#17: The Calvineers Visit Day 2

Team members Amy Knowlton and Moe Brown were up before 5:00 AM checking the weather but the forecast for heavy winds forced them to cancel the Nereid's surveying efforts for the day. Because the Nereid did not go out the two Merediths got to sleep in until 7:30. After breakfast, which is "on your own" at the Whale House, the student scientists and Mr. McWeeny drove into Canada to Campobello Island to go on the Island Cruises Whale Watch with Mackie Green. In addition to running the whale watch boat, Mister Matthew, Mackie is on the Campobello Whale Rescue Team (CWRT). "Not only will we see whales and other sea creatures but we just might hear some stories of rescued whales." Meredith Olivari said hopefully. She was not disappointed. Robert, Mackie's first mate and fellow CWRT teammate, told us all about a rescue they did two years ago of a right whale caught in some fishing gear up near St. John, New Brunswick. "The work sounds exciting and dangerous, " Meredith Houghton commented thoughtfully.

The boat ride took us out past East Quoddy Lighthouse on Campobello's North Head. (East Quoddy Lighthouse has a red cross on it and should not be confused with the red striped West Quoddy Lighthouse in the United States.) The wind was light but Cobscook Bay was all churned up with the incoming tide running very strong around all sorts of islands, rocks and jetties. Harbor porpoise fed skillfully in the eddies using a bubble feeding technique to round up their prey while swarms of screeching gulls snatched up scraps of fish left over at the surface. Soon enough we were upon a couple of minke whales. Here is Meredith Olivari's account:

"Whale watching off Campobello Island was awesome and we saw three minke whales. Meredith and I named all the whales we saw. The first whale was Jacqueline and her smaller friend Brady. It seemed that if we gave the whales names we would have a stronger connection with them, almost like a human connection, and that way we kind of remember them better like people we meet or like new friends. When we moved to a different part of the bay we spotted a large Minke and for some odd reason the name Lars immediately popped into my head, Lars the Swedish Minke. I told Meredith and together we came up with this whole story about Lars like he came from Swedish waters and, since he was quite playful, was enjoying the "warm" Canadian bay. Lars came right up by the boat and we could see him very well, he was smooth and slick and we admired him while we could but in just a couple seconds he was gone, into the ocean again."

Meredith's "game" of naming the whales has some very practical uses in the world of science. Jane Goodall named her chimps with very descriptive names (David Gray Beard) and could tell immediately which family an individual was from by the first letter in its name. The Right Whale Research team has named many right whales with descriptive names (Crescent, Stumpy, Stripe) and some names that describe a whale's behavior like Shackleton for a right whale that explored the Delaware River up to Philadelphia. The student scientists' intuitive act of naming the whales they saw may come in handy if they become scientists and if they learn to use descriptive and not just "cute" names.

The highlight of the whale watch was the rescue of a creature in grave danger. An eagle had fallen into the water and was unable to fly. It could swim for a while but would eventually die if it were unable to reach land. The description of the event will appear in a subsequent posting entitled "Calvineers Visit: The Rescue".

Back in Lubec, at the Whale House, the Calvineers had left over pastas for lunch. During lunch they had quite a story to share with the scientists who had been working at their computers all morning. After lunch the student scientists learned how to match right whales. The image coding they had been doing would now pay off by helping them find matching images of unknown pictures of whales. Each series of pictures of a whale taken during a survey day (there can be 30 or 40 or more sightings each survey day) has to be matched to a known picture of the same whale. This is the beauty of DIGITS. The program saves hours of searching by using the coded images. Meredith Houghton explains, "Matching was definitely much harder than coding, but we managed to match a whale with Mr. McWeeny and Amy's help. We correctly identified the whale as Eg #2360! The next whale we tried to match did not go so well, and after looking through over 1000 pictures, we found one that was almost exactly the same, and marked it as an unsure match. It felt so awesome to be sitting behind a computer, doing the same exact things that the scientists here do everyday!"

The student scientists spent a good two hours matching just two animals and gained an appreciation for the amount of work that goes into maintaining the data base for the scientific community. Meredith Houghton wished that we could stay in Lubec for another week helping the team.

The day was coming to an end and soon the two would-be scientists would be on their way back to Castine, ME. They both thought the experience was one they would always remember, and Meredith Olivari had this final thought: "Well, if anything, I certainly learned that there is one thing these scientists and whales really have in common; they each have HUGE appetites!"

You can match whales to with the new right whale matching game!

Click here for the Calvineers' description of the exciting eagle rescue by the Campobello Whale Rescue Team.

Photo Captions:
1) Mackie Green shows the Calvineers what it's like to be a captain.
2) The Calvineers in front of East Quoddy Head

3) Struggling Eagle
All photos taken by Bill McWeeney


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