Last week I got to spend a week offshore, participating in the last field season (what?!) of the SOCAL-BRS project. This was a bittersweet week, to say the least. I’ve been involved with this project since before I even started grad school (see here and here for my blogs on it the last two years). It’s a long-term project (2010-2017) so I’m not sure I ever realized I wouldn’t be spending a week or two every summer, offshore of Southern California doing awesome whale tagging and behavioral response research. But, here I am, back at home, and that’s it! We still have a year of analysis left (already counting down to the analysis meeting in December!) so more science is still to come. But this week was a great time to reminisce and reflect how things have changed for myself and others on the project.
First off, there are at least 5 BRS babies. Never saw that coming! Everyone is a bit more sun damaged (despite our best efforts) and a bit more grey. I went from being a nervous, naive, some-what-lost-soul trying to find my way in the acoustics world to a full blown bioacoustician (is it ok to call myself that?). Although this research is not directly related to my PhD….it is in a system I work in regularly, with collaborators I love working with, can learn so much from, and want to keep working with, so it’s a week well spent.
That SOCAL Magic
While I had an amazing few weeks of field work for my own PhD research earlier this summer, this past week provided something a little different. It served as a reminder of the wonder, the inherent magic, that comes from working with animals out on the water.
I saw more marine wildlife in one week then I have ever seen in my life. I saw no less than 12 species (blue, fin, humpback, sperm and killer whales, common (x2 species), bottlenose, and Risso’s dolphins, California sea lions, elephant seals, and harbor seals) of marine mammals. And I not only got a glimpse of them, but got to enjoy them. From watching blue whales up close from the RHIBs, to seeing common dolphins sprint away from killer whales, to hearing bottlenose dolphins whistling while bow riding. Each day reminded me why I LOVE what I do. (Oh, and maybe I was simply less stressed because my entire dissertation didn’t depend on if I could get the stupid QUEphone to work the way I wanted it to…)
Don’t get me wrong, I love sitting in the lab. Discovering new calls, answering questions through detailed analyses, and playing with shiny new yellow AUVs. But I also just love being outside, and enjoying that offshore world. No cell service, seeing Risso’s buzzes come through in real time on the towed array, catching my limit of rockfish in the evenings, hearing the elephant seals calling on the Channel Islands.
I guess the simple point of this blog is to share that contentment, and again that wonder, that I enjoy while thinking back on the last week. Till the next adventure….
My broken heart limped off of Strawberry Island a few weeks ago on a day when the fog was too thick to permit my sentimental heart watch the island fade into the distance. But while our field season on the island had come to an end, my field work for the summer was not quite complete.
My work in Glacier Bay studying humpback whale acoustics is partially based on my previous work conducted from the Five Finger Lighthouse. I’m interested in comparing the two regions (both the soundscapes and the behaviors of the whales themselves), as we have historic population and acoustics information from both regions dating back to the late 1980’s (Thank you Malme and Miles! Thank you Scott Baker!). To get the ball rolling on this comparison I made my way to the Five Finger Lighthouse for a short 10 day foray into “late season acoustic behavior”.
I don’t have anything definitive to report, except that the team of volunteers who have been working on maintaining my favorite historic structure have been hard at work, and that the whales were abundant beyond my wildest dreams. If Glacier Bay is indicative of high quality interactions with individual humpback whales (remember Cervantes), than Frederick Sound is a strong argument for quantity over quality. In this, my tenth summer spent with Alaskan humpbacks, I finally broke the record for highest concentration of animals in a single area. Don’t believe me? Watch the short clip below and see a glimpse of the 40+animals milling around the region. Once you’re done watching, listen to the sound file to get an idea of what these animals were saying when this video was filmed. In my humble opinion, it is in this pairing of sight and sound that we begin to understand.
(These videos and recordings were collected under a research permit and with zoom lenses. Endangered or not it is a violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act to approach a humpback whale within 100 yards, to alter the behavior of an animal, or to recklessly operate a vessel — even a kayak– in the presence of humpback whales).
<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.
I haven’t posted in a week? Poor blogging, Selene!
