Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Transboundary Naturalist Conference

Monday and Tuesday, I attended the Transboundary Naturalist Conference in Port Townsend, focusing on our Resident Killer Whales ... I am still recovering from Information Overload, and attempting to compile the information I have learned from all the great speakers that were represented there. The Conference took place in Port Townsend on the Olympic Peninsula, and was held at Historic Fort Worden. I shared my journey there with the Crew and Owners of the M.V. Pacific Catalyst, a beautiful old Motor Cruiser that spends her summers cruising along Alaska's Inside Passage and conducting Eco-Tours of the Southeast...... Shannon and Bill, the proprietors were incredible hosts and more than gracious to four very lucky passengers. Three of us from Orcas Island, and one woman from Kirkland spent five wonderful hours on Sunday, enjoying relatively calm waters, sunshine and an array of abundant Seabirds. I like to refer to it as Bird Day afternoon. Mostly we saw Rhinoceros Aucklets, a beautiful member of the Alcid family group of Sea Birds which include, Puffins, Guillemots, Murres and more famously Penguins. We also viewed a rookery of Stellar Sea Lions, who are working there way back to their summer homes further north of here in Alaska and Canada.

Five hours later, we anchored in the harbor of Port Townsend and begin to get settled in for the evening prior to the start of the conference. Shannon had prepared a wonderful dinner of Enchiladas and Salad, and we proceeded pig out on the yummies. I drank a fair amount of Red wine, so later I had some heartburn and had trouble falling asleep. In any case, I am ever so grateful for our gracious hosts and the wonderful ride over to Port Townsend.

Monday morning we awoke and had a delicious breakfast of Eggs and bagels before the shuttle picked us up to head over to Fort Worden for the start of the conference. I was actually quite surprised at the huge turnout of Whale Watch Operators, Aquarium employees, Naturalists from both sides of the Border and many leading experts in the study of Whales. It was bound to be an information packed experience. I admit a great deal of the information I was already aware of, yet there were some additional information's that was very valuable and offered some conclusive facts to previous theories. I will add a few little tidbits at the end of the blog.

I was also impressed with the amazing meals that were included, along with our accommodations which proved to be an adventure in itself finding our rooms. For $75.00 we received dorm style accommodations for one night, lunch and dinner on Monday, Breakfast and lunch on Tuesday as well as snacks on our breaks. Amazing deal to me for everything we learned..

I also networked with some new folks as well as running into some fellow Naturalists that I already knew. Since I am still rather new to the field as well as the Islands, this was a an excellent experience for me. Although I have been a Naturalist and avid Nature lover for a very long time, these last two years I have gained so much from the Marine Naturalist Training I have done, as well as being a San Juan County Beachwatcher. I hope it starts to really pay off, and I can get out and share more of my passions as time goes on. It is a competitive field here, and there are just so many jobs to go around, so I hope to keep expanding on this.

After the first day was over, many of the attendees went into Port Townsend to enjoy the nightlife. I am not a huge socialite anymore, so even though it would of been good for me, I ended up kicking back and going to bed early.

Tuesday I awoke early to try an get online for a few minutes before the conference began. I really did not sleep all that much since it was fairly noisy in the dorms. Tuesday was also packed in with speakers, and later we found out the weather conditions were pretty rough, and since those of us who came over on boats, some had decided to try to head back early. Well, that changed quickly. The shuttle came to pick us up, and when we saw the white caps in the water, we all decided that it was better to wait until Wednesday morning to return, so we ended up going back to the conference to see the remaining speakers of the afternoon. When the conference concluded, we returned back to the dock and had a short meeting with Captain Bill to decide collectively if we wanted to stay anoth
er night or face the 12 foot swells and 30mph knots. We made the decision not to face the conditions, as some of the other boats went ahead anyway. As it turned out, we made the right decision. Apparently it was a very wild ride for them, and there was a great deal of sea sickness and upchucking their remains to the fish at hand. Boy, was I happy we did not attempt the conditions, and we were much better off leaving this morning, which turned out to be moderately calm and better conditions.

So, we made it back safely, although the wind kicked up when we started pulling into the harbor and slip which posed a challenge for the crew to tie up. All in all it was great, and I am so happy that a month ago I decided to attend.

A few worthy notes from the conference:

Over the past year they have been conducting Scat studies of the Residents utilizing Tucker, the scent Smelling dog. Tucker has been of great value to this study, and if it wasn't for the fact he really loves balls, the study might not have gone as well. At some point I will hopefully post a photo of this marvelous feat. According to previous theories and thoughts on the preferred food choice of the Resident Orcas, it has been concluded that 98.5 % of their diet is Chinook salmon, leaving 2% to other. This had been presumed, however thanks to this study ti is confirmed.

Another obvious conclusion that was pretty much known, is Northern Residents are less Toxic than Southern Residents..... which to me is pretty obvious with the Northern Residents being further away from Urban Centers as opposed to the Southern Residents.

J-pod has higher levels of PCB's and PBDE's which are more Prevalent in the Puget Sound/Georgia Basin Ecosystem.

K and L-pod have higher levels of DDt, which is linked to the fact they go south to California in the winter, and the Salmon from the San Joaquin and Sacramento Rivers are higher in DDT .

I will have more once I began to process all my notes and regain my Sea Legs back.

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