Introducing Myself

Hello, my name is Morgan Kroeger and I am an undergraduate student at Oregon State University. I am studying fisheries and hope to be working with sturgeon in the future. I am finishing up my third year and I hope to graduate on time next year. From there I hope enter a graduate program and further my studies.

As of such, I do not have a personal project clipped on the back of this summer research adventure. I would certainly be delighted to interweave my own project into the upcoming research event, but I sincerely would not know where to start. As it is, this is a large and intensive project, and since I am not as experienced as the majority of my colleagues it is best that I focus on the main Acoustic Spyglass project before diving into other channels.

As for how I stand on this project, I am three parts excited, two parts nervous, and one part confident. I realize that these parts do not add up to anything coherent, but neither does the scale that I am basing it off of.

I am excited to be out on the island and get into the grit and grind of field research. I am excited to learn the seeming labyrinth of protocol, sampling methods, and the organized chaos that accompanies any kind of “out there” work. I am excited to further my knowledge of fieldwork and expand my skill set. I am excited to monitor humpback whales in their summer habitat. I am excited to be helping a project that will have an impact on management concerning humpback whales.

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Me with some of the hiking gear that I’ll be bringing with me for the Acoustic Spyglass project

I am nervous about messing up in all ways possible. I know I can handle stress and pressing situations, but the prickling of nerves is still there under the skin, an impossible itch that will remain. I am not nervous about improbable threatening situations, like being struck by a summer storm when out in the kayak, or temporarily abandoning camp while the resident black bear casually ransack the little village of tents for food. I am nervous, maybe worried is a better word, about the little things. The small mistakes that can have quite the sucker punch, like dropping the theodolite, or incorrectly entering data. I know and understand that these worries are relevant, but they are held at bay with practice and training.

I am confident that I can integrate myself into the team and the research. I am confident that through the Acoustic Spyglass project I will expand and deepen my skill set regarding field work and data input. I am confident that I can and will help the Spyglass project further its study. I am confident that I will survive. I am confident that I will thrive.

 

 

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Making a splash in the world of marine mammals

*Guest Post By Lucas Williams*

Hello friends,

Those who’ve been gracious enough to check out my blog are likely aware that I spent last summer in Glacier Bay, Alaska as a field tech under the mentorship of Michelle Fournet (Miche). Well, I am happy to announce that I’m doing it all over again. I will be returning to my home away from home, Strawberry island, for the summer of 2016.

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Oh yeah, I’m back baby

I get to go back out into the field this summer to practice some ‘hands on’ science (not to mention experience some of the best camping this world has to offer for 3 months), but my school year has also been filled with science. There’s just been a lot more numbers involved, and lots of maps.

Before I joined everyone in Alaska last summer, Michelle and I sat down several times before the field season started to discuss potential thesis projects I could do using the data we would collect. My original idea was to investigate sound shadow usage by humpback whales in Glacier Bay. Sound acts as a wave, and similarly to light, can be blocked or dampened by obstructive objects. I was going to use the spatial data we collected to determine if humpback whales were foraging/traveling more frequently in sound shadows created by the topography and bathymetry of the survey area, and compare densities in sound shadow areas depending on level of water vessel traffic. Unfortunately, the whole survey area was essentially one large sound shadow, making any kind of comparison on the local scale largely pointless.

So, my original project was bust. But, with plenty of guidance from Michelle, I was able to craft an even better thesis project. I decided to investigate corridor usage by humpback whales. This eventually evolved into my current thesis project, eloquently titled “Local scale habitat use by humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) on a Southeast Alaskan foraging ground”. I’m looking at how whales use their forage grounds on a smaller scale to minimize energy expenditure while maximizing foraging intake.

I’ve made a lot of progress on this research, but not without learning several things I was told but certainly didn’t know until I experienced them myself. Those included:

  1. You never get everything right on the first try when it comes to writing a scientific paper
  2. Spreadsheets are an underappreciated form of art (yes I said it)
  3. A lot of data analysis is actually just learning how to use software
  4. ArcGIS is a sentient program that feeds off the frustration of innocent and naïve users.
  5. Finding a good mentor is like receiving a gift that just keeps on giving

This all lead to this previous weekend where I gave a 15 minute presentation of my project’s current results at the Northwest Student Society of Marine Mammals conference in Seattle. Not only are conferences a lot more fun than I anticipated (scientists are cool) but the presentation itself served as my first formal introduction to the marine mammal world. It wasn’t a huge hello, more like a friendly wave, but it felt like real progress.

