<img class=”alignnone size-full wp-image-1824″ src=”https://mfournet.files.wordpress.com/2016/08/img_1169.jpg” alt=”IMG_1169″ width=”5184″ height=”3456″ />What is 5 1/2 feet long, weighs 135 pounds, and isn’t an intern? My favorite odontocete: <i>Phocoena phocoena</i>, the harbor porpoise.
Due to their vessel aversion they are slightly hard to study, and their distribution, population structure, and acoustic behavior in the Park is still largely unknown. Harbor porpoise, while not an endangered species, are very susceptible to disturbance from noise. I’m not personally studying the impact of noise on these graceful creatures here in the park, but I am encouraging my team to come up with some creative study ideas.
While deterred by motorized vessels, harbor porpoise don’t appear to be disturbed by kayaks. These lovely animals often swim within meters of us when we survey on the water. Their vocalizations are too high frequency for our hydrophones to pick up, but I can’t help but wonder if they’re echolocating our equipment.
Going to bed (and by bed I mean tent) on the island is easy. It is often rainy and cold; recently the days have been growing shorter revealing black starless nights that challenge my trust of these old woods, and when the weather is clear enough to work our days can be long. But occasionally as we are tucking ourselves into our sleeping bags at night something happens that’s worth getting up for.
This was the case a week or so ago when the exhales of one whale (SEAK-1899, a.k.a. “Nacho”, a.k.a. “Cervantes”) persisted for so long, and with such intensity, that we left our tents and made our way in the fading sunlight out to the beach to see what was going on. As it turned out Cervantes was feeding in our intertidal; take a peek.
Cervantes visits us often these days. This isn’t unusual for for Glacier Bay whales, which exhibit strong maternal site fidelity to the Park (for a really interesting scientific read on local recruitment of humpback whales in Glacier Bay and check our Sophie Pierszalowski’s master’s thesis here), but it is new for our field team here on Strawberry Island. The ability to recognize and interact with an individual humpback whale in such close proximity requires patience, attention and time. While our team last year grew capable of discriminating between individuals whales (a requirement for focal following a whale that’s a mile and a half away), the ability to recognize an individual whale with certainty every time one sees it requires repeated interactions. For humans who are a measly 1.75 meters tall, these interactions are imprinted for efficiently if they occur at close range.
Individuality matters. Increasing evidence for personality in animals confirms what pet owners for decades have intuitively known – animals have unique dispositions. Not all whale are created equal, and to understand how the population as a whole may respond to changes in the environment, necessitates sampling a wide swath of individuals. For example, if we follow Cervantes around from birth until death we may conclude that all humpback whale forage intertidally (likely not the case), that all whales annually migrate (also not entirely true) and that all humpback whales blow bubbles at their prey (which would be interesting… but unlikely). Further, what if Cervantes proved to be an anomalous whale? Not wholly on the “average” spectrum for whale behavior. Cervantes is of unknown sex; it is tempting to infer that an adult whale of unknown sex who has never had a calf must be male (this is in fact what our field team inferred). The possibility, however, fully exists that Cervantes may be a late bloomer who will calve in the future and against what we anticipate given the average age of first calving, prove herself to be a lady whale after all. If Cervantes was the only animal we studied, we might infer an age of first calving for humpback whales that wasn’t accurate for the majority. So if we want to understand whales instead of understanding whale we have to look at many individuals.
Why then are these repeated interactions with Cervantes so valuable? They are valuable scientifically in that we have the ability to investigate individual variation by linking behaviors with a known animal. More importantly for our team right now, however, these interactions are valuable to us personally. Living in the presence of giants inspires a person; knowing the giants’ name and saying good morning to him everyday, in my humble experience, moves a person beyond awe and into action. As overused as the Jacque Cousteau quote is, one cannot deny that people protect what they love. Cervantes’ ability to exist in such close proximity to our camp give us permission to love these animals, this shoreline, and this ocean just a little more strongly. This is a gift, and I am grateful.
*This post is dedicated to my mom, who taught me how to read and how to listen*
When I was a small child my mother read a book called “The Talking Earth” out loud to my sister and I. As an adult I can’t quite remember the details, but it was about a Seminole girl alone in the woods interacting with plants, animals, wind and water in an effort to regain her faith in the power of nature. I vaguely remember her saving an abandoned otter pup and nursing it back to health and something lovely about a panther. What I poignantly recall, however, is a passage in the book about listening to the language of the earth as she nurses the otter; the beating hearts and warm bodies of mammals, the beating wings of the birds, and the sounds of rain and wind that collectively gives all animals a way of understanding the world. Book inspired a lot of thoughts in me as a child.
Now, I spend a lot of time thinking about one species, as it communicates with other animals of the same species, underwater, in the Beardslee Island Complex, in Glacier Bay Alaska. I dream about humpback whales calling in these waters at night (and often as I nap between shifts throughout our long days). But living on this island does something very kind for me, it speaks about more than just the whales. So a few days ago I stood alone on the beach at 4:07 am preparing to survey for whales and as the sun rose I took a few moments to listen to what the earth had to say to me.
