Friday, August 27, 2010

Orca Study - 8/27/2010

"Everybody loves a pooping whale!" (Jessica, our PI.)

Hours upon hours have been spent looking for whale poop this summer.  Whale poop comes in many different colors, textures and sizes.  Most of the time each sample that we collect on a daily basis is completely different from the previous one.  Samples range from light brown to dark brown, to flesh colored to a white snotty color.  Sometimes we are looking for fecal matter that is the size of a pea!  While we love the samples that are pancake size or silver dollar size, most of the time we find quarter
Pea size pieces of whale poop with cereal
or dime-sized splatters of whale poop. You see, the main thing we've come to realize is that whale poop is extremely delicate.  Rough waters, boats motoring by, strong currents, or a slap of a whale tail, all have the ability to disperse and sink the poop before we can reach it.

Aside from sinking poops, one of the obstacles that we deal with on a daily basis is that there is a lot of algae, sea grass, sea weed, etc in the waters up here. Not all places have the same amounts or the same varieties however it can make looking for whale poop quite challenging sometimes.  Tucker (our scat detection dog), is perfect for locating the poop and getting us to the initial sample. However, that's where his job ends and ours begins. We use poop float markers with float-able landscape flags to mark the sample's location upon initial detection.  As we turn the boat around and head back to the poop float, everyone on-board watches the water.  If anyone spots more whale poop, they throw
 Puffins; a cereal that is able to float along with the poop and mark individual pancake, silver dollar, lentil bean or pea size pieces (see above photo). Once we are able to start scooping poop, one really sees how many other things there are that look similar to whale poop. 

(Poop float marker created by Kelsey, our awesome intern. Photo taken by Jennifer Hartman.)

To really give you all an idea of what I'm talking about, I have a little quiz. Below are some photos of Rockweed and whale poop. Can you tell which is which?

This is whale poop! About the size of a quarter. The two pictures above it are Rockweed.
Whale poop pancake! The look-a-likes below are Rockweed.