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).
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.
Most of my time with bioacoustics, thus far, has been with playing sounds – my master’s work with an active acoustic tag – or with identifying odontocete, or toothed whale species, in glider data (typically known as high- or mid-frequency vocalizations).
For my PhD, I’ll be expanding what I know about whale acoustics and looking at baleen whales from glider and float data as well. I started into this the last few weeks and it has been fun, but definitely feels like a step back in time trying to look up literature and see what exactly I am hearing in the data – I’m not used to working with low-frequency sounds.
What do I mean with low- vs high-frequency sounds? These labels are based on human hearing (of course). Humans (babies!) can typically hear from 20 Hz (hertz) to 20 kHz (kilohertz…hertz*1000; 20 kHz = 20,000 Hz). As we get older we start to lose hearing on the higher end. But marine mammals vocalize both below and above our hearing range. The low/high delineation is “generally” accepted at 1 kHz, and typically baleen whales vocalize below this, and toothed whales vocalized above this. But remember, this is just USUALLY. There are always special cases that don’t follow the trend, and its all relative terms when calling things low and high.
This figure from Mellinger et al. 2007 is a great way of see where certain species typically vocalize. (Click he figure to link to the PDF of the paper and zoom in)
Looking at sounds
So since some whales make sounds below my hearing range, and some make sounds above, how do I hear them for analysis? Well first of usually I am identifying sounds by looking at them, at a spectrogram (we’ve posted those before right?).
Then sometimes I need to listen AND look to identify what the sound is, or gather more info about it. Wonderfully there is a work around. For really LOW sounds, you can play them faster, and then that increases the perceived frequency, so you can hear it. Vice versa, for really HIGH sounds, you can play them at half speed, which changes the perceived frequency, and then you can hear them. Does anyone remember Yakbaks? Speeding up your voice makes you sound like a chipmunk, slowing it down makes you sound like…a whale?
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.
The ORCAA Lab recently returned from the Society for Marine Mammalogy’s (SMM) Biennial Meeting in San Francisco. It was a whirlwind to say the least. Of the 2,600+ marine mammal scientists, professionals, and students in attendance I’d be pretty surprised if more than 10 or 15 escaped the week’s activity without feeling exhausted. This was my first SMM conference and I found myself feeling uncharacteristically nervous.
All of the graduate students in our lab were slated to give either a talk (Myself, Selene, and Samara) or a poster (Niki). We were part of a much larger contingent of researchers from Oregon State (both NOAA and the Marine Mammal Institute) and in such had ample encouragement and feedback on our research and presentations; but this didn’t seem to curb my butterflies.
My talk “Temporal stability of North Pacific humpback whale non-song vocalizations at the decadal scale” is the culmination of the first chapter of my PhD dissertation, and while the title might not convey the scope of what I’m trying to understand about animal communication I knew that I had 12 minutes at this conference to do just that. This talk was my first chance to stand up in front of a room of my peers and tell them something true that I had discovered.
Unequivocoal truth is hard to identify in science. As the questions that we ask grown more complicated, and the body of known scientific literature grows, the ‘simple’ phenomena left for discovery become harder and harder to find. In my dissertation I ask the question: what impact does large vessel noise have on humpback whale acoustic behavior? That is not a simple question. Further, it doesn’t begin to encompass whether that impact if negative, positive, or insignificant. My hope, is that as I sift through the steps to collect the data, ask the question, and analyze the results that I’ll have not only the quantitative skill set to tease out the truth, but the ecological acumen to interpret it in a meaningful way.
But I digress.
Before I can dive into these complicated questions I wanted to ask a simple one. Are non-song calls stable over time? Over the past eight years I’ve had the good fortune of collaborating with an increasing number of marine mammalogists. From these collaborations (and my own field work) I was able to compile a data set of non-song vocalizations in Southeast Alaska that span from 1976 to 2015. Using some simple methods (looking, listening), and some slightly more complicated statistical methods (see my previous publication here) I was able to say definitively that, yes, these calls are stable over time.
Further, I was able to demonstrate that they are stable in different ways. While nearly all described call types were detected across the data set some calls were infrequently used but highly stereotyped, in that their acoustic parameters (pitch, duration, bandwidth, etc.) changed very little over time. Other calls were highly variable, but persistent; meaning that while there was more variability in the acoustic parameters (i.e. some were higher in pitch, or had wider bandwidths) the call type was extremely common throughout all four decades of the study. I proposed that this difference – persistence versus stereotypy – may imply something different about the function of the call.
One of the elements of this study that I love, is its simplicity. While certainly the study is rigorous – many thousands of hours of recordings were sifted through, calls measured and extracted, and a three-part classification method was used to reduce observer bias in determining call types – the study in its most basic form is about listening for something consistent over time… and finding it.
One of my first ecology professors are the University of Alaska once told me, good science should be elegant. I don’t know if my study fits this criteria or not but at the very least it was well received at the conference. Admittedly, this may be in part to a fairly substantial technical snafu that forced me to make a somewhat ridiculous public speaking choice on the day of the talk. On my third slide I have a series of recordings of non-song vocalizations that I intended to play for the audience. When I tapped the ‘play’ button of the first sound… nothing happened. So I swallowed my pride and my humility opened my mouth and imitated the four sounds; the fourth sound is a feeding call that you can listen to below.( I’m closing my eyes and reliving the pounding heart experience of producing this sound to an audience of 200 of my most impressive peers… remember those butterflies I mentioned earlier?).
