Watch and Listen

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.

Watch

Listen

(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). 

Alaska Whale Foundation has a new website!

The long awaited unveiling of the Alaska Whale Foundation’s website has finally occurred!  AWF team members (mostly Andy and Adam) have worked tirelessly to get the AWF website up to speed.  We’ve been seeing a lot of exciting changes in the organization (like the advent of our interpretive center in Baranof Warm Springs Bay) and wanted to make sure that the online face of AWF was an accurate representation of who we are and what we’re working on.

I encourage all of the Rapunzel Project followers to head over the the website (www.alaskawhalefoundation.org) and have a look around.  You’ll be able to hear sound clips of social calls recorded in the field, read the official AWF blog (including posts by OSU grad student Courtney Hann), and see how you can get involved. Go ahead and like them on facebook too 🙂

Being a graduate fellow with AWF has easily been one of the most rewarding experiences of my academic and professional career.  The new website is a great reflection of the dynamic organization that AWF has become.  I encourage you to check the site often for updates that may not make it to this blog.

More to come from me on the status of Rapunzel Project publications and research.

 

Miche

 

 

Field Prep… down to the wire

My last post was all about prepping for our 2012 field season. I had every intention of following up with a “Part 2” of sorts, which would go into more details on what was happening behind the scenes at the Rapunzel Project. What happened behind the scenes ultimately kept me so busy that I couldn’t report on what was happening behind the scenes. I know it doesn’t seem like it would be that much work. Just grab a few hydrophones and a small boat and head to the lighthouse, right? Wrong.

Here’s a brief recap of some of the things that I’ve been up to lately:

  • Write (and receive!) small grants for research supplies
  • Produce poster to present at symposium for said grant
  • Finish up fellowship and scholarship applications that will be otherwise difficult to complete with in the field
  • Track intern arrival/departure times and finances
  • Communicate as much as possible (hopefully without growing obnoxious) to answer intern questions and prepare interns for a cold, wet, glorious summer
  • Write and send out Intern Primer, so everyone knows what to expect 😉
  • Send out sound catalog and example spreadsheet (after creating them, of course)
  • Book hotels for interns, plead with hotels and guest houses in Petersburg to waive the 4 night minimum.
  • Book my own travel to Alaska, including flight to Juneau for supplies (and visit with family and friends) and ferry ride (with Andy’s car) to Petersburg
  • Figure out what supplies are necessary for 3-month field season
  • Find out where to order somewhat obscure supplies, or how to get even very ordinary supplies sent to Alaska (it IS part of the US after all…)
  • Drive to Newport to calibrate hydrophones (Borrow car from generous grad student- Amelia I couldn’t have done it without you).
  • Discover one hydrophone is shot and arrange to have a new one built as quickly as possible! (Please oh please oh please arrive in time- Success! Thank you Joe at Cetacean Research Technology)
  • Collect existing AWF gear from colleagues in the Pacific Northwest and prep it all for transport to Alaska (How many bags do they let you fly with again?)
  • Miraculously collect all of the gear before leaving Oregon for the summer (no small miracle given the number of signatures required for delivery)
  • Come up with new plan for heat and electricity at lighthouse when old plan called for reconsideration
  • Order MORE gear, only for lighthouse this time (We will need electricity after all)
  • Travel to Juneau with copious numbers of bags and pelican cases… not to mention Vista’s dog kennel.  (How I wish Corvallis had an airport!  Again, thank you thank you thank you Amelia)
  • Grocery shop for a five person field team for three months of field work (The cart was overwhelming even by Costco standards)
  • Find way to store food for transport, then get it to the lighthouse without ruining it (I have single handedly moved the ~700 pounds of food through southeast Alaska, up stairs, into refrigerators, onto ferries, into other refrigerators, into boxes, into cars, out of boxes, onto boats, into totes, onto skiffs, through the slimy mucky intertidal, up precarious metal beams, up lighthouse stairs, and finally into cabinets and drawers… phew.  What we do for a few potatoes and a good cup of tea at the end of the day)
  • Budget fuel, purchase fuel, transport fuel (see above description of food transportation and substitute fuel)
  • Purchase fuel gear (fuel drums, fuel filters, fuel pumps, fuel cans- whale research is largely about fuel)
  • Organize and prep field equipment (radios, batteries, sound recorders, hydrophones, hydrophone chords- which are impossible to find- etc.)
  • And lastly…. spend every other waking moment thinking about sampling questions and sampling protocol.  Because what’s the point of moving all of the gear around, if there isn’t a study to be had?

