Finally! With the sole exception of one grainy photo of half of my face diving in Hawaii over 10 years ago, I, sort of like Sasquatch, have never actually been documented under water. Until now. this video, as boring as it may seem, is ME! Thats right. Though you would never be able to tell through the neoprene and plastic, that is me dutifully counting tiny tube worms and buried crabs in a patch of sand of sand just to the west of the Elwha River mouth in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Don't I look like I can count real good?
Over the last week I spent every morning on the beach around the Elwha mouth, walking the beach and mapping my samples of PIT-tagged rocks as they move. The work itself is fairly uninteresting, just walking up and down the beach, waving an antennae and, when I get a signal from the reader, identifying and suveying the rock. The work gives me plenty of opportunity, though, to look around and observe the seasonal changes along the shoreline. This last week, the Harlequin Ducks arrived for the winter.
These beautiful birds spend the summer on the fast-moving Olympic Rivers breeding and fledging their young. This time of year they move down to the rough, rocky shoreline to spend the winter. We observed them in groups of 15 to 20, the adults clearly visible by their colorful markings, feeding in the breaking waves. Their strategy was to dive just in front of the largest breaking waves. Since the shoreline all around the mouth is made up primarily of large cobbles, they must be targeting the invertebrates that, usually, are safely under the rocks. As the breaking wave would roll over the cobbles, I assume that some were dislodged, or the invertebrates uncovered by the wave action. About 30% of the time the ducks would suface after the wave had passed by with some little morsel in its beak. Only once was I able to identify the food - a small slender gunnel.
As for me, I migrate south today, back to Santa Cruz, and start to prepare for a winter of analyzing the data collected this summer...
A very rare visit by three orca to Port Angeles Harbor definitely deserves consideration on this blog. I've seen Gray Whales in the harbor before, but Orca do not come around here often. I certainly hope that they were after salmon, as this would bode well for local salmon populations. These three were transients though, who have a penchant for seals. Apparently nobody amongst the hundreds of on-lookers saw them actually eating anything.
Our dive surveys are over, and I am wrapping up my last week in Port Angeles with more beach work. In August I inserted almost 300 "PIT" tags into beach cobbles from the beaches around the mouth of the Elwha River. Since that time I've been tracking their movements. Surprisingly, those rocks really move, even during summer, when wave energy at the Elwha is minimal.
We've been puzzled by the lack of fish during our dives in the Elwha drift cell. In an effort to determine if not seeing fish is because: 1) they actually aren't there or 2) something to do with how we are sampling is scaring them off, we decided to do a few dives at Salt Creek County Park, just to the west of our westernmost sites in Freshwater Bay. We discovered that we can see fish and that they end up in our data during transects, so that leads us to the question: What is up with the lack of fish in the Elwha drift cell?
Also saw my first abalone (and second, third and fourth) at this site. Don't tell anyone though. I hear tell that they are tasty creatures...
Four dives today just off of Green Point, a site to the east of Port Angeles. The primary goal of this dive project is to map habitat prior to the removal of the Elwha Dams and provide a baseline against which post-dam conditions can be compared. Green Point is a "control" site and is thought to be far enough away from the Elwha that it won't be affected by the dam removal. It is an interesting area with much finer sediment than we've found in the Elwha drift cell. And today it was evident that the Gray Whales DIG that fine stuff, quite literally. We spotted at least five whales all actively feeding in the fine sediment. They would rise to the surface trailing plumes of sediment behind them as they filtered out all of the goodies. In one case a huge male came about as close to us as I've ever been to a gray AND I captured some video of it...
The diving? Pretty marginal, with low visibility, quite a bit of surge and overall low biological diversity. My highlight of the day was a starry flounder that I had the opportunity to follow around...
I've been thinking for some time about starting this, a new blog to document what still feels like a new life as a bona-fide science nerd. Its only now, with just a few hours of free time in Seattle, that I am making the time. During our trip around the world Christine and I found our blog to be an incredibly useful tool for keeping our family and friends up to date, while also allowing us to process and better understand our experiences. I am hoping for the same with this one. The only difference is that I will be adding this site as a link to a planned professional website - so no foul comments allowed. I will also endeavor to keep my posts appropriate and myself hireable.
I've been in Washington for a month now, engaged in three projects: Two on the beach adjacent to the Elwha River mouth and one sub-tidal SCUBA-based project. With two weeks to go, I remain as excited as ever even as I start to tire of living out of a suitcase. Tomorrow, I leave Seattle again for Port Angeles, and prepare for another session of dives along the Elwha Shoreline. This project is revealing ecological patterns in the coastal zone...and allowing us to discover just how common both sunflower stars really are in this area.
As the Coastal Hazards Specialist for Washington Sea Grant I spend my time on research, education and outreach on topics like chronic erosion, climate change, tsunami and other coastal hazards. Current projects include:
1) monitoring the shoreline of the Elwha River delta to detect changes due to the Elwha Dam Removal
2) Assessing the influence of climate change on the resources of the Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary
3) Evaluating the impact of debris from the Tohoku tsunami on the shorelines of the Olympic Peninsula