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A density heat map representing traveling whales in the survey area. Notice the bright green corridor in the center

Whether I end up becoming a professional marine mammal scientist is still up in the air. If you had told me last year that I would be presenting legitimate scientific results at a conference before heading off to a field season in Alaska I would have laughed in your face. But here I am. I don’t exactly know what’s in store for the future, but I’m damn excited. Here’s to another awesome year that I fully expect will challenge me in all new ways.

I’m going to make a more concerted effort this summer to bring more content to this blog as the season progresses, and you can expect another post from me in the near future.

Cheers!

Luke

I love you, session 2!

I think this poster helps me convey how much I loved every second of my month in Alaska with 4 amazing ladies much better than I would have said in words. After all, pictures are worth a thousand words. Thanks so much for the memories, Miche, Laur, Cristina, Meghan, and Andy!

Love, Venus

Life as an intern.

I have been thinking about how to write this blog for about 2 weeks now and I still can’t seem to get my words together, but here goes.

For those of you who have had the opportunity to participate in field work of any kind, I’m sure you can gather some thoughts on what really goes on behind the scenes of the lighthouse. Those of you not in that category; perhaps a fellow session 2 intern can help enlighten you.

            When we’re not running out of water, soaking wet or freezing cold we have a pretty good time! Only someone like Miche could make such awful field conditions an amazing experience. You should ask her about her feelings on fog sometime; I guarantee she will have a lot to tell you. Ryan couldn’t have said it better when explaining her true colours. What a normal advisor would shake their head at, Miche would find humour in and quickly gained the nickname “mama miche.” When she wasn’t constantly looking after us and bringing us cups and cups of hot chocolate, she was working madly to make sure the research was working and we were getting the most out of our journey. She truly is one of a kind.

 Alaska’s playground was beyond anything I could have expected or anticipated. If you ever have a chance to visit I highly recommend it. Spending hours in noble steed listening to the beautiful wops and purrs from our neighbourly whales, and squinting through fog for any sign of a trademark fluke or spout were just a few of our duties while at the lighthouse. I met some amazing young ladies and one amazing woman who truly made it life changing. I could not have been happier with the research and the science behind the project. I can confidently say that I learned more in that month then I did in a solid 3 years of university. Shocking I know.

Although it is impossible to wrap up a month into a few paragraphs I imagine you have a fairly good idea of what life would be like stuck in a lighthouse with 4 lovely ladies. It’s challenging, exciting, always eventful, and truly a pleasure. I want to thank the Alaska Whale Foundation with all my heart, and of course Miche for being Miche. As Meghan would say: “Alaska got its hook in me”. Cristina: “That was so cra cra!” And Venus: “The Rapunzel Project would totally have 100000 hits on youtube”.

Laura 

Hello Goodbye

I have wonderful news! Take a deep breath; the whales have shown up. It may have taken 7 ½ weeks for them to arrive, but I am happy to report that in our final days of Session 2 the whales increased in numbers from say… 1 or 2, to 10 or 20. They’ve arrived for now and on Sunday afternoon we successfully marked 100+ whale events! (Don’t be confused, we didn’t see 100 individual whales, we marked 100 times when a whale did something). That makes up nearly a fifth of our whale sightings so far this season. I’m happy to report that it is now Monday afternoon and for the past five days we’ve had numerous whales in the Five Finger Area.

*Phew*

While I could not have been more overjoyed at the sight of 20 humpback whales I was sad to say goodbye to the four ladies of Session 2.

