Thursday, July 21, 2011

Visiting Graduate Student

Humpback whale, Flame, July 17, 2011,
off Grand Manan Island
Ashley Heinze contacted me in January to see if there was any chance of staying at the GMWSRS during the summer and collaborating with one of the whale watch companies to conduct surveys and collect whale behaviour data. Our research field season wasn't beginning until August this year so the accommodations were available in July.  Ashley planned her time accordingly, arriving the end of June and has been coming with Whales-n-Sails Adventures on most trips.  It has been a pleasure to be of assistance, both by providing accommodations and also helping with the data collection on board.  We are always happy to collaborate with others when possible.
I asked Ashley to provide a profile of her academic background and interest in marine biology:

The first time I saw or even placed my feet in the ocean I was twelve years old and ever since then the big deep blue has fascinated me. I was never solely focused on marine mammals, although, they did interest me.

During my undergraduate career I tried to explore many aspects of the marine biology field. I was always looking to be involved in hands on or field research to gain as much experience as possible. I first began entering data for the Census of Marine Life at the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography and at the same time I began volunteering at Mystic Aquarium and Institute for Exploration. While at the aquarium I had the opportunity to be an exhibit interpreter for two years and then a husbandry assistant for another two years. To gain a greater amount of field experience I worked under two graduate students at the University of Rhode Island, one from the Wilga Lab and one from the Thornber Lab. While working for the Wilga Lab I was able to help with the Kinematics of Spiny Dogfish, Squalus acanthias, the function of the dorsal fin in bamboo sharks and the functional morphology of the dorsal fins in sharks during steady swimming and maneuvering. The Thornber Lab allowed me to expand my knowledge of the distribution of algal communities in Rhode Island.

Ashley Heinze, Masters student,
 College of the Atlantic
When studying abroad in Australia I gave my future education and career a great amount of thought. After traveling around the country I started to begin questioning different tourism activities. How much does the activity change the behavior of the animal involved and how much does the activity affect the people involved? I began to ask myself what tourism activity is growing in North America then I thought whale watching. College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, ME has allowed me to create a project in which I am able to look at both of these questions. In collaboration with the Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company and Whales-n-Sails Adventures I am able to compare the two whale watching areas. I am comparing the knowledge and attitudes of whale watching passengers before and after the whale watch trips. I am also looking at the differences and similarities between the whale watches in Grand Manan and Bar Harbor and comparing whale behaviors during these trips. Whales-n-Sails Adventures and Bar Harbor Whale Watch Company have donated trips to me when space allows. I currently have two field assistants this summer, Kathryn Scurci and Jessica McCordic, both are in Bar Harbor collecting data while I am here on Grand Manan. Since my assistants were not able to be here on Grand Manan, Laurie has graciously offered to provide me with photos taken from each trip that will be used for photo identification.

I am having an amazing time here on Grand Manan and eagerly look forward to my remaining time here on the island and collaborating with Whales-n-Sails Adventures ( This was my first visit Grand Manan and I know it will not be my last!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A Visiting Writer from England

Amanda Banks, a freelance writer from England, is volunteering with and writing about Laurie Murison and Grand Manan Whale and Seabird Research Station (GMWSRS) throughout July. Below is Amanda's account of how and why she is here:

I guess you could say I am not your usual suspect to be staying at the GMWSRS. I am not a researcher, am not studying to be one and cannot claim to be an expert on anything with a dorsal fin.

Instead, I am an ex-dancer and ex-teacher who has always dabbled in writing and conservation. In July 2010, I decided to branch out into a new career in writing. With my factual work, I am interested in exploring conservation and psychology related themes, plus the inevitable links between them.
I worked for nine months with, compiling a global report on whale and dolphin conservation organisations worldwide. Part of my job entailed encouraging over 100 organisations to participate. You could say that I was thorough and tenacious in this role, Laurie preferred the term 'cybernag', which certainly made her stick in my memory!

