Perspective

I realize I have been bitching and moaning about all sorts of things recently: mortgage drama, lack of snow, blah blah blah. A quick glance at the calendar gives me a bit of perspective and I’ve really got nothing to complain about compared to what people had to deal with 70 years ago today. I certainly wouldn’t have the luxury of my petty little problems without the hard work and sacrifice of the Greatest Generation.
U.S.S. Arizona memorial – January 2010.

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Bookends to the US involvement in WWII: The U.S.S. Missouri in front of the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial – January 2010. The Japanese surrendered on the U.S.S. Missouri on Sept. 2, 1945.

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The crater where the first bomb fell on Ford Island – July 2008. Photo by Anna McGregor.

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Finally back in Washington!

After a month of housing limbo in CA and a week of liver workouts at the Society of Marine Mammalogy meeting in Florida, I’ve finally made it to Washington. The housing limbo continues (4th time’s the charm?) but at least I’m in the right county in the right state with the right people looking at the right mountain. I knew I was in the right place when I started seeing friends as soon as I started driving through downtown Bellingham and had started catching up before I had even finished parking. To top it off, they showed me a nice two-page spread in the December/Photo Annual issue of Backcountry magazine. The funny thing is that the photo they chose was taken exactly a year ago to the day. I’m not sure if I believe in signs or omens or whatever, but this was pretty cool.

Now I just have to wait for my house purchase drama to finally come to a close and I can focus on skiing and music. The first Metalmücil practice is looming! Glacier, watch your eardrums.

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Best opening day ever at Mt. Baker, or so I heard (with a few recent publications to ease the pain)

Today was opening day at my home mountain of Mt. Baker. They received over two feet of cold dry powder the day before and it was quite possibly the best opening day in recent memory.

Or so I heard. I wasn’t there.

Nope, I’m still stuck in CA while my home-buying adventure slowly turns into a nightmare. Hopefully I will be able to move in to the house I am trying to buy by early December, otherwise I’m going to have to start an “Occupy: Glacier” protest until the situation gets fixed. I’ll spare everyone the details but I will say this: given the amount of incompetence shown by the Washington State Housing Finance Commission and the people behind the USDA rural development loan, it’s no surprise the mortgage industry is in such a sorry state. Since I’m not skiing I have lots of time to think back to all the awesome days I got in last season, some of which have shown up in print. Here are a few of them for your viewing enjoyment.

The first in line happens to be the very first shot that Grant and I took during our trip to Japan last January. For some reason, Salomon decided it was worthy of a two-page ad even though I have absolutely nothing to do with Salomon. It was taken under a chairlift sometime in the afternoon. If that had been Mt. Baker, that line would have been shredded exactly 30 seconds after the first chair had unloaded in the morning.

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The second image is in the Patagonia Holiday 2011 catalog. It was taken the same day as the previous image as Grant and I walked back to our hotel. Bonus points go to those that can ID what’s wrong with my jacket.

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The final photo is a two-page spread in the December issue of Powder magazine. This photo was also taken during our time in Myoko. The tree we were jumping through ended up falling over later that season due to too much snow.

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And there you have it. Here’s to more of the same in 11/12!

Marianas Summer Cetacean Survey

For the past six weeks or so I took part in a small boat-based cetacean survey of Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands.  Here are some photos of the trip.  All photos of marine mammals were taken under permit #14097.

Flying out of San Juan Island and seeing Mt. Baker and Mt. Shuksan looming over Seattle.  