Ok as promised, I wanted to post about what our day-to-day life has been like out here. Amazingly, today is our last day! I am on shore right now, making small adjustments to glider that we will pick up at noon. The rest of the team is out picking up the DASBRs and QUEphone. They will come in, we will unload gear, then go back out to get the glider.
After almost two weeks of going out everyday, we got the system down pretty well. We got stronger, and faster, and spirits remained high throughout!
Days start early – up around 5 am, for a 5:30 departure. 3 of the crew went out each day, because there wasn’t really room on the boat for 4 + all the gear, and that way we had a person on land who could give us instrument locations if we had trouble finding them.
Our main objective was to pick up all our floating/drifting recorders, and move them back up current (to the southwest) so they could drift over our moored instruments, and along the glider path, again over 24 hours.
We started each morning with an empty deck (except for a few empty tubs where line goes).
It took about 1:15 to transit out to where the instruments were floating. We had GPS coordinates for about where they were, and then half of them also had these really awesome dog trackers attached to the mast. When we were within 3 miles, the handheld receiver would point us in the direction of that “dog”. They are made for hunting, so if the floats didn’t move very fast it would alert us that our “dog” had “treed a quarry.” That was always good for a laugh. Then, using those to get to the general area, we could use relative positions of the others to find them. Some days lighting was better than others, but we always found them eventually.
Once we found an instrument, we marked its recovery location, and started to pull line. This was the fun part 🙂 the DASBRs have a surface float, and then 100 m of line down to a weight. Near the bottom of that is the two hydrophones, and depending on the type of DASBR, somewhere in there is the recording device and batteries. We all decided on our favorite and least favorite types of line to pull, and we’d share the work so it never seemed that bad! Each one took about 15 min to recover.
Every other day we recovered the QUEphone as well. It was drifting at 500 m, where the currents were slower, so it took two days to pass the HARPs. For that, Haru would text us when it surfaced, at about 8:00, then we would go grab it. Easy peasy.
After everything was loaded in the boat, we would head down to our deployment location.
We made minor adjustments to the deployment location each day, after looking at the currents from the day before. Everything stayed in formation as best as we hoped…which was awesome! The formation is critical to us being able to localize the animals we record. Heading to the deployment location took about 30 mins, where we would then drive from point to point making a rectangle. Letting the line out was super fun (compared to pulling it). If we had the QUEphone we would chuck it (gently of course) into the water, and head back in, another 1:30 transit.
While we were out there we did our part to collect mylar balloons we encountered (Please think twice about purchasing them…they don’t break down for a VERY LONG TIME and all that shiny plastic and string can look like a tasty treat to marine life). We also collected water samples in the vicinity of animals, for our the Cetacean Conservation and Genetics Lab at OSU, for an eDNA project Holger is working on with them.
We usually got back to the lab in early afternoon, again with an empty deck. Afternoons were filled with looking at instrument paths, planning for the next day, starting to look at data, discussing science, celebrating the good news for the Vaquita, and sometimes taking naps 🙂
It’s Day 7, and I’ve got the morning off from going out on the boat, so I figured I could do a little blog updating. Jay, Holger, and Danielle are out on the small boat today, and Dave sadly left us to go back to Oregon yesterday.
Most important update – we HAVE drank/ate? affogato’s!! On Friday evening we walked into town for a fancy dinner out, to Two Harbors FINEST (and only) dining establishment, the Harbor Reef Restaurant. Jay was thoughtful enough to ask the waitress if she could make affogato’s for dessert, and once he explained what they were (espresso over ice cream) she said “No problem!” It was the perfect way to wrap up our first week here. (EDIT: I did not, in fact, have any of the affogato. I don’t like coffee. I was called out for this shortly after posting. I apologize for my deception)
Second most important update – we’ve got a QUEphone in the water!! (or maybe more important?)
