Today (3/7/2013) marks the anniversary of the cranial dissection of L-112, a 3-year-old southern resident killer whale that was found dead at Long Beach on February 11, 2012. More than a year after her death, we are still gathering information about her case and many questions remain unanswered. Acoustic recordings made on the outer coast that winter are undergoing or await analysis and publication, final details from the initial and cranial necropsies have not been fully reported, and CT scans and dissection of the middle/inner ear bones are pending. There is not yet scientific consensus regarding key questions, including “What was the cause of her trauma?” and “Approximately how long was she dead before being discovered on the beach?”
In pursuit of answers and as a contribution to gathering all relevant data, today we present the edited footage from the cranial dissection of L-112/Victoria/Sooke and offer the raw footage to interested parties. Below is a 1-hour-long (1:09:03) distillation of almost 5 hours of raw footage from two Flip HD cameras. This is a synopsis of the dissection, including all audible commentary regarding trauma observations made by members of the necropsy team.
Killer whale L-112 cranial dissection from Beam Reach on Vimeo.
The synopsis is mostly chronological, but some effort has been made to group footage anatomically, with an emphasis on sound production and reception. There are titled sections on the following topics:
- 0:00:16 Disclaimer and introduction
- 0:05:57 Sampling blubber and skin (for Ted Cranford)
- 0:07:29 Removal of skin and blubber
- 0:13:30 Examination of the blow hole
- 0:14:24 Dissection of the melon
- 0:16:56 Phonic lips (with insights from Jason Wood)
- 0:22:49 Hemorrhage observations
- 0:24:40 Melon and eyes
- 0:29:54 Sub-mandibular dissection
- 0:32:54 End of day 1
- 0:33:16 Removal of eyes
- 0:34:18 Melon and phonic lips
- 0:36:55 Tongue, mandible, and pharangeal area
- 0:45:01 Phonic lips dissection (including esophageal hemorrhage)
- 0:49:17 Dissection of auditory bullae (bony structures containing middle and inner ear)
- 0:57:49 Upper jaw teeth (12 on each side!)
- 1:01:04 Narration: transition from bullae to brain
- 1:01:55 Discussion of inner ears
- 1:04:35 Removal of the brain
We have not included the archived footage from live-streaming of the necropsy, nor have we incorporated the many still photographs that were taken by Beam Reach staff, Sandy Buckley the necropsy team photographer, or others who documented the dissection. We welcome further efforts to assimilate all available information and in that spirit have included the above video and all raw footage collected by Beam Reach in our web-site-wide creative commons license (non-commercial attributed derivative works are permitted).
Later this spring in partnership with zoologist Dr. Kevin Flick of Poke the Dead Thing we plan to release a shorter (~20 minute) version of this footage for interested 6-12th-grade educators and marine naturalists. Key anatomical footage will be supplemented with diagrams, animations, and descriptions of bioacoustic functionality from the recent primary literature. In the interim, students and educators may enjoy studying the DOSITS overview of cetaceans’ fully aquatic ear and marine mammal sound production.
Credits and related links:
Another Vemco fish tag receiver was replaced today, helping prepare for another season of tracking blackmouth (resident Chinook salmon) in the San Juan Islands. This wintertime field work is part of a collaboration between Beam Reach, Tom Quinn’s lab at the University of Washington, and Kurt Fresh and Anna Kagley of NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center. You can follow our efforts at http://www.beamreach.org/fish-research
David Howitt and I dove from Val’s and Leslie’s shoreline (Orcasound, about 5 km north of Lime Kiln) into a sunlit, calm, and clear Haro Strait in search of a tether which was torn from its shore anchor last year. Luckily we found a frayed knot of the old line still attached to a sub-tidal boulder. Trailing a new tether (0.5 cm crab pot line) fed to us from shore by Ali and Val, we were able to follow the old tether out about 30 m to find a Vemco receiver (#100463) still attached to its concrete anchor at a depth of 8 m.
Interestingly, the concrete block (a 25 kg custom-cast 30 cm square about 15 cm thick) had been flipped over. This could have happened when the lowering line was slipped last spring, or perhaps the currents tipped it over. Also, the stainless steel snap shackle was still attached to a stainless steel U-bolt that was cemented into the block, but there was clear evidence of galvanic corrosion. Future moorings should avoid such metal-metal contact, even for similar noble metals like slightly different types of stainless steel. The best way we’ve to avoid corrosion but make swapping receiver-float assemblies is to drill through a pier block and then thread crab pot line up through it to provide an attachment loop for a snap/shackle.
We removed the old VR2W and replaced it with a new one (#101594), being sure to back up the corroded loop with the end of the crab pot line. Then we swam back to shore and secured the crab pot line to a shore anchor (piton in an old bolt hole).
New shore anchor (with hydrophone pipe in background)
Unfortunately, no data was immediately available from the recovered VR2W because the receiver’s bluetooth chip has failed. The battery was discharged to such an extent during the deployment that the receiver went into what Matt at Vemco described as a “brown-out mode.” This apparently is known to corrupt the bluetooth chip on the receiver motherboard and requires returning the receiver to Vemco for a new board (~$250 Canadian). So, we’ll have to await repairs before we know whether any fish were detected at Orcasound in the last year or so.
Last June (2012) marine mammal researchers and stewards around the Pacific Northwest were surprised to learn of seismic research cruises that would use air guns to survey faults and crustal structure on the outer coast of Washington and Oregon. Our concern was that there would be inadequate mitigation of potential acoustic impacts on marine species (particularly southern resident killer whales). It all happened very fast and I never heard much about how it went… until now.
Thanks to John Dorocicz who has been logging acoustic highlights from one of the hydrophones maintained by NEPTUNE Canada near the head of Barkley Canyon, I just had the rare opportunity of hearing airgun blasts in the real ocean — complete with simultaneous vocalization of nearby dolphins. The date and time of the recording match up very well with a cruise track of the R/V Langseth, the research vessel from Columbia University’s Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory.
Here’s where the Barkley Canyon hydrophone is located:
Here’s where marinetraffic.com AIS shows the Langseth was at 8:25 UTC on 2012-07-19, about 175 km south of the hydrophone.
And finally, here is a spectrogram of two seismic blasts recorded at 10:13 on the same day, along with sounds from (likely Pacific White-sided?) dolphins.
Listen to the recording and you’ll notice the low-frequency rumbles of the airgun blasts along with what seems like an increase in dolphin vocalizations (visible as wiggles at 4-6 kHz in the last fifth of the spectrogram). I wonder if these were the first two blasts the dolphins experienced. If so, then the suggestion (made by John initially) that the dolphins are responding to the blasts seems tenable. But were there many blasts before this recording was made? And why wouldn’t they react as much to the first blast in this recording as they seem to react to the second blast?
Regardless of the answers, it is exciting to hear what airguns sound like on Washington’s outer coast at a range of nearly 200 km. The number of marine animals exposed to the sounds of seismic exploration is staggering and begs the question: is the risk of interfering with so many oceanic lives worth knowing more about the subduction zone that may someday rock our west coast cities?
