Monday, August 16, 2010

Update 4

Hello, all! Well, I am home. I sincerely apologize for the lack of blogs! Their internet bandwidth was a major problem, so I decided instead of updating every week, I’d write a summary and post it when I got home. So, that’s what I’m going to do.

I already wrote an update while I was gone, so I’ll post that and continue from there.


(Starting around July 20th)

Things have sure been hectic around here! I apologize for my lack of updates.

As you know from the previous blog, many pods of orcas have arrived. They are much more vocal than the A36’s, so we have been very busy in the lab recording. I am slowly learning the different calls. Very slowly. Haha.

Two Mondays ago, Paul’s 20-year-old granddaughter Hannah came to the island with her friend Tyese. They are biking across BC to protest an oil pipeline that’s being planned that runs across BC and into the ocean. The towns they are trying to reach are towns that need jobs and are being promised some if the pipeline is built. They want to tell them that they can get money by working on alternate power, such as solar or wind. Really cool stuff! You can join their facebook group here.

That night it was my turn to be in the lab from 6-9. After I finished eating I went to the lab. It was about 8:50, and I was by myself. I looked up and thought I saw two black fins. The water was rough, however, so I wasn’t sure what I saw. I went outside to bring in some scopes, and sure enough, they were orcas, mid-channel! Much closer than usual! I ran and shouted “ORCAS!” so that everyone would know. Everyone came running. It was a super pod! It was the C6’s and A30’s. Helena said they had arrived a day earlier than last year - orcas are very habitual animals. It was incredible, they were fighting the tide, so they were having to stay close together and use their muscles to get through Blackney. The A30’s moved to the opposite shore and disappeared, but the C6’s came closer to Hanson so that they could use the backwards eddy around the island. They came within several hundred meters, just on the other side of the little bay that the lab is situated on! Absolutely amazing. I never thought I’d see one that close.

The following morning I had the 6-9 shift. It was the most beautiful morning! Clear skies, warm sun. Many animals were out enjoying the weather. I saw four river otters! I believe that it was a mother with older young. I only noticed them because I heard them arguing over something. Momoko and I hiked around to explore the tide pools since it was low tide. It was a new moon, so the low tides were really low and the high tides were really high. I saw red-and-green-colored anemones, purple sea stars, urchins, among many other critters. Nolwenn was on the lab deck and told us that “Minkey Mink” (like Mickey Mouse, but a mink instead of a mouse) was in front of us. We quietly climbed up and saw him! He was only about 40 feet away. So cute. I got some good pictures of him before he ran away under the kelp. We then went over to a rock and took a 30 minute nap under the sun. That was relaxing.

On Wednesday we went on the big boat, the June Cove, and stopped at Cracroft Point (CP) which is situated on the Johnstone Strait. They usually have someone stationed there recording video. We went to spot orcas and sand the deck. We saw possibly the A4’s! They were relatively close as well. I might have seen Springer! There was also a humpback whale in the kelp only about 150 feet away. THAT was cool! It did a partial spyhop, so we saw the bumps on it’s mouth.

I finally got a shower! They got the bath-house working. It started out cold but got nice and warm.

Two Fridays ago, Sam and I went with Paul on a town run. We dropped off Hannah and Tyeese at the ferry in Port McNeill so they could continue their bike ride. We did our shopping for everyone and laundry there instead of Alert Bay. We ate at Subway - fountain drink! I miss ice! I got free wifi there so I bought a few songs for the ride home on my iPod.

We stopped in Alert Bay afterwards because we had to move a huge green couch and a coffee table onto the boat for the guest house. That was interesting. We put the couch in the back of the boat. We went back to their house and I picked a baggy full of Huckleberries. Those things are delicious! They are really tart, and are hard to describe taste-wise. Kind of blueberry-blackberry flavored, but tart. I want to grow them at home, too bad they don’t survive in Kentucky! Then we went home, back to Hanson. Sam and I rode in comfort - we sat in the back of the boat on the couch. Hahaha. That was amazing. We hoped that we’d see orcas, but we didn’t. We did, however, watch the sun begin to set.