So far I’ve spent one blissful night at the lighthouse.  I was alone on the island. The power isn’t on yet, neither is the water.  For a moment the rain stopped, and my body aching with carrying supplies was on the verge of falling asleep under the 11pm sun, when I heard a whale spout.  I couldn’t see it.  I listened to it exhaling. Then I remembered why we do what we do… or maybe just why I do what I do.  Where there is great love, there is great effort.

Listen.

Well Folks, as promised the Rapunzel Project is heading to radio. As a one-time DJ myself (KRNN Rain Country Radio Juneau) and former public radio employee, I believe in the power of radio.

Not everyone has the opportunity to see the things that field researchers see.  It is a privilege to be on the ocean with an eye and an ear to the waves.  With privilege comes responsibility.  It is our responsibility to communicate our experiences.  To give them away.  Truly, not everyone has the desire to live on a 3 1/2 acre island in remote Alaska, in the rain, for weeks, or even months on end, with nothing but the sound of feeding whales to keep them company.  But most people, I’d hazard to guess, are at least a little interested in hearing about it.

Jacques Cousteau said “People protect what they love.”

He also said:

“When one man, for whatever reason, has the opportunity to lead an extraordinary life, he has no right to keep it to himself. “

It is our responsibility to share our extraordinary experiences in these oceans, so that others may grow to love them.  In this way, what starts out as a short spot on a university radio station… becomes a chance to change the world.

Tune in on April 29th at 7pm Pacific Standard Time.

www.kbvr.com/listen

Miche

Lingering Spouts

Questions… Answers

First let me say thank you to all of the intern candidates who’ve already sent in applications.  It’s been exciting to start reading over them.  For those of you who’ve expressed interest in applying but haven’t completed everything yet you do still have some time, but thanks for keeping in touch.

I’ve gotten a few questions from applicants that I thought other might benefit from as well.  I’ll update this list as more questions come in.

  • Q: “I’m a vegetarian, will that work with the 3 meals a day provided?”
  • A: Absolutely.  We eat very well at the lighthouse and can accommodate most diets (I mentioned before, but I don’t think we could accommodate a raw food diet… we’re simply too remote for that).  Vegetarianism, however, is a piece of cake.  Last year we handled vegan diets, vegetarian diets, and peanut allergies without breaking a sweat. I’ve been a vegetarian for 5 years myself and last year I did most of the cooking at the lighthouse (with no complaints from non-vegetarians I might add).  We do try to supplement store bought food with sustainably caught seafood from around the lighthouse (caught by the interns) whenever possible.  Last year one of our interns caught a halibut large enough to feed the crew for weeks.  We bring LOTS of vegetables with us from Petersburg when we come out, and are still working through possible delivery systems with boats in the area.
  • Q: “Will there be any photo identification?”
  • A: No.  Our project is not contingent of identifying individual whales.  Part of the beauty of using the lighthouse as a research platform is that we get to observe the whales relatively unaffected by human presence (i.e. a large vessels).  We are looking for contrasts in behavior in the presence and absence of vessels. A photo identification scheme that necessitates approaching whales on the water nullifies this goal.
  • Q: “How often will we be on the water?”
  • A: Daily, weather permitting.  We hope to have a hydrophone in the water as much as possible (12 hours a day ideally).  This requires an intern to be in the skiff operating it.  All interns will have the opportunity (and the responsibility) to handle the skiff.
  • Q: “Do whales ever approach the skiff?”
  • A: I don’t know what the whales will do in the future, but in the past?  Yes.  As did 700 lb sea lions, harbor seals, and Dall’s porpoise.
  • Q: “Are there other marine mammals in the area other than humpback whales?”
  • A: Yes!  See above for a short list.  Additionally we did see killer whales last year.  There is a harbor seal that regularly hauls out at the south end of the island to visit with.
  • Q: “Are there kayaks on the island?”
  • A: Yes there are.  We have 2 kayaks on the island currently, and there is the possibility of getting a third, and possibly a 4th for the summer.
  • Q: “What’s the easiest way to get to Petersburg, AK from  ___(fill in the blank)____?”
  • A: Alaska airlines services Petersburg, AK multiple times daily.  Most flights are routed through either Seattle, WA or Anchorage, AK.  Check their website (www.alaskaair.com) for more specific information on flights.
  • Q: “Is it possible to stay for 3 weeks instead of 4?” Or “is it possible to come at the beginning of the month instead of the middle?”
  • A: Unfortunately, no.  There is no public transportation to or from the lighthouse, and it is approximately 30 miles away from the nearest town.  We will be chartering a boat to bring interns to the light from Petersburg, AK, but unless it’s an emergency we will not be traveling back and forth to town otherwise.  Thus ducking out early, or coming late can’t realistically be accommodated.
  • Q: “What are the exact dates of the internship?”
  • A: I don’t know yet.  We’re still working out the details with the Juneau Lighthouse Association.  I’ll post dates (and likely email them out as well) as soon as I have them!