The tide was shifting; I could see the water converging at our survey point. The clouds were rolling in on a southwest wind, and the fog was preparing to slowly take over the coastline in front of me. The loons called to each other in the pink turquoise rising sun. The family of oystercatchers that we watched last year gave one another their high cackling good morning call. The gulls squabbled, the sea lions yawned angry yawns. The earth woke up in pastel glory. When I was experiencing my first Alaskan winter I wrote that the Alaskan sun doesn’t burn, it blushes. This particular morning at 4am, the sun blushed and I was there to experience it.
It was a lovely moment for me. One of the few moments on the island when I was truly afforded solitude. Fieldwork is a strange bedfellow- the six of us are isolated on this island, yet we are never out of earshot of one another. I joke that we are isolated, together- and at 4am if given the chance to sleep in, our team will take it (and deserve it). Why I stayed up to survey myself? I’m not sure. Maybe I needed the space. Maybe when I woke up to check the weather it was too beautiful to go back to bed, and too foggy to be worth rousing my snuggling crew.
I’ve been going back and forth to that moment in my mind and it reminds me again of the book, The Talking Earth that my mother read to me as a child. It isn’t just about sound of the earth that I found remarkable, though certainly sound is what resonates with me, it is about the subtle signals that the earth gives all those who inhabit it, humans included. It requires an attentiveness to hear the messages in nature, and therefore a desire to listen in the first place. Subtly is a divinely natural quality.
I realize in writing this that this is important to me because it’s how I try to run my field team. With grace and intention, routine and subtlety, with the expectation of the best of my crew, and with consistent communication. Sometimes I succeed, often I fail, but it is in this emulation of nature’s voice that I think we can both collect the best data possible (you can go back here to learn more about the technical rigors of our field collection), while absorbing the many lessons that come from simply observing a place for as long as we are privileged to observe the waters of Strawberry Island.
The scientist in me doesn’t sleep through these sorts of introspections. My job, among many in science, is to try and take these intangibles and make them tangible. My job as a creative human is to do this without losing the essence of what makes these observations incredible. So I won’t deny that in my grand sunrise moment I grinned a little knowing that all of the glorious things I was listening to were being recorded by a two tiny terrestrial recorders that were lent to me by the Cornell Lab or Ornithology (thanks to my advisor Holger and BRP!). When I’m not in the field I’ll post some clips of the Talking Earth here in Glacier Bay, I’d encourage you to close your eyes and imagine being here. Here is a photo from my 4am sunrise to get you started.
About one year and 3 weeks ago, Danielle touched on the value of taking time to just think. Not day-dreaming just thinking about all of the Patagonia jackets I want to buy, but thinking about my project, my science, what….and why…I’m actually doing…and doing it.
Since I defended my Master’s in May, life has been a whirlwind. I had a few travel plans for the summer (a conference in July and some field work coming up in a week), there were gliders to be piloted (in Newport and the Gulf of Mexico), I needed to finish up my manuscript of my master’s research and submit it (still in progress…), and there were reports – oh reports – to be written.
Every time I come to blog I can’t remember how much I’ve talked about what my PhD will be about. I feel like I haven’t really, because I don’t even know that well yet! (That is where this whole idea of thinking comes in right now)
The basics, though, are that I’m part of a large scale monitoring project involving flying gliders outfitted with passive acoustic recorders in several different naval training ranges around the Pacific. All of these glider flights are funded NAVFAC, aka the operational U.S. Navy. They want to know what cetaceans are in the areas the use, and when. We have to answer their basic monitoring questions, and then I will get to use this HUGE dataset to do something for my PhD. But first, we have to answer those questions. And that is done in the form of a report. The thing about these reports are that they have deadlines. Very strict deadlines. And they are all stacked on top of each other. So since May it was – analyze MIRC, submit MIRC draft, get MIRC draft edits, revise MIRC draft, submit MIRC draft to Navy, get Navy edits back, submit MIRC final. Then lets put in the exact same thing for HRC (Hawaii) and go over it again:
Analyze MIRC, submit MIRC draft, analyze HRC, get MIRC edits, revise MIRC, submit HRC draft, submit MIRC draft to Navy, get HRC edits, revise HRC draft, get MIRC edits, submit HRC draft to Navy, revise MIRC, submit MIRC final, get HRC edits back – ok – this is where we are at…..now waiting a bit…oh and the Washington and Alaska and other Hawaii reports are do mid September and October and November.
All this happened in a matter of 3 months. That may seem like a lot of time, but please remember all the other stuff going on. Anyway, I’m losing focus here, the point of all of this is that since finishing my Master’s and shifting my focus to my PhD, I haven’t had a chance to stop and THINK. And that is what I’m tasking myself with for the next little while. It’s easy to get caught up in the “putting out fires” way of working. One deadline to the next. But I have to stop right now and think about what I am actually doing. I am a graduate student. I’m learning to be a scientist. And I need to spend some time coming up with the questions that will ultimately make up my dissertation.