I am happy to have been off the island for a day. At the same time, I was happy to be back on the island. It made me aware of how I feel. Hanson Island now feels like home, but I do honestly miss Louisville. I miss my family, I miss my pets, I miss my friends, I miss internet (for music!). But I know that once I get home I will pine for Hanson Island. The place is so beautiful, so wonderful. How many times will I get to stay up all night because I’m recording orca vocalizations? How many times will I see a humpback pass in front of me everyday? Certainly not in Kentucky. Another amazing thing I’ve noticed is that I haven’t had a single migraine. That can’t be a coincidence. I don’t know if it’s the place or the lifestyle, but my head agrees with it.

I wish that I could return another summer. I wish I could have the money to come back and volunteer in the future. It’s such a wonderful place, and I have been having so much fun.

Olivier and I got to go back to CP with Paul one morning. We spotted approximately 21 orcas, and many of them came (relatively) close to the deck! As soon as we returned back to Hanson, the A36's and A12 passed the lab. It was a day of orcas!

Sam went home in late July, as did Christine. Tomoko arrived, however, so we still at least have 5 volunteers. Tomoko is from Japan, and has been coming to Hanson for 10 years now. She is really good at identifying whales by both vocalizations and by sight. Another volunteer arrived as well; her name is Janette and she is 16 and from Germany. Tomoko and Janette are both awesome people!

The same day that Sam left, we had a special treat - the A36's and A12 passed through Blackney Pass mid-channel! And shortly after, the A34's passed through right in front of the lab! That was amazing! There was a calf that kept rolling over and swimming on it's back. It was breath-taking.

I saw three of Velvet the Stellar's Jay's children. They were so beautiful! Also, I identified Red-brested nuthatches there (they made cute calls, like, "enk! enk! enk!"), which had never been on the island before.

We started making our own shifts, and we adjusted it so now we only had to have 2 hour shifts, but by ourselves instead of with partners. This meant listening AND watching outside for orcas. It was easy enough, and was a lot of fun!

Paul and Helena left the island at the very end of July for 5 days, leaving us in charge of everything. Everything went great - Nolwenn made meals for 4 of the 5 nights (including delicious crepes!) and Momoko made tortillas one night. Kurt always came over (their friend who also lives on the island) for dinner. On the first day that they were gone, our water stopped working! Kurt fixed the problem, luckily, so we didn't have to worry about having no water.

The only problem we had while Paul & Helena were gone was a deer. She kept getting into the garden (starting 2 days before they left) and we didn't know how. Helena thought she fixed the problem with the deer nets, but the deer figured out a way onto the deck via the beach. One evening after my midnight shift, I went to check the battery voltage to see if I needed to start the generator. Olivier and I had both seen strange, rat-like gray animals the past couple of days, so I was scanning the area to see if I could find one. I was scanning the garden, when suddenly I had to backtrack. I had spotted eye reflections. What do you know? A doe was lying down in the garden. I knew I had to get her out, but I refused to do it by myself because I knew it could compromise the deer's safety. I went back to the lab, retrieved Tomoko, and we lifted the net and shoo'd her out. The next morning, she continued to try and get back in - even trying to climb the net. Luckily, she didn't. Unfortunately, she had already done a lot of damage to the garden.

I got to see a squirrel with 3 babies! It was very cute. She was chirping at them non-stop, trying to get them out of their nest inside the tree and onto the ground. They were all panicky, not wanting to leave the safety of their home. The mother crossed the path and turned to face them. They all ran back up the tree, around the entrance to their nest. The mom finally ran back up to them, reassuring them. It was very cute!

