Friday, May 31, 2013

The Return of J pod

J pod returned today! It was all set up as a slow day in the office (it’s mailing season, so we were stuffing envelopes)—then Melissa, one of the other interns, got a text—the whales were back! Melissa, Kate, and I all piled into Melissa’s car and we were off for Lime Kiln!

Kate and Melissa, waiting with bated breath
 We got there right in time—with just a little bit of waiting, the whales appeared! I was caught unawares, so I only had my cell phone, but I managed to capture some of the great antics that were happening.

Lime Kiln is so pretty...

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Bikes, Giftshops, and Employee Discounts!

I got a bike today! One of my co-workers at the Whale Museum had a bike that was not being used and graciously lent it to me to use for the rest of my stay here! I can finally get to the library fast! I’m super excited.

In other news today, I got to visit a Road Scholar group (the lecture was given out at their hotel as opposed to at the Whale Museum) and listen to Cindy’s talk on Cetaceans of the Salish Sea. Road Scholar groups always tend to ask insightful questions, so I’m always glad to listen in on a group because I always learn more.

After the Road Scholars, we headed back to the museum where there were a bunch of free-walking college students and a guided group of fifth graders waiting to learn about whales. All I can really say is that this part of the day whizzed past me so fast that it didn’t really leave an impression. Perhaps it’s because I already know quite a bit of the presentation that was given to the fifth graders.

After the fifth graders, I got to work in the shop. Now, I’m not sure if I’ve told you, but in addition to working as an intern, I’ve also gotten a job working at the gift shop—it’s paid and helps me feel a bit better about taking an unpaid internship (that is generously funded by my kind benefactor!) right after graduation (plus the loan counseling that accompanied it). Today I got a better idea of the stock room, worked the register without needing to ask people for help, and labeled items.

I get an employee discount, but I absolutely cannot use it; I’d go crazy otherwise. So far, I’ve only bought a pair of Orca earrings, and am eyeing some scarves…and a water bottle…and some plushes for people back home…

You see why I refuse to buy anything else yet? If I start, I may need another suitcase by the time I return home!

Monday, May 27, 2013

A Busy Memorial Day!

Memorial Day dawned gray and drizzly. It was also a wonderful day off for me. I’m glad, but I heard that it was one of the busiest days at the museum yet, and I wish I could have been there to help.

Maria, my landlady, and I went to see the Memorial Day parade, but arrived late—we did get to see the traditional costumes and bagpipes, though. I was pleased with that. Following the parade, Maria showed me some shops that are her favorites—including my biggest vice: a used bookstore filled to the brim with books I like. I only left the shop with three books, but am anticipating more on the way. Luckily, the shop buys books back.

After a bit of prodding on my part, I discovered that Maria had some stuff at Ace Hardware that I insisted we pick up. It was a couple of planters and two cans of paint. Maria’s not old old, but she’s getting there and I demanded that I carry the stuff for her. Ace Hardware is a bit away from the house but, as I told Maria, it’s nothing on haying back at the farm.

After returning home and collapsing on my bed for a bit (as I also do after haying), I read my books and basically lounged about my room. It’s so nice to have a lazy day!

Sunday, May 26, 2013


Every Sunday, I volunteer with Soundwatch, which spreads education about different laws about harassing marine life in the water on the water…via a super tiny speedboat. Last time, we nearly got mowed down by a larger boat, but it changed direction and we were able to speed out of the way in time. We keep it from going into J-pod, though, so that’s a good thing. Soundwatch today was dreary and drizzly, but the water was smooth as glass. There were no major whale sightings, so we hung out to fuel up at Roche Harbor where we waited, and waited…and waited. By noon, there had been no major sightings, so we packed up and headed back to Snug Harbor, our water base of operations.

Then I spent the rest of the day, relaxing and reading, while preparing for future events at the Whale Museum.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Around the Isle of San Juan

Saturday was just supposed to be a lazy day off. I had no work, no place to go, nothing to do. So what did I do? I slept in, for one thing. Then I had a lazy day in with guides to marine life as well as library books. And then, fate called me.

…Well, I say fate, but what I mean is my lovely benefactor.  He had time, a car and offered to show me around the island. Who was I to say no? I answered the call and got all ready and then we were off!

First was to stop in Roche Harbor, the other main city in San Juan Island, and also on the opposite tip of the island. During the drive, I was regaled with anecdotes about the island, its history, and his experiences in the marine naturalist training program. It was very informational. Roche Harbor is one of the closest points in the Pacific Northwest to Canada. I could see Vancouver Island from there! We had lunch, took a look at the marina, explored an English garden, and then headed south. I must say that the English garden we saw had some truly spectacular poppies.

