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Tuesday, September 27, 2011

'Salt of the Earth'

NASA's new Aquarius instrument has produced its first global map of the saltiness (or salinity) of the Earth's ocean surface. Basically, yellow and red indicate areas of higher salinity while blue and purple indicate areas of lower salinity. Black areas are gaps in the data. Average salinity is 35.

For us in Sri Lanka, the most important thing to point out is the sharp contrast between the arid, high salinity Arabian Sea west of India, the result of excessive evaporation, and the low salinity Bay of Bengal to the east which is more dominated by freshwater from the Ganges river and monsoon rains. See what a vital exchange point the southern coast of Sri Lanka forms?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Where's the octopus? A slight digression...

While it is evident that large marine species have a special place in my heart, I cannot deny my fascination with all marine creatures of which octopuses are some of the most intelligent and intriguing. The octopus is a cephalapod mollusc of the order Octopoda. There are 300 species of which all are venomous with only one group, the blue-ringed octopuses, being deadly to humans.

This species has many defence strategies and this video is a great way to learn about their most amazing - camouflage!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The intriguing sound of marine mammals

A TED talk by Peter Tyack:
Peter Tyack of Woods Hole talks about a hidden wonder of the sea: underwater sound. Dr. Tyack studies the the social behavior and acoustic communication in whales and dolphins, learning how these animals use sound to perform critical activities, such as mating and locating food.

A justification - if I may

Yes. That's me. Photo courtesy of Alain Carpentier of MICS.
Just a little something for those of you who puzzle and despair at my general unkemptness (thanks Siri!) :)

Field biologists contribute to the culture and reputation of their chosen profession by…staying alive. A biologists’ appearance ideally has absolutely zero relationship to a favorable impression with funders, but, when a relationship does exist, it is often an inverse relationship with neatness. Good grooming and appropriate dress should be exercised to the extent that such concerns will help one …stay alive. A field biologists’ attire should help them achieve the dual goals of: 1. staying alive, and 2. staying in the field for as long as possible to collect the very last data point. This is also seen as ‘cool’. Luckily.

Managers, usually not present in the field, merely note the end result of a field biologists’ attire with binary code. 0 = field researcher not alive. 1= field researcher alive.

Field biologists, when presented with special occasions not celebrated in the field, may take the opportunity to practice using the grooming tool known as a comb, and those of the feminine persuasion might attempt to don eye-enhancing make-up, though it is not advised for fear of injuring dearly needed ocular observation tools.

Acceptable shirts: quick-dry, wool, polyester, layers, occasionally plaid flannel, neoprene

Inappropriate shirts: Anything new. Anything without holes. Anything Abercrombie.

Acceptable pants: Quick-dry. Anything old.

Inappropriate pants: Anything new. Diesel.

Acceptable footwear: Anything with a tread. Flip-flops (slippahs) in warm weather.

Inappropriate footwear: Anything with a heel narrower than 3 inches. Anything new. Anything that could be called “kicks”

Acceptable eyewear: Polarized sunglasses. With a strap.

Inappropriate eyewear: Un-polarized sunglasses without a strap.

Acceptable bag: Back-pack. Duffle bag.

Inappropriate bag: Anything new. Anything with only one strap. Unless the 1 of the 2 already broke off. That’s okay.

Acceptable hairstyle: Beard for men. Ponytail for women. Variation is accepted so long as biologist’s hair can be kept easily out of biologist’s eyes so that they can see the bear/shark/rabid penguin and …stay alive.

Inappropriate hairstyle: Anything in style.

Acceptable jacket: Gortex. Arcteryx, Marmot, Northface, Patagonia, Sierra Designs, Montbell, Mountain Hardware, Mammut, Columbia, Lowe Alpine, REI, EMS, Helly Hansen. (Eddie Bauer or LL Bean might be acceptable if: waterproof, windproof, and …not new).

Inappropriate jacket: Leather. Fur. Anything new.

