Archive for the ‘2009 spring’ Category

Science Blogbook: Echo Bay to Prevost Harbor, Stuart Island

Sucia to Stuart


We first started off the day excited to see whales.  We kept in contact with Ivan, Jim, and Mark in order to work as a team to find the whales.  The whales were spoted on the south end of the San Juan Islands and heading towards south of Discovery island.  The big problem was we were way up north and it was going to take us three hours to get to the middle of Haro Strait.  DUring our long journey we played with the fish cam, sailed, and Scott gave us a lecture on Temperature and Salinity Oceanography.  Then it was a battle with the waves!  As we went further south, the waves got higher as we began to feel sick.  WE all kept it together in the name of science!  Once we were down south, we got a message on the radio by Jim that the SRKW were being heard on Orca sound!  It was time to head north and find the whales!  We saw lots of boat action as we got closer to Stuart, and saw lots of the vapors from their blow holes!  WE kept tracking them, but failed because they were head up to the Swanson Channel, in Canadian territory!  We failed and had to turn around and try tommorrow.  We were defeated today, but there is always tommorow!  The Beam Pod is ready for another day of SCIENCE!

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Science blogbook: Jones Island north – FHL

Jones Island north – FHL


Today we went back to Friday Harbor Labs for our week on land. Gato Verde got a deep clean and we are halfway done with the program!!
Now it’s time to work on those proposals!
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Charismatic Mega Fauna

Over the course of this program, I’ve heard the understanding of whale calls and language compared to the Rosetta Stone and the Holy Grail. Given the amount of effort, speculation and near worship given to both of these, I’m beginning to think they are right.

My project does not attempt to understand the meaning of whale calls in any sense but the tiny portion I am examining makes me realize just how impossible that task would be. People have attempted it, continue to attempt it, approaching it from every possible angle to try to understand what whales are saying but their language and so many other aspects of them continue to elude us.

J1, traveling North up Kellett Bluff

J1, traveling North up Kellett Bluff

Jason was the first person I heard refer to the whales as “charismatic mega fauna.” I don’t know if that’s a common way to refer to killer whales because I’ve now heard Todd and Val refer to them that way as well but the name makes me think about how popular these animals are when all you mostly ever see of them in the wild is a black dorsal fin.

Hannah calls them “sea ninjas” because they are so sneaky and suited to their environment. On many days, we’ve been out looking for them in Haro Strait, six pairs of eyes behind binoculars, straining to see them only to hear on the radio that they’d gone clean past us with no one the wiser. It’s not as if these are small creatures or that they blend in. They’re giant whales with black and white bodies. You’d think they’d stick out like sore thumbs but they don’t.

Killer whales are mysterious, fascinating creatures but the most surprising thing about them to me is how many people they have managed to enthrall. Killer whales are an icon, a demonstration of the mystery of the sea and of the strength and grace of its creatures. They are a rallying point for conservationists everywhere, a fascination for people from all walks of life. They live in every ocean of the world, with different hunting strategies, languages, food sources and behaviors. Actually when I think about it, it seems like it should be more surprising to me that they haven’t fascinated more people.

And yet we know so little about them. We know so little about the ocean as a whole. While I respect and admire the whales immensely, I wish we could all pull back the focus a little bit more to take in the whole picture. Because of their charismatic, mysterious nature, killer whales pull our attention towards them and yet they are not the whole picture. As an apex predator, their condition is a strong indicator of the health of their ecosystem. While the whales themselves need focus and attention, we need to remember that they are only a small part of an enormous ecosystem, a huge web which trembles with every tiny shift in a great balance.

In every ecosystem, scientists and researchers focus on individual species and on relationships. I think both parts are key but a balance is necessary. In order to know enough about a species, you must know a great deal about how it interacts with all components of its world and the effects that it has. I wish it were easier to strike that balance.