As the end of my summer approached closer each day, the day-to-day “To Do” list grew longer and I wasn’t able to write about all of the excitement that happened out at Lime Kiln Lighthouse during my last month on San Juan Island. I would like to take the following blog posts to share my final summer stories about the orcas and other wildlife that frequent the lighthouse and reminisce on my spectacular summer in the San Juan Islands…
August 6th, 2012
Any amount of days without whales at Lime Kiln Lighthouse can feel like an eternity, which only reminds me of how lucky I was this summer to have so many days with whales. The last few days of July and first few days of August still stick out as one of the longest “dry spells” that I experienced during my time on the west side watching for whales. The Southern Residents were out and about everywhere except the Salish Sea for a total of 8 days! I was beginning to think they might not return until September, but as always, once I was ready to set my mind on something about these mysterious animals, they proved me wrong. Word of the whales return came in the morning and I found myself, as I did many a Monday mornings, rushing out to the west side. I met up with the Southern Residents, mainly members of J Pod, at San Juan County Land Bank where they were slowly traveling north. The whales were spread from inshore to offshore, but the few that were close in to shore were quite interesting to watch. They were splashing and tail lobbing and I couldn’t help but smile. Not only had the whales returned to the west side, but it seemed they were fully enjoying themselves.
This memory still brings a smile to my face; it is one of my favorites from the summer. The fact that these animals have the ability to put such a smile on my face and a laugh in my belly is one thing, but I noticed that the feeling was infectious because the rest of the on-looking crowd had the same expressions as I did.
After watching to whales for a little while, they seemed to be going south, then north, then south, then north again, but their pace was fairly relaxed and I wasn’t completely convinced they were after salmon…I even caught a glimpse of one or two whales “logging”. Logging is when an orca appears to be simply floating, not moving forwards or backwards, on the surface of the water. This behavior seemed to continue, but I couldn’t tell if it was the same whale every time or a different whale. Regardless, I still thought it seemed like an interesting mixture of behaviors that was occurring that morning. As usual I followed the whales north to the lighthouse where I got to experience one of my favorite activities; walking north along the rocks in pace with a group of whales, there really just isn’t anything like it.
Later in the day the whales had continued their journey north and I had returned to the lighthouse, but the excitement was far from over! Word had spread that a new calf had been born sometime earlier in the day to J37 Hy’Sqa! For pictures and more details on the newest member in J Pod, J 49 and more photos like the one below, see the Center for Whale Research web page.
J49 and J37
Photo by Stewart Macintyre
Not only was I excited to learn about the new addition to the J Pod family, I was also somewhat shocked to hear the belief was that the calf had been born during the parade of the west side earlier in the day, and I may have just been watching the entire time…
I have been told a theory exists that upon their return to the Salish Sea, members of the Southern Resident Killer Whale Community “parade” along the west side of San Juan Island. I distinctly remember thinking that morning, “Wow what an amazing thing this is that these animals do, I am incredibly lucky to be able to experience this.” Looking back on it now, I recognize not only how lucky I was, but also how lucky we all are that the whales allow us to have the opportunity to view them in their natural habitat in such an enchanting manner…these orcas never cease to surprise me.
Live blog from the third and final workshop on “Evaluating the Effects of Salmon Fisheries on Southern Resident Killer Whales” that begins today (9/18/2012) in Seattle, WA. The workshop runs Tuesday-Thursday (9/18-9/20). During this third step in the process NOAA initiated to manage chinook salmon with attention to southern resident recovery, a U.S.-Canada science panel will hear comments on their draft science plan along with new presentations of data and analysis that may improve the plan.
Exciting aspects of the workshop III agenda are presentations by Mike Ford on diet and distribution of SRKWs, Sandie O’Neill on contaminant and stable isotope insights, Sam Wasser on hormone analyses, John Durban on growth and body condition, and Dawn Noren about energy requirements.
Most presentations (will) include links to the slides (PDF or PPT) archived on the workshop web site. Select presentations also include a link to the audio recording of the presentation.
Day 1 (Tuesday, 9/18/2012, 8am-5pm)
8:16 Pat of WA Dept of Fish and Wildlife comments (mp3)
- Generally agree with draft report regarding the low impact of extant fisheries on killer whale recovery.
- But, in sections 5.2 and 5.3 the report mentions the distribution of “far north-migrating” Chinook stocks. Coded wire tag and genetic data from off WA coast show that many stocks are present, including: Sacramento and Northern Oregon coast. Columbia river summer chinook do sometimes wander into the Strait of Juan de Fuca or the San Juans.
- Need more data on winter distribution of SRKWs.
- There maybe thresholds effects, but they may be hard to detect.
- Eric Eisenhardt comments:
- SRKWs did go north of Vancouver island twice this summer, so that confirms they are foraging outside of Puget Sound and the Northwest Straits
- L-112 Victoria/Sooke had both Chinook salmon and halibut in her stomach.
8:36 John Carlisle of Alaska Department of Fish and Game comments (mp3)
- Growth rate criteria may not be the best metric for recovery. The growth rate will ultimately decrease as the population reaches carrying capacity. If you go to an abundance-based criterion, you’d conclude that the population is going to recover. Since the aquaria removals this population has been recovering.
- Comment from Ken Balcomb (cutting through the smoke and mirrors): if you choose any decade other than the mid-70s when the population was at its lowest, the SRKW population is in decline, not growing. There were 100-120 before the captures; there are 84 now. That’s a decline in my book.
- Comment: we ought to look at where these animals in every month of the year.
- Mamorek and Ford: we are not being consistent yet about defining each season.
9:01 John Ford of Northwest Fisheries Science Center comments (mp3)
- Reminded audience of workshop I and II data showing movements along outer coast at least from January through July.
- Diet information was under-emphasized. We had more than two samples and we have new data.
- Report makes overly simple assumptions about seasonal distribution
- There is seasonal overlap of whales and Chinook stocks (they don’t feed only in the Salish Sea during the summer).
- We need to be very clear about seasons and could look at shorter-time-scale overlap.
- Not all versions of Ward’s lambda are comparable with the recovery growth rate criterion.
- Comment discussion (Bain, Durban, Ward) of whether the SRKW abundance time series shows density dependence or not.
9:22 Department of Fisheries and Oceans comments (mp3)
- the panel inference of increase (rather than decline) is stronger than warranted given inherent uncertainties (ref Velez talk later this morning)
- causation is evidenced by multiple lines, including CPUE declining with decreased Chinook abundance
- Winter ecology could benefit from synthesizing information from w0rkshops 1 & 2, including all new acoustic and visual observations.
- Diet data for Dec-Apr are scarce, but Chinook still appear to be primary prey.
- Statistical design of diet studies should be undertaken
- Fisheries and prey availability
- Vast majority of Chinook eaten May-September are Fraser Stocks, but only weak association between terminal run of Fraser Chinook and SRKW vital rates. Why? Low quality data on Fraser Chinook? Abundance of Fraser Chinook may be sufficient for current SRKW population size.
- Scordino question: why isn’t satellite tagging being done in Canada? John Ford: we’re focusing on acoustic detections along outer coast to get better sense of timing during off-season periods.
- Balcomb question: wrt statistical sampling — our scale and fecal samples are really only collectible during low sea states; those samples are/will-be difficult to obtain during the winter months offshore.
