I briefly mentioned in my last blog post that a couple of weeks ago I went to the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology in Charleston for one of their summer seminars. NOAA Marine ecologist Robert Pitman of the Southwest Marine Fisheries Science Center was presenting his research on killer whales in the Antarctic, and man, did I learn a lot. I have focused on terrestrial mammals for most of my degree, primarily domesticated species, and therefore have an elementary (if that, even) supply of knowledge about marine mammals. It’s kind of a shame and a bit embarrassing; I have lived in a coastal state for almost four years now and haven’t really realized how interested I am in the ocean and its inhabitants until this past year. It started when I began working for the Estuary Program in Morro Bay, watching the sea otters float past from our office and listening to the sea lions barking on the dock throughout the day. The combination of my insecurity about not having a ton of formal education in marine biology and probably the apprehension of breaking the news to my family (located in a landlocked state) that I might stay in ocean/coastal science forever has prevented me from seriously realizing that this is indeed what I am interested in. And yet, this summer it feels as though I’ve done quite a bit of catching up.
That’s why I was eager to see Robert’s lecture, and it also turned out to be a source of some significant connections with other people in the whale community. I met Joy Primrose, the president of The American Cetacean Society’s Oregon Chapter, mostly because I said I liked her tote bag, which was adorned with a Lisa-Frank-meets-Christian-Lassen style orca pattern. She was telling me about a photographer based out of Portland who has given whale photography workshops and that he just recently did some work out of Port Orford. Upon telling me we should connect, I realized she was talking about Erik Urdahl, one of the photographers that Dustin and I worked with a few weeks ago. Erik started The Spout, an organization dedicated to connecting people with whales and promoting their conservation.
I immediately emailed him asking if he is offering any more whale photography workshops, and he said no, but instead offered to take Dustin and I out to Depoe Bay for a casual whale watching excursion. He kindly lent me his telephoto lens and we took a Zodiac with Gary at The Whale’s Tail out on the water. You have to realize, I’ve never been near a whale. I saw a grey whale spout maybe twice from far away on a boat in Mexico last winter, but that hardly counts. In short, there was a lot of shrieking and profane language, because how else do you contain that kind of excitement? As Erik says, the excitement was up the wazoo. I also got to (yes, my use of the words “got to” are to emphasize what a privileged this was) experience the fragrant scent of whale ‘breath’ for the first time.
That weekend, because I clearly didn’t get enough, I met Joy at the Devil’s Punchbowl lookout/Otter Rock Marine Reserve to help her survey visitors about their demographic information, their awareness of Oregon’s Marine reserves, and their knowledge about whales. Most of the visitors were not from Oregon; in fact, most of the ones I talked to at least were from the Midwest and hadn’t ever seen a whale. Some had never even seen the Pacific Ocean. Thankfully, a lone grey whale spent the majority of the morning meandering between Gull Rock and a large kelp forest a few hundred meters south, and it showed off its flukes many times for a number of excited people. We also may have seen a harbor porpoise! We then visited Depoe Bay and watched 6 or 7 whales surface over and over while they fed on mycids inside the bay. Later that day, we went back to Joy’s house and I bought this book and the most recently updated poster of cetaceans of the world.
The rest of the weekend was spent rushing to Boardman again for the sunset, exploring rivers with the roommates, and meeting some horses. Another unreal week down.