Week 3 – Wait, I leave for good in 5 days…

Most of our packing was done by last week, so this week has largely been focused on our training. Our first goal of the week, though, was to get our buckets that could be frozen, frozen. As I think I’ve mentioned before, we freeze as much of the stuff that we pack as we can to kill bugs and prevent them from getting to Laysan. Because we have so much to freeze, we take it all (by flatbed truck) to UniCold, a large scale freezer company in Honolulu. Sadly, I did not get to see the actual freezer, but we put 10 pallets in there, plus they have space for everything for the big food wholesaler in town, so its rather large. In addition to training, we’ve been doing a bunch of office work this week and have been continuing our seed harvesting and cleaning. Other bits of excitement: we purchased our frozen meat, vegetables, and fruits for the island! MEAT! I got to row more times, this time in a double with a guy that coxed at Cornell. Rowing is awesome. A bunch of us went back to Bellows again (the boogie boarding beach) and the waves were quite solid. Finally got to have my interview with Camp Nuhop (where I am interested in working next summer) while picking more C. sandwichiana, and I got offered a job! Wooo! So, I may have something to do next summer. just need to figure out May…

So, the Laysan crew leader has been working with us to make sure we are competent at species ID throughout our time in Honolulu. As I mentioned, when we go collect fruits for species reintroduction on Laysan, we practice identifying plants. Well, this week we focused more on other kinds of ID. We got to go to the Bishop Museum on Friday and see all of their really cool stocks of dead stuff in the back and in the basement. Oh yeah, government gets the special treatment. First we saw the stuffed birds, namely Frigatebird, Laysan Finch, Laysan Rail (extinct), Laysan Millerbird (extinct), Laysan duck, and several others. In the same room, we also saw a whale’s penis. Just kinda looked like a log. They also had a
Bird of Paradise, an Owl Parrot, and a Cock-of-the-Rock. So cool After the “bird room” we got to see the “alcohol room”, surprisingly not just filled with different kinds of alcohol, but lots of birds, mammals, amphibians, and reptiles preserved in alcohol. Very cool. After animals, we went upstairs to look through folders of plants, some Laysan-endemic and extinct, some extremely invasive. This was so we would know why we’re planting the seeds that we are planting and what species we need to be extremely vigilant for, so they do not get to get started on Laysan. All in all, a delightful trip to look at dead stuff. (Can you tell I like animals more than plants?)
This week we also had Albatross training. Less exciting than it sounds like it could be. We were subjected to a Powerpoint presentation about the past and ongoing studies that have been and are being on the various Albatross species in the NWHI chain. ON Laysan, we will be focused on the Blackfooted Albatross and the Laysan Albatross. If we’re lucky we will also see the Short-tailed Albatross, but I think I heard we only have one that comes around. So, come egg-laying and hatching season (November through February), we will be rather busy with our Albatross work – counting nests, banding individuals (and “recapturing” already tagged individuals) in specific plots, looking for eggs, and other things. The banding work should be really cool and helpful, especially if I want to continue field work in the future, because they always want experience. Little worried about breaking a birds leg because the bands we had to play with were uncooperative, or maybe it was just the pliers. But, apparently we have a different style of band already on island which is supposedly much easier and needs to be used first.
On Thursday we had our Monk Seal training, primarily so we know that we need to stay at least 150′ from the seals, not disturb them, and do our best to not swim with them (remember what I said about the males last week?). However, there are a couple instances where we may have to get close to them, which is pretty exciting: abscess intervention and necropsy. So, if we find a seal with an abscess (infected, puss-filled, lump), our goal is to drain it, flush it, and inject an antibacterial. Remembering that these seals grow up to 600 lbs and that they won’t enjoy us poking, prodding, and cutting them, makes the opportunity all that more exciting. If small enough, we’re supposed to have some people hold the seal down while the operation is performed. If they are, in fact, too large for us to comfortably prevent them from moving, we are only supposed to get the antibacterial injected. To accomplish this without getting “close” we have a syringe on a stick which our supervisor is allowed to used to perform this injection. Close is in quotation marks because the stick is about 3′ long. If we find a dead seal, the seal people want as much information about the seal as we can get them, which means that if we have time, we are to do a necropsy (think autopsy). This involves identifying anything that looks abnormal out the outside and then cutting it open and taking as many tissue samples as we can (blubber, muscle, brain, heart, lungs, stomach, liver, small and large intestines, pancreas, etc…). Obviously, this is a super cool opportunity, to perform a field necropsy on an aquatic mammal. However, there are one or two minor aspects of it which can make it undesirable. First, to really do it fully, it can take about six hours, which is time we don’t really have. Second, we all know what happens to flesh when it sits around – decomposition. The insides are going to be extra gross within six to eight hours. If it has been dead for a day, the guts will just be liquid. Also, cutting it open does nothing to slow the decomp process, so the hot sun on exposed innards will only augment the general bouquet of the carcass. And then we have to bury it, to keep sharks away. (We also have to bury and dead whales that may wash up for the same reason. Yes, it has happened.) Despite that, I kinda still hope we have one necropsy to do.

Office Work
Office work… oh office work. This is what I wanted a field position to escape! Its unavoidable, though, especially if one is working with the government. The main thing that we have been doing in the office is locating missing bird banding records. So, in the past, some researchers have forgotten to properly report what became of some of their bands. Apparently, the researchers throughout the Pacific have not properly reported some 9,000 or so bands, which we have to sift through physical (mostly handwritten) files to find.  If these bands aren’t found and reported properly, there is a pretty good chance that we’ll have a harder time reapplying for a permit. From what I have been finding, most of the “missing” bands are “BADE” (band destroyed), and the researchers just didn’t report that, for some reason. So silly. This work is monotonous, but exceptionally exciting when you actually find what you’re looking for. We have also had to fill out various forms so that later we can get paid and such.
One aspect of office work, or, I guess, really just working with other people, that I find annoying and/or disappointing, is gossip. Outside of the work that we’re doing, the only thing most of us have in common is the people that we work with, so they end up getting talked about a lot. Through out school (all of it, elementary through college), I was very good at not being aware of what was happening around me socially, so I guess I’m not very accustomed to the gossip scene, but it is just insistent on being present now. Sigh.

So, as I mentioned, I leave civilization in five days – the boat leaves on Friday. It is a four day journey on the Kahana out to Laysan, so I will not have any ability to update this blog until after you would expect my next installment. Plus I expect this first week on island will be rather busy. With that in mind, I will just be updating in two weeks from now, but what a lengthy update that could be!

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1 Response to Week 3 – Wait, I leave for good in 5 days…

  1. Pat and Peter Lareau says:

    All very cool Andy! Stay away from the gossip unless its the birds talking. Travel safely on Friday. We’ll be looking forward to your next report!
    Pat and Peter

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