Sunday, October 14, 2007

Thanks to Joanie from Team 5 for sending in a blog entry!

We travel in from all walks of life, each of us toting our personal histories that, for many of us, do not relate directly to field biology. Then, within hours of arrival we are propelled into the great outdoors and viola...research with wild creatures of the earth. It is grand. This volunteer experience was extremely satisfying. Dr. Maldini and her research staff, Cyndi and Mark, were hands-on on a daily basis with the volunteer team, allowing each of us to peer into the methodology of collecting data in the field, involving us in every way. Many moments stand out in my mind over the 10-day expedition, all of which are archived to memory. Chasing coastal bottlenose dolphins in a boat in sea swells for the first time was fantastic. I am amazed that there are dolphins living so close to shore. With help from the experts, when one develops the eye to spot them, the dolphins are always there to see. They were so close to the boat at times that one of them came up for air while running the bow and blew water onto me and my camera. The dolphin's perpetual smile implied amusement in doing it. Also memorable was participating in the 24-hour sea otter observation. I signed up for the 1am-5am stint with Cyndi. Our task was to count sea otters at the slough near the jetties that pave the way to the bay. In the dark and every half hour we tallied otters 'hanging out' in their raft and recorded weather conditions. Watching the otters resting in the twilight with only the sounds of the night was wonderful. Their silhouettes floating in the water looked like mini gondolas. We saw five otters haul-out on shore over the course of the night as well. The ease in which sea otters move in the water is pure poetry in motion. It's astonishing how much they can eat, and must eat - high-speed shell crackers....then groom like felines. Thanks again to Dr. Maldini and her A-Team, and my fellow volunteers, for making this expedition a positive experience. It's a great project with good company in the environmental haven of Monterey Bay. EW expeditions are roads less traveled but tremendously rewarding.

Joanie, Team 5

We headed out at 6:45 am, just before the sun rose. The sky brightened as we drove the Beach Road to the launch area from our home at Pajaro Dunes. After cleaning the Nereis the night before, we trailored the boat to the launch ramp this morning. After connecting the GPS we headed out into the open water passing the sea otters who habituate the jetty waters. The day was promising and no doubt each of us wondered what adventures the day would bring. We turned north calling out each sighting of bottlenose dolphins: Nibble, Arc, Stump with her calf, Shine, Minerva, Jambi, Joker with her calf, Number 21, Excalibur and Chip were sighted....12 adults in all wiath 7-8 juveniles. The Nereis took us all the way north of Santa Cruz to Terrace Point. On the return trip we came across hundreds of jellyfish, stopping briefly to net one. In doing so we learned that they are deceptively heavy, perhaps 15-20 pounds, being 95% water. Jellyfish don't have brains but float at the discretion of the currents. It had been another good dolphin day.

Helen Betz

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Our first day with the dolphins! WOW! We left our "new" home at 6:30 and were on the boat at 7am, just as the sun was emerging from behind the San Andreas hills. It was cold and breezy but we were all bundled up. After traveling north for a while we had a false alarm with a sighting of harbor porpoises. With lookouts posted on either side of the boat, a small group of dolphins were finally sighted. They were heading south, traveling symmetrically together. Sometimes it was difficult to follow them due to their varied times underwater. When we were finished photographing the group we headed further south. After searching for quite a while, we were thrilled to sight a group of 30-40 dolphins with approximately 10 calves. They were in various small groups and often swam right next to the boat. All their antics brought cheers of joy and laughter from all of us. When the boat sped up, a number of the dolphins (up to 4) swam under the bow of the boat. From this vantage point we could see their size and markings on their bodies. The young calves sometimes were very small (probably just a few months old) and others jumped right out of the water as they swam with their mothers. Others did a sort of flip when they surfaced to breathe. They were very interactive and appeared as joyful as we were!

Jane Morgan, Team 6

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Today was our first day in the field, and after rising
at a very reasonable hour, we headed out. We cleaned
off the boat, jumped in, and the plan was to sail out
to the ocean to see what the conditions were like, and
if they were, we were planning on spending the day
with the dolphins. The water conditions here have been
quite unpredictable, and we want to make sure we get
enough time with the dolphins! The water conditions
were not that great, so we headed into Elkhorn Slough
to spend the day training on our observations with the
sea otters. We found a great spot, anchored, and began
training. We learned that otters have to eat 40% of
their body weight daily, so a lot fo their time is
spent foraging. We documented their foraging, and of
course, ooh'd and aah'd about how cute they are!
Daniella informed us that even though they were cute -
these little guys can be vicious in their mating
habits, which was quite shocking! Two of the
volunteers and I had been documenting one certain
otter for quite awhile, and we really got the hang of
it! It was a very cool day to learn, and Daniella,
Cyndi & Mark have been really patient with us. After
heading home, we warmed up with some tea, had some
dinner, did data entry & reviewed our day. It was a
great one!

