This post comes to us from Michelle Fournet, Graduate Research Assistant:
Friends, Loved Ones, and Acoustic Aficionados of all Walks of Life,
It’s almost time to go. If you’ve been following the slurry of photographs over the past two weeks you’ve now seen evidence that four autonomous underwater hydrophone packages were successfully deployed to the bottom of the ocean in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. These hydrophones are similar in many ways to the packages that I recovered in the Ross Sea. This project, however, has a few major differences; first the OBS that I was sent to recover in Antarctica was many hundreds (thousands) of feet below the surface of the ocean. The four hydrophones we deployed last week sit in a ‘shallow’ 240 ft (71 m). While we will recover these instruments with the use of acoustic releases (see my earlier post on singing to the ocean floor in this blog), in the event of some sort of catastrophic instrument failure (there was a fairly large earthquake in the region last year), our hydrophones are shallow enough to grapple for our instruments, or to send an ROV for assistance.
Also, there are four of them. Four hydrophones are needed to acoustically triangulate sound, and thus localize vocalizing animals underwater. Pair this with a summer’s worth of shore based visual observations (with a digiscoping photo ID component) and we’re getting closer to telling the story of how these animals are truly using sound, and what their acoustic habitat looks like on a daily basis. While my trip to Antarctica was filled with rich observations of wildlife, my role was not that of a behavioral ecologist, but as a technician. With the Acoustic Spyglass Project I am back in my element, listening and watching.
I was lucky enough to be joined by two friends and colleagues for the deployment trip, my labmate Samara Haver and Syracuse University’s Leanna Matthews. Leanna is the PhD student investigating the harbor seal side of things in Glacier Bay, Samara is a plain old good time, and also has experience deploying AUH’s. The three of us made an excellent team that was completed with the addition of National Park Service whale biologist Chris Gabriele. Admittedly, I didn’t realize until midway through the trip that we had an all female research team. It wasn’t until after the deployment — where Chris ran our support vessel (and acted as a human GPS), where I deferred to Samara as deck boss, Leanna as expert record keeper and lifter of heavy things, and I may have single handedly lowered each 600 pound hydrophone to the ocean floor (ok, the cleats and the 500 foot of line helped too) — it wasn’t until after all of that when we invited the captain and deckhand to be part of our long term deployment team, that I realized what a powerful group of ladies in science we were. It was very satisfying, both to be that demographic and to have been confident and comfortable enough with our team to have not noticed.
It was a spectacular trip. I encourage you to scroll through my instagram feed to see a few of the photos that might not have made it onto the blog. Or look right to see what real women in science look like.
Before I sign off, there are a few things I want to say. I leave for Alaska June 10th! I will be a little hard to contact after that. I will be updating this blog over the course of the summer as frequently as possible- but posts will be few and far between. Our little home away from home on Strawberry Island has neither cell service nor internet (though we’ve managed to secure some electricity!). Every two weeks we leave the island to resupply, shower (much needed), and do our laundry (critical). In between grocery stores and bubble baths I’ll try and make my way to the Gustavus public library to get a few things posted. I’ll also be sure to direct photos to the blog as well so that even if I’m not able to narrate you through our adventures that at least you can glimpse what we’re up to.
My goal is also to have my students tell their side of the story, using this site as a platform. My perspective is by nature limited to my viewpoints. I moved to Alaska in April 2007, and my relationship with this land will clearly be different from those of my students, who have neither been here nor seen humpback whales. My imagination is vast, but I don’t think I could even begin to describe what their experiences will be like (cold, wet, buggy, unbelievably beautiful, overwhelmingly quiet). I’m hoping they’ll have the courage to tell you themselves.
So stay tuned, please spread the word to your friends and families about the Acoustic Spyglass Project, and share the blog widely. In return I promise tender stories, embarrassing moments, time lapse photography, and meaningful science — all the while peppered with those most graceful of animals that we are so fond of and whom I hope never notice that I’m watching them.
More to come.