- Marmorek question: Why isn’t there a stronger association between Fraser Chinook time series and vital rates? We’re not sure, but there is a strong correlation between coast-wide Chinook abundance and vital rates… Led to discussion of correlations… Mike Ford summarized by saying there’s no single stock that’s better than the coast-wide abundance index.
10:20 Antonio Velez-Espino — Killer Whale Demography (mp3)
- Selected 1987-2011 demographic data [10 years less than Ward!], used 7 age/sex categories [different than Ward's!), and defined lambda as the asymptotic population growth rate
- SRKWs have greater vital rate variability, lower fecundity, and higher mortality, and higher proportion of post-reproductive females -- compared with NRKWs.
- SRKW are in mild decline of -0.91%, while NRKWs are in annual increase of 1.65% (which is below the current SRKW recovery criterion!)
- 48 individuals were captured or killed according to Olesiuk
- Greatest effect on vital rates is due to young female survival
- Maximum increase in pop growth is produced most by young and reproductive female fecundity.
- Greatest increase to lambda (pop growth rate) comes from avoiding reductions to survival of young reproductive females and increasing their fecundity.
- Comment: why did you start with 1987? Answer: this was a compromise between extent and highest quality data that is most representative of the current population ~25 years or one generation back.
11:00 Mike Ford Review of southern resident diet information by season (mp3)
- Cloning and high-throughput sequencing (extract DNA from homogenized and pooled from about 1000 prey samples and 300 fecal samples from a period of years (Jan-Apr not well represented); use primers for potential prey, not SRKWs; use reference and custom data bases of 40,000 DNA sequences; post-processing to remove chimeras) which has potential sources of bias (from collecting to relative tissue density of mitochondria, digestion factors, PCR amplification differences)
- Results: May-July dominated by chinook; Aug-Sept include some sockeye and coho; Oct-Dec mostly chum (~3x more chinook than chum in Oct and Dec, but ~2x chinook more than chum in November); 2005-2008 August was highest proportion (~15%) of sockeye (Chinook made up the rest); Most fish were year 2-4, but some younger during winter in Puget Sound.
- Jan-Mar only a handful of samples, but almost entirely Chinook.
- Is this a summary of Salish Sea only? Yes, all fecal samples for summer months are from inland waters, though there are some samples (from John) from the outer coast...
- Q: John Ford -- Have you looked at samples that may contain prey transported by SRKWs as they return from an excursion to the outer coast. A: no due to budget constraints we have combined samples to look at average patterns.
- Mike Ford: We haven't tried to quantify the levels of DNA in the fecal samples from L-112, but we have detected Chinook and halibut.
- Ken: wrt oct-dec sampling, all three pods were in the area during that point
- Tim from NOAA fisheries: 2010 was our world record sockeye year. Mike: we sadly have no samples from those months in that year. Tim: there are blackmouth present during chum runs.
11:21 Sandie O'Neill Integrating stable isotope, genetic, and scale samples... (mp3)
- These methods differ, but are complimentary (stable isotopes average longer spatial and temporal scales)
- D. Herman studied stable isotopes of KWs and prey that provide TEFs that help interpret our mixing model which shows SRKW stable isotope signatures along the "salmon line" in a location that our "classic" model says is associated with a diet in late summer of 43% Chinook (scales suggest 70%; fecal suggest range...)
- An "alternative" model gives more weight to known prey choices and lets us ask what would TEFs need to be for results to be consistent with scale and genetic data?
- 52 scales samples (NWFSC only) (2004-2008?)
- Estimated diet with scales (no genetic prior) = 72% median Chinook proportion
- Median nitrogen TEF 1.65; carbon 1.18 (lower than reported)
- Main result from all models: Chinook is dominant in September, but proportion is a little lower than expected.
- Time-frame represented by biopsy samples (from about 12 of about 30 available SRKW samples) were selected to be from period of Aug-Sep, but we don't know over what time scale the sampled isotopes are influenced...
- SRKW eat more juvenile Chinook than we think
- SRKW eat some other lower trophic species that's not detected well in prey and scale samples (possibilities: BC halibut is left of salmon line; lingcod, rockfish, herring, and English sole are all to right [higher deltaC%])
- SRKW eating more chum, sockeye, or steelhead than are apparent in the scale samples
- Isotope turnover rate is based on bottlenose dolphin skin growth rate of 72 days.
- John Ford: 2 stranded SRKWs on outer coast showed stomach contents consistent with Chinook and squid. Have you looked at their stable isotope signature?
- John Durban: might fasting affect isotope ratios in the skin biopsies? Dawn: mammals usually metabolize all fats before affecting proteins.
- Daniel: trophic fractionation data may help with your mixing model (KWs are like most terrestrial predators ~3-5 for nitrogen)
- Scordino question…
12:00 lunch break
13:21 Sandie O’Neill — Using chemical fingerprints in salmon and whales to infer prey (mp3)
- Contaminants in fish (POPs = PCBs, PBDEs, hexachlorobenzenes (HCB), etc.)
- How do west coast Chinook salmon populations differ in POP concentration (about 30 fish from each of Skeena, Fraser (S. Thompson, upper/middle Fraser; no Harrison yet), Columbia River, Sacramento/San-Juaquin; about 80 from Puget Sound)
- Puget Sound PCB levels about 4x higher than other sites (~60 ppb and highly variable — 10-210 ppb, migratory-resident); sub-adult residents ~140 ppb mean…
- Multi-dimensional scaling plot (4 POPs) show similarity of samples: groups show Skeena is more distinct from CA, than Fraser is distinct from Columbia, with distinct and bimodal Puget Sound Chinook. Herring show similar geographic grouping of this pelagic signal, but benthic species show more local non/urban-patterns.
- K/L pod fingerprints overlap with CA/Columbia fish; J pod overlaps most with Puget Sound non-resident Chinook.
13:50 Michael Ford — Overlap of southern resident killer whales and Chinook salmon (mp3)
- What we really want is overlap of SRKW and Chinook along west coast over time.
- Figure from first workshop: Daily SRKW (all pods, and J pod alone) sightings 2003-9 is above 75% for May-July, above 40 in Aug-Oct.
- K/L pods not showing up more than 50% of the time until June
- Slide with inference of time spent in regions offshore of CA, OR, WA, BC by Ken B (too small to see values)
- Acoustic recorders of Brad and John show SRKW (mostly K/L) detections per unit effort peaking at 10% during Jan-Mar at Columbia, but also significant during winter as far south as Point Reyes. Riera plot shows seasonal pattern of NRKW and SRKW at mouth of Strait of Juan de Fuca.
- Summarizing whale distribution
- July-Sept 56% of time inland; 44% in western straits and Vancouver Island
- April-June — 70% outer coast (~19% of days accounted for with PAM/NOAA — 65% centered on Columbia, 30% near Tatoosh, 5% south of Columbia.