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My K2 teammate Holly picked me up in Honolulu in the Team Lambo.  
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Made it to Guam.  After getting rained out for the first couple of days we hit the water in search of dolphins, whales, sea turtles, fish, birds, and pirate treasure.
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We found some short-finned pilot whales Globicephala macrorhyncus
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I was hoping to find more of these guys but they were few and far between.  Matsudara’s storm petrel Oceanodroma matsudairae
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Our boat captains were all fishing charter guys and could not believe we didn’t want drag a full spread behind us.  We compromised with two lines and caught and released this blue marlin.  
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Erik and John leader and release the beast!
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Other species, like this wahoo, ended up on the dinner table.
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The Hagatna boat basin is guarded by a fickle reef break.  It was firing for the first week of our stay but the surfers among us had to settle for mind-surfing.
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Anderson AFB is on the northern end of Guam.  It’s one of the only B-52 bases left.
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It’s also a good place to do a land-based survey.
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A typhoon got the best of “Old 100” and she rests in pieces in the jungle.
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Speaking of jungle, a few of us decided to go on a boonie stomp one afternoon.  Erik’s hoping there are no sketchy parasites or crocodiles or hippos or man-eating trout on Guam.
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There were no dangerous creatures to be found so we had to thrill ourselves with an equally sketchy ropeswing.
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After about 10 days on Guam, we went up to Saipan.  We spent one morning looking around at a few land-based lookouts like Banzai Cliffs, the site were Japanese soldiers and family jumped to their deaths instead of surrendering to the invading American troops back in 1944
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Japanese cars also suffered at the hands of the American invaders.  We drove through this puddle on the way to a cave, and on the way out I noticed a piece of vehicle floating in the puddle that wasn’t there before.  “Yep, it’s from a Nissan…”
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Safely back on salt water, we continued the search for elusive cetaceans but were distracted by birds like this white-tailed tropicbird Phaethon lepturus
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and a red-tailed tropicbird Phaethon rubricauda
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Juvenile brown booby Sula leucogaster
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Oh look, what’s that hiding in the distance?  A small group of pygmy killer whales Feresa attenuata.  These guys never let us get closer than this.  How annoying. 
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Luckily the spinner dolphins Stenella longirostris were much friendlier.  
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There were a lot of these pink-wingers flying about.  Flyingfishus rosaptera?
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We had one really awesome flat day.  We were all hoping for beakers, but had to settle for this dwarf sperm whale Kogia sima
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We also had two sightings of the same group of bottlenose dolphins Tursiops truncatus.
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Uncle Ben and Uncle Manny were our Captains on Saipan.  Here, Uncle Manny helps us crack open a coconut.  
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And then Uncle Manny and Uncle Ben cleaned up our dinner.
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We spent about a week on Saipan then headed down to Rota, the smallest and least populated of the main CNMI.  Song Song is the main town.  Our hotel is the blocky bluish building in the far left. 
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The shopping selection on Rota was pretty slim but there was enough all-around sarsa to cover everything.
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There is a large bird colony on the east side of Rota.  Boobies, noddies, tropicbirds, and all sorts of other flappy things call this place home.
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Red footed booby Sula sula flyby
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Birds are fun but we were there for these guys.  More short-finned pilot whales
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There were some distinctive animals in the group and all were named immediately so we could remember who we sampled and who we still had to get.  “Chop Top” was an obvious starting point.  
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More wahoo for dinner.
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Part of our catch after one day of trolling, I mean… survey effort.  Inas and I are excited thinking about the sashimi, kelaguen, and tempura options that await these wahoo.  Yes, our boat was the “Mister Shit”.  Don’t ask.  
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Rota was a very picturesque tropical paradise, much more so than Guam or Saipan.
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The town of Song Song is in between the “wedding cake” on the left and the main part of Rota on the right.
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Just like Guam and Saipan, spinners were our bread and butter.  The main difference between the Guam/CNMI spinners and the spinners that I’m used to off Hawaii is the Hawaiian ones like to rest in calm bays and these guys thought it’d be fun to hang out in choppiest tidal mess they could find, which made our driving/photographing/sampling quite difficult.
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Ooh look, something shiny!
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The Rota harbor is tiny and the Super Shuttle takes up most of it.  It only comes in a few times a month and brings virtually everything to re-supply the island.
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Ok now we’re back on Saipan.  Allan downloads the GPS while I guard a plate of wahoo sashimi that Mark prepared.  
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There were many collared kingfishers Todirhamphus chloris near our house on Saipan.  Here’s one on the telephone wire outside our house.
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And another in a breadfruit tree across the street.
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back to the spinner dolphins again
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Our last week or so on Saipan was dominated by this kind of weather, but if whales and dolphins can swim about in the rain, we can too.  Mark doesn’t seem to mind.
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Looks like we’ll just get numbers and not worry about photographs today.  
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The fish bit rain or shine.  To our knowledge, no test kittens suffered any ill effects from the barracuda.  
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Sam, the boat owner, had a big birthday party while we were there and we somehow got an invite.  Here’s part of the spread.
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The rest was waiting outside.
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These guys were not on the menu.
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Pilot whales off Tinian on our last survey day!  That made one pilot whale sighting for each of the main islands of the CNMI and Guam.  
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The last encounter with the pilot whales had some somber undertones.  The video below should show why:

After our last day on the water we visited Uncle Manny’s farm before we flew out.  He’s growing pigs, chickens, and pretty much every tropical fruit and vegetable you can imagine.
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Uncle Ben catches a papaya
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He also had a nest of the Bridled White-eye Zosterops conspicillatus which is endemic to the Marianas.  The little chicks had just fledged and were fluttering about the bushes while the parents made a racket.  
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More bananas!  
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And sugarcane.  
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And then, after a forage-feast at the farm, it was time to head back to the island I (kind of) call home.  Four flights and 28-ish hours of travel later and I’m on approach to San Juan Island.
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Thanks to Allan, Mark, Erik, Marie, and Erin for being excellent co-workers, Capts. John, Manny, Ben, Inas, and Ray for keeping us afloat, and SWFSC, PIFSC, HDR, and the US Navy for providing permits, funding, and logistical support for this effort.  With any luck we’ll do it again next year!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Two recent papers from studies I’ve worked on in opposite corners of the world

Here are two recent publications from studies I’ve worked on in the past. It’s good to finally see the results of your efforts, even if the project isn’t necessarily yours and your name isn’t on the top of the paper. The first is on killer whale vocal behavio(u)r and feeding ecology the Shetland Islands, way up in North Atlantic. I had the pleasure of assisting Volker, Andy, and Milaja for two weeks in the summer of 2009 while I was working on my MRes at University of Aberdeen, and those two weeks pretty much made my year in Scotland.