On Thursday, Jay, Dave, and I went out at 6 with the plan of recovering 6 DASBRs, redeploying those and adding the final 2 DASBRs to the mix. (More info on DASBRs here. Drifting Acoustic Spar Buoy Recorder…I just learned a spar buoy is a long thin buoy. Fun facts!). After picking up the DASBRs, I went to prep the QUEphone for deployment, and guess what? I forgot the communication cable. I had the laptop, the battery, the spare battery, the serial cable for the computer, the alligator clips off the serial connector, but not the one connector that goes on the QUEphone’s 6-pin port. IDIOT!!!
Needless to say I was really kicking myself. BUT, Dave came to the rescue. He explained to me that of the 6 pins in the connector, its likely only one of them was needed for the communication, and using some electrical tape and a piece of wire from Jay’s toolbox, we might be able to do it. We contacted Haru (who designed the QUEphone) over the satellite phone, and he told us exactly which pin we needed to connect to. He was definitely worried about is doing this…and he emphasized how if we touch ANY OF THE OTHER PINS with the wire then we would fry the whole thing. Dave and I felt we could do it, very very carefully, and, well, the QUEphone is out there now soooo it worked!!
Dave cradled the QUEphone while I ran the self tests, then we disconnected and it sunk, like we hoped! We found out it originally didn’t sink on our first day because it was too light. It sinks by deflating a buoyancy bladder, and the settings were incorrect for our environment, it was set to deflate to 110 cc, but we needed it to deflate to 55 cc. Once we had fixed that, away it went! Woo!! My embarrassment over my packing error quickly went away. (well maybe not completely, I’m still pretty ashamed….)
Since then, the grind has begun. Every morning, out at 5:30 (we start early to beat the wind that picks up in the afternoon), pull several hundred meters of line, let out several hundred meters of line, repeat. Every other day we pick up the QUEphone and drive it back south so it can drift north again.
Glider is also still flying pretty well. So we will continue on like this. Stay tuned for “AFFOGATO – A day in the life”
I’m happy to report ALL our instruments are now in the water and happily recording marine mammals in the Catalina Basin (lots I hope!).
Day 1 we did some testing at SWFSC, and got everything prepped for our transit out to the basin. Testing went as planned, and so we loaded the boat and had some time to kill at the harbor. Ate good seafood and hung out in the sun. I got sunburned already of course.
At about 7 pm we departed San Diego Bay for our overnight transit out to the basin. We decided (we?? it was Holger’s idea…) to get up and start deploying instruments as soon as we arrived on site, which was scheduled to be 4 AM. Yup. Moonlight deployment. That was a first, but fortunately the moon was full.
The currents in this area can be complicated, so we had come with somewhat of a plan, but knew we would have to play it by ear. So when we first arrived we deployed one of Jay Barlow’s floating drifters (DASBR) and watched its drift for about an hour. We deployed the first mini-HARP at its planned location, and then after assessing the drifting buoy, we went to deploy the second mini-HARP. Fortunately we deployed it right where we thought we would! That made things for the glider much easier. After getting both HARPs in, we picked up the first DASBR and drove back south to deploy a whole array of 4 DASBRs. This is how we will localize the animals, by using triangulation of calls recorded on the different instruments.
While this was going on, I got to work prepping the QUEphone, and this is where things finally started to NOT go perfectly as planned. The first QUEphone just would not sink! Weird…wanting an expensive piece of electronic equipment to sink, but that is exactly what we wanted. The QUEphone is designed to sink up to 2000 m, and drift along with the currents for 24 hours, then come back up to the surface and check in. Well, when it stays at the surface we can’t record anything, and that is not what we want. So we brought that one back on board. Lucky for us we brought a second QUEphone just in case. Unlucky for us, it also had issues, but it had communication issues. We tried deploying this one as well, waited a while, and ended up recovering it when it too wouldn’t dive and was having iridium communication problems.
And last, but certainly not least, we deployed my beloved glider, SG607, aka Will. Will got a new sticker before deployment, and this deployment went super smoothly! In large part due to the big swim step on the back of the boat where we could carefully lower the glider and hold it off while we did some final tests, and also with many thanks to Anatoli Erofeev, a glider pilot in CEOAS at OSU who has basically taught me everything I know about glider piloting that isn’t in the pilot binder (which is possibly more valuable when it comes to troubleshooting 🙂
After all those (mostly) successful deployments, we headed to Wrigley Marine Science Center, where we will be based for the next two weeks. We arrived earlier than we had planned (thanks to our 4 am start…) but that was good because, well, we had A LOT of gear to unload and unpack.
