June 30, 2004
Though there were few humpbacks sighted today off Central Vancouver Island due to thick fog and weather conditions of Beaufort 5, other marine life provided interesting diversions, including the abundant Dall's porpoise that occasionally bow-ride the ship, as well as the marine birds, such as the murres and black-footed albatross. Richard Rowlett, the Senior Marine Mammal Observer on our watch, shared his wealth of knowledge gleaned from thirty plus years of going to sea on such survey cruises. Though known as a marine mammal expert, Richard also has a passion for birding and was equally conversant in the natural history and ecology of alcids as cetaceans. My co-watch stander, Lilian Carswell, of the US Fish & Wildlife Service, had extensive experience with near-coastal species, with a specialty in sea otters, but was also a neophyte on an offshore line transect survey such as this SPLASH cruise. Both Lilian and I greatly appreciated Richard's expertise and under his tutelage learned to observe with a more discerning eye.
We also spent some time with Richard learning to perfect our marine mammal sketches, an important part of our sighting reports. In our reports we include a narrative describing the distinguishing features that led us to identify an individual as belonging to a particular species. We also include a sketch of our sighting, paying close attention to details, such as the distinctive falcate curve of a fin whale or the signature saddle patch of an orca. These subtle differences are second nature to the experienced observers, and Lilian and I hope to perfect this skill over the course of our cruise.
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