- Oct-Dec 81% outer coast, 19
- Jan-Mar 96% (missed north-south breakdown), 4%
- Chinook distributions (Weitkamp, 2010, coded wire tag data; May 2010 genetic data from WDFW, NMFS, DFO not covered here much but consistent with CWT results)
- Summer — 56% inland; 44% western straits (more than 100 tags annually from lots of stocks — central BC to CA, including Columbia)
- Spring — 68% of time outer coast (65% off Columbia to Olympic coast; 30% western straits; one more…)
- Winter — 75% outer coast (75% Columbia/WA) 4% puget sound [Only about 6000 tags over 40 years of CWT effort; compare with summer total of ~110,000]
- Fall — 81% outer coast
- Whales spend ~40% of time west of Strait of Juan de Fuca
- April-Dec SRKWs overlap with all major stocks south of central BC
- Jan-Mar very limited salmon data
- Ken Warheight WDFW samples from Chinook ocean troll fisheries off WA coast show 2011 May-Aug show lots of Columbia stocks, and other (mostly Oregon)
- WCSGSI Collaboration by Pete Lawson and Renee Bellinger show genetic data: similar stocks present off OR coast.
- Furthest south J pod has been detected on acoustic recorders is Westport.
- Comment from Dave _____: CWT data show salmon distribution where fishing occurs, not necessarily their natural distributions; same commenter said “Columbia stocks spend their entire life history in the range of the SRKW” (!). The north OR coastals come in June when SRKWs are mostly in inland waters. M.F.: One of my main points is that in June, and especially May, K/L pods are spending at least half their time on the outer coast.
14:22 Antonio Velez-Espino, DFO — Role of ocean and terminal run abundance of Chinook salmon on Resident Killer Whale population viability (mp3)
- 1: Main hypotheses (based on diet evidence)
- 1a. SRKW growth influenced mainly by terminal run size of Fraser Early, Fraser Late, and PS Chinook
- 1.b NRKW Northern BC, Central BC, WCVI…
- 2: Additional hypotheses (assuming Chinook remains important diet component year-round) relate to stock size, spatial overlap, and temporal overlap
- 2a. SRKW growth influenced mainly by terminal run size of abundant stocks
- 2a. SRKW growth influenced mainly by ocean (pre-terminal) abundance of ocean-type stocks with large contributions to ocean fisheries
- Again using 1987-2011 RKW abundance and vital rates, Kope-Parken terminal run size, CTC Cohort ocean abundance, simple * mulitple linear regression models
- Some support for 1a and 2a; interestingly, most interactions occur with female 2 fecundity (old reproductive females)
- Interactions with Puget Sound ocean abundance and young & old reproductive females; and WCVI are most important. (Both are selected for fisheries scenarios)
- We, too, were surprised that the Puget Sound ocean abundance seems to be more important to SRKW population growth than the Fraser river stocks. It may be that there are confounding factors (e.g. toxins) or it may be we don’t have enough data to resolve what may be weak signals.
14:52 Sam Wasser — Why physiology matters (mp3)
- Challenges to assessing recovery (3)
- Physiology is a bridge — dynamic changes can be captured by allostatic load; reproduction can be suppressed by physiology.
- Having many factors influence a given hormone is a strength!
- Endangered caribou example
- SRKW results (4 years)
- GCs increases with psychologial and nutritional stress
- Thyroid T3 decreases with nutritional stress, but changes more slowly than GC
- Hi Thyroid corellates with high birth rates and low death rates
- The more Chinook at the Columbia (or Fraser) river, the higher the mean T3 level
- We get 150 POP samples/year (compare with O’Neill’s 30 biopsy samples) showing, e.g. PCB/DDT ratio for K/L pods is always much lower than for J pod
- If fish matters most, recovering fish should be top priority (maybe not fisheries, but Habitat!)
- Timing of run may be key (delaying fishery may help)
- Measuring physiological response over time could also indicate how things improve in response to mitigation
- Few tools can offer that
- During last workshop, L10 (L90?) was thought to be injured. We’ve already resolved that she was pregnant and aborted!
- There is tremendous variability from year-to-year in Fraser (Albion, 2007-2011; 66k-242k). In a year when there are long delays in the Fraser peak (near Julian day 240), it may be devastating if
- Andrew Trites comment regarding possibility that thyroid data could be interpreted differently (referenced their captive starvation experiments and some studies in wild).
- Lance Barrett-Leonard comment: we historically have observed that RKWs arrive in a condition of relative nutritional stress — e.g. ketosis, more foraging earlier/ more social later.
- Comment: upper Columbia river stocks (Bonneville) aren’t caught in any ocean fisheries; lower Columbia and Willamette stocks are more impacted by ocean fisheries.
15:53 John Durban — Size and body condition of southern residents (mp3)
- Review of last fall’s results along with new analysis
- New analysis regarding two comments made by NWFSC that suggest there has been a misunderstanding:
- photogrammetry of Durban et al 2009 has high error rates.
- photogrammetry did not detect that L67 was near death.
- We used boats of known length to quantify bias of ~7cm at altitude of 1000′
- But when we’re measuring distance ratios (relative shape), e.g. length/width, within the same photograph, altitude does not matter. Width is harder to measure than body width due to waves at edges of body, so we used head width/length to gauge error rates; average coefficient of variance only 0.03. L67 was only 0.12 when average female was ~0.135.
- Latest efforts are looking at whole body shape differences between whales
- L67 jumps out as having “peanut head” and anomalously thin peduncle
- J14 and J17 were measured when around 12 months pregnant and found the peak of their width came aft of their dorsal fins.
- Pitman et al, Journal of Mammalogy 88 demonstrates with Antarctic KWs where we hope to go with SRKWs.
16:16 Dawn Noren – Energy Requirements and Salmon Consumption by Southern Resident Killer Whales in their Summer Range (mp3)
- RKWs (both N and S) are larger than Icelandic KWs (from which captive KWs have been used to get estimated length at age from time series data)
- Best estimates of asymptotic body length of SRKWs come from captive Islandic whales — Females 630 cm; males 700 cm — and are also consistent with the initial photogrammetry results of Durban (when corrected by 80% factor?)
- There are some times when SRKWs are estimated to consume upwards of 50-60% of some runs
- Two approaches to determine SRKW DPERs yield similar results.
- Two approaches (Williams vs Hanson) do differ slightly…
16:40 General discussion (mp3)
- Ray Hilborn question: is there scientific consensus about an annual cycle in killer whale condition?
- Durban confirms that later in the summer social behaviors that create better grouping for photogrammetry
- Barrett-Leonard makes another supporting point…
- Bain mentions that other patterns suggest early stress (travel speeds get higher, echolocation rates higher)
- Wasser suggests that they seem to have had their most energetic feeding of the year in the early spring; he may have said “best body condition,” but meant most energetic feeding.
- How do we make population inferences from studies of individual whales.
- Sam: it depends on number of samples you’re getting.
- Longer discussion with comments from Ken B., Fred F., Dawn N., Lance B-L. (behaviors like prey preference and inertia are important), John D. (we should indeed reflect more than we have on our inferential framework).
- Another panel member suggests it may be fruitful to conduct a meta-analysis of other populations (e.g. for population significance of a female that has a 100% offspring mortality).
- John Ford suggests comparisons with transients would be useful, but we lack the detailed census information and behavioral observations we have for residents.
- John Durban mentions recent completion of study of a few *thousand* resident KWs from northern climes (often feeding on acker-mackerel(?)) leads him to think that SRKWs are indeed unusual residents.