So with that, I am ending this blog as the stream of conscious that it is. And there are no pictures. And I’m sorry.
As Niki mentioned in her post earlier this week, Niki, Danielle, and I gave a presentation at Hatfield Marine Science Center this week as part of the Monday Tech Talk Series. On the first Monday of the month, someone from the community shares their knowledge on a new bit of technology they use/feel is important, and the talk is a relaxed discussion type setting so the audience can ask questions and learn more about if that technology would be useful in their work. I’m a big fan of these talks so was happy to be able to give one.
Our lab signed up to talk about social media, because, we think we are pretty good at it (not a #humblebrag, just an actual #brag)! You are reading our blog aren’t you? And you may have followed a link to it from our Twitter or Facebook page? I wanted to use this week’s blog post to share our presentation and some of the discussion it sparked, for those of you who couldn’t attend (*cough cough* Sharon).
What exactly is social media?
A lot of people think of it as teenagers buried in their phones and computers, taking selfies, tweeting about Alex from Target. But it has become much more than that! The official definition from the reliable source, Wikipedia, is:
“Social media are computer-mediated tools that allow people to create, share or exchange information, ideas, and pictures/videos in virtual communities and networks.”
The point is, social media allows people to share information, over long distances, and very quickly, enabling them to reach lots of different people they may not know directly.
Science – Social Media Connection
That is where science and social media can come together. A huge part of our job as scientists is to communicate our science – to share what we find with colleagues, students, the general public, whoever is interested (or maybe not)! Social media is an outlet to share publications, glimpses into field work, what is happening at conferences, resources that may be helpful, events happening, conservation concerns, I could go on and on. To paraphrase Danielle at the end of our presentation – social media allows people to see scientists as real people, doing cool important stuff, who love what they do, not robots hidden away in a lab somewhere. We get excited about learning, about day-to-day new discoveries, and we have struggles, where things go wrong and we have to start over (or lock our keys in our car).
Types of Social Media
We covered four main types of social media, because those are the four our lab uses, and I posted the corresponding slides below. We wanted to highlight the differences between the different types, because that is the somewhat tricky thing about social media, each outlet serves a different purpose. Each has its pros and cons, and each should be used in a way that best takes advantages of the pros and minimizes the cons.
The audience asked “well which is best?” And I really didn’t have a single answer. Here’s the general consensus:
The website provides an official portal to the lab. Official information, links to all other social media, it comes up when search through OSU and has contact info for the lab. We don’t update it that often. It’s got long term blurbs about people an research.
The blog provides a more personal look into life in the lab. Each of the 5 grad students post once a month (we rotate through) and Danielle posts a fun Soundbites section ever Wednesday. These posts are longer, have pictures, and can be about anything we want…my parents and grandparents follow it to see what I’m actually doing, its sort of like an email to lots of people who care.
Twitter is our quick communication. It keeps us connected with collaborators, colleagues, “fans” (followers) and we have to condense what we want to say into 160 characters, or a picture. We can “retweet” things from other labs we follow, to share exciting papers, or new field work. This is a quick way to connect, but its over the short term.
Facebook is again a more personal way to communicate. It reaches out the same way as twitter in some sense, but posts can be longer, pictures are easier to browse, and we can connect with people through events, and more (see Niki’s post for more detail!!)
Other types of social media exist, such as Instagram, Google+, LinkedIn, and the science-specific ResearchGate. We are less familiar with these so didn’t discuss as much, but they are out there and maybe we will be on them in the future.
I feel like this blog is getting on a little bit. Describing social media in science could probably be an entire series of posts, but I wanted to just give a brief intro here. I thought I’d wrap up with some of the great discussion questions we got during the presentation (we didn’t get to the end of the slides because of the great interest!!) We don’t have all the answers, but please feel free to ask questions in the comments below and one of us will chime in (that’s the point of this interconnetivity isn’t it??)
How much time should we be spending on this as scientists? Is this taking away from our research?
What about the issue of misrepresentation of your research? (misquotes go misquoted go misquoted)
Where do you start?
Do you think it improves your writing?
What is the value in being able to condense your research to 160 characters? Should that be what we strive for in titles? Should a tweet of your abstract now be included?
Oh, and on a final note…
What the heck is a hastag (#hastag)??
For you scientists out there, think of it like a keyword, the keywords you would put on a paper. By putting the # in front of a word or phrase, it becomes searchable, and then connects your post (on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc) to other posts with the same hashtag.
#SciComm is a great one to start with to tell your followers you are communicating your science!
*Disclaimer: Niki and Danielle, I’m sorry if I didn’t do this post justice… I feel like I didn’t, but it’s hard to describe a discussion in a blog post!! Feel free to augment!!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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,
**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**