Incumbent

There was a point in the not too distant past when the mayor of the small town of Gustavus also ran the landfill. The mayor position is a one year gig, today Paul continues to run the landfill. After leaving his political career behind he seems content to talk about recycling (if you meet him ask him about co-mingling), and to be exuberantly invested in his town. While I didn’t get the chance to ask him if his time spent as mayor changed how he viewed Gustavus, I am certain it changed his body of knowledge about his community.

This is, in many ways, how I view returning to Strawberry Island – as an incumbent mayor who has been recently elected to a second term. Our initial field team was tasked with establishing a small (and ephemeral) community on Strawberry Island; our little peninsula consisted of five human citizens, approximately 30 humpback whale citizens, and a large un-censused population of voles, birds, and of course harbor seals. The structure we established during our first term in office is holding up well — protocols are streamlined, our tasks are efficiently assigned and completed, our well oiled machine was restarted with relative ease. But there is a tacit anticipation that this year on the island we will accomplish more, grow more, and see more than we saw last year.

But I’m not much of a politician really; my goal is not to out-do 2015 but to strive to be as humbled by this year’s field season as we were by last year’s field season. So how do we do that?

Well, so far life is peppered with heaps of humpback whales (we had a day with 10-15 whales in the survey area and another 10 or so just out of sight), sunset kayaks, sunrise surveys, and visitors to break bread with on the island. Our oyster catchers are alive and well, and though I can’t confirm, I think they may be nesting. The harbor porpoise have calved and are regularly visitors to our island cove. In short, life on the island is bustling.

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We arrived on the island just as the whales moved into the area. (photo credit: L. Matthews)

In slightly sadder news, this year a Glacier Bay whale nicknamed Festus was found dead in the water. Two of our team members, Luke and myself were able to participate in the necropsy of this well known animal. Festus was among the first (if not the first) humpback whale to be ID’ed in Glacier Bay. He was first photographed in 1972, and has been a regular inhabitant of the Park ever since. It’s difficult to say at this point if his death was tragic, or whether it was simply time, but my hope is that the samples we were able to extract and the evidence that we gathered on the beach last week will help solve the mystery of his death.

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Luke and I had the privilege of spending a day with an amazing necropsy team.

Thought the event was sad (I described it as feeling like a funeral for someone who made you so happy you that giggle through their service despite yourself), our necropsy team was inspiring. In the company of Glacier Bay’s humpback whale monitoring team (Chris, Janet, and Lou), bear biologist Tania (talk about women in science!), BC based veterinarian Stephen (nicest man ever, even when covered in whale blood), and the slew of Gustavus-folk who just happened to show up (Of course, when you need an MD most she and her entire family of science minded enthusiasts will be camping nearby)!

I realize as I’m wrapping this up that I’m not really doing our first few weeks in the field justice; maybe it’s because I’m exhausted, or possibly the allure of Gustavus on the Fourth of July has my mind wandering. What I did learn last year is that the photos never do it justice, the stories always miss the details, and that even the mayor needs the day off from time to time.

Antarctica Part VII- Mission Accomplished!

I’m happy to report (I’ll be it a bit late) that the OBH (Ocean Bottom Hydrophone… for those of you just joining us) has been safely recovered! It is now snugly packed on board the R/V Araon and prepared for transport back to NOAA. Our first attempt to contact our instrument was a success (we sang to it, it sang back… how I love acoustics); however, the glorious sunshine that graced us during our recovery was unfortunately accompanied by 45-knot winds. The ship, which is large and generally stable, pitched in the wind. Our instrument is robust, but not unbreakable, and requires hoisting onto the deck via an onboard winch once it appears at the oceans surface. This translates to a lot of potential swinging – particularly in choppy seas. As usual the crew of the R/V Araon did not disappoint. They recommended a delay, and the recovery was postponed.

Brett and his "beard-cap".  Who says scientists don't have a sense of humor?

Brett and his “beard-cap”. Who says scientists don’t have a sense of humor?