A field biologist’s attire should incite one of the following acceptable emotions:
…with any luck the field biologist will fade into the background and you will not even know he or she is there, unless they happen to have wandered unwittingly into an area densely inhabited by humans, in which case, the emotions generally incited by their attire are, and in this order: disgust, amusement, wonder, amusement, disgust, boredom, acceptance.

It is advised not to approach a field biologist in this threatening setting as he or she may be prone to agitation, fear, anxiety or angry outbursts. Simply walk the other way and give him or her the space needed to fade back into the bushes. In extreme circumstance a field biologist may be approached so long as you speak in a quiet voice and offer beer (or wine and chocolate!)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

5 more days!

As you all know, I've had a marvelous time at MICS over the last month. Thanks to them I have been able to bring stories and photographs right to your computer....judging by how many of you follow and read the blog it appears you enjoy it - thank you.

Now, I have a favour to ask. As you know, research of this nature is costly and organisations such as the Sri Lankan blue whale project and MICS are constantly looking for money and methods to fund the work. Here is a great way to support MICS - and all it costs is two minutes of your time :) All you have to do is vote for them in the 'Call for the Wild' campaign - which ends this week....Here's a note from The dear Dr. Ramp himself -

" Vote for MICS in “Call for the Wild!” Campaign!  MICS is one of five charitable wildlife organizations participating in the Call for the Wild campaign of Jamieson Laboratories, a leading natural health product provider. The campaign lasts from August 16 to September 18 and Jamieson Laboratories will donate a total of 100,000 $ among the 5 NGOs. How much MICS will receive depends entirely on you! Everyone can vote for their favourite NGO on the Jamieson facebook page (also non-facebook members), and the NGOs will receive the equivalent of the vote share. I.e. If MICS gets 5% of the total votes, we will get 5,000$, if we get 20%, 20,000$ and so on. So please vote for us! Everyone can vote once per day – so come back every day and cast your vote for MICS! You will have to enter your name and email address, so that the system can check if you've voted already. There is a box which you can tick if you want to get information from Jamieson laboratories or not. Your data will not be used or forwarded to anybody else. The link to vote for us is:

You need to enter a Canadian Postal Code, you can follow this link to find a post code http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_G_postal_codes_of_Canada, they are always 3 numbers and 3 letters. I.e. the Station is at G0G 1V0.

Please feel free to send this link to any of your friends who might be interested in supporting us.

                                                Thank you!"

So long and thanks for all the fish...

One month ago I was sitting in the Sydney airport excitedly blogging about my new adventure to Mingan. I was hoping to learn new things and see lots of whales and the signs along the road seemed positive - at least we were going in the right direction. 

But here I am, writing what is probably my last blog from the MICS research station with a sniffle in my heart. This blog is not about the science, or the whales that brought us together, and certainly not about the weather, but a truly heartfelt thank you to Rene and the MICS team. During this month, I learnt more than I would have by sitting at my desk in Perth...from operations and logistics to science and friendships - I would not swap the experience for the world. 

So - thank you FIRSTLY to Rene, for letting me shadow you and absorb whatever I could from you, for your patience and wackiness, for the melancholy songs and 'dancing queen', for vegetarian delights and sandwich surprises. Mostly, for putting up and coping well with my energy and off-the-wallishness. I am so excited about your project and I am grateful to have found a like-minded 'risk-taker' in this wonderfully 'safe' world we live in. Kudos and smiles.

Richard - for being the centre of an amazing operation that draws together scores of people who give of their time and energy to make MICS what it is. The fact that you have so many repeat offenders on your team is testament to the success of the operation. I am sorry Gaspe held you captive but thanks for the visa support and see you soon. Perhaps on a boat in Sri Lanka!

Mr. Ramp - ALWAYS remember to 'think outside the box'...I am sure our paths will cross and we will be able to use our secret call sign again - I look forwardly. Thank you for everything. Your German efficiency does make the difference!

Alain - I am looking forward to using your wonderfully invaluable skills on the water in Sri Lanka in the near future. I really enjoyed meeting you and thanks for the wonderfully fun hula hoop and table football fun!