So, this post is turning out to be more about Day 2 then Day 4 huh?
Well Day 3, a field team of Danielle, Jay, and Dave went out to move the 4 DASBRs back down south (They had drifted a perfect 12 km NE and needed to be reset) and deployed two more.
Day 4, Dave, Jay, and I went out and recovered/redeployed 6 DASBRs and deployed 2 more. PLUS we deployed the QUEphone – yay!!!! It worked, I’m stoked, but also very tired, and will write another post about this tomorrow.
Late lastnight, Holger, Dave Mellinger, Danielle Harris, and I arrived in San Diego to start our two week field stint where we deploy EVERY TYPE OF RECORDER EVER (not really…but close).
We are here to conduct field work for a project called a framework for cetacean density estimation using slow-moving underwater vehicles, or AFFOGATO for short. Don’t ask how that acronym came from that title…it had to be coffee themed, and it works.
This field work is just part of a larger project, looking to try and apply density estimation techniques to my favorite – gliders. We will be deploying a glider, a QUEphone, two HARPs and 8 DASBR buoys, all in the same location off of Catalina Island. We will be able to localize animals using the DASBRs, and compare recording capabilities of the glider, QUEphone, and HARPs. Similar to what we did this winter, but not on a Navy Range (not everyone has access to such a fancy set up). More detail on exactly what we are doing later.
I will be trying to update the blog regularly with going’s on of our team, but also follow along on twitter @orcaalab and #affogato. I’ll be more easily able to do quick updates there!
Off to Southwest Fisheries Science Center to unpack and test all our gear following shipment!!
The marine forecast is calling for 25-knot winds and 5-foot seas in Glacier Bay National Park today. Yesterday, when we were tightening the last nylocks on our hydrophone landers, and working out the last details of our array deployment, folks were pretty keen to remind us that the weather was going to kick up. I decided not to be nervous, what’s the point.
Today in the rain and the fog we put four instruments, that our team has literally pour blood sweat and tears into, into the ocean for a second year. Aside from one overactive buoy on the final drop (I turned to Chris and said, “My only concern is about that buoy.” I should have listened to my gut sooner), our day went smoothly and quickly – despite the persistent drizzle and fog dancing on deck. Our efficient little team completed the deployment by 10:45am. Plenty of time for a quick visit to Strawberry Island, and a boat ride home, all before the weather hit. Unlike last year, where we hooted and hollered our victory, this year the boat ride back was subdued. I didn’t dance a victory dance, I sighed a blissful sigh of relief.
Want to know something though? The best part of today wasn’t getting the hydrophones in the water (though long term, I’m certain that’s what I’ll be most grateful for), the best part was seeing the harbor porpoise sipping air off the port side of our deployment vessel, watching the bull sea lion growl with his huge mouth agape, and spotting the seals and birds diving after the same schools of small fish. I love our hydrophones – don’t get me wrong. I’ve slept with them next to my bed at night, kissed their housings, and whispered sweet nothings to them. I love them most, however, because they give me the motivation, the inspiration, and the permission to be outside here in Glacier Bay.
The National Park Service is having its centennial anniversary this year. It has been one hundred years since the intrinsic value of our wild places was recognized, and protected for no other reason than to ensure its persistence. Being a part of this legacy is something that I can’t quite put words too. Joining the ranks of my mentors, past and present, and contributing to what we know about and how we interact with the natural world with forever be one of my greatest achievements. I’m fortunate enough to stand in the footsteps of giants; for me, however, those footsteps were carved out by the journey of glaciers moving through this landscape well before I was born. Footsteps that have become the ocean home to the animals that I love, and the backdrop to the science that I create.