What was not postponed, however, was our end of research cruise celebration. Despite the delay our research team was treated to a feast! Korean wine, sashimi and tempura, even chocolate cakes were served. We ate until we could not eat any more, and made merry in the mess hall until our sides split from laughing (ok, there may have been some dancing in the lounge as well, a cap with a beard knit into it, and Christmas carols). It was a glorious way to celebrate the ‘almost end of cruise’.

While the following day’s 8 AM recovery seemed early given the night’s festivities, the entire operation went off without incident. Our instrument appeared as predicted after the release command was sent, and the crew deftly maneuvered her onboard (despite another pick up in the wind). For me, the moment was one of blissful relief. This was my first large-scale recovery (of what I hope will be many). This trip was a gift and an opportunity, to successfully accomplish my mission was glorious. Further, the anticipation for seeing the instrument when she appeared from ~1000 m depth had been building for months. When it was finally placed on board I completely forgot about the lack of sleep. It was amazing. I was struck by how little bio-fouling took place (although admittedly the instrument was well beyond the photic zone), other than a thin film and what appeared to be a handful of deep water limpets.

Hydrophone recovery attempt #1- notice the white caps in the background?

Hydrophone recovery attempt #1- notice the white caps in the background?

By comparison, the OBS (Ocean Bottom Seismometer) recovery was significantly more dramatic.  Two OBS’s were deployed last year, both locations are currently covered in ice.  To recover our instruments the R/V Araon’s ice breaking capabilities were put into full use.  The ship was used to break, and then clear, a hole in the ice directly above where the OBS was deployed.  Nature abhors a vacuum, so as soon as the ice was cleared (which took hours) it would quickly drift back into position.  Despite this, the ship’s captain managed to clear an opening in the ice about the size of a small lake.  this required copious amounts of circular ice breaking, the ship track lines were dizzying.  The operation, however, was brilliantly executed.  The OBS was released directly into the center of the clearing (much to our relief).

Overall we successfully recovered one OBS, one OBH, deployed ~20 CTD casts (more if you consider that at times we deployed two separate instruments), and we successfully deployed to 500 m oceanographic mooring. Most of this was done in close proximity to the Drygalski Ice Tongue, which lived up in full to its reputation.

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The Drygalski Ice Tongue, just prior to the OBS recovery

 

While our team was able to ride the euphoria of a successful mission for some time, I must admit the days following the end of the cruise were hard. Brett, the Kiwi scientist from NIWA (National Institute of Water and Atmosphere) joined us on the Araon for the duration of the cruise, but would not sail back with us. Similarly to our Italian colleagues Brett left via helicopter and disappeared across the ice. It strikes me as somewhat ironic that in a landscape that exists at such a large scale, that relationships here are formed so quickly. It’s a silly metaphor but I suppose this is not altogether unlike the ice  itself, which freezes quickly (pancake ice anyone?), but has the potential to stay intact for many years. In any case we returned to the mouth of Terra Nova bay and bid a rushed goodbye to our dear friend. I hope he makes it home in time for Christmas.

Our research team (minus photographer Brett) enjoying Korean barbeque.

Our research team (minus photographer Brett) enjoying Korean barbeque.

As for the rest of our team? We’ll spend Christmas on the ship. We should be back in Lyttelton, New Zealand by December 27th, and will disembark shortly therafter. For now, we have a new group of Korean scientists on the ship. They have been at Jang Bogo for various durations, some only a week, others as much as a year! Additionally, we have a new group of Italian scientists from Mario Zuchelli Station who are in transit home. I’d thought my Italian lessons were over… I suppose we’ll have to see.

 

More on Christmas and the northbound transit soon!

 

Your Antarctic Correspondent,

Michelle

 

**Disclaimer — This post was written a few days ago… but due to lack of internet I wasn’t able to post it. Stay tuned for notes on how Christmas turned out, and what our return to New Zealand looked like**

 

 

 

 

Antarctica the Day After Tomorrow: Part Three

The day after tomorrow we will arrive in icy waters on the R/V Araon. It will take another few days to break through the ice and arrive at the Jang Bogo. The overarching mission of the KOPRI project is to investigate ice dynamics in the Ross Sea/ Terra Nova Bay region, with particular interest in the Drygalvski Ice Tongue. We’ve just entered Antarctic waters (we passed the 60 degree parallel late last night), and we’re getting closer.