By the time I’d finished, the audience was clapping (I think there may have been a few hoots out there as well), and my already rosy cheeks were a deep shade of red. But the show must go on (I was only in the introduction after all). I finished my talk with time for questions and applause. I was rewarded with multiple collaboration meetings, a few good laughs (Ocean Alliance’s Andy Rogan even bought me a beer), and an award from the Society itself… for best doctoral presentation.
Well, not really. Not the whole thing. But I finally feel like I have sort of the start of an idea of a plan. Yesterday I gave a talk at the Marine Mammal Institute Brownbag series at Hatfield Marine Science Center. I took this opportunity to try and sketch out what I will be focusing on the next few years.
I got some great feedback that will really help me going forward. For example:
The problems you discuss seem similar to problems that were worked out for visual surveys in the past. That would be a great place to start in your literature search.
Great point! That’s kind of what I was trying to convey…so yay!
Well. If I’ve got one thing to say. It’s a lot.
Again…I agree. I hadn’t realized how big it all seemed until I got it all out there. But it’s a highly collaborative project, so I think it will be doable? And I’m sure things will get tweaked. But I do need to be reasonable here.
You really nerded out up there.
Heck yes I did! Gliders! Woo!
**I paraphrased all of these so I won’t put the names of who they were from 🙂 I think I got the gist of what they meant?
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.
Few things can be soothing when difficulties come up. Each person has his own remedies against hardships, stress or feelings of unworthiness. One thing is certain: difficulties ALWAYS come up to EVERYONE. Yet how people manage them can result in either improvement and success or desperation and depression.
When I go through hard times, my way out is frequently the poem below (and illegal amounts of cheese).
I know of a few people that agree on how tough it is to be a PhD student. I did not realize what I was getting myself into; how perplexed my life was about to become. I enjoy learning more than anything else, and I am passionate about the conservation of the seas and their inhabitants. So, getting into this PhD seemed ideal for me. And it is. There are times though, that I am so ramfeezled, working long days until the small hours that I don’t have enough time to stop and look at the people around me, have long inspiring conversations, enjoy life.
I know of a few people that would agree how hard it is to live abroad. Having your family 10.000 km away. Struggling to keep your friendships through skype for 3 years. Striving to maintain feelings through online quick conversations done at 10 hours of difference. At the same time, trying to understand a different language and a diverse way of thinking. Understanding the words is easy. Figuring out what lays behind them is far complicating especially when the cultural gaps are enormous and the people are particularly stoical. On top of that, learning programming languages, whale languages, acoustic properties, oceanographic programs, statistical modeling, and a long list of academic skills.
It has not been easy but it has been a magical journey. I have made new friends and learned from their mindset. I made new “families” with the spectacular people I have lived with. I got numerous scientific skills and learned about the world away from the motherland. I have seen the world’s largest trees, luscious forests, grandiose mountains, blue whales and exciting wildlife, exuberant waterfalls and rivers, the Pacific Ocean. When I faced new challenges, I also discovered a part of the world inside me that I did not know of, and out of comparison, I appreciated things that before I would take for granted. My PhD challenge has been a learning experience in so many ways, through both pleasant and negative phases.
When my soul is troubled and I feel small facing everything that I do not know then sometimes I want to give up. Then I read Ithaka (and have a grilled cheese sandwich) and usually recover. This poem reminds me to go for what I am passionate about without focusing on the difficulties.
Constantine Cavafy wrote Ithaka in 1911 inspired by Odysseys and his journey to his home at the island of Ithaka. This poem is about appreciating the journey of life, and growing through the experiences gained. Life (just like the PhD) is a journey , and everyone has to face and accept its difficulties that are simply part of it. Sometimes the more the difficulties the more the opportunities to build up defenses that make one stronger. The journey that takes us to the destination is more important than the goal itself.
To attribute an acoustic sense to this post you can skip the text and watch the video where Sir Sean Connery narrates this poem.
As you set out for Ithaka hope the voyage is a long one, full of adventure, full of discovery. Laistrygonians and Cyclops, angry Poseidon—don’t be afraid of them: you’ll never find things like that on your way as long as you keep your thoughts raised high, as long as a rare excitement stirs your spirit and your body. Laistrygonians and Cyclops, wild Poseidon—you won’t encounter them unless you bring them along inside your soul, unless your soul sets them up in front of you. Hope the voyage is a long one. May there be many a summer morning when, with what pleasure, what joy, you come into harbors seen for the first time; may you stop at Phoenician trading stations to buy fine things, mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony, sensual perfume of every kind— as many sensual perfumes as you can; and may you visit many Egyptian cities to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars. Keep Ithaka always in your mind. Arriving there is what you are destined for. But do not hurry the journey at all. Better if it lasts for years, so you are old by the time you reach the island, wealthy with all you have gained on the way, not expecting Ithaka to make you rich. Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey. Without her you would not have set out. She has nothing left to give you now. And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you. Wise as you will have become, so full of experience, you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.
-Translated by Edmund Keeley/Philip Sherrard-
The PhD has been the motivation for my journey, the reason that brought me on this route, because of which I am constantly learning. The road has not been flat, straight, or sunny, but I hear that a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.
Enjoy your ride.
***This post is dedicated to my OSU adviser Holger who has literally reached his Ithaca, since he moved there already. I bet his journey was long. Metaphorically too. Now he is helping us, his students, to reach our own. Also to my ORCAA lab-mates Selene, Michelle, Danielle and Samara for being inspiring and motivating; excellent traveling comrades. Also to Jeffrey and Sharon for always being there for me when any short of hardship appears. And to the precious people I have met on the way and the ones that have always been there. You know who you are***