While working with Planet Whale I dreamed up a bold venture to embark on a three and a half month writing trip, volunteering my time for three cetacean conservationists and while doing so write about their lives, work and passions. I believe that conservationists are truly inspiring people and I wanted to share to their stories as encouragement to others to follow their dreams. I contacted three individuals whom I had established a connection with through Planet Whale, and guess what, Laurie was one.
Amanda Banks
I have been involved in this project since mid-April, writing stories about conservationists on my blog: I began in California writing about Peggy Stap of Marine Life Studies. From there I travelled to Peru and wrote about Stefan Austermühle and Nina Pardo of Mundo Azul. I have also been fortunate enough to interview other whale conservationists along the way, such as Bob Talbot, Pieter Folkens and Bob Bowman. And now I am on Grand Manan Island, on the last leg of my trip, writing about Laurie Murison. When I return to England in August I will be fashioning some of the blog posts into magazine articles.

I have to say I am thoroughly enjoying myself writing about Laurie. Laurie's life, work and knowledge are truly fascinating and she is a wonderfully clear and descriptive interviewee, all of which makes my task of turning her words into an engaging read an easy one! To read the first post on Laurie, visit:
From there you can scroll forwards to read the following posts on her, and backwards to read about the other conservationists I have been writing about.

I hope you enjoy reading about this incredible woman, and do feel free to leave a comment about her when you visit!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Visiting Master's Student

Ashley Heinze is staying at the GMWSRS for the month of July as part of her Master's research.  She attends the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, ME.  Her supervisor, Sean Todd, is a long time colleague and it is a pleasure to offer the opportunity for this collaboration.

Passengers watching fin whales off the "Elsie Menota", the whale watch vessel
for Whales-n-Sails Adventures.
Her thesis is comparing attitudes and knowledge of whale watchers before and after a whale watch, similarities and differences between whale watches in Bar Harbor and Grand Manan, and whale behaviour during whale watches.

Her first three whale watches have been very different, with many more to come.  Whales-n-Sails Adventures has graciously offered free trips where room allows, as a whale watch company in Bar Harbor.  Any photos that she needs will be provided from my selection taken daily and to be used for photo-identification.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Whale watching trip July 2

I first started working on whale watch boats during my masters and used the  chance to collect behavioural data on right whales.  Each year since, I have worked on a whale watch as a naturalist, and used that opportunity to collect data of whale, seabird and other large pelagic sightings, such as sharks and blue fin tuna.  The trips are all a bit different and some more memorable than others. 

July 2 we had an amazing day south east of White Head Island, part of the Grand Manan Archipelago and a tidal upwelled area that concentrates prey and attracts predators such as whales and seabirds.  There have been some fin whales in the area which we found easily but then groups of Atlantic white-sided dolphins arrived and the fin whales immediately changed their behaviour from 4 to 6 minute dives to 2 minute dives. The fin whales kept in a small area and the groups of dolphins associated with the fin whales, bow riding. The number of fin whales increased over the time we were with them with the whales keeping in a tight area with the dolphins.

Before we spotted the dolphins I was intrigued but the activity of some of the fin whales who were arching highly but not going for long dives. Some also seemed to be charging (swimming quickly to the surface throwing a large bow wave) and then the dolphins showed up. The dolphin vocalizations can be heard underwater for several kilometres. Perhaps the fin whales were anticipating their arrival or the dolphins were attracted to the activity of the fin whales.

There was great excitement on board but it seemed like there was great excitement with the fin whales, some of whom were vocalizing at the surface (low rumbling calls) which we could hear. Fin whales have deep voices and usually their calls need to be speeded up for us to hear them. For fin whales this was like us talking several octaves above our normal range in a high shrill. I heard more fin whale calls during this whale watch than I have ever heard at one time.

The dolphins were mostly juveniles and adults with no calves and stayed in three groups of about 10-12 individuals each, associating only with the fin whales who were in groups from two to six or seven. Normally dolphins will come over to a boat and check it out but they completely ignored us and stayed with the whales.

The fog moved in on us but not before we counted 23 fin whales and about 35 dolphins. As we left the area but could still hear the activity through the fog.

A humpback whale, named Tornado, on the northern edge of the whale distribution rounded out the trip.  I also recorded eleven species of seabirds (great and sooty shearwaters, Wilson's storm petrels, northern gannet, northern fulmar, common eider, herring gulls, greater black-backed gulls,  razorbill, common murre, black guillemot) and a bald eagle and an osprey.  There were also a couple of blue fin tuna that we could see pushing at the surface - this is swimming just below the surface and leaving a visible wake.