An interlude: there is a lot of time to burn on the ship. Most people spend time working (I’m writing my dissertation proposal, and processing data for my first manuscript) but in the evenings, after our daily science meeting, we watch movies. Last night we watched “The Day After Tomorrow”. The premise of the movie is far fetched- paleoclimatologist (Dennis Quaid) predicts a catastrophic climactic shift 100-1000 years in the future and it actually takes place instantaneously in the next 48 hours. Due to the melting of Antarctica the earth’s ocean has become desalinized, the Gulf Stream has cooled, and climate goes haywire throwing us into an instantaneous ice age.

Is it possible? To the best of my scientific knowledge- no. However, there’s an interesting line in the movie when Dennis Quaid (NOAA scientist) asserts, “We know that Antarctica has been melting, but no one knows how much fresh water it puts into the ocean, or understands anything about ice dynamics!” Evidently the entire fiasco could have been avoided if we just knew more about Antarctic ice!

Well, the movie had it way off, but they got one thing close to right. We are investigating ice dynamics in Antarctica. The NOAA-Pacific Marine Environmental Lab (PMEL) is part of an integrated effort to understand just that -ice dynamics in Antarctica. The hydrophone that I’m sent to recover for PMEL (in cooperation with KOPRI) has been listening to the sound of shifting ice. If you are unaware that ice makes noise, well you have been missing one of life’s great sound effects. While I haven’t had the chance to listen to Antarctic sea ice you may remember from a previous blog post that I was part of a team that analyzed a years worth of acoustic data from the Arctic where winter sea ice abounds. The sea ice sings, wheezes, moans, cracks, and whirs. It sounds like an abiotic opera, and could easily be the character in a science fiction movie (Marvin the Martian was a Bearded seal… remember? Well, perhaps Sea Ice is his alien companion?).

But these squeaks, wheezes, and moans are more than the musical byproducts of ice- they are data. Sound can be used to infer the state of the ice, whether it is melting, moving, or quaking. In short, similar to using passive acoustic monitoring to understand ecosystem dynamics of baleen whale species, we can also use passive acoustic monitoring to understand something about polar ice dynamics. And if Dennis Quaid has taught us anything it’s that ignoring Antarctic sea ice could destroy Manhattan, this weekend (well… maybe not). More likely, understanding Antarctic ice dynamics will give us critical information linked to sea level rise and shifting climactic regimes. Not quite as sexy as destroying Manhattan- but equally as important.

Over and Out.

Your Antarctic Correspondent, Michelle

 

PS- Did I mention we passed the 60 Degree Parallel! I’m at the bottom of the world!

Antarctica Part II: Setting Sail

We are at sea! After a several day weather delay at our port in Lyttleton, NZ the R/V Araon has finally departed and is making her way south. The first hour at sea was magical. Every science team on the boat (of which there are several) made their way to the helicopter pad to take photographs of the blue New Zealand waters, the ever diminishing landscape, and of course, each other.

The highlight of the departure was the arrival of several small pods of Hectors dolphins who escorted us out of the bay! I am the only marine mammalogist on the boat, but I was clearly not the only one excited to see the dolphins. Admittedly I had slunk inside to change my laundry over when one of the Kiwi helicopter pilots graciously hunted me down and dragged me back outside so I wouldn’t miss them.

Hectors Dolphins

Hectors dolphins just outside of Lyttleton Harbor, NZ. The viewing of a lifetime!

The same pilot also stood on the deck with me for nearly an hour that same evening telling me everything he knew about pelagic seabirds (which is admittedly more than I know), and pointing out how they use the wind funneling off the Araon similarly to a helicopter. The albatross are amazing! I wish I could identify them to species, but as a first time Southern Ocean visitor I’m clueless. Everything I know I learned in my afternoon at the Canterbury Museum in Christchurch, or Ricky the Kiwi pilot taught me.