The second is on the distribution and abundance of cetaceans around Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, over in the Western Tropical Pacific and Philippine Sea. This paper is the result of the first dedicated marine mammal survey of the area which took place during the winter of 2007, and it’s nice to see as since this cruise, I’ve been back to the area twice to find marine mammals, including the project I’m working on right now.

First ski publication for the 11-12 season

The days are getting shorter and there’s a slight bite to the air which means winter is just around the corner. Of course, those folks in the PNW are still wondering if summer will ever get here, but with ski magazines and other winter-related media showing up in mailboxes it’s clear that summer has already missed the boat. Speaking of ski media, I just received a copy of the Great Canadian Heli-Skiing brochure, and hey presto there’s a Grant Gunderson shot of myself, K.C. Deane, and Zack Giffin getting ready to jump in the bird for another supremo run during our trip up there two seasons ago. No, that photo wasn’t staged; that stupid grin was on my face all day long. Since it was his first day in a heli I’m pretty sure K.C. had a similar grin but it’s covered by his Yowie. Here’s to more of that this season!

Metalmücil demo tracks from Gordon Gunter Studios

In order to keep sharp for the fall reunion tour I recorded the first Metalmücil demo tracks while working on the NOAA ship Gordon Gunter. The band is on summer break so I had to play everything myself; it’s nowhere near as good as the real thing but until we are all back at Hemlock Environmental Studios this will have to do.

Enjoy! Or don’t.

 

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Hybrid Porpoise Necropsy! Warning: Gory Photos

I know a few biologists that don’t like necropsies but for the life of me I can’t figure out what’s not to like, aside from the smell. Death is a part of life and it’s not every day you’re given the chance to really get down and dirty with your study subjects. To this day some of my most cherished science-nerd memories come from necropsies – a spotted hyena in Kenya and the infamous Friday Harbor fin whale come to mind. Anyways, word spread around San Juan Island that there was a Dall’s/harbor porpoise hybrid that had stranded at South Beach on Saturday, and the necropsy was planned for Monday morning at the University of Washington Friday Harbor Labs. I’ve been to a number of harbor and Dall’s porpoise necropsies but a fresh dead hybrid is a rare find and I was excited to get a close look at one.
Yep, it kind of looks like the offspring of a Dall’s mother and harbor porpoise father.

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It was a female and the safe bet before we cut it open was that it was pregnant.

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First things first, cut off the dorsal and start taking blubber samples. Joe Gaydos of www.seadocsociety.org was the master of ceremonies. If you ever need someone to cut up a marine mammal for you, I highly recommend Joe.

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Muktuk? No thanks, I think I’ll make sure that parasite is fully cooked, thanks.

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Once the blubber was gone from one side, Joe started on the muscle. This would be the tenderloin, no?

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In order to get into the body cavity you need to break open the pruning shears. **Ccrrrrraaaaccckk!!!!

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Guts on the half shell. Hmm, what’s that blob down there?

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Baby! This little girl was full-term and probably would have been born in the next month or so had the mother not died.

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According to Joe this was the most interesting find of the whole necropsy. Not only does it prove that these hybrids are viable reproducers, it will be interesting to look at the genetics see who the father is. Is the little girl 3/4 Dall’s or 3/4 harbor porpoise?

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She’s got some whiskers proving she’s a mammal.

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Now, back to the mother. All of her teeth were worn down to the gumline suggesting this was an older animal.

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Samples were taken from just about every part of the animal. Here Joe works on the heart and lungs.

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Digging deep for the really good stuff.

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Aha! Here’s what remains of the pelvis. Cetaceans evolved from land mammals but I guess they got tired of having hind legs and a pelvis.

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Squeezing feces out of the colon. If you don’t think this is cool you shouldn’t be/go into biology.

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Removing the ovaries.

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Intestines.

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Slicing open the head to look at the eye and other fun parts.

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The lens had been damaged by birds.

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A dorsal view of the scalped head. That white mass is the melon and the two black sacs allow the porpoise to move air about so it can vocalize.

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Everyone loves a flensed out porpoise skull.

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The Whale Museum wanted to keep the skeleton so Joe cut it in half so it would transport easier. I pity the poor interns that get to flense it out completely.

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These are the blood vessels that run along the surface of the flukes.

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Tagging and bagging the carcass.

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When it’s all over the samples have been tagged, bagged, and sent off to various labs for analyses. What remains is a garbage can full of blood, guts, blubber, and flesh.

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Cleanup time!

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All in all it was a great look at a hybrid porpoise and a wonderful learning experience for everyone present. Thanks to Joe Gaydos for another great necropsy! Now, I think it’s time for lunch. Burgers anyone?