 

Hope this is helpful.  Feel free to send me other questions as they arise.

Miche

Seeking 2012 Interns

The Rapunzel Project is looking for interns for summer 2012!

 The Rapunzel Project is an Alaska Whale Foundation (AWF) research project headed by OSU masters student Michelle Fournet under the advisement of recent OSU Fish and Wildlife graduate and AWF research director Andy Szabo.  This study focuses on the impact of anthropogenic sound on humpback whale communication. The project has three primary objectives:

1)    Classify and catalogue the vocal repertoire of southeast Alaskan humpback whales.

2)    Explore the relationship between communication and social behavior in the absence of anthropogenic sound.

3)    Examine the potential impact of anthropogenic sound on vocalization and social behavior.

To this end we utilize theodolite technology (simple surveyors equipment), a portable hydrophone deployed by small skiff, and the 18.3-meter platform of the Five Finger Lighthouse.  A typical day at the lighthouse involves approximately 12 hours of surveying (broken into 8-10 hours per person daily).  Surveys are done in 3-hour treatments and require 3 positions to be filled

1)    Skiff/hydrophone operator (on the water)- positions vessel as directed by “Rapunzel” (tower operators)

2)    Theodolite operator (in the lighthouse tower)- pinpoints whales in the water, gets theodolite ‘fixes’ on location of animals and reports coordinates to data recorder

3)    Data recorder (in the lighthouse tower)- utilizes small laptop computer to record theodolite fixes, environmental conditions, randomizes treatment, and times treatment segments. Communicates with “Noble Stead” in water (skiff-operator)

When we’re going and who we want to bring:

The 2012 research season runs from late-June through late-September. Internships are approximately 4-weeks long and begin mid-June, mid-July, and mid-August. Dates are approximate and subject to change.  We are looking for 3 interns for each phase, for a total of 9 interns.  Interns are asked to make a one-month minimum commitment. A maximum 2-month commitment may be considered on a case-by-case basis.  Interns are responsible for their own transportation to and from Petersburg, AK.

Life at the lighthouse:

The lighthouse is located at the intersection of Stephens Passage and Fredrick Sound, Alaska on a 3-½ acre island inside of the quaint Five Finger Island chain.  The lighthouse was both the first and last manned lighthouse in Alaska and is fully operational.  The lighthouse is inaccessible to boats except for two hours on either side of high tide, and is not serviced by public transportation.  The nearest towns are Petersburg, AK 45 miles to the south, and Juneau, AK 60 miles to the north. There is a helicopter-landing pad on the island in the event of medical emergency.

Interns will be housed in bunks (4 beds to a room) with access to a full (and beautiful) kitchen, full bathroom, and pantry.  There is electricity in the lighthouse for approximately 10 hours a day (subject to change).  Solar panels and wind turbines supplement generator power, and fuel is limited.  Basic internet service is available (no Netflix, no Skype, no picture loading, yes e-mail). Cell phone service can be found at the top of the helicopter pad.

Interns must be willing to help cook and clean, though most diet types are welcome (vegetarian, vegan, etc.)- the only exception may be “raw-foodism.” Access to fresh vegetables on the lighthouse is limited, and though every effort is made to have fresh vegetables brought, stored, beg, stolen, or borrowed, no guarantees can be made for a raw food diet.  Last season store bought food was supplemented by wild caught Alaskan halibut.  Last season’s interns claimed the thing they liked most about being at the lighthouse (second only to the whales and the company) was the food.  We eat very well.

Interns must be dog friendly as multiple dogs (including my own) may be at the lighthouse.  Allergic interns will be unhappy here.  Interns must also be comfortable sharing lodging and bathroom facilities with members of the opposite sex.

Interns are asked to work 8-10 hours/ day, 5 days a week, and flexibility is required in scheduling.  Southeast Alaska is a rainforest environment. Poor weather will result in the inability to sample and sampling days will be re-scheduled.  Days off can be spent kayaking in Fredrick Sound, lounging about the island, berry picking on neighboring islands, pursuing personal research, tide-pooling, game playing, guitar strumming, and generally loving Alaskan island life.

Interns are expected to participate in each research position, to aid in data processing as needed, and to help out with daily chores (cooking, cleaning, etc.).