A little about the demographics of our ship. The Araon is a Korean icebreaker (as I’ve mentioned in previous posts) run by KOPRI (the Korean Polar Research Institute). I’m part of an oceanographic team working under Chief Scientist Dr. Won Sang Lee (KOPRI). Our team is made up of myself (representing the NOAA/PMEL Bioacoustics Lab), a German Oceanographer who will be recovering three Ocean Bottom Seismometers (OBS), one Korean micro-biologists, one Korean geoscientist, one Korean geoscientist/acoustician, and one Australian oceanographer. We meet nightly at 2000 (8PM) to debrief the day, make any plans, and to discuss our research. Won Sang presented an overview of the KOPRI mission in Antarctica at our meeting last night including our role at PMEL on the acoustics side of things (despite the incessant and nauseating rolling of the ship). I’ll be presenting some of my work at our meeting tonight, despite my research occurring a hemisphere away (although keep me down here long enough and suddenly my research will develop an Antarctic component).

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Albatross keeping good company on the winds of the R/V Araon. Species anyone?

Ours is not the only crew, however. There are five scientists from PRNA (the Italian Polar Research Institute) who are hitching a ride on the Araon as they prepare to summer in the Mario Zuchelli Research Base in Terra Nova Bay. They are studying the impacts of ocean acidification on polar macro invertebrates. There are two NOAA researchers headed to the Jang Bogo base to install a space weather radar. The methodology of their work is actually very similar to mine (wavelengths and physics) but what they’re actually doing is still beyond me. There are also two Russian ice pilots on board whose job it is to navigate us through the ice when we get into the Ross Sea, and a Finnish fellow who has been unfortunately seasick since we boarded the Araon. Lastly, and certainly not least, there is a team of Korean scientists (largely geo-scientists) headed down to summer at Jang Bogo Station and do all manner of measurement and experiments.

Oh! How could I forget! There are three Kiwi helicopter crew onboard. Two pilots and an engineer. I adore them.

All said and totaled there are about 30 crew members on the boat, and about 45 scientists/passengers on the vessel. There are three women; myself, my amazing roommate Ombretta, and Sukyoung from our research team. Ombretta will depart at the ice for the summer, and we will be down to two.

A few things I wished I had known before I came (silly living things, for anyone trying to get info on daily life at the R/V Araon).  There is a refrigerator in every cabin, and also a hair dryer.  The power source is European style and in 220v- this is very important for instrumentation.  Make sure you have a converter (not a just and adapter!). The beds are hard but clean, a sleeping bag goes a long way.  The food is very Korean (we had steamed octopus in chilli sauce yesterday), they make a bold effort to include western style food, but it’s just that, an effort.  Bring tea if that’s your thing (it’s mine), there is green tea on the boat, nothing else.

Good advice I was given (thanks Matt!): bring an HDMI cable.  There are TV’s everywhere you can hook your computer into.  Spices go a long way.  There is white rice at every meal, bring a little cumin, garlic salt and spinach?  You’ve got a decent meal.  Bring a mug.  All beverages are served in small metal cups.  They get very hot, and hold very little.  A to-go mug has made my life much better.  Especially since I’m on the third deck, and tea water is on the main level.

Other than that the rooms are very accommodating, there is wifi throughout the boat (albeit very slow wifi), and ample space to spread out.  There is also a sauna and a karaoke machine- but only time will tell if I dare to use them.

Over and Out.

 

 

Your Antarctic Correspondent,

Michelle

 

Getting My Feet Wet

Hello Acoustics Aficionados!

Getting to know Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve!  I was grateful for my Helly Hanson rain gear.  This temperate rain forest stops for no one.  A welcome relief given Oregon's hot dry summer

Getting to know Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve! I was grateful for my Helly Hanson rain gear. This temperate rain forest stops for no one. A welcome relief given Oregon’s hot dry summer

A few weeks ago I wrote to you about my upcoming trip to Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve and my big “Solo” adventure into the great Alaskan Wilderness.  Well I’m happy to report the trip was an enormous success and — like so many endeavors in science — all of my “solo” work was accomplished through collaboration.

