Ocean Mysteries

(Ok Ryan…. for you I post….. )

Well that and I have something important to tell you all.  It looks like Saturday morning ABC will be airing Ocean Mysteries with Jeff Corwin featuring the Alaska Whale Foundation and the Rapunzel Project!

The Rapunzel Project portion is short, but it’s there.  So check out Ocean Mysteries and catch a super quick glimpse of yours truly and our beloved Five Finger Lighthouse home.  It’s also worth the watch for the beloved humpback whales, and there’s a lot of great footage.

On the science side of things things here in Oregon are still unfolding.  Now in addition to call types we have call classes and we’re moving forward with not just “what” the whales are saying, but which whale is saying it.

More when the noise dins and the clock slows down- Miche

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

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