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The challenges of food

Living on a boat with eight people is an interesting experience. It is fun but it definitely has its challenges. One of those challenges is food. Cooking on a boat is challenging, especially if the seas are very active. Our rations have come from NOLS. They are an educational organization with many different outdoor programs. They ration food for their programs based on the calories needed per day per person, instead of designing meals for each day. These calories are broken down using the food pyramid so that the participants have enough carbs, proteins, sugar and other nutrients. Their method of rationing is really helpful because everyone gets the nutrition and calories they need while allowing for flexibility of the meals. The only food we aren’t getting from NOLS is fresh fruits and vegetables. The food from NOLS is all dried or dehydrated material that is pretty easy to cook. We were able to go to NOLS in Mount Vernon at the beginning of the quarter and bag all of our food for the five weeks on the boat. Everything was calculated by pounds and then divided by week.

We have the NOLS cookbook onboard with an assortment of meals that we can make. Our galley on the boat consists of two stove top burners and an oven that is capable of broiling. These are all fueled by propane. We are now more than halfway done with our time at sea and the food has turned out to be a fun and complicated experience. We have tried many different meals. One of our challenges is satisfying everyone’s preference. Everyone on the boat likes and dislikes different things. I don’t like onions which is a common ingredient in a lot of soups and other meals. Hannah is not a fan of pasta and loves vegetables. Hilary doesn’t eat eggs or potatoes. It is difficult to plan meals to satisfy everyone but we have managed to work through it. Luckily, we are all willing to try and stay away from the things others don’t like for the most part. There are times when we just need to make pasta because we have a lot of it but we make a lot of veggies with it as well. One mornings when we have eggs and hash browns Hilary just eats granola or a bagel, and when onions are used in soup or something else the cooks cut them large enough so that I can pick them out easily or they are just on the side so that whoever wants them can add them.

making pizzaMatt and Peter

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Beam Reach Educates Young Minds in Ohio


Beam Reach Bulletin Board

A primary goal of Beam Reach is to continually learn new aspects of the killer whale and share that knowledge with the community. The knowledge gained through the program is expected to create awareness in the Salish Sea, but has spread all the way to Delaware, OH.

Mrs. Williams’ third grade class at Carlisle Elementary has been in correspondence with Beam Reach via letters and phone calls. They are currently in their animal unit in science class, and every student in the class wrote a letter with their questions about orcas and the requirements of being a scientist.

I wrote back trying to answer all of their questions. A lot of the interests of the students involved the different kinds of animals seen during the Beam Reach program. Since the animals in the Salish Sea are not native to Ohio, the students spent time researching and learning about the organisms.

Mrs. Williams' 3rd Grade Class

Mrs. Williams' 3rd Grade Class

I think the interaction between students of Mrs. Williams’ class and the Beam Reach students has been beneficial for both parties. It is important to remember that the information we learn in Beam Reach is meant to be shared with the public. If we do not communicate our findings, all of the hard we put in to studying the orcas will not be able benefit the killer whale population.

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The Mystery of Lost Balloons

When I was five years old, I went to a neighbor’s birthday party. It was a sunny day and she was turning six. All of the neighborhood children were invited and we ate cake in her backyard, surrounded by blooming nasturtiums, fruit trees and cats. Towards the end of the party, her mom brought out a giant bunch of balloons. She gave each one of us a postcard and told us to write a note, asking whoever found it to send a postcard to our address. We each hole-punched our cards and attached them to the strings of our balloons. My friend’s mom counted to three and we all released them.

I remember very clearly the glee in my young mind as I watched the balloons bounce up and drift, carefree and cheerful, pink, blue, green, yellow and purple into the clear sky. I imagined each balloon discovered, still completely inflated somehow, drifting into the arms of another child like me in China, Kenya, France, Argentina or Australia. I imagined receiving the coveted letter, covered in bizarre, wonderful stamps, nothing like the stamps my mom kept in her desk. I waited for it but it never came.