The purpose of the trip was threefold (1) familiarize myself with Glacier Bay and the surrounding community, (2) identify a viable field site that would enable Leanna and I to meet our dissertation goals, and (3) to build and maintain relationships (with the area and with the people).  In short, my goal was all about getting my feet wet in the world of Glacier Bay research, which as it turned out was an extremely easy to accomplish literally and figuratively — Southeast Alaska is very very wet.

Xtra-Tuffs.  Don't leave home without them.  Further, it's how airport employees know you'll be spending the night in the SeaTac Airport, and that may gain you a little peace and quiet overnight.

Xtra-Tuffs. Don’t leave home without them. Further, it’s how airport employees know you’ll be spending the night in the SeaTac Airport, and that may gain you a little peace and quiet overnight.

The nearest airport to Glacier Bay is in the diminuative village of Gustavus (small town, big character).  Living in Juneau off and on for years I’d heard a lot about this tiny place — slow bicycle races and town-wide pancake breakfasts on the Fourth of July, a community garden that would make most Alaskans blush.  With a population that ranges from 350-600 (with an influx of seasonal workers in the summer) Gustavus isn’t exactly what you’d call a city, even by Alaskan standards… and it’s not so easy to get there.

I traveled via shuttle from Corvallis to PDX (nothing new here) and hopped a flight to SeaTac Airport where I settled in for a cozy overnight on an airport bench.  It felt very familiar.  Traveling to and from Southeast Alaska (for less than a small fortune) requires patience, a little bit of traveler’s tenacity, and typically an overnight in Seattle.  Sipping an evening tea and looking around the airport I was not the only one with Xtra-Tuffs on bunking down for the night… there were quite a few of us headed home.

It's a bit remote, but the trip to Gustavus is beautiful!

It’s a bit remote, but the trip to Gustavus is beautiful!

A 6-hour layover in Juneau was just enough time for coffee with University of Alaska- Fairbanks PhD student and humpback whale biologist Suzie Teerlink, who filled me in on some of the details of her citizen science initiatives, whale watch cooperative efforts, and some of the in’s and out’s of her Juneau fluke ID project. My first foray into humpback whale research was working with Suzie on some of these projects in their infancy, and was exciting to see how much they’d grown!  We wrapped up our reunion with a quick hike before heading over to Wings of Alaska and boarding the 6-seater Cessna 207 turboprop aircraft that would safely transport me over over the mountains and fjords and set me down in Gustavus, AK. There I was warmly greeted by the Park whale biologist (and co-PI on our project) Chris Gabriele.

Over the next few days I had the chance to meet a number of the Park Staff (fisheries biologists, bear biologists, research technicians, administrators and more!), and importantly Chris and I had the opportunity to talk (face-to-face) about humpback whale non-song vocalizations — also called social sounds — produced in Southeast Alaska.  Chris and her colleague Lauren Wild of the Sitka Sound Science Center have a new study coming out in the Journal of the Canadian Acoustics Associations on the acoustic properties and usage patterns of the humpback whale “whup” call.  The call (which can be heard here), which is a putative contact call, plays a large role in my research past and present.  I hope to build off of the work they began at the Park to understand more about how humpback whale use this and other vocalizations, as well as how vessel noise may change vocal behavior (including producing the “whup” call) or limit acoustic communication space.  More details on that, and the first chapter of my dissertation, in my next blog post.

Our field site requires an elevated viewing platform, visual proximity to both whales and seals, low current, and as much logistical ease as possible (i.e. is there water?  Is this dense bear/moose territory?)

Our field site requires an elevated viewing platform, visual proximity to both whales and seals, low current, and as much logistical ease as possible (i.e. is there water? Is this dense bear/moose territory?)

