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Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Calling all weather Gods

Life is about challenges...and in some ways, things would be boring if this was not so. Thats what I think..... in general....
Then, there are days like this. Days when I wish the challenges would go away at least temporarily, leaving room for us to continue with the task at hand. I write from my field site on the southern coast of Sri Lanka where I study the habitat of a rather different population of blue whales....ones that choose to remain in warmer waters year round. The challenge I face right now is one beyond my control - the weather. The fact that the weather Gods are not cooperating as we would like. In a country whose climate is governed by the monsoons, this is the season to work in this area. The good days are glorious and make up for the few bad days, but back to back days spent on land can lead to frustration.
The thing is, we need reasonably flat seas and low winds to be able to sight, observe, follow and photograph the whales and cast our salinity and temperature recorders. Even collecting acoustic data requires the boat to be quite still so the predominant sound isn't the boat slapping on the surface of the water. Besides the requirement for nice seas for research purposes, there is also the comfort factor. Unsettled seas make the boat roll when we stop at which point data entry becomes an unpleasant task for some.
Field biologists are plagued by this problem and I think working on the ocean adds a further dimension. In August last year I had the privilege of working with a team from the University of St. Andrews, Scotland and the Mingan Island Cetacean Study on humpback whale related research in Mingan, Canada. While I looked forward to a whole month of research - we were only able to head out on the water for 6 days because of intense fog. At first, the fog was a novelty because I had never experienced the sensation of 'walking through clouds'. As you can imagine, the novelty soon wore out and we were doing everything in our power to keep our spirits up and stay positive. I guess in some ways it's the life of a marine biologist, but it is not something we ever get used to or are willing to acknowledge.
Perhaps I sound ungrateful, which I hope I don't. Perhaps I sound frustrated, which I definitely am. I guess ultimately what I am requesting is if any of you have contact with a congenial weather God - please pass on the number....our days in the field are limited as are our funds and we really need to get out on the water much more than 50% of the time.

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