Helena and Paul returned that Friday. Helena was mad at the deer and concerned about the grey rodent. Olivier got a picture of one in the compost, and it turned out that it was a house rat. Rats have never been on Hanson Island, so everyone is very concerned about the ecosystem. Helena got rid of the compost, and we hadn't seen a rat since.

Momoko and I hiked up to the cliffs. That was very nice, because it was relaxing and it was my last time visiting them. An eagle flew from a tree very close to us once we reached the second cliff, and we spotted a sea lion passing right below us. We then explored the other side of the bay where the lab is located, behind Kurt's cabin, with Janette. I found a piece of driftwood and declared it my staff (like Gandalf from Lord of the Rings, hahaha). Everyone was singing LOTR music while we continued on. We eventually, after getting lost and stuck in certain places, found a trail and made it back to the lab.

The next evening, I saw 4 sea lions swimming past the lab. They kept waving their flippers in the air! It was highly amusing. The orcas had not been around for 4 days, and we were getting restless. Especially me, because I was leaving the following day. But that same evening, the A23's - Corky's family - showed up, heading east. I got to record orcas one last time. I also got to see my last humpback - it was right in front of the lab.

The following day was very bittersweet. I had to leave the place I called home for nearly 8 weeks, and the people I considered very good friends. That morning, as we all waited for Paul to finish getting ready before my departure, I got to see my last sea lion, minks, stellar's jays and eagles. I was also eager to get home, however. After pictures and hugs, I left in the Car at 10:00am with Paul to Alert Bay.

I shipped my sleeping bag, tent and blanket home, and then helped Paul do their shopping at the grocery. Then I left on the ferry to Port McNeill. From there I took a taxi to Port Hardy. I waited in Port Hardy for around 3 hours. Finally, I got on the plane, and just a little over an hour later, I was in Vancouver.

The following day, George dropped me off at the Vancouver Aquarium before I left to come home. It made me sad to see the white-sided dolphins in such a small tank after seeing them swim free. The aquarium was still nice to see, though! I especially loved the sloth and the harbor porpoise, Daisy. After this, I flew from Vancouver to Chicago, and from there to Louisville. It was very nice to be home, even though I was sad to leave Hanson Island!

By no means is that the last time that I will visit OrcaLab. I will be returning, at some point or another. It was the experience of a lifetime, and turned out much better than I ever expected. :)

Thanks for keeping up with my trip!!!


Sunday, July 11, 2010

Update 3

Hi again!

Last Wednesday, some transients were spotted, but they didn’t travel through Blackfish Sound or Blackney Pass. Fiona showed me how to record, use the mixer and write down what’s going on in the recording. I also learned how to do voice notes, where I am recorded and saying the status - talking about the calls and all of the settings on the mixer.

Helena went to town and took my money with her. I gave her my grocery list and she bought me some more snacks. Important stuff here, haha!

All of the people arrived. There are now 5 in total. Sam from Ontario, Olivier and Nolwenn from France, Chris from Australia, and Momoko from Japan. They are all awesome people and we get along great!

But the best update of all is: I saw orcas. We spotted the A36’s (A37 and A46, to be exact) and A12. They were on the other side of Blackney, but I still could see the A36’s towering dorsal fins. When I looked in the scope, I could see every detail...they were beautiful. The A36’s are known for their silence, but they became very chatty once they reached the Johnstone Strait. This was their destination, so they were excited. They even stopped at the rubbing beach, which you could hear on the hydrophone as they rubbed themselves along on the smooth pebbles!

We saw them again the following day, and then they were gone, now 50 miles away.

A couple of days ago, we heard calls from the A5’s, A4’s and A11’s. They were traveling together in a group of around 10. Springer was one of those whales! If you don’t know who she is, look her up. They were extremely vocal, and it was the cutest and most wonderful sound. They have now joined the A36’s and A12 at their final destination, many miles away. It seems as though the whales have all decided it was time to come to their summer and fall home.

