Thursday, August 27, 2009
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Mountain top yoga... it is my new goal to do this as often as possible. I went hiking with friends the other day in New Hampshire. It was a bit overcast, and we were rain soaked on the way down. This was actually a nice break from the heat and humidity of Boston. It was wonderful to be in the White Mountains again. These forests feel familiar and safe to me in a way that the plans, scrubland, and vast open areas of Texas never did. I guess that is part of what makes many of us have such strong attachments to the regions where we grew up.
Friday, August 7, 2009
We went out on a whale watch yesterday with the class. I was excited, but didn’t have many expectations. I figured we might see a few shadowy figures in the distance and be convinced that they were whales. I could not have been more wrong! We must have seen 50 different whales, and we saw some incredibly close. Not only did we see whales up close, but we saw some really amazing behavior.
We blew past some Minke whales on the way out because the captain had been told about Humpbacks a ways out. We stopped to see some Finbacks chowing down on a huge bait ball. This also allowed us to see enormous numbers of Shearwaters and Wilson’s Storm Petrils sharing in the whales feast. After being thoroughly amazed by these examples of the planet’s second largest organism we went off in search of Humpbacks.
We came across a mother and calf and they shocked us by getting right up close to the boat and doing partial breaches. We were able to see the massive head if the young Humpback right next to the boat. We watched the two eat and dive for a while and then went in search of other whales. For a while we were all on sensory overload because in any direction you could see spouting or diving (showing us their tail). There were plenty of Finbacks around as well and even a few Minkes.
The grand climax came just about as we were getting ready to head back. We came across a group of 3 humpbacks that, after gorging themselves on baby herring, were incredibly playful. We were treated to flipper slapping in unison, synchronized dives, and lots of breaching! Seeing a humpback whale come all the way out of the water is not something I will forget, ever. One particularly feisty animal breached 5 times in a row. It really seemed like they were performing just for us. When we finally had to pull ourselves away two of the whales began to tail-slap the water repeatedly, as if waving goodbye to us. This continued until we were out of view. Truly amazing!
Check out the video that I put together about the trip: Whale Watch Film
Saturday, August 1, 2009
Written at 11:30pm last night...
Time moves fast on the island. The new course has been here for 5 days now, so the course is more than 1/3 over. It was a good, very busy day. We started with a survey lecture about ocean vertebrates, then had time for group project work (students are designing their own experiments in groups). We ate lunch quickly and half of the class went on a seal-viewing boat trip to a nearby island. They saw Harbor Seals and Grey Seals displaying many interesting behaviors. The rest of us did a second round of transects. This involved gathering chemical, biological, and physical data about tide pools on the exposed side of the island for later comparison with similar data collection from the sheltered side. Organisms on the exposed side tend to be dwarfed, and there is less biodiversity. It is a wonderful venue for discussing environmental factors that affect intertidal life. It was pouring rail during this collection, but the intrepid young scientists were not deterred. There were very few complaints despite all of us being thoroughly soaked, and morale was high throughout!
At 4pm the now dry students came to the lab for their lab practical. They had to memorize the Latin names of 30 intertidal organisms as well as different adaptations that each organism had that helps it succeed in the rocky intertidal zone. They also had to key out a mystery algae using a dichotomous key. After this we had a delicious dinner of risotto, Arctic Char, and sauteed spinach. After dinner the class mad a sculpture out of the non-recyclable marine debris that they collected yesterday. They created a “monster” that they “slew” with a lobster buoy sword. I was very impressed. Following this creative time there was a lecture from the other TA about experiments in Cephalopod cognition. During this lecture there was one of the most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen. There were vibrant reds and oranges and some patches of blue right in the middle of it all. The blue patches I don’t understand, and they didn’t come out in the pictures that I snuck out of lecture (I heard it last course) to take. This all ended about 9pm, and the students had their first (and maybe only) real free night. They had nothing to study for, and no major projects to work on so they were free to hang out and watch movies or go to bed as they pleased. This was a relatively relaxing day, believe it or not. Tomorrow we clean up oil spills, echolocate, do more transects and seal viewing, talk about marine fisheries, and watch presentations from students in the Genetics of Marine Diversity class. It should be another good one.