SCO - As it turns out, I am SCO proof. I survived the last night on your bedroom floor :) We MUST be soulmates :) See you very soon right?

The MICS team - thank you for welcoming me so openly.....Marie, Valentine, Marion and Sylvie. Many laughs lie ahead.

This must feel like an oscar acceptance speech but it isn't, as I have had the great privilege of winning more than just a mere golden statue...

Thank you and keep doing what you do, the world needs more of you!

Friday, September 9, 2011

More about Meduse

The right side of Meduse's mouth is covered with wounds not seen on the left side. This is interesting because studies have shown that most rorquals (the largest group of baleen whales) exhibit a strong right-side rolling preference while filter-feeding. Based on the newly acquired knowledge of their bottom feeding behaviour (see post on Exciting results from Operation Calanus), it appears that the humpbacks in Mingan also display this peculiar preference when they find food.

Logging: A resting behaviour exhibited by whales where they lie at the surface without any forward movement.

Meduse's characteristic dorsal fin and evidence of a perfect day

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Body condition, stress and reproductive success.

Funky Fin Whale: Body condition, stress and reproductive success.: Time for a little theory, but I promise to keep it simple. Fat, well fed whales float better than thin, stressed whales because they...

"The Inspector Gadget of the Oceans".

Funky Fin Whale: "The Inspector Gadget of the Oceans".: Meet the "Inspector Gadget of the Oceans" otherwise known as the Little Leonardo W2000-3MPD3GT data logger, a very important tool in our tra...

A whale sized breathalyser!

Here's some interesting technical stuff from Rene's site

Funky Fin Whale: A whale sized breathalyser!: Why would anyone in their right mind want to breathaylse a whale? And what is about that heady cocktail of stale air and water that interest...

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Seduced by Meduse (01/09/11)

Dear Meduse,

It has been a real privilege to meet you...thank you for choosing the blue boat over a 'real' mate - Boomerang. I hate to break it to you though, the blue boat will not bear you children which might mean the end of a great line of Meduses. You might have to rethink your strategy and perhaps next time, don't push her away when she curiously approaches your new love interest?

A concerned but awe-struck friend.

Head breach! (04/09/11)

Apologies for the shaky quality but we were busy driving around searching for the tag that had just come off Splish and this whale decided to head breach. I was thrilled to capture it on camera - to share. 

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Learning to speak whale

My friend Deshan saw this and thought of me. I saw this and thought of you all. Its way better than another blog post about bad weather - which, as you guessed is my current predicament.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Minke-ingdom (01/09/11)

Boat echosounder - orangey-yellow colouration in top 20 m  could indicate presence of food.
The 6am fog was fast-moving and patchy and as the Irene-induced land lubbery was not agreeing with the marine mammals within us we unanimously decided to try our luck - on the water. 

We departed Mingan at 8am and cruised in and out of fog patches in a southwesterly direction towards Banc Parent where we began to see signs of life - porpoises, storm petrels and minkes. A positive sign so we made an approach...initially in the hope of finding something bigger. A quick glance at the boat's echosounder indicated the possible presence of food within the top 20 m - perhaps explaining why the minkes were zipping around. We tried to tag one for half an hour but had to give up the goat because the little critters were far from curious and hard to approach. In general, they are extremely challenging to tag because they move very fast and are so small that opportunities are few. Interestingly, they appear to have a layer of slime that prevents the tag from sticking very well. Thus the whole procedure requires a large quantity of luck.

Although we didn't get a tag on, I managed to get a few photos to share with all of you....my first foray into Minke-ingdom - please enjoy!

Few things to note - the very sickle shaped dorsal fin (compare it to the blue whale's dorsal in the banner of my blog) and the black/grey colouration of the body (most evident in the top photo). Also, its amazing how most of the length of the back, including the dorsal fin and blow holes appears at once when the whale surfaces to breathe - something we never see with the very large blue whale - after all blue whales are about 5 times the size of these little guys!!