Photo by Ely Brassea
It has been three years since I last was able to go to the field. This sounds unusual for a graduate student to do – miss two seasons in a row in a (ideally) five-year PhD degree – except for the last time I went out to sea I was jumping up and down on a research boat with a big six-month-old belly. Luckily, I count with the awesome support of my collaborators at the Prescott College Kino Bay Research Station’s marine mammal monitoring program, who continue to collect data even when I cannot join them.
The adventures of boat research are something that I will always look forward to (and not even pregnancy could deter me from!) I really am not bothered by the waves on a panga (Mexican word for a small boat), although sometimes my butt disagrees with me. I live for the sea, even when I am landlocked. The responsibilities of raising a man (well, he is a child now but won’t be forever) have kept me busy enough, along with my school responsibilities (PhD degree and Teaching Assistant appointment). So you can imagine how ecstatic I was to be back to the fieldwork!
Our work consists of monitoring the Kino Bay (Mexico) bottlenose dolphin population in a study where we identify each individual through photo-ID (you can read more about this in my Research page). We can track their movements over the area and over time, and can gain much information about the state of the population by the pictures we take. I particularly love this methodology because of all the information we can gather by just taking (good) pictures, and also because it is one of the least invasive approaches to cetacean studies; a win-win!
Bottlenose dolphin mother and calf. New calves are still learning to breathe so they take their full heads out of the water.
Another exciting feature we introduced this year is the use of a drone. We are interested in how this technology can aid in conservation research in a way that is least invasive to the animals. We selected a smaller, less noisy drone to minimize chances of disturbing the dolphins and tested it during our monitoring trips. I am relatively new to drones so it was definitely a learning experience for me, but I am excited about the possibilities and will continue to research the most responsible ways in which to use this technology in dolphin and whale conservation. I will report on our findings in a later post.
It was my birthday while in the field this year and I was hoping to see some whales like we did the last time I was out at sea. Unfortunately, something is happening that whales have not been showing up to the area anymore for the past few years like they used to (another scientific question to investigate). We did not see whales…but we did see a whale shark! Whale sharks are not common on the eastern Gulf of California as they are on the western side, and so it was extra special that we saw one (and my very first sighting ever!). I guess I did get what I asked for…in a way…I got a whale shark 🙂 We also saw sea lions, sea turtles, crabs, jellies, stingrays, several kinds of really cool fish, a variety of seabirds, and many other creatures. The Sea of Cortez is a really productive and diverse ecosystem.
My first, brief encounter with a whale shark. A rare sighting in our study area, and a wonderful birthday gift from the sea.
I am now safely back home with my family and back to my other work. I am happy and grateful to be back on track with fieldwork and am already planning the next season. I hope you enjoy the pictures as much as I enjoyed taking them 🙂 although sometimes they don’t do justice to the mesmerizing beauty of Bahía de Kino.
What a beautiful planet we have!
-Y. A. Scalia 🙂
P.S. I hope you had a happy Fourth of July! May each of us continue on our path to true freedom in all of is forms.