Perks:

  • Getting to watch whales every day in Alaska
  • Getting to sit in a skiff and listen to whales as they swim around
  • Kayaking in whale waters
  • Getting to write on your resume that you did “humpback whale behavioral research in Alaska”
  • Getting to be a part of important marine mammal conservation
  • Maybe make a new friend or two?

Qualities we’re looking for in interns:

  • Enthusiastic, bright, and easy going!
  • Ability to work in close quarters
  • Passion for nature, marine mammals, and conservation
  • Skiff handling experience is a plus (though training can be provided)
  • Theodolite experience is a plus (though training can be provided)
  • Field experience is a plus (though general enthusiasm and attitude trump experience)
  • GIS experience is a plus
  • Work with passive acoustics or cetacean vocalizations (S-BAT, RAVEN) is a BIG plus!
  • Excel proficiency is a must!  You don’t need to be an expert, but you do need to know how to maneuver around a spreadsheet.
  • Experience on the water is a plus
  • Interns must be at least 18 years of age

Associate Costs (subject to change as additional funding comes through):

Cost of internship: $2500/month

This covers food, room, board, transportation to and from the lighthouse, and lodging in Petersburg, AK.  Interns are responsible for transportation to and from Petersburg.

For more information, or to see photos of last year’s field season visit our blog at:

www.TheRapunzelProject.wordpress.com

How to apply

Interested applicants are encouraged to e-mail a resume and cover letter to me (Michelle Fournet) by December 16th.  Resumes and cover letters received after the December 16th priority deadline may be considered on a space available basis. Applicants who look like a good fit will be contacted for an interview!  Think you might be interested, but you’re not sure?  Please contact me!  Initiative counts!

 

 

Thanks so much!

 

Miche

TheRapunzelProject@gmail.com

907-723-2752

 

 

Oregon State University

College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences

M.S. Candidate Marine Resource Management

 

Alaska Whale Foundation

Graduate Researcher

 

Rapunzel Project Takes to the Public Airways

Just prior to leaving Petersburg, Alaska KRBD radio interviewed Michelle Fournet on the in’s and out’s of the Five Finger Lighthouse project.  To hear the story visit the following KRBD link.

It turns out that small town Alaska cares a lot about their lighthouses and a great deal for their whales.  If you are planning a trip through Frederick Sound next summer be sure to plan a stop at the light for a look around and a chat with the research team!

Welcome to the Rapunzel Project

Welcome to the Alaska Whale Foundation’s Rapunzel Project!  For the past five weeks we have been researching humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) from the newly established Five Finger Lighthouse research station.  This historic lighthouse has been the home to a small research team examining the role of humpback whale vocalizations on  behavior in the foraging grounds of Fredrick Sound, Alaska.  We are hoping to determine what role- if any- humpback whale vocalizations have on the distribution and dispersion of animals across the sound, as well as what vocalizations- again if any- correspond with group fission-fusion events.  Additionally, we are hoping to examine what effect anthropogenic noise generated by large vessel traffic has on humpback whale vocalizations and social behavior.

To this end we utilize a theodolite to monitor humpback whale distribution and social behavior across Fredrick Sound from the 18.3 meter tower which  dominates the island skyline. From this vantage point we can map out with fine precision where in space and time both whales and vessels are located, where they are traveling, and how they are oriented relative one another.  With a hydrophone in the water we can monitor how humpback whale dispersion correlates with the sounds they are generating below and how this appears to change in the presence of vessels.

The lighthouse vantage point allows us to observe humpback whale behavior without inundating the soundscape with research related vessel noise.  This effectively allows for us to ‘control’ for quiet periods of observation when vessels are not present in the Sound, and contrast these quiet periods with times when large vessels pass through the area.  It also affords us a land-based research station which is less vulnerable to inclement weather and is logistically much simpler than a vessel-based operation.

In addition to looking at the role of vocalization in dispersion, this project seeks to address how social interactions- primarily group formation, group dispersion, and surface behavior- vary across time of day, tide, and in response to vessel traffic. The knowledge of how humpback whales interact across these variables could provide information useful for the prevention of negative interactions with vessels transiting humpback whale foraging grounds.  Mitigating negative interactions becomes critical as the both the population of humpback whales and the number of vessels in the water continue to increase.

Our 2011 field season ended on July 7th, and we’re beginning to process data and plan for next summer.  Take a look around our blog for more information of what life at the lighthouse is like, who our 2011 research team was, and what our plans are for next year! Feel free to e-mail me any time with questions about the project or to find out how you can get involved with the Alaska Whale Foundation.

Cheers!

Michelle Fournet

Rapunzel Project Field Leader