The red balloon floating on the southwestern end of San Juan Island

The red balloon floating on the southwestern end of San Juan Island

I hadn’t thought about that day in years until our first time at sea when we rescued a red balloon. It was slightly deflated, drifting listlessly in the dark water. It occurred to me then that it could have very well been the same balloon that I released all of those years ago, except red instead of yellow. When it was lifted clear of the water, I looked at the tangled end of the string, expecting to see a postcard there but no postcard remained and instead, the end of the string was a matted gnarl. We hung the balloon in the cockpit until it had completely deflated and then threw it away. The mystery of balloons didn’t occur to me again until yesterday when we rescued more, a yellow and green pair this time.

It began to occur to me how many balloons must be floating on their own and without permission, released at birthday parties or on New Year’s, slipping from an untidily tied knot on a little girl’s wrist, or wriggling free from fence posts. My thoughts slid, as they do, to consider all of the other things that we humans do to our surroundings, without any consideration for the effects they have.

I don’t mean to imply that balloons have no place in our world, merely that we should all be a bit more mindful of what we do. Last week we had an interesting talk with Russel Barsh, who explained the nature of surfactants and the problems they cause our world. Within our small boat microcosm, we must be continuously aware of our levels of consumption and waste. As we all continue to work on our sustainability projects, we begin to look at our boat time through that frame of reference, rather than a purely research minded one.

I guess the point of my usual rambling is that mindfulness is the first and most difficult step to solving many problems. How many times have we each stormed around in a bad mood, only to realize we were in that mood and feel sheepish and guilty for taking it out on the world? How many mistakes have we each made, simply because we went into situations with ignorance and no realization of it? I’ve come to think that maybe, the very best way we can help ourselves, our world and each other, is by being as conscious as possible, observing and questioning as much as we are able.

So what are you waiting for? Go rescue a balloon!

Hannah rescuing our balloon

Hannah rescuing our balloon

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Patos to Echo Bay, Sucia Island

We were greeted by rain in Patos’ Active Bay this morning.  We ate a hardy breakfast and then headed out into the current.  We hung around off the Northeast bit of Patos Island, hoping for more whales. We found no whales, but they did show up near us towards the end of the day.  Unfortunately by that time the day was leaving us and our generator was melting down.  We kept ourselves well entertained all day though, playing with the echosounder, the fish camera, and plankton.  We ended up mooring in Echo Bay and taking the dinghy to shore to stretch our legs and run into CMC friends.  Hopefully we’ll reconnect with the whales tomorrow!

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FHL to Active Cove, Patos Island

We left FHL at around 14:00 and were heading towards Jones Island when we were alerted by whale watchers on the radio that killer whales were by Sinclair Island and heading north.  We continued north, passing Jones and Orcas Islands and cutting in between Sucia and Matia Islands to arrive in Rosario Straight.  We first saw the whales on the west side of Matia Island at approximately 17:15.  They were traveling towards the south side of Matia Island.  We went west along the northern coast of Matia and met up with them again as they traveled north between Sucia and Matia.  Male J-1 was easily recognized from the other individuals.  We began recording with our hydrophone array at 17:27 and continued for a little more than an hour and a half.  Clicks were present throughout the first hour and twenty minutes and through the final twenty minutes there were whistles and calls as well.  There were quite a few tail slaps throughout the entire process along with a couple breaches and spyhops.  We parted ways from J-pod as we passed along the northern side of Patos Island which caused us to choose Active Cove for moorage for the night.  A listening hydrophone was left off of the stern overnight so we would be able to hear if the orcas travel south through Boundry Pass.

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My Service Project at the Whale Museum!

On Thrusday May 7, 2009 I helped out Cindy Hansen, the education curator, at the Whale Museum.  She had a group of 2nd and 3rd grade students come for a killer whale and gray whale workshop!  During the Killer Whale presentation she talked about the biology of a whale, the different types of whales, acoustics, and a id exercise.  I got to talk about my project, the purpose of Beam Reach, and my encounters out at sea.