We spotted A46, A37 and A12 again on Friday, and they have now joined up again with the others and are going further east. There’s another large group of orcas from several pods up just a tiny bit further north, so we’re hoping they’ll make their way down to join the rest.

Hopefully we’ll spot some more soon!

We all rotate on shifts of when to listen and watch for whales. We are with a partner (at the moment, mine’s Chris) and we take turns watching outside for the whales and listening inside on the headphones for the whales. My current shift is 9-12pm and 9-12am.

Every day has been an adventure, and I have finally gotten into a good pattern. Hanson Island feels more like home than ever. My tent has been awesome, but cold! The silly ravens wake me up every morning, though. “BAHHH! BAH BAH BAHHHH!” I have to try and block their very loud calls so I can go back to sleep.

I have seen many more humpback sightings, a glimpse of a Minke whale and a sighting today of one in front of the lab, hundreds of Pacific White-sided Dolphins, dozens of Dall’s porpoises, several Steller’s sea lions, and several minks. I’ve also seen their (summer) resident Steller’s jay, Velvet. I still find it hard to believe that I am seeing all of these animals every day...what a dream come true.

This trip has been amazing and very different so far than any other thing I’ve done. I’m enjoying every moment of it. I’m still counting the days down until I go home (26 - less than a month! Where have the days gone?), but I am not nearly as homesick as I have been. We have been busy, busy, busy. And will probably be much busier soon.

I guess that’s most of the update! I’ll update again as soon as I can.


Friday, June 25, 2010

Update 2

Well, still no orcas.

For the most part, it’s been cloudy and rainy. Today was the first day in several that the sun came out. We rearranged the fire pit outside and soaked up the sun, and then I waded in the cold water of the little bay.

Bathing on Hanson Island is an experience, to say the least. Currently there is no shower up and running, so you must use the outside bathtub. The bathtub is situated on the rocks, with a good view of Blackfish Sound and an awesome view of the bay when it’s high tide. You must first take the hose and put a sock over it so that any dirt in the water is captured - this water is unfiltered and comes from the stream. You must let it trickle out, which takes a good 3-4 hours to fill the tub. Then you must light a fire beneath the tub so that the water is nice and hot. It was way too hot for me at first, so I had to add two buckets of cold water before I could get in. You must wash before you get in the tub, because the water in the tub is used by other people as well. You have to sit on a wooden plank when you get in the tub or else your butt will be nice and burnt.

Animal-wise, I’ve seen several more Humpbacks, as well as Dall’s porpoise and Harbor porpoise. I have seen plenty of the local Harbor seals at dusk and dawn. Also saw three Stellar’s Sea Lions! They were huge, and were very cool.

A couple of days ago, I was waiting to help Melanie bring in chopped wood, and I heard a small “whoosh” - I looked, but saw nothing, not even in the distance. I shrugged it off, thinking I heard something in the wind. Then I heard it again, a minute later - still nothing. Finally I walked up the deck a little. I heard the ‘whoosh!’ again, and there it was - a Minke whale, right in front of the lab! It couldn’t have been more than 50 feet in front of it. I saw it’s distinctive tall dorsal, and it was small - the size of an orca. They are small but beautiful baleen whales. I ran up the deck (no camera, of course...) and watched it turn and head mid-channel. It surfaced twice before disappearing. What a cool experience!

Melanie is leaving tomorrow and Helena is heading to a meeting, so I will be alone with Fiona on the island for a day. I can’t wait to get into town, I’m in need of snack foods and clean clothes! (And my books, too. Been boring at night without that entertainment.)

Other than that, not much has gone on. It’s still been fun, of course. I just can’t wait for the orcas to show up.

Until next time,


Monday, June 21, 2010

Update 1

Hi everyone!

Sorry for the long delay in blogging. There is limited bandwidth here so I can only get online occasionally.