Roche Harbor

The marina

Traveling south, we stopped by the English Camp National Historic Park and then went to an alpaca farm. Yes, you heard me right, an alpaca farm. There were many fuzzy, adorable alpacas which reminded me somewhat of the goats my family used to raise. It was almost an overload of cuteness. We drove past the San Juan County Park, Lime Kiln State Park, and then took a detour to see a lavender farm. Then we went down to see the False Bay and drove until we got to the American Camp National Historic Park. During that leg of the journey, we saw some animals—foxes, to be precise!

We also saw foxes

Following that, we ambled down to South Beach, Cattle Point, and Cape San Juan. The views were breathtaking. If were a weaker woman, I would have already decided to move here due to the gorgeous scenery, however I am determined to live in the South and the Southwest just to get my bearings straight before I decide to permanently settle down.

South Beach

More of South Beach
After that, we headed back, as he needed to catch the ferry. I had dinner and then got ready for bed. But what an excellent day!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Slow Day

Today I learned how to work in the gift shop, giving me paid employment for the summer. Yippee! I also became an “office lumberjack” by way of the copier. This title I bestowed upon myself because I was replenishing the summer stock for the children’s coloring room in the museum. So many trees died for this cause…I hope they will be recycled in the end. I need this to be true! After my shift at the gift shop, I sat through an informational session on Soundwatch and all it entails. Most of it I knew already from my previous outing, but now I am officially certified to be a Soundwatch volunteer! Now the only problem is getting there…

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Party of Pinnipeds

Today we focused on pinnipeds and orcas. Pinnipeds (pinni meaning flipper, and ped meaning foot), are mammals that live in water and have flippers for feet. There are three basic types of pinnipeds: seals, sea lions, and walruses, but you can only find Harbor Seals and Stellar Sea Lions in Friday Harbor. Despite both being classified under the name ‘pinniped,’ there are several differences between seals and sea lions.

Seals sport a spotted coat that covers every inch of their body. We have a touch table at the museum, and I can assure you that seal pelt is super soft, fine and I can see why people would want to wear it.  It is illegal now, however, to hunt the creatures here and for that I am glad. Seals also have special whiskers that are “beaded.” Beaded whiskers mean that they are bumpy to the touch. And actually, these whiskers aren’t really whiskers at all: they’re called vibrissae. Vibrissae work in the same way whiskers on a cat do, however, and sense changes in the water as well as movement around the animal itself. Seals have short, stubby fins and can only move by dragging themselves around. They also have no external ears—only ear holes.

Sea Lions, on the other hand, are quite larger than seals and are usually a solid color, such as dark brown for the California Sea Lion or golden brown for the Stellar Sea Lion. Their vibrissae are straight and smooth, much like uncooked spaghetti, and much longer than a seal’s. Their pelt, interestingly enough, leaves the flippers bare—and they can walk (or kinda hop) rather than pulling themselves on their bellies, like seals.

Unlike the seals, they also have tiny ear stubs, are larger in size, more social, and much nosier.

There is so much to learn about Orcas, I’m hoping to do it in an upcoming post. :)

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Adventures of Sarah and Stinky Bill

Tuesday was a pretty hectic day! On this momentous day, we were visited by around 60 to 70 fourth graders to learn about Gray whales.  The programming was fantastic! The Whale Museum has a number of whale skeletons, but the fourth graders actually got to put together a disarticulated gray whale skeleton found in 1995! This skeleton even has a name, Stinky Bill! From the head, school groups get to reassemble the spine, ribs, and tail, while identifying different types of bones and trying to figure out how Stinky Bill died.

Now, Gray whales are an interesting sort of baleen whale. Rather than gathering up water, they head down to the bottom of a shallower part of the ocean and scoop up mud! Inside this mud is the food they love to eat—plankton, krill, and their favorite food—amphipods, a small shrimp-like creature.   

Because of this, Gray whale baleen is set a bit wider apart than other baleen whales because it has more sediment to push out. Much like the other baleen whales, Gray whales scoop their food out of the baleen with their tongue (which can weigh up to 2,000 lbs!) and consume about 1.5 tons of krill and other associated creatures a day.

We had multiple school groups come in and learn this today. And after hearing the lecture so many times, I think I’ve gotten the basics down. But I’m still learning.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Splashing into the museum

Rather than slowly easing into the job on the first day, I decided to make a splash! Well, it wasn’t really my decision, but I’m glad it was done. After manning the touch table in the morning (more on that later), Carrie and I headed down to Lime Kiln State Park where the second graders of San Juan Island were having a field trip. There were several stations, and I only help manned two, but it was really interesting to see the programming, and also learn as well!

For the programming, we focused on how boat engines interfere with orca communication by grouping the kids into “Orcas” and “boats” and then creating different settings, such as Orcas with no boats, Orcas with noisy boats, and Orcas with polite boats. It helped the kids realize the difference and need for the protection and laws associated with whale watching.

