Good morning from a foggy Hanson Island! After the mild turbulence of July, I have finally landed on the Johnstone Strait and can now pick up this story where it left off. I’m assuming that folks joining me here are friends or family just looking to keep tabs. On the chance that you’re tuning in and are unfamiliar with OrcaLab and how I ended up here, welcome to my corner of the internet. I thought I should take a moment to properly introduce myself and this project.
OrcaLab is a land based bioacoustic field station located in the Johnstone Strait region, situated in the middle of core summer habitat for the Northern Resident orca population and many humpback whales. The primary goal of the lab is to record cetacean vocalizations that are picked up by a network of hydrophones to monitor whale activity in order to better understand pod-specific dialects and the broader concept of acoustic ecology. The lab was also featured in the recent documentary Sonic Sea, which explored the growing concern of underwater noise pollution and it’s impact on the whales’ communication and foraging (more on that later). You can see what I see, and follow the action in live-time on the lab’s five remote cameras at Explore.org
I joined the OrcaLab crew last summer after completing my degree in Environment (conservation biology) at McGill U, looking to start a career in marine ecology. Growing up on the east coast I have always had an affinity for the quieter, less developed ‘raincoast’ of the Pacific Northwest, which could be described by the German word Fernweh, that roughly translates to mean being homesick for a place you’ve never been.
2015 was the year of the whale. Following the field season here, I headed back home to New England for a research internship with Whale & Dolphin Conservation where I enjoyed the immense privilege of spending my days with humpback whales on the Stellwagen Bank.
I was also afforded the opportunity to work alongside some incredibly talented and passionate people while developing content for a campaign to revise the legal critical habitat designation for the Southern Resident orcas. After navigating the ins and outs of the whale conservation world, I’m approaching my second season at the Lab with a slightly more refined perspective, and a more thorough understanding of how their data collection fits into the broader context of science and policy.
It’s been said before in a research context that stories are data with a soul. Before we get any further, I have to admit something: I have always wanted to be a writer. I have always been intrigued by the idea that through telling stories and sharing insight, I could have the power to broaden perspectives of people I’ve never met and to adjust how people see the world. To want to be a writer seems like a self-indulgent thing to say out loud. You can always count on Thoreau for some good insight, and as he put it, “how vain it is to sit down to write when you have not yet stood up to live”. Maybe I haven’t stood up, as he put it, but I did show up to help, and I think that’s enough to go on for now. I’m using this blog as a platform to pin experience to paper if only for myself, mostly because for too long I hadn’t; anything I wrote would inevitably come across as superficial or imperfect in some way. I’ve put my own insecurities aside for the time being to tell a story here, one that I believe is worth sharing.