I have to admit, when Session 1 left the island I was heartbroken. They were the backbone of our startup operation here at the light and I was unsure that our new recruits (median age, 20; median height 5’1) would be able to fill the shoes left behind (Max shoe size Session 1, 11 ½; Min shoe size Session 2, 6). When I needed cheer, Session 1 would sing to me. To be fair, whether I needed cheer or not they would sing to me. Together we talked through broken hydrophones, balance beam fuel hauls, generator ghosts, dead engines, and missing whales. To top that, Session 1 handled each and every situation, good or bad, with grace. When Session 2 showed up, they had no easy task ahead of them.

As it turns out, they two groups were like night and day. Yet, I can honestly say I wouldn’t trade a one of them, and I can only imagine the raucous good time we would have if we had the chance to meet as a single group.

The ladies of Session 2 worked harder and with more enthusiasm than I ever expected or hoped. I have to admit I anticipated giving pep talks on surveying in foul weather, but I didn’t anticipate forcing my interns to come IN from the rain. Nor did I imagine I’d ever have to coerce a seasick intern to come back to the lighthouse just because the whales were vocalizing. The only fault I can find with our Session 2 interns is that they cared too much and they worked too hard. It was inspiring exciting, and admittedly for all of us- a little exhausting. Kudos to them for the waking up for dawn surveys to yell at the fog with me (or to make us pancakes in the case of Meghan- who woke up even though it wasn’t her shift!). Many thanks for teaching me how to work my new iPhone and for broadening my musical taste (Venus, I promise I’m playing that David Choi song at the wedding). Thanks for saying what you always mean (You know who you are), and for never ever complaining about anything (even hauling the 100th gallon of water from the reserve tank… George misses you so much Laur. He’s inconsolable). Ladies I will peek over your shoulders for the rest of your lives with a big smile on my face. I couldn’t be prouder to consider you my friends and colleagues.

But it’s mid-August now, and we are running out of more than just water. We’re running out of time. We have 3 weeks left with the Lovely Ladies of Session 3. It’s our 5th day together on the island and as I write this two of the girls are on their maiden voyage with Noble Steed, two others are carefully watching them from the ivory tower we call the Five Finger Lighthouse. Not a bad way to start the end of a pretty amazing summer.

A little talk about water

Southeast Alaska is a rainforest environment. It rains often; almost daily. More often than not we are damp. The irony is that despite our inability to dry off, that we’ve nearly run out of water.
I remember writing some weeks back about our newfound awareness of fuel use, and how easy it truly is to do without them. I cannot say the same for water, while some creature comforts are easily abandoned the desire to shower, wash our faces, boil water for tea, and flush the toilet, are not easily relinquished.
While we can have fuel delivered, and despite our hatred for hauling it, we can use diesel to run the generator or burn propane to create heat- we cannot have enough water delivered to do the dishes, make the coffee, take (even infrequent) showers, or even begin to think about fresh water laundry. We depend on the weather gods, those titans of wind and fog, to grace us with the one thing we dread most on our 12-hour sampling days: rain.
The pinnacle of our ‘water crisis’? Well… did I tell you we were going to be on TV? Because when the film crew of Jeff Corwin’s new ABC show Ocean Mysteries showed up, it was my job to tell them not to flush the toilet. More on that soon.

Now let me tell you…

I sat down to write an informative, witty, and slightly serious blog post about how our season is progressing here at the Five Finger Lighthouse. Just as I started to type, however, I hear the ear piercing scream of a twenty year old girl- and that kind of scream can mean only one of two things:

1) The R/V Noble Steed is no more

Or

2) There is a 75,000 pound animal jumping out of the water 200 yards from the lighthouse.

I’m happy to report the blood curdling scream that shot out from the lighthouse tower, was the inspired by the latter two scenarios. Not only that, but that high girl voice was followed with the low frequency thud that my ears blissfully associate with breaching whales- and yes, we were recording.

Admittedly the whales are few in number these days. We don’t know why they aren’t here… or where they are for that matter. But I’m happy to report that at least for a today we are seeing (and hearing) exactly what we’d hoped to.

Session 2- Getting things started with a bang!

So the ladies of Session 2 have arrived and settled in nicely to the Five Finger Lighthouse. While it feels a bit like déjà vu to be explaining how a theodolite works and where to leave data notebooks at the end of the day, I do have to admit that things are off to a smooth start. The ladies arrived on the afternoon of Wednesday the 18th filled with enthusiasm and charm….just in time to witness the teary departure of our Session I interns.

