#16: The Calvineer's Visit Day 1

This summer The CALVIN* Project's Calvineers from the Adams School were invited to experience right whale research first hand at the New England Aquarium's Right Whale Research field station in Lubec, Maine. Two Calvineers, 7th grader Meredith Houghton and 8th grader Meredith Olivari, were able to take advantage of the unique invitation, spending two days and a night at the field station called the Whale House. The following is an account of the first day of their experience working and living with the scientists. (Click here if you'd like to learn a bit more about the Calvineers through their presentation given at the Aquarium May 17, 2011.)

"I learned so much from my two days spent in Lubec, it was a great opportunity to see what it's really like to live in a research environment and study whales." explained Meredith Olivari while reflecting on her visit. Meredith said that she was put right to work learning how to image code with DIGITS, the online data base program that holds most of the data collected by scientists about North Atlantic right whales since the early 1980's. She thought doing the work was a lot of fun and besides, "it is helping the scientists get some of the 'boring' work done." Meredith Houghton reflected on her first data task, "It was so interesting to learn about how the scientists keep track of and organize all of the images that get put into the system. We spent the (first) hour, coding pages of images that Amy was happy to print out for us." In fact, the two student scientists thought it was so much fun they rambled through a long list, coding more than 100 images before lunch. Once they did that they decided they were experts and knew the job well. "Only 3000 more to go!" they exclaimed.

The Calvineers' first meal was an eye opener. Lunch was left over Indian food from the day before. Claudia, the cook, had prepared it from scratch. What a treat, and even better the second day! After lunch they helped their teacher and Right Whale Program volunteer, Bill McWeeny, and scientist, Amy Knowlton, launch the Bonita, a zodiac (inflatable boat) used by the research team. The young ladies were learning that scientists in the field have to do all sorts of jobs including maintenance of the vessels and equipment. Then, Captain Amy Knowlton took the launch crew on a shakedown cruise across Cobscook Bay to Eastport. Meredith Houghton realized that a scientist might have to have a captain's license also. "Scientists have to do all sorts of things," she commented. The trip across the bay included a close inspection of salmon farm pens, and a Coast Guard inspection of the Bonita which surprised all, but everything was shipshape and the trip continued. Eastport is a small town with a few gift shops and galleries and restaurants. The crew's mission was to decide which flavor ice cream to sample. "Yum!"

Back at the Whale House, Claudia was cooking up a storm. It was pasta night and the smells of the various sauces were intoxicating. The two Merediths took advantage of the lull before dinner to do more image coding. They were in Lubec to do science and used every free minute to work on DIGITS. Other scientists in the large home office were also finishing up a day's work on data and reports. Most visitors are exempt from dinner duties, but the two student scientists pitched in, setting the table for 13 people and after dinner loading the dishwasher. "The meals here were amazing, last night we had gnocchi with pesto, penne with red sauce that had artichokes and Kalamata olives. I loved the food!" is how Meredith Olivari summed up the experience. Meredith Houghton agreed, "Claudia is a fantastic cook, we just couldn't stop eating the food she made!" The two student scientists managed to get a third session of image coding in after dinner and even watched a bit of the Olympics with the scientists in the small, crowded TV room.

Most of the evening, however, was spent working on a special project. Tricia Naessig (who is team leader for the Georgia Wildlife Trust in the calving grounds and is in Lubec to train with the Aquarium scientists) bought a chocolate whale at Monica's Chocolate shop in Lubec. She decided to make the sperm whale into a right whale ... specifically #2791, because that was the one whale she had seen the most of in the Bay of Fundy. Our Calvineers became totally involved; cutting, melting, foraging in the pantry for just the right callosity and scar materials (pecans and rice!). They helped Tricia create the ultimate #2791 whale. They learned anatomical details in spades! Of course it was their job to go onto DIGITS and search for pictures of every body part that #2791 has and then recreate the callosities and scars on the chocolate whale.

They were in bed by 10:00 PM but set their alarm for 5:30 AM because they wanted to help the scientists load the Nereid in the morning for a survey effort.

Stay tuned for the Calvineer's second day at the research station in Lubec and their exciting whale watch experience. They also get a chance to try matching whales with DIGITS.

* Students in Adams School's "The CALVIN Project" are called Calvineers. The Calvineers have been active in educating the public about the plight of the North Atlantic Right Whale for four years. Not only have they given many PowerPoint presentations in public, but they have also written letters to the president and legislators and the two Merediths spoke at Senator Olympia Snowe's Senate Subcommittee meeting last February. Preparing for presenting, letter writing and speaking took a lot of study and hard work over the years. In addition to the classroom studies, Calvineers have observed right whales in the Bay of Fundy and attended two North Atlantic Right Whale Consortium Meetings in New Bedford, MA. To date, fourteen students have taken part in The CALVIN Project.

Photo Captions:
1) The Cavineers hard at work in the Lab
2) Boat ride to Eastport
3) The Merediths recreate whale #2791 in chocolate

All photos taken by Bill McWeeney

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