Back to the trip, I would be remiss if I led you to believe that we spent all of our time talking (remember goals 1 & 2!).  While initially we didn’t think we’d have access to a boat (hence my initial decision to camp on the island for a few days), much to my excitement the Park research boat R/V Capelin came available.  My second day in the Park was spent on the water scouting for field sites, measuring bottom depths, marking waypoints for locations of interest, and kayaking through non-motorized waterways to scope out potential field sites.  I’m happy to report that we found one!  After eliminating what looked to be a lovely cliff (with lots of blind spots and bear scat), and a good hike around Bartlet Cove where the Park’s current hydrophone is deployed (and where vessels transit daily), it was the north east tip of Strawberry Island that made the final cut.  It might not look like much in the photos (did I mention that Glacier Bay is part of a rain forest?), but I think it’s exactly the spot we’re looking for.

It doesn't look like much here, but come summer 2015 we'll be tracking whales and counting seals right here!

It doesn’t look like much here, but come summer 2015 we’ll be tracking whales and counting seals right here!

With a field site decided (Goal 2, check!) one of the last things I was hoping to accomplish on my trip was to familiarize myself with the area, both terrestrial and aquatic. I was fortunate to spend another day on the water with Chris during one of her many whale surveys.  It was a great opportunity to view whale behavior in the Park, which I’d anticipated would be different than the behavior I’d observed in Juneau or in Frederick Sound (and qualitatively, it was different); but it also gave me the chance to see more of the Park wildlife (otters! so many otters!) and get a feel for how operations work there.  Part of getting familiar with an area involves knowing how to have the least negative impact both ecologically and culturally.

A Tlingit Canoe sits on the shores of Bartlett Cove

A Tlingit Canoe sits on the shores of Bartlett Cove

I took a camper orientation which gave me some good tips on how to minimize my impact on the island, but I also spent some time walking through the exhibits and chatting with Park employees, trying to get a feel for both the scientific community at the Park and the rich cultural heritage of the native people in the area.  Long before Glacier Bay became a national park it was the ancestral home to the Huna Tlingit people.  Near the end of the Little Ice age the glaciers (of which there are MANY) surged forward and the Tlingit were forced to abandon their settlements in the bay and move across Icy Straight to establish a new village.  To the Huna Tlingit, Glacier Bay remains their home.  In Barlett Cove (where the Park headquarters and the Glacier Bay Lodge are located) the presence of the Tlingit culture is palpable.  A Tlingit canoe is on display and current plans are underway for a Tlingit Tribal House.

In what I thought was a poignant manifestation of the culture of science alongside the culture of people, on the same path as the canoe is a structure housing the recently re-articulated skeleton of a humpback whale named Snow, who was struck by a vessel in the Park in 2007. Snow’s bones were buried, cleaned, sent to Maine for articulation and organization, and then finally returned to the Park for the final installation.  In a “Alaska’s such a small place” sort of way, one of my first field technicians, Linsday Neilson, was on the articulation team.  The skeleton was complete by the time I arrived, but I did manage to catch her for a long overdue hug on the dock.

The recently articulated skeleton of a humpback whale names "Snow". Snow was struck by a cruise ship in the Park and after 7 years has been returned to the community.

The recently articulated skeleton of a humpback whale names “Snow”. Snow was struck by a cruise ship in the Park and after 7 years has been returned to the community.

The John Hopkins Glacier in all her glory!

My last day in the Park I headed out early (5am early) and was fortunate enough to catch a ride on the small cruise ship the Baranof Dream which was headed up-bay toward the glaciers.  I spent the day on the boat as a tourist admiring the spectacular scenery and mingling with the passengers.  I spent the following two days as the “marine-biologist in residence”, giving talks about our research in the Park, pointing out wildlife, and harkening back to my days as a naturalist in Juneau (the killer whales were certainly a highlight too).

IMG_0505After a few days on the boat, I disembarked in my hometown Juneau, Alaska, exhausted, happy, inspired, a little damp and ready to go home….