Day 2 (Wednesday, 9/19/2012, 8am-5pm)
8:00 Intro (mp3, latter portion only)
8:17 Ken Warheit, WDFW — Genetic composition of recreational catch from the San Juan Islands (mp3)
- Genetic Stock Id (GSI/PSC-CTC GAPS baseline) analysis, age, fork length from 450 Chinook taken from 2009 San Juan Islands recreational fishery
- Stock composition is different from SRKW diet (sampling in different years, though)
- No diff in size and age distribution between Fraser and PS stocks (including hatchery)
- SRKWs not using some areas where humans catch large Chinook (from Puget Sound)
- 3 basic stocks: Fraser (101, 96 wild), Puget Sound (297, 51 wild), Other (47, 31 wild).
- Most overlap in human and orca (Hanson samples) are Hein Bank to Henry Island; orcas not catching (or Brad not sampling) as much as recreational fishers inside east San Juans or Rosario; no fishers reporting from Pt Roberts area where orca prey samples were obtained.
- Lummi Chinook bycatch in their sockeye fishery report mostly Fraser Chinook in Pt. Roberts/Alden Bank area.
- Chinook proportions are much lower in recreational catch than in orca samples, with greatest difference in July (all areas of San Juans ~10% Chinook)
- Fork length vs age: mean length ~55 cm in age 2, 70 age 3, 80 age 4, 90 age 5 (legal limit ~52)
- In each area the same age class are about the same across 3 main stock groups.
- There appears to be a difference in
- Comment Tim of NOAA: sockeye migratory corridor changes from Rosario to Haro from year to year. Do Fraser Chinook do the same? A: The main reason there are proportionally more PS fish caught in Rosario area is that there are many more PS fish there; there are, though, some Fraser fish are present there. Tim: Skagit fish mill in the Anacortes area.
8:47 Robert Kope, NOAA — Effects of fishing on availability of Chinook salmon to resident killer whales (mp3)
- Harvest impacts make up more than 20% of the “Parken-Kope” indices
- The indices don’t account for immature (age 3-4) fish not killed by fisheries.
- On average, these immature fish account for more than half the total abundance in the ocean.
- How appropriate is the 20%? Harvest impacts account for 33% of the aggregate PK index.
- What matters to the killer whales is the local density where they’re foraging. Abundance may be sort of irrelevant to RKWs. Overall, 20% seems like “a reasonable ball-park number.”
- Bain question re whether immature fish are important to SRKWs that seem to prefer largest fish?
- Alison question: Should we be considering outside stocks more? A: The fall aggregate mostly consists of outside stocks.
- Panel question: Can we clarify salt-water age versus fresh-water age 2-5 terminology? A: Most stocks except Fraser spring Chinook have ocean-type (vs stream-type) life history.
- Another public comment re Upper Columbia River Chinook not being available in the ocean fishery.
- Larry Rutter comment: we should be very disciplined about the nuance between harvest rate and exploitation rate. A: Within a small group of the Pacific Salmon Treaty, there is a distinction harvest rate is “a reduction in the number of fish that are available.”
9:14 Robert Kope, NOAA (again) — Assessment tools for evaluating effects of salmon fishery management on resident killer whales (mp3)
- Fishery assessment tools — FRAM vs CTC — use similar algorithms and ~95% same data.
- Exploitation Rate Analysis (ERA) uses coded wire tag recoveries by brood year, typically available a year out (e.g. 2012 ERA used CWT data through 2010)
- ERA, GSI, and Parken-Kope are retrospective
- CTC, FRAM are both retrospective and prospective
- Mark-recapture is the “gold standard” for estimates of escapement numbers which are used as model inputs.
- Panel question: I’m concerned that we have model predictions with CVs of 50%. Ward A: forecasting beyond ~5 years is difficult.
- Panel question: Is KW predation changing the natural mortality rate in a way that the FRAM model doesn’t capture because it uses a fixed natural mortality rate?
9:42 Antonio Velez-Espino – Chum salmon as a covariate of Resident Killer Whale population viability (mp3 | video)
- Using BC and WA terminal runs of chum
- Highest elasticity was for interaction between Puget Sound salmon stock aggregate and fecundity of young and mature reproductive females
10:40 Eric Ward — Estimating “other” marine mammal effects on salmon with limited data (mp3 | video)
- How much to seals and sea lions compete with SRKWs?
- Best U.S. data: harbor seal surveys (Jeffries et al., 2003); Canadian and other data sources have data gaps…
- Panel suggested using Ecopath modeling results, but Eric has no confidence in model outputs.
- Instead cite A. Acevedo-Gutierrez work or citations in his papers.
- Better approach: multivariate state-space modeling using MARRS R package (Holmes+ 2012)
- Essington & Quinn have survey data going back to 1930s/1940s, but data are messy.
- Harbor seals are eating more juvenile Chinook than adults.
10:56 Scott Pearson, WDFW — Competition from Pinnipeds (mp3 | video)
- 3 pinnipeds overlap in range (but not necessarily time and niche)
- Harbor seals: reaching carrying capacity in ~1990s (Jeffries, 2003)
- California sea lions: all males in pulses from southern colonies
- Stellar seal lions: population growing and continuing to grow in SRKW habitat
11:17 Lynne Barre & Eric Ward — Summary of lambda & Killer Whale growth rates (mp3 | video)
- Delisting criteria: mean growth rate of 2.3% per year for 28 years
- Info about population structure and behavior that is consistent with resilient (e.g. shorter inter-birth intervals)
- Data supporting criteria
- 1974-1980 mean 2.6%
- 1984-1996 mean 2.3%
- NRKW 1974-1991 3.4%…
- Some have suggested abundance criteria instead of growth rate…
- If you achieved growth rate of 2.3% from 81 whales in 2001, you’d get to 155 whales in 28 years (in 2029) => delisting
- for 14 years you’d get 113 whales in 2015 => downlisting
11:23 Ward swaps with Barre, summarizes past lambda results, and presents discussion questions (starting ~11:30)
- Mike Ford Q: extinction risk was influenced most by catastrophic events, so maybe an alternative de-listing criterion could be a threat criterion. Lynn A: we have quite a few threat criteria already.
- Panel comment: Given the uncertainty in the historic population size, let’s say you used 1/2 carrying capacity. The estimates I have would put abundance at high 90s or even as high as 300. Ward A: one solution would be to optimize carrying capacity and growth rate. (balance productivity and abundance). In fisheries those are Kobe plots — exploitation rate and abundance are axes…
- Larry comment: Back in Poet’s Cove, we asked “what’s the best think we could do for southern residents.” The answer was take care of Fraser salmon. Now it should be take care of Chinook salmon. Lynne response: one of our three components to the recovery plan is recovery of the prey populations.
- Bain comment: An alternative is a recovery budget that starts with trying to conserve genetic diversity. At 3% growth, you lose 6% genetic diversity per generation. If you stay stable, you lose 25%. If you decline as in 1990s, you lose 50%. I’d like to see actions that try to achieve that 3% growth as soon as possible (WW impact reduction is fast but has short effect; toxin reduction is slow but has long effect; salmon recovery actions have a wide range that could be pieced together to get optimum evolution of population growth). Lynne A: there is a table in the recovery plan that is a basic approach similar to what you’ve mentioned. Dave: Incorporate a time frame into that.