It’s been busy, busy, busy here. No northern residents yet, but there are signs that they are on their way down from up north. A few southern residents (orcas who live around the San Juan Islands) were spotted here in Blackfish Sound by Melanie earlier in the day that we arrived at Hanson. Unfortunately I never saw them, but I did hear some vocalizations and echolocation from the hydrophone speakers set up in Helena and Paul’s house in Alert Bay. That was really cool, and only a taste of what’s to come.

On the way to the island, we spotted some Dall’s porpoises riding in the waves caused by a larger boat. They passed right by us. Very cool!

I have seen plenty of Humpback whales. They lazily cruise by in Blackfish Sound, diving to feed. Over the past few days, I’ve spotted about 11 whales. This morning, I was cleaning some deck chairs out at the guest house and I suddenly heard a powerful “WHOOSH!” - I said aloud to myself, “Oh!!! Humpback!” I looked up and saw a cloud of mist, followed by another cloud of mist and another loud “whoosh”. This humpback was cruising along, and finally it decided to dive down for more fish. Later in the day I heard and saw another, and then just a couple of hours ago a mother and a relatively new calf passed by. The calf was very rambunctious; it breached twice! I also saw lob tailing by another calf a couple of days ago.

I’ve also seen my first Mink - apparently they like to take residence under the bathhouse. They feed on shellfish and fish here.

Hummingbirds are plentiful around here. Just this morning a young one allowed me to come relatively close to it and take it’s picture. I walk around outside and hear that familiar humming and immediately know it’s a hummingbird and not another bee. They are very cute little birds, and they have a very small chirp.

There is a pair of ravens that live in the evergreens by the house. They sure are talkative! They must have had chicks because there are four of them right now.

Bald eagles are here as well. There is a skeletal tree that towers over others in the distance and I’ve spotted one that perches on a branch there all the time. Their cries are beautiful!

It amazes me how out of the way it is here. Until the bathhouse is cleared out and set up, I have to wash my hair in a bucket. Water must be purified before it can be drank because it comes straight from the stream here. At first it’s hard to handle - coming from civilization and jumping into the wild. I’m not in my tent yet; I’m temporarily housed upstairs in the lab. I have to go up a ladder and through a trapdoor to get to my bunk. It has an amazing view of Blackfish Sound. I’ve spotted several harbor seals just while I was sitting up there.

I’ve mostly been helping Helena clean up since my arrival on the island. We’ve cleaned out the lab, gone through all of her books, and organized the guest house. It’s necessary work that needs to be done before the other assistants arrive. I’ve heard from Helena that people from France and Japan will be here. That should be interesting!

It’s been very pleasant here. I love just sitting on the deck in the sun and reading my book. Not much to complain about here! The only thing that bothered me were the very large red/purple bald spiders in my bunk area. Gross!

I guess that’s all for now. Keep your fingers crossed that orcas arrive soon!


P.S. I won’t be able to post pictures when I post because of the bandwidth issues. I’ll be sure to upload them all onto Flickr once I return home and will post a link for your viewing pleasure. :)

P.P.S. You can listen to the same thing I am via Orca Live. :)

P.P.P.S. You should check out Paul’s blog. He’s busy with a meeting for the International Whaling Commission (IWC) because it is a pivotal year - commercial whaling might be allowed if decided. They say that whale oil could be used for “eco-friendly” things, as food for fish farms, for make up, among many other ridiculous things. If whaling is allowed, this would be bad news for whales - especially after all of the hard work put in to saving them and getting their numbers back to a reasonable level. There might need to be another “Save the whales!” movement in the future...

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Most people probably know what I'm doing and why I'm posting this blog. If you don't, I'll go ahead and explain.

For seven weeks, I am going to be participating in an internship with Orcalab, where I will be camping on Hanson Island and studying orcas, or killer whales. The primary research done by Orcalab is on the killer whale's vocalizations. I leave June 15th and return home on August 7th. This blog will be a sort of diary, which I will update whenever I can. This is a way for me to share my experiences with the people I know.

I leave in less than two days. Whoa.

I'll update as soon as possible!