 

 

 

But c’mon this is Alaska, you never get out that easy!!! Despite my efforts to leave straight away I ended up with an extra day in Juneau, and while I won’t go into the details of how the extra 36 hours went (that’ll have to be another blog post) you can see from the photo that it turned out pretty well.  Until next time!

-Michelle Fournet

Juneau Girl at Heart

Juneau Girl at Heart

 

A Session 3 Shout Out!

Well Rapunzel Project Followers… I got a message in my e-mail box the other day wondering where on this blog were all of the stories about Session 3?  I must admit, I was a little surprised by the comment at first- certainly all of the Session 3 posts were obvious!  But when I actually looked through the site I realized the criticism was well deserved!  Somehow in the end of season scuffle I forgot to recap our wonderful Session 3 interns!  Their absence is only exacerbated by the nostalgic posts that keep trickling in from earlier sessions…. My most sincere apologies!

Session 3 was as different from the first two Sessions as… to be trite… a humpback and a killer whale.  Session 1 may have felt at time like having a house full of rowdy kids (Disney songs abound), and Session 2 unabashedly called me ‘Mama Miche”, but the family dynamic is Session 3  was more like the zany antics of teenage sisters.  The lighthouse, on some nights at least, was transformed from a  serious research station to a kitchen dance party.  Guests in attendance:5.  We had 4:30am dance parties (getting ready for dawn surveys), we had midnight post-cruise-ship-lecture dance parties (thank goodness for a day off every now and then!), we had country Tuesday dance parties (to celebrate 12-hour sampling days of course), we had an 80’s Wednesday dance party (to celebrate the whales talking), we found every reason to wiggle and wile away the moments between the science.

The bulk of the resource restrictions fell on Session 3, who handled the situation with grace and humor.  When the rain finally did start to fall and water was once again abundant, well for some reason our water usage didn’t really go up.  Once you get used to something, particularly something important, shifting back to excess just doesn’t feel right.  And while I can’t speak for certain of what it was like for the rest of the girls when they got home, I know when we all arrived in Petersburg we couldn’t get over how much electricity people used!

All of the rigamarole aside however, one of the things Session 3 excelled at was  getting the job done.  The problem was never with getting them onto the water, only with keeping them off of it.  Session 3 not only entered in the bulk of our hydrophone data, they did it in the cold, wrapped in blankets, with smiles on their faces.  If I failed to taut their excellence, than that’s a testament to just how strange and overwhelming leaving the lighthouse is; because to forget Kat, Courtney, Lisa, and Alexa would be no easy task.

Go see some pictures of Session 3’s adventures on their meet the researchers page.  It’s still a work in progress, but may tell you a little more about what our season looked like at the end.

 

Closing Up Shop

Well Rapunzel Project Followers…. the field season is officially over.  The lighthouse has been zipped up and put to bed for the winter.  The research gear has been meticulously cleaned and set to rest.  Even Noble Stead, our faithful hydrophone zodiac has been deflated, de-barnacled, and gingerly wrapped for hibernation.
It was a glorious season, though not without its many challenges.  We battle wind and wave, we danced for water, whales, and sun.  We listened until our ears rang and our heads hurt, and we scanned the horizon for blows like true professionals.

I was unsure of at the end of the summer I would be able to successfully say that we accomplished what we set out to.  When starting a three month field season down the throat the potential for disaster looms thick.  Hindsight is blissful.  While I don’t know if our data will tell us anything, I do know that we heard things, saw things, and created relationships.  For that I can assure you every minute we spent on our 3 1/2 acre island was worth the effort.

Stay tuned for an updated meet the researchers page that will tell you more about the 12 interns who joined us, as well as an end of season report which will tell you exactly how many surveys we completed (upwards of 400), how many hours of hydrophone recordings we ended up with (it was 90 hours a few months ago), and just what we hope to do next (Rapunzel Project 2013- Focal Follows).  I’ll go through some of the 4,000 pictures that were taken and get some of those posted as well.

For now, I’m back to headphones (smelling of saltwater) and putting whales on maps, my head held high and my heart heavy with love.

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.