Logistically it is a good system to send the preceding group off on the vessel that the subsequent group arrives on, but emotionally it’s a bit of a roller coaster. As Ryan’s previous blog post divulged… I loved my Session I interns. There may have been a few bumps getting things off the ground, but by the time they left we were a well-oiled sampling machine. I learned a lot from them, and I feel confident that they learned a lot from me as well. I miss them everyday, and whether I want to admit it or not, I’m still humming Pocohantas.

In any case there was no time for sentimentality as just as Norma, Kate, Nicole, and Ryan were hugged kissed and sent on their way just as Laura, Meghan, Venus, and Cristina stepped off the boat wide eyed and wonderful into the warm arms of the Rapunzel Project. While it may have taken me a deep breath to get things started, these ladies were filled with vim and vigor! No point in wasting any time- when 4 intelligent capable enthusiastic interns step off the boat, that’s a sign it’s time to get started.

On day one with Session 2 training was in full swing. The girls were learning the mechanics of working with the theodolite by 9am (after a breakfast of waffles of course), and were performing mock surveys with data computers in hand by the afternoon. Day two we picked up where we left off with the details of our sampling protocol (each survey consists of two 15-minute sector sweeps on either the east of the west side of the island, consecutive surveys will address the same two sectors in an effort to capture changes in dispersion, density, and potentially abundance.). We also moved out hydrophone equipment off of Noble Stead for the afternoon and set up our equipment at the kitchen table to really get a handle of how the whole thing worked (another trick learned during Session 1). Saturday morning (Day 3) was spent practicing ‘real’ surveys from the tower, and getting our feet wet on Noble Stead for the first time (ok, we may have done a little whale watching too).

Sunday… we took Sunday off. Oh Day Off how I love thee. We spent the morning tidepooling which turned into an afternoon kayak, a curry dinner, and then for the third time since the ladies arrived at the lighthouse we watched killer whales from the helicopter pad.

It turned out to be too much for Meghan and I. The perfect sunset, the glass calm water, the sound of porpoise, and sea lions, humpbacks and killer whales… it nearly demanded a paddle. We have 3 kayaks on the island. Meghan and I had skipped the earlier trip out and decided sunset was the perfect time to make up for it.

There were no boats, just a group of young women in Frederick Sound- some on land and some on the water- listening to the breath of whales. From the kayaks Meghan and I were surrounded not by the sight, but by the sounds, of living southeast Alaska. I think it’s safe to say it was an amazing experience for all of us.

Even Vista, whale research dog and self –proclaimed protector of the lighthouse seemed to be enjoying herself as she traced the perimeter of the helicopter pad chasing the silhouettes of sea lions.

Tomorrow? Our first full day of sampling. Pray the weather holds.

Session 1’s Exclusive Look Into Michelle Fournet: The Biologist Behind the Whale

Session 1 has come to an end and the interns have all packed their bags and left the Lighthouse. This is Ryan Meeder from Session 1 and I am posting for Miche to keep all you fine people updated. I feel obligated to warn you that my blog-writing skills are not as elegant and don’t possess the same flash and panache as Miche’s posts, but I will do my best.

The Session 1 interns and myself were all extremely sad to leave the lighthouse. The 4 weeks went by extremely quickly but we could not have asked for a better group of interns. Albeit we did have some slight problems with equipment early in the session, but the Rapunzel Project is up and running. Noble Steed, our skiff, has a shiny and perfectly functioning engine and the hydrophones seem to hear everything, sometimes perhaps too much…

After scouring through the Rapunzel Project’s Blog I have found that Miche tends to leave some things out when she posts, and on this rare occasion I have permission to take you behind the scenes and tell you all about Miche for once. We could not have asked for a better Project Leader, or a more understanding and patient friend in the lighthouse. Miche handled every problem with grace and levelheadedness. There were many instances (like when we had to carry Noble Steed through the intertidal zone-it’s not exactly light) that Miche’s leadership qualities seemed to shine. Miche was always willing to answer our many and often repetitive questions and to help us with anything and everything. Apart from being a great field leader Miche also managed the Lighthouse and found time to tell us intriguing stories about Alaska. We have all requested copies of her stories so we can pass them on.