It was amazing to realize how much these kids know!  They are extremely smart!  I was explaining the behaviors of the transient killer whales the couple of times we saw them the first week.  Then one of the kids raised his hand and said “You don’t need to explain what spy hopping and breaching is, we already know what it is.”  I was like okay, that is really cool!  Then the kids did an exercise trying to identify the Southern Resident killer whales (SRKW)!  It was amazing to see how observant and fast these kids pick up on things.  I was really impressed!  They seem to be very interested in the subject, as well as, my project.  

Once the discussion was over they did another exercise were they each got a blue card and a sheet with the different SRKWs.  On the cards, they had to write which whale they got and why their whale is special. It was so cute!  I enjoyed what each kid had to say. Then they had to split up into pods and find out who their family was.  It was a great thing to see.  Along the way, many of the kids and parents asked me many different questions.  It seemed like the parents asked more weird questions than the kids, I thought it was funny! 

After that they went upstairs and had a tour of the museum.  The hit with this group of kids was the read phone booth where you can call whales and listen to their different calls.  Once they got to the hydrophone area, i got to speak all about hydrophones, like what they do, how we use them, and where they are located.  I was once again amazed on how much they know and remember.  These kids even know the whale wise rules!  They were great!  While the kids were looking around at the exhibits and taking pictures a lot of the parents came up to me and asked me about college and my studies here at Beam Reach.

Once they were done with the tours, they took a lunch break. After lunch they had a presentation on Gray Whales. Then it was time to put Stinky Bill together.  The kids loved the fact that they were real whale bones.  The kids got split up into four groups and I was in charge of helping the kids find the matching ribs.  My secret to knowing that they were matching was it was labeled! I found it funny that the parents call me the expert.  Then the kids caught on to what i was doing and did the same.  They built this whale with lots of team work.  Why can’t the world work like these kids, with lots of team work? Remember we are all in this together!  

After they were done they talked about how the gray whale could have died and took votes on it.  My favorite one was the killer whales rammed the gray whale until its ribs were broken. I was thinking, that kid is totally cool! That is what i wanted the answer to be, but it was hit by a boat.  

After the program was done the kids did some smart shopping at the gift shop and i helped Cindy pack up Stinky Bill, put away chairs, and clean the floors. I had such a great time and i wish i could do it again!

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Sailing on the Gato Verde!


We just got back from our first two weeks out at sea on the Gato Verde!  Besides seeing all the marine mammals, sailing is one of my favorite parts!  I have enjoyed the times on the Gato Verde, with the exception of a few times of sea sickness.  I like the adrenaline rush of putting up the main sail.  Then working together to do a proper and efficient tack!  Learning how to sail with Todd is a great experience and i hope to continue it after my adventure with Beam Reach.  

One of my favorite parts of sailing is at the Helm!  I like the feeling of cruising alone on a nice day out at sea.  I feel so calm and relaxed.  I feel like i am in a different world, then i get a rush of excitement when i have to say “Ready to Tack?” and shift the boat in the proper direction.  Then you can go back to cruising along!  When i am at the Helm i do find it way easier to find a land mark and just follow and every once in a while looking at the instruments to make sure we are safe.  If i have my head wrapped around the instruments to much i just get confused.  So my advice to any future Beamers, just go with the flow and pick a land mark that works for both you and Todd!

Another good part of sailing is the fact that it is fun!  The more you sail, the easier the terminology gets.  You get use to using the terms like Starboard, Port, Bow, Stern, Leech, Luff, Main, Traveler, etc.  Sailing is just one of things that takes practice and a smile!  

What else i like about sailing is it is a team effort! I strongly believe in working together and in my opinion you need teamwork to sail nice and smooth.  Then once you have lots of experience you can sail by yourself and enjoy the seas through your own eyes.  That is how dreams grow and then come to life right in front of you! 

Plus another great bonus of sailing, is all the great marine animals you get to see along the way!

Best Wishes,


PS: Have some fun and safe sailing!

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