Kendall Melton, Team 6

Thursday, September 27, 2007

We are now halfway through our adventure with Team 5. The members of this team have been exceptionally energetic and ready to tackle any task we throw their way. As we headed out of the harbor for their first day out on the dolphin boat, we met a 4-6 foot swell that would keep us alert and at a distance from the dolphins throughout the day. The team readily stepped up and helped us keep track of a group of 15-20 dolphins as they moved in and out of the challenging swell. We picked up this group of dolphins near Marina State Beach, south of Moss Landing and followed them as they headed north to the harbor. As we crossed the entrance to the harbor we encountered our second group of dolphins for the day, a large mom-calf group that were heading south. We followed this group for almost an hour, photographing them as they rode the waves. The following day we returned to Monterey Bay and headed north in an attempt to cover the northern half of the Bay. Surprisingly, we surveyed all the way to Capitola without seeing any dolphins. Taking a few minutes to formulate a plan, we decided to cut across the Bay to our most southern point of Monterey and then survey along the coast as we headed back to Moss Landing. After reaching Monterey we quickly began encountering dolphins. We worked the dolphins quickly and headed for home before the sea conditions deteriorated further.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

There are a few great stories about our dolphins that I would like to share. One has to do with a mother calf pair that was sighted for the first time last year. Mom's name is MAREA (tide in Italian) and her calf was known to last year's team as Lesion Calf and is now officially named HEALER. Needless to say, this lucky calf was seen last year with a very bad looking skin condition (see the photo). We did not have much hopes that this baby would make it though the year but we were proven wrong....HEALER is still with MAREA in 2007 and definitely healed! You can still make out the scarring from the horrible blisters, but its body is clean and it has definitely grown to yearling size. We are passing the calf's picture around to experts that could maybe give us an idea of what kind of condition we were stay tuned. In addition, MAREA is one of the dolphins we obtained a biopsy sample for last year. Maybe some answers to her calf's condition lie in her blubber.

For now, until some answers become apparent, we are just feeling happy that HEALER is still alive and well.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Introducing our new secret weapon. Our Canon 100 mm to 400 mm zoom lens! No dolphins can hide from us now!!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Sitting here I feel a sense of satisfaction in that I have helped with important research and also learned a great deal by being here, but also a sadness that soon I will be leaving to return home. I have the utmost respect for all the staff. Danny is a wealth of knowledge, and has many funny stories to tell. I hope at some point she writes an autobiography, as I think she has had a very interesting and exciting life, and she still has so many things to do! I have spent a lot of time with Cyndi; she is so friendly and personable. Her knowledge of the North Atlantic Right Whales is amazing; she is a fantastic boat captain, and a very well round young lady. I didn’t get a chance to work with Mark very much, but in the time I did observe him I can say he has a passion and dedication for his work that is not often seen, he is so smart, and witty. He is a fine young man who I think will do many great things in his life. They work so well together, and I really admire them for all that they do.

As for me, well I have changed and grown so much in the last few days. I have had my first humpback whale encounter, I have had a face full of dolphin blow, I have watched the coming and goings of a unique group of sea otters, and I have made some new friends that I hope I will stay in touch with for a very long time. Cyndi asked us each to write a short paragraph or so about our experiences, or one that stuck out to us. I have no idea where to start. Every day was fantastic with new and exciting experiences. I don’t think that I can summarize it in a short paragraph. Each person that comes here will take something unique home with them. I am returning home to finish my senior year at Ohio State University. Next summer at this time I should have my bachelor’s degree, majoring in Biology with an Environmental Science minor. This trip reinforced to me that I am pursuing the right degree, that this is what I am meant to do. My perspective is that this is a great program for people who want to learn and work. If you have a passion to help these animals it will be the most fun work you will ever do! Thanks for all the good times, and the great memories.

Sarah Rose