Leaving the comforts of a modern society and spending 4 weeks on a very secluded island with limited amenities can be a very stressful adjustment. Fortunately for us, Miche was able to make what could be a stressful adjustment into a thrilling lifestyle change. Miche’s exemplary cooking skills and eagerness to help you learn made the adjustment simple and enjoyable. I know that we will all miss the lighthouse and the whales, but we will miss Miche even more. On behalf of all the interns Miche, I would like to thank you for such an incredible experience. We know that this summer will be a huge success for you and wish you the best. We will all cherish our time at the lighthouse and the memories we made together. Session 1 over and out.

Up and running!

I was hoping to have posted a little something by now… but as it stands the internet is slower than I remembered. That being said I want to let you know how things are going.

Our first session of interns arrived and are hard at work! The later season interns will reap the benefit of their hard work. We met in Petersburg to last minute preparations (buying propane, grocery shopping, finalizing sampling gear). Norma and Nicole (to be introduced shortly) arrived early and we met for a short hike and some last minute supply shopping (so maybe they forgot to bring sleeping bags… and rain pants… if they didn’t turn out to be so incredibly charming and competent I’d have been tempted to hold it against them.) We were joined the following day by Kate and Ryan (who apparently forgot nothing) and met for our first crew dinner in Petersburg. By Friday morning we had two boats filled with fuel, food, gear, personal effects, and were headed to the lighthouse with our 10′ zodiac (“Noble Stead”) in tow behind us.

Our interns can attest, research is hard work. While the act of surveying the whales might not involve heavy lifting, moving our supplies through the intertidal, across the island, and into the lighthouse may have been harder than it sounded. (Not to mention carrying the refrigerator, the freezer, and the new 300 pound generator… did I mention that the other interns will reap the benefits of Session 1’s hard work?).

We now have the lighthouse all set up and after a few equipment snafu’s (namely Noble Stead’s engine not being ready yet) we’re getting close to a routine. Our research team has been trained up on theodolite use, data protocol, acoustic equipment, and skiff handling. I couldn’t be prouder of their progress.

We spent the fourth of July camping on the Brothers, a set of nearby islands, kayaking with sea lions, and hiking through Alaska’s pillowy moss. This speckled with tide pooling, an wild ride with Dr. Szabo to see some killer whales, an interpretive visit on the Wilderness Adventurer (a pocket cruiser that stopped to ‘borrow’ us from the lighthouse), a few games, and lots of Harry Potter (yes, Ryan brought the entire series. I think I am the only person not reading some sort of fantastic book right now), has filled our down time as we sort out the details of the weather, the equipment, and the tides.

Tower sampling is going well. Now that all of the interns have their eyes trained on whales and can identify the different boats (so it may not be as easy as you think) we’re averaging about 12-16 surveys a day. I’m hoping to have our points uploaded into ArcGIS soon (in progress) so we can start getting a preliminary idea of what our patterns of dispersion look like.

Perhaps most importantly, however, is that we’ve starting hearing sounds. Kate heard our first whale sound from Noble Stead before she even left the mooring buoy. A later trip into the Southeast Sector of our survey area with Norma and Nicole produced a myriad of squeaks and chirps. I was beside myself with excitement.

Now… our team:

Norma Vasquez is a graduate student at Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute studying interactions between Stellar sea lions and transient killer whales.

Nicole Chabaneix is a recent biology graduate from Boston University. She is originally from Peru, and is the unofficial Session 1 photographer.

Kate Indeck is a student at Eckerd College in Florida double majoring in Environmental Studies and Marine Science.

Ryan Meeder is a rising sophomore at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences. (You can follow his blog on the RASMAS website… I’ll try to link it soon!)

We’ve taken so far a collective 2500+ photographs. Once I’m closer to a strong internet connection, I assure you I’ll post some so can see the smiling faces of our team!

Cheers for now~
Miche