Technology enables me to listen to a world I otherwise cannot hear, but it is the sound of the ocean butting up against the islands that brought me to acoustics in the first place. We human tool users are ingenious in finding ways to solve problems and answer questions. Places like Glacier Bay, however, are essential for inspiring the questions in the first place.
One hundred years. That’s not a trivial tenure. How many times over the past 100 years have you visited a National Park? If you’ve never been, let this be the year that you find your park. I’ve certainly found mine.
Well, this post is LOOONNGGG overdue. But that happens right? It’s still a story worth telling 🙂
I haven’t posted in a while, so lets touch base on the last three months of my grad school life. Michelle mentioned that many in our lab attended the Biennial Meeting for the Society for Marine Mammalogy. It was crazy, but awesome. I gave a talk on my master’s work and was the most nervous I have ever been to give a talk…biggest audience, TWO screens, up on a podium. EEK. I think it went ok though. And the best part of all was that my dad snuck in to watch. And more importantly he refrained from asking a question and embarrassing me.
But that wasn’t even the point of this blog. I just had to brag about my dad coming to my talk because how many grad students get to say that??
You all know I work on gliders (and here, and here, and here) by now, right? (note to self – write a blog post on HOW exactly gliders work).
Well, I do. And two parts of my PhD are to compare gliders to QUEphone floats, and to work out density estimation from a glider. To do this, we need to fly gliders and floats at the same time, and we need to fly them in a place where we have known locations of animals (which we get from other hydrophones using localization…I’m sure Michelle will talk about this some day soon). Then we can figure out how far away each instrument can hear the animal, and then we do a bunch of stats, and voila! All the world’s problems are solved.
So to get the known locations of animals, we are doing two sets of field work – one using a permanent hydrophone array of bottom-mounted hydrophones called SCORE, owned and operated by the U.S. Navy, and one this summer…more later. These hydrophones were originally setup up, and are still used, for Naval training purposes, but guess what, they also hear whales. Now the M3R program of the Navy Marine Species Monitoring program can use these recordings for studying marine mammals on the training ranges. Anyway, for us to get to use it, we had to do it in the very brief window between Christmas and New Years.
Deployment – Dec 20
Right after the marine mammal conference, I went home to my parents house for a day, then flew down to San Diego, Haru, Alex, and I went out on the deployment, and things went mostly as expected. We were only able to deploy one glider because one had an antenna issue, but we also got two floats out. Yay!
Flight time – All good UNTIL Dec 30 – when we started to have communication issues with the glider…that we COULD NOT RESOLVE. The glider was trying to call the base station, we could see the lights on the modem lighting up, but it could not connect. Come to find out, as phone lines are being updated, sometimes this happens, and there was NOTHING WE COULD DO ABOUT IT. But the glider is still flying we know that, that’s good.
Recovery – Scheduled for Jan 4
Alex and I were slated to fly down from Portland to San Diego, head out early in the morning on the 4th (it takes us about 7 hours by boat to get to where the stuff was), and try to find the glider, that will surface for about 15 mins, every 5 hours, in 12 foot seas, within 2 km of a particular point.
So already, I’m NOT feeling super optimistic about it. Oh and then the offshore weather forecast is bad. Real bad. Like we might get down there, head out of the bay, and have to turn around. I was thinking if we pushed it back we might have a better chance of fixing the communication problem and find a better weather window, but remember, we are working on a typically ACTIVE Navy Range, we have to get our gear out of there before they start training again. So lets go forward as planned.
Wake up Sunday morning, Alex is going to drive from Newport to Corvallis in our rental car, so we can drive to the airport for our midday flight. Guess what. It snowed. Our rental car wouldn’t make it over the coast range. SO. We reschedule our flight for later. Alex gets a ride over the hill from Haru, who has a truck. We take my Subaru to the airport. WORST DRIVE EVER. Corvallis snow melted, Portland was in a full on ice storm. Cars sliding off the road everywhere, somehow we make it (Thank you Remy Lebeau…my car).