- Scordino Q: if you met your recovery goal and got up to 155 and then did your PVA would you still call it an endangered species? Lynne: I don’t know.
- Scordino Q: if population stabilized and we determined the carrying capacity had been reached, would the SRKWs be delisted? Lynne: I can’t answer that now.
- Mike Ford: We should tie recovery to risk of extinction, not carrying capacity metrics.
12:00 Lunch break
13:15 Questions from panel (mp3)
13:23 Eric Ward — Other approaches to adjusting Chinook abundance (mp3 | video)
- Scenarios involving raising P-K index by 10%…
- Why not other P-K indices? Best predictor is total index (aggregate of all salmon stocks), implies that no one stock is important in all years
13:36 Antonio Velez-Espino, DFO – Resident Killer Whales population viability analysis under selected fishing scenarios (mp3 | video)
- 4 scenarios
- Under status quo, the ime for quasi-extinction of SRKW (population falling below 30) at median probability is ~50 years.
- Under all scenarios, the probability of downlisting is always zero under U.S. criteria.
- Only under most extreme (fishing reduction) scenario does the SRKW growth rate become positive!
- Hypothesis 2a: closing WCVI fishing only increases growth rate by ~0.5%
- 75% reduction in ocean harvest rates of Puget Sound stocks also only results in ~0.5% growth increase
- Is Chinook abundance limiting population growth and viability of RKW?
- We need more research to understand depressed SRKW calf survival (relative to NRKW)…
- First report will be available in February.
- Panel comment: This seems opposite of what Eric Ward found. You’re saying they’re going to go extinct. A: Yes, unless dramatic change is made in fishing impacts, based on this time period we have chosen in which population is in decline.
- Peter Olesiuk’s census data is of high quality for individuals during the period we chose.
- Lots of discussion, primarily around why these results are different from Eric Ward’s.
14:23 Panel presentations about causality vs correlation (mp3 | video)
15:20 Last question
What are most critical data needs and analyses to reduce key uncertainties affecting management decisions? What types of evidence to alter/strengthen conclusions?
- Better estimates of Chinook abundance (not just indices), ideally where SRKWs are foraging
- Columbia river springs are not in the indices!
- What is relationship between contaminant loads and vital rates?
- How important is inter-specific competition (to vital rates)?
- How do SRKWs locate and catch salmon and how is their foraging efficiency affected by noise and/or interference?
- We need tools to detect nutritional stress in advance of changes in vital rates.
- Year-round satellite tagging
- Go to empirical data on Chinook (especially Fraser); Parken is pioneering GSI in conjuction with test and high-seas fisheries.
- Chinook density and stock identification at times and places where SRKWs are foraging.
- Better salmon forecasts using marine ecosystem indicators.
- Statistical power analysis, once Eric and Antonio have come to agreement about the base period for assessing growth rate.
15:43 Science panel and panelist discussion (mp3 | video continuous w/previous)
- Schindler: We should be considering alternative hypotheses, e.g. disease
- Trites: Periods of low abundance seem important (not the summertime), so when/where are they occurring?
- Hilborn: In some species, social interactions control growth. Also, the differences between N and S that are more interesting than the apparent correlations
- Science panelist: It appears to me that NRKWs are first in line during the return migration of U.S. Chinook. Ford: Good point. About a 1/3 of prey samples we got from NRKWs near Haida Gwai were Columbia Chinook.
- Jim: Why were Chinook populations low during 1990s? Dave: lowest in my experience was in 1970s prior to the Salmon Treaty. Jim: There was a regime shift in 1970s that led to growth in many marine species and around 1989 another shift caused many declines. The Gulf of AK ecosystem has been doing better recently than the CA current system, so N/SRKW populations are really.
- Eric Ward: habitat and dams are not on the table (for this workshop)!
- Panelist: stochastic events like ship strikes (of calves) may be obscuring correlations, so perhaps hormone and other techniques should be used to detect pregnancies and get at neonate mortality (especially in NRKWs which are rarely observed in winter).
16:10 General discussion (mp3 & video continuous with previous)
- Sam Wasser: overall these analyses have been too coarse and should pay more attention to the annual cycle of interactions between SRKWs and salmon.
- Brendan Cummins, CBD: I don’t understand the general vibe that reducing fisheries won’t make a difference. My reading of Antonio’s model was that reductions could lead to halving of extinction risk.
- Mike Ford: The size of the effect depends on the metric you’re using, so “negligible” on lamba could mean a whale per year for the population. What 3rd factor couldn’t involve the predator-prey interaction? Understanding the differences between NRKW and SRKW are the key to discovering how to help the SRKWs recover.
- Lance Barrett-Leonard: A justifiable management option (without being sued) is actions that reduce fishing pressure during low abundance years. I hope the panel’s final report does not just consider regulation of particular stocks.
Day 3 (Thursday, 9/20/2012, 8am-5pm)
8:30 Larry Rutter final remarks (not recorded)
8:42 Will Stelle final comments (mp3)
- The predator-prey interactions of listed Chinook and listed orcas put up a huge red flag for many state, tribal, and Federal co-managers because of the potential management implications.
- I didn’t know what to expect from this high-risk meeting, but I recall how quiet and responsible it was. There were no histrionics. There was no table pounding.
- Thanks to the science panel for credible examination of best available science. Thanks to the sovereign governments that surprisingly stayed focused on this tough subject.
My first week back on the island I had the privilege to meet Albert Shepard, Curator at the Whale Museum. Albert is currently working on cleaning the bones of the recently deceased young female Southern Resident killer whale L112 (Sooke/Victoria) whose body washed up on the shores of Long Beach, WA this past February. I first learned of Sooke’s death just a few short days after the news broke. Ironically, I was in the midst of packing for the Beam Reach course. In the following weeks I read articles, watched necropsies, and thought about what could have possibly happened to this young, seemingly healthy whale. After arriving on San Juan Island in March for Beam Reach I learned a lot about the investigation into Sooke’s death. There are a number of theories out there as to the cause of death, but no one is really sure as to what happened to her.
The last few months of thinking about Sooke and learning about her death were pulled together into a momentous experience when I was able to see her beautiful skeleton laying out in the sunshine at Friday Harbor Labs. Spending two afternoons with Albert, just looking at the pieces of the skeleton come together was incredible. I have been in love with orca whales since I was five years old, and seeing the structure of an orca — what gives it shape and strength and the ability to swim — was mind-boggling. I wish that I could let all of you have the same experience of admiring L112’s skeleton in all of its beauty, and someday hopefully you will get the chance. The Whale Museum is working on a display in memory of L112 that will include her skeleton. Until then, I hope these pictures will give you an idea of how beautiful and intricate Sooke’s skeletal structure really is.
