Heading Back to Shoals in 2016

I am excited to be teaching two courses at the Shoals Marine Lab this summer:

Photo: Alexa Hilmer, SML

Heading to Baylor University


I accepted a 1 year position at Baylor University to work with Steve Trumble (physiologist) and Sascha Usenko (environmental chemist) to learn the ropes and contribute to their whale earplug project.  They have developed a method to examine lifetime stress, reproductive, and contaminant exposure histories using the earplug as a model tissue.  Baleen whales accumulate wax in their ear canal (which is closed to the external environment and never gets cleaned out with a Qtip!) and in many species this wax plug forms annual growth layers.  The layers, or lamina, can be sampled to generate chemical profiles that represent the whale’s entire life.  This has major implications for learning about stress levels, especially for species that encounter ship noise, oil and gas exploration or chemical exposure.  The focus of my work will be on an earplug collected from a bowhead whale.  For my part, I’m interested to learn how to measure these new [to me] markers and hope to use these skills in my ongoing work looking at chemical profiles in baleen.

Bowhead+WhaleF1.mediumBowhead whale art via 33rdsquare.

A:  Diagram of whale earplug (d) that sits next to the earbone structure (b) in the skull (a). From Trumble et al. 2013 PNAS.

Artist Spotlight – Jeff Briggs

Last week, I took a stroll down the Rose Kennedy Greenway in downtown Boston, and loved checking out the carousel, featuring all local species.

“Newburyport Artist Jeff Briggs designed and sculpted a one-of-kind carousel for Boston’s Rose F. Kennedy Greenway. His challenge was to create decorations and rides inspired by the ‘land, sea and air’ of the New England environment. Boston schoolchildren were also asked to make drawings of the animals they would like to see on the carousel. Their drawings served as the inspiration for many of the fourteen unique characters that Jeff brought to life, including a sea turtle, a grasshopper, a barn owl, a codfish and a whale. The finishing touch for each animal was a bright, kid-pleasing paint job by artist Bill Rogers, a longtime collaborator.”

See a short video, “Art in the Round” about the carousel.

Photos by N. Lysiak, Text by Tufts University, video via Audrey Harrer

The Charles W. Morgan

My tour included visits to the main deck, Captain’s quarters, blubber room (pictured, where barrels of whale oil would have been stored), and the iron tryworks (where oil was rendered from blubber).  It’s hard to imagine being at sea on a ship like this for years at a time.  Short people definitely had an advantage.  The final photo is a shot from the top of the Bunker Hill Monument, where you can see the Morgan and USS Constitution moored at the Charlestown Navy Yard.

Charles W. Morgan – Dockside Exhibit

The Charles W. Morgan is the last remaining vessel in the once prolific Yankee whaling fleet.  During her 38th voyage, she is stopping at historic ports in New England, including Boston (via the Charlestown Navy Yard).  The dockside exhibits, all fantastic, include an [to scale] inflatable sperm whale, demonstrations of barrel-making and coppersmith, coloring, sailor tattoos, and lots of history.  The Morgan usually resides in Mystic, CT.

Map and b&w photo by Mystic Seaport

Roll it

The [beloved] NOAA Ship Albatross IV was decommissioned in 2008, and eventually sold to the Universidad Autonoma de Tamaulipas in Mexico.  Here is a video of the A4 arriving at the CIDIPORT Research Center.  I had dreamed of purchasing this vessel, refitting it (Steve Zissou style), and using it as a charter vessel for all of my friends and colleagues.  Some dreams are not meant to be…

via: Chris Tremblay

Sea of Diamonds

“Sea of Diamonds” is the tongue-in-cheek title of a memoir that my friend and colleague, John Nicolas, said he would write but never did.  He was a long time marine mammal researcher for the Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole, Vietnam veteran, and all around salty dog.  Many fond memories were had at sea, sitting around the dinner table, and listening to him tell stories – he had a knack for stirring up all kinds of trouble.  When I go to sea, those who knew him still have a great time reminiscing about his stories in the years since he passed.  As this site is a venue for telling stories about going to sea to study whales, I couldn’t think of a more appropriate title.

A new start for 2013…

After hosting a successful “365 project” wherein I posted a photo a day between August 2011-October 2012, this blog has been recommissioned.  This site will now contain photos, journal entries from the field, and news related to marine mammal science and conservation biology.  Check back often.