Oh but wait, halfway there, I get a text message that our flight has been cancelled. Alaska automatically re-routes me: Portland to LA, LA to Seattle, Seattle to San Diego..midday on the 4th. REMEMBER we need to get our stuff on the 4th. The weather forecast has gotten worse for later in the week…Monday is our only chance. Oh and bonus, Alex got rerouted as well…for Tuesday the 5th, at 7pm, direct flight Portland to San Diego. SUPER GREAT!
But don’t worry, I’ve got a plan. We fly to LA, just to LA, we rent a car there, we drive the two hours to San Diego, its all good. Granted, the LA flight is from 8-10, so we would get down to San Diego by about 1 am, but we would make it to the boat for our scheduled departure at 4. So ok…lets do it.
So we call Alaska, and we wait on hold, while driving through ice, for like 45 minutes. Finally we get through to this very nice woman, who fixes everything (oh and we have to run all our travel through our accounting people too, on a Sunday night, so there are lots of calls being made). Alex and I, both on the flight to LA. Great.
We get to Portland, we park, we check in for our flights, we go to Enterprise to switch our car reservation to LA. We wait. Guess what…LA flight is delayed. Yup. Ok, we board, only an hour late. Then we sit. On the tarmac, while the de-ice the plane. Yup. I’m a west coast girl, born and raised….this is all so weird to me!!!!!!
So we make it to LA. Midnight. We sit. On the runway. For an hour. Because our gate had an oil leak. YUP. ok…we get off. its 1:00. Remember, we are supposed to be at the base at 3:30, to meet our escort to the boat at 4. It takes 2 hours to drive from LA to San Diego. So we’ve got 2.5 hours. WE MIGHT MAKE IT!!!
The enterprise shuttle is late. Its supposed to come every 10 mins, its too far to walk (45 mins, we mapped it). It comes…1:30. We get to Enterprise. WE SPRINT OFF THE BUS to beat everyone else on it (it was very crowded because we weren’t the only travelers with issues).
We get our car. its 1:45. We start driving. Thankfully I used to live in Southern California so at least I know where we are going. Plus Alex helps me navigate. We text the boat crew…we will be a little late. Forget checking in to our hotel, we are going straight to the base. YAY WE MAKE IT TO THE BASE AT 3:45!! Did I mention its raining now, and again the glider isn’t really communicating so we will be finding a needle in a hay-stack of waves. But we actually made it to San Diego.
Then we sleep. The AMAZING crew had our beds all made 🙂
—took a break from writing this blog post to get free cake—
Ok, so we sleep, for a while, till like 7 or 8, then my phone starts beeping. The crew says we are getting close. We discuss where exactly we are heading. We are super far offshore BUT we have this super cool satellite phone wi-fi hub thing that can forward sat phone texts and calls to my regular phone wherever I am on the boat (WHAAAATTT). Haru is giving me up dated info on the floats. AND. WHAT. MIRACLE. THE GLIDER CALLED IN. Oh side note, it is super rough and I’m looking at computer screens at this point and repeating over and over in my head “dont throw up dont throw up dont throw up”.
So now we’ve got a glider location, but we are a couple miles away and we don’t know how long it will stay at the surface. I go to lay down for a few minutes while we move towards it. The captain comes into the server room where are temporary bunks are. “Uh….I think I see it…”
I jump up. Run outside. There it is, sitting in a kelp patty. Just sitting there. I suddenly do not feel sick. I hug the boat captain (I can’t help it).
Then the fun begins, because its so rough and we are on a pretty big ship we deploy a little RHIB (all black, Navy style) off the back of the boat and go out to pick it up.
The rest is somewhat less memorable. The floats were easy to find, the sun came out and I lay on the back deck soaking it up, the crew made dinner, we drove in, got to the hotel at 8 am the next morning, had a mimosa, slept, packed everything the next day, and flew home.
This turned out a lot longer than I anticipated, and perhaps the stress and anxiety and then happiness did not come through this…but writing about it brought back some heart racing…so trust me…it was stressful. But it all worked out. Yippee!! Now I can’t wait to look at these data and actually do something with it.
Plus..serious shout out to Alex, hes glider tech/pilot/friend I could have out there.