Scapula and other bones
L-112 Sooke/Victoria skull
For more information on Sooke and the investigation into her death please go to the following resources:
Beam Reach blog
Center for Whale Research
The Whale Museum
I never thought I would be able to call the sea my home, but after living on a boat for an extended period of time, I can truly call myself a sailor, and a sustainable one at that! The Gato Verde is the only biodiesel electric commercial sailboat in the country, which makes it pretty darned special. It’s considered sustainable because of the myriad of things that keep the cat green, like being able to use the slightest touch of wind to power the boat. When the wind is lacking, the boat simply runs on electric power, and when electric power runs low, the boat is backed by biodiesel.
The electric power of the Gato is provided by heavy, lead acid batteries. These batteries are the same batteries that can be found in cars and their weight adds to the drag on the boat. In order to make the Gato more efficient and sustainable in the future, the type of battery used could be switched to lithium polymer batteries, which are lighter, more abuse tolerant, and could power the boat alone for a full four hours, as opposed to the current two hours that the lead acid batteries provide now. In addition to the battery type change, Captain Todd hopes to yet improve the sustainability of the Gato by converting the current black water system to a grey water system.
While we were out sailing through the Salish Sea, we had to constantly be conscious of our black water system. The black water system on the Gato Verde is the where the human waste is held, home to a unique ecosystem of hazardous pathogens, and it was how we kept our waste from entering the marine environment. We had two holding tanks on the boat, a primary and a secondary. When the primary holding tank was filled, it was pumped into the secondary holding tank and when both tanks were full, it was time to make a trip to pump out. We created a decent pump out rule, as pumping out is not always the most pleasant thing to do. The rule was that whoever did not pump out had to buy ice cream for whoever did pump out. Because of this, pumping out ended up being one of our favorite things to do on the boat! In addition to measuring the amount of waste produced, daily calculations were made of fresh water usage, biodiesel fuel, and power consumed.
When the environment permitted, we used it to maximize our efficiency. A few days out on the Gato allowed us to hoist the mainsail and test our skills at sailing. We used the wind to our advantage and optimized our angle with the wind, maneuvering the boat with the jib sheet by tacking. In addition to the different aspects of sailing, we learned a lot of other valuable information, like how to tie a double sheet bend knot, which is used to tie two lines together. My all time favorite knot was the bowline. I got so good at tying a bowline that at one point, I somehow managed to tie one single handed! Another knot I became very quick at tying, which I think is the most aesthetically pleasing knot of all, is the cleat hitch. The cleat hitch was used every time we docked instead of mooring or anchoring.
There were a number of tasks to accomplish when we anchored for the evening. To start, we lowered the anchor into the water. After the anchor was lowered, a bridle was put on the anchor chain to reduce the tension on it. We observed the angle of the anchor chain each time we anchored to be sure the anchor was secured at the sea floor.
One of my favorite things about sailing was the rare opportunity we had to view the southern resident killer whales from the water. As we approached the end of our voyage, we were all wondering when we would be able to see the greatly anticipated whales. Finally, three days before our trip ended they showed up and stayed in the Salish Sea long enough to be with them on each of our last days on the boat. Our last day, the whales were not very vocal, but they put on quite a show for us at East Point. We were running from port to starboard, shouting out behaviors like crazy! It was amazing to see how much of a mood booster the whales could be.
Killer whale tail slap, photo courtesy of myself (my pride and glory)
After a long, arduous, and exhausting week here at the Friday Harbor Labs, we have finally passed the threshold of our looming presentations. I will be sad to say goodbye, and while I know that I will never, ever forget the time I have spent here, it’s always difficult to leave a place where you feel so at home. This truly has been the experience of a lifetime. I have made lifelong friends and learned valuable skills and information that I will be able to use in almost every situation. Congratulations to the Beam Reach 121 class of spring 2012, you’ve done it!
I love these guys!
We take so many things for granted on land. Water appears to pour from an endless well and electricity is immediate at the flick of a switch. On the ocean, however, these luxuries have to be rationed as we can only use what we can store. In addition, any waste products, such as black water, have to be stored, and disposed of responsibly. Whilst out at sea, for example, human waste was carried around with us until it could be ‘pumped out’ at Roche Harbor. The Gato Verde had two holding tanks for the purposes of storing human waste. The three weeks spent on the Gato Verde have certainly helped me to understand and appreciate how much more sustainable we can all live. In the past when I have heard the term sustainability, I have automatically associated this with either a big change in lifestyle or a large investment. The reality, however, is that we can all live healthier and more sustainable lives if we just use things in moderation. Whilst out on Gato, as part of our morning chore rotations, measurements were taken of water usage, sewage level, and amount of biodiesel used. This allowed us to graph and monitor our footprint over the duration of the trip.
Compared to many vessels, the Gato Verde, a 42 ft electric biodiesel hybrid catamaran , is pretty special in that it was modified to be more environmentally friendly. Such modifications include converting to LED lights, and changing the sail plan to optimize efficiency. This involved adding a screecher to take full advantage of any wind, and by making the main sail a ‘square top’ to increase surface area. There is no cleaner fuel than the wind itself. If there is little wind then the Gato uses quiet electric motors to help it move through the water. Compared to most motors, these have little noise impact on the environment. The Gato also burns biodiesel, a renewable fuel source, that not only powers the vessel through the water, but, also can be utilized to charge the boats batteries. Despite the Gato’s current success in being sustainable, further modifications are being considered for the foreseeable future. In the short term, Captain Todd hopes to add solar panels and a wind generator to be even more energy independent. Research is also being directed into alternative grey water systems.
Although we were busy collecting physical oceanography measurements such as conductivity, salinity, visibility, and plankton density, there were a number of opportunities for us to learn about the Gato and the process of sailing. In the early stages, there was so much terminology to get our heads around and knots such as bowlines and sheet bends seemed impossible. In the latter part of our trip, however, this new language felt a lot more natural. For example, when asked to pull in the jib, I knew that this was the middle sail (not to be confused with the main sail or screecher). The masts supporting these sails were themselves held in place by a forestay and shrouds. Out of all the sails, we used the jib the most as it is designed to operate in lighter winds. By using the wind to our advantage, less fuel was needed to travel the same distance. In addition to using the wind, tides and currents were also exploited. By using the environment we could ultimately be more sustainable. After long days of science, we would head back to either moor or dock on nearby islands. Out of all the places we visited, my favourite was Patos Island. On occasions, we were forced to anchor. This however was avoided wherever possible because of the damage it inflicts on the marine environment. Towards the end of the two weeks, we could prepare the anchor with as little as two students. We were mostly responsible for directing Captain Todd, operating the windlass, and preparing the bridle. The idea behind the bridle is that once attached, it helps to distribute the stress on the boat. The final stage of the anchoring process involved attaching the chain hook.
Raise the main sail
View from my berth
It was a sad moment when the Gato sailed off from the Friday Harbor labs. Although I was happy to be back on land, I am now itching to get back on the water. I feel that living onboard the Gato has prepared me well for the future. In the space of two short weeks we have learnt so much, skills that will last a lifetime.
We’ve been back on land for two days now and we’re all still adjusting to life on solid ground. I used to think that from my experiences as a kid on a sailboat, that I knew what it was like to live on a boat… that couldn’t have been farther from the truth. After two weeks on the boat we only just began to scratch the surface of what living in the field is like. It was like no experience I’ve ever had, and I will never be the same because of it. In attempt to stop you from thinking that this experience was anything less than incredible I will give you a little behind the scenes glance of what it was like, and how much fun we actually had. Our days normally started around 8:00 am in the galley for breakfast. After that we took care of our chores for the day which ranged from cleaning the decks and heads to acting as the navigator and mapping a course for the day. We were able to stay at some pretty amazing islands, like Jones pictured below.
