydrophones. The hydrophone just seemed to be going crazy with all the vocalisations that were being made, and luckily we have top range software and equipment to be able to record these sounds. It really was awesome to hear the calls so clear with what sounded like almost no background noise. Another awesome thing about today was that we got to see J-1, aka ‘Ruffles’. He is a 50+ year old alpha male with a 6ft dorsal fin that has curvature and appears as though it is ‘ruffled’, like the potato chips (if you can remember them). He is very iconic and easily identified out there on the water. He often travels alone (ie. not right up against other pod members) and leads J pod. So after getting some awesome vocalisation data we putted back up to Snug Harbor, anchored and settled in for the night as Sunday is our changeover day. It’s Saturday night as I’m writing this and we have out changeover at noon tomorrow. So the boat has to be cleaned thoroughly for the next group and we have to get all our stuff organised. I’m really looking forward to getting back to land for one reason… I get to have a shower! Yep, that’s right, I haven’t showered in a week. It is sort of discouraged while aboard the GV because at Beam Reach the word ‘sustainability’ is practiced and so by us having showers we are using up water and when out on a vessel, freshwater is a vital resource. I actually don’t think I smell bad (thanks to BO basher), although I certainly don’t feel clean so definitely looking forward to a shower tomorrow. Also, being a sustainability school we are also discouraged to eat anything with a ‘face’, so yep, I’ve been a vegetarian for the last week. To be honest it hasn’t really phased me because I know next week when I’m back at the labs and at the dining hall I can have meat. I’m really craving a thick juicy steak though and I think the only way I’m gonna get it is if I cook it myself on land next week. So that’s definitely on the cards! Honestly though, not a fan of tofu at all. It’s just too bland. The meat substitutes however haven’t been that bad. Don’t get me wrong they’re not the same as meat but if you closed you’re eyes and thought really hard that you were eating meat you could probably convince yourself. Anyway, it’s late and I’m on breakfast in the morn. Catcha.

Sunday 2nd September

So back to land today after a week at sea. We did the changeover in Snug Harbor. Was good to see the other group, and so we exchanged details on various processes on the boat. They will learn it all this week but by us telling them some of the things needed to be done every day we made it a little easier for the new captain Mike. The other group had almost double the amount of food we did so I think the shopping for next week, of which I am quartermaster, will be minimal. Woohoo! So we had a methods/statistics lecture on the GV after lunch then left the other group to learn the ways of the GV. Being back on land the first thing we all wanted to do was have a shower. So pretty much as soon as we got back to the labs and unpacked it was getting clean time, and believe me, it was a bloody great shower!

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Beam Reach begins – Week 1

G’Day. I’m Tim from Australia and this is the first blog entry I’ll be making for the Fall 2007 Beam Reach Program. I plan on posting one a week but of course it all depends on time and how busy this program gets. So, in saying that, here’s how the first week went down.

I arrived at the Friday Harbor Laboratories, Friday Harbor WA on Sunday August 19th at around 6:30pm. I met a couple of other students on the ferry across from Anacortes so we went and grabbed dinner as we had missed dinner at the Dining Hall. Got to the labs a couple of hours later and made our way up to the dorms. Met some more Beam Reach students and settled into my room. I got a room to myself as I was going to be the only guy student on the program for the next 10 weeks. I don’t know what it is with women and marine science, particularly marine mammal science, but it clearly seems to be dominated by the female gender, in the
US I’ve found anyway, as this was the case when I studied at UMiami in Spring 2006.

So Monday morning we had breakfast together then headed off to class. Met Jason Wood and Val Veirs and we all gave little introductory spiels about ourselves. We all have different backgrounds, as can be expected, and it was interesting to hear what people have done/are doing with their university degrees. I’m one of two international students. The other is also a chick from Australia, Ash, from
Adelaide funnily enough, and also from my home uni. We get along great guns as we can really relate to each other being so far away from home and in a slightly different culture. I’ve been helping her with the subtleties of the American culture as I have spent 6 months living in the
US back 2006. So mid morning Mon we headed across to Lime Kiln State Park, a popular land whale-watching place on the west side of San Juan Island and got time to ourselves to think about what we wanted to do on this program and what area of study we wanted to focus on. I want to do something with boat noise and killer whale acoustics but have not yet decided specifically. Unfortunately no orcas in the area or on the OrcaSound (go to to hear live streaming) hydrophone, guess I’ll have to wait for the boat.

The next few days consisted of Beam Reach Program introduction, basic acoustics tutorials, and finalising the area of study to write our draft proposals. On the Wednesday night we went into
Friday Harbor to the
Whale Museum and listened to a presentation on Southern Resident killer whale communication and the changes that have been observed in the last 25 years. It was very interesting, even more so the fact that it was done by a senior undergraduate student. We were also allocated our groups for the boats this evening.Friday saw the swim test. Many of the crew had been dreading this but it actually turned out to be a lot of fun. Don’t get me wrong the water was bloody cold but the sun was out so once you got out of the water you were fine. Jumping off the dock was a good laugh and many a photo was taken. Just before the swim test we did a small experiment that used a hydrophone to measure sound propagated from underwater speaker at varying distances. It basically helped us to understand the sound propagates in a spherical manner underwater. In the afternoon we planned the food for our voyage out at sea, and then a few of us decided to row into town to meet the others to go shopping. I just love the fact that we can row into town and it’s actually quicker than walking.

Saturday was our day off and most of us slept in and missed 8am breakfast so basically the rest of the day was spent doing our proposals and getting ready for the boat the next day as some of us had to move rooms. Luckily I didn’t have to move anything as my room was one of the ones we were keeping. Mind you, I don’t have much stuff to move but the same can’t be said for other people in the group. They know who they are, and I’ve been giving them heaps all week!

Sunday we loaded all the gear, food and personal stuff we needed for our week on the boat onto the dock and awaited the arrival of the ‘Gato Verde’ catamaran. Todd (captain) and Shannon (other BR instructor) arrived just before lunch so we all had a perusal of the vessel we would all be calling home over the next 9 weeks. So we had lunch, loaded all the gear up, I shotgun my little hidey hole at the forward starboard, we said our goodbyes to the land group, and off we sailed, well motored as there was no wind, to our place of mooring for the first night.

So as I write this at the end of the first week at Beam Reach I’m sitting out on the ‘Gato Verde’ cabin area where we are moored at the southern end of Jones Island (NE of San Juan Island). I can see the moon in the sky peaking through the clouds over San Juan Island and it’s glistening on the ripples of the water. I can hear the waves lightly breaking on the rocks nearby and the sounds of crickets on the island. Yep, doesn’t get much better than this. ‘Tis gonna be a good week I feel.

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