Since our days with whales were limited we collected a lot of physical oceanographic data from the CTD and other equipment like the Secchi disk which measures visibility in the water. We even had the opportunity to sample at one site for the entire day to see how the ocean changed at that one location over time.As the days without whales continued we became more creative with our data collection. It was in these days that we learned how far we were willing to go for our research. Phinn, one of the other students, decided to jump in the water every hour for 7 hours during the day to get horizontal secchi measurements as opposed to the usual vertical readings. After jumping into 8 degC water ourselves earlier that week this seemed absolutely crazy. Even so we jumped in again on a later day and swam around for 25 minutes. With the Olympic mountains in the background it was absolutely breathtaking… oh wait that was the water.
After a week on the boat with no reports of whales we were getting antsy. We delved into collecting as much data as we could and in turn analyzing that data, which I am still doing. We were very successful in collecting a lot of data. Finally we ran into some luck and heard of the whales coming in through the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Even though we woke up at 5:00 am to listen to hydrophones we missed them passing our anchorage and we had to play a bit of catch up. We eventually caught up to the whales and were able to collect both behavioral and acoustic data using the 4 hydrophone array. Suddenly our other needs became secondary and we adjusted course to follow the whales. We ended up having two more days with the whales as they led us from one end of the Salish Sea to the other. Our last day with them was amazing. We were with the whales for about 2 hours and witnessed some amazing behavior like spyhops, tail slaps, and even a few breaches. All of this set against the background of the sun setting on the horizon. While we had some struggles with adjusting to this life style it was an absolutely amazing experience that was hard to walk away from.
What made this experience so special was the boat we were on, The Gato Verde. This is no ordinary boat, it is the first plug in diesel electric hybrid charter boat on the west coast. Stretching to a luxurious 42 ft the Gato was an incredible home away from home. It isn’t special simply because of the amount of space aboard, but because the boat is a pioneer in the field of sustainable boating. Most boats have a motor that runs on gasoline that in turn powers the propellers which move the boat through the water, but the Gato isn’t like any other boat. Captain Todd Shuster added a diesel generator, and a large battery bank in order to make the boat more green. The generator runs on diesel which is cleaner and less explosive than gasoline and the battery banks helps create more clean energy. This would be all fine and dandy by itself, but the Captain took the extra step and taught us about why he made the changes to the boat and how it is creating more sustainable travel and less impact on the environment.
As part of our course we learned about sailing and the different parts of the boat. We even had a knot tying lecture, I can now tie several knots including a reef knot, clove hitch, and cleat hitch. The cruise began with us as students learning about the different aspects of sailing and quickly turned us into actual sailors. We regularly helped raise the jib for sailing and deployed the anchor at nights when we were not on a dock or mooring buoy. We did not get much ideal weather for sailing but when we did we made sure to take advantage of the wind and put our mainsail up. Sailing is another example of how the boat is green. When we had ideal weather conditions we could take advantage of our environment, turn the motor off and use the power of the wind to move the boat. While docked one night we rested next to another sail boat that had a wind generator. This acts like a small turbine that harnesses wind energy and can be used to power the boat. Adding this to the Gato would be yet another way to make the boat more sustainable. One aspect of sustainability still being addressed is the issue of blackwater. Blackwater is waste water loaded with biological material like feces. Living on a boat we naturally accumulated black water that was stored in holding tanks since we could not just dump the waste into the ocean. It poses a danger to the environment due to the amount of bacteria and contaminants from human waste that are not naturally occurring in the ocean. So we had to pump out our waste at pumping stations like the one in Roche Harbor.
While some aspects of living on a boat were challenging, like timing our location with our need to pump out our holding tanks, and living in such close proximity to people, this was the most amazing experience of my life. I learned so much about the Salish Sea and clean boating as well as about myself and just how far my limits reach. I am sad that our time on the Gato has come to an end, but now I get to analyze the results from all of the data we took and put my piece into the larger puzzle that is the Salish Sea.
Wow! This is all I feel I can say to properly describe our first cruise on the Gato Verde this past week. It was absolutely incredible. We left the labs Monday morning practically chomping at the bit to get to see the Gato for the first time after hearing and reading so much about it. When we finally got there, to my surprise, the boat seemed much bigger than I thought it would be, which trust me when living with the rest of my class is a good thing. All of our weirdness would not fit into a small boat.
The Gato Verde
After getting oriented to the boat we left and motored to Sucia island where we docked for the night. But as they say life’s not about the destination, its about the journey, which didn’t fail to stand true on the trip over. We all put our rain gear on and sat on the trampoline that stretched between the two hulls of the catamaran and were absolutely soaked by oncoming waves. It’s good to know that when REI tells you your pants are waterproof, they really mean it!
One of the challenging things about living on the boat is that we have to cook our own meals and plan our cooking ahead of time. I can definitely say that my cooking abilities have exponentially increased since they were pretty much limited to frozen foods and pasta, oh and I make a mean bowl of cereal. Although, you should know that I am a bit like a 5 year old in that I dislike almost all vegetables and cooking for vegetarians means I ate a lot of vegetables. I could practically hear the 5 year old inside me throwing a temper tantrum, but I was amazed upon finding that vegetables aren’t inherently evil, they’re actually rather yummy.
Now that my brain was properly fueled we learned about all of the science equipment we would be using and have available for our projects. Staying consistent with my shopping tendencies I was instantly fascinated by the CTD which measures conductivity, temperature, and depth, and happened to be worth roughly $50,000. Needless to say every time we deployed the CTD I had a miniature heart attack anticipating everything that could go wrong. After a day of collecting data on the CTD we realized that we weren’t actually recording any data. Robin finally realized that the ring around the start button was to protect the device during transit and was actually not a stylish accessory. We removed the ring and finally got successful data uploading from the CTD to the computer. After several deployments we got the hang of it and I am excited to start taking data for my project.
Today we worked on our service project that we are required to complete for the course. We decided to work with the San Juan County Land Bank and help with Garry Oak restoration on Cady Mountain. First we learned a little history about land use in the San Juans and the transformation the islands have seen since colonization. Then we took a trip to the Cady Mountain preserve to actually work hands on with Garry Oak restoration. We were able to help cut down trees to save trees… don’t think too hard about this it made my brain hurt. Actually, we were cutting down/ trimming other trees that were out-competing the oaks for sunlight. Don’t worry, we weren’t running through the forest willy nilly cutting down trees. We had a lot of fun helping to restore a beautiful area on the island while wielding really awesome ninja hand saws. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t get much better than that.
This week we are writing our proposals for our projects and will be finalizing them by Sunday before we head back out onto the Gato on Monday for our 1 week cruise of data collection. Hopefully the whales will be more cooperative and actually be in the San Juans while we are as well. Either way it is going to be an exciting adventure complete with sailing songs, random fits of laughter, and a lot of Sriracha.