My focus in life is museum education; basically teaching kids about what’s in the museum and doing fun activities along with it. I have little to no background in marine animals, marine biology, or marine anything, and so I’m taking this opportunity to work at the Whale Museum as a challenge. Right now, I’ve got about three or four books on marine mammals and identification guides for San Juan Island on my nightstand and I skim parts of them before bed. I’m used to knowing what I’m looking at, be it out the window, on my walk, or out the car, so I’ve been rather rattled by only being able to identify poplars and the fact that ‘that tree is a conifer’ and the like. I really need to bone up on this information. And that’s not even including my dearth of knowledge on whales.

As Mom said, it’s going to be a steep learning curve for me, but I’m positive I can make it. And sometime soon it will be I giving the lectures on baleen whales vs. toothed whales and what exactly a pinniped is in the upstairs of the Whale Museum. Soon it will be me…

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Whales Ahoy!

Today was a super busy day! I woke up early because the students of the Marine Naturalist Training Program were graduating and in honor of this, the class had rented a whale watch boat—and I was invited! Despite my earlier luckiness in seeing J-pod, there were no orcas today. But there were plenty of sea lions, seals and even a Minke!

Harbor seals

Steller sea lions

Minke whale!

Minke whales are baleen whales which mean they have no teeth, only a filtering system made out of keratin, the same protein that makes up our hair and fingernails. They scoop up lots of water and small animals, such as ghost shrimp and krill, and then filter it out. However baleen is pretty hard to clean, so Minke whales have a nickname—stinky Minkes. Once you get a whiff, you can never forget. This can be smelled whenever a Minke comes up for air.

Look at the view!

Friday Harbor from the boat

After the trip was done, Kate and I were immediately carted off to the next part of our internship—Soundwatch. Soundwatch is an organization run by the Whale Museum that monitors and records boaters around whales as well as provides information for them.  J-pod was out today, so we had quite a busy day speeding around in our boat and informing people of the proper way to view whales. On our downtime, I even managed to get a few shots, but due to my lack of a telescoping lens, you have to make with zooming in on the photographs themselves. The upside-down black 'v's are the dorsal fins.

This one's a little blurry, but if you look where the blue changes to light blue (in the center), you can see an Orca rolling over to show its flipper!

This one's in the center, right at the line where the dark blue turns to light blue

This is a couple of them, also on the center line where the blue changes color
We spent four hours out there, before heading back to our docking ground. It was quite lovely but the one thing I would have changed was to put sunscreen on my ears! They’re all sunburned!

The day ended, as most have so far on this island, with exhaustion and falling into bed early. I think I’m still a bit jet-lagged and it shows!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Settling In

Today, after a serious sleep in, I went exploring the island. There's no internet at my house right now, so I trekked twenty minutes to the library, while figuring out the layout of the town. It's pretty darn cute. And now I'm in the library typing this up. Oh man, what a library; it's stocked with some of my favorite books and I feel that I will become a frequent customer.

I am going to buy a bike--sometime. The cheaper shop doesn't open until Tuesday, but they make appointments over phone during the weekend, so that's an option.

So, what am I doing here on San Juan Island exactly?

I have been taken on as an education intern at the Whale Museum. What does this mean? It means that I get to work with educational programming especially for children. This is ABSOLUTELY PERFECT for me because I want to eventually go to some sort of grad school/certificate program for children's education in museums. In addition to this, I will also be working with the Marine Naturalist Certification program as both a student and instructor. I'm super pumped.

But as a recent graduate (and congratulations, by the way), don't you have to make some money, rather than go to an unpaid internship, you may ask. Well, the answer is quite simple. While I will not be making money off of this, a very generous grant from a former alum of my college provides for me while I'm here. I will not be making money, but I won't be losing money either. Starting this fall, I'll probably be looking for some sort of job (if not working in an archives--more on that later, as well).

Well, I need to be heading back, but please leave a comment if you want to hear anything in specific!

Friday, May 17, 2013

Welcome to Friday Harbor

So after a harrowing 27-28 hours of travel, I finally made it to Friday Harbor. I will refrain from telling you the harrowing tale of sleeping in a strange airport, the unnatural taste of strong coffee, and a leaking shampoo bottle, but know that I really am not fond of airports. Next time I'm getting a non-stop flight!

Everyone I've talked to about this trip has mentioned how much the scenery is astounding, breath-taking and a variety of other positive verbs. I am very sorry to admit that rather than look at the scenery all around me, I was out like a light the entire ride to the ferry.

So, I hopped on the ferry and what did I see but cormorants! I'm not sure if I mentioned it in my previous travel blog about Japan, but when I went to Uji, I got to see the fishing cormorants used in ceremonies. These were certainly much freer that the ones before!

So, the ferry was taken and soon we arrived at Friday Harbor, the place I'm working this summer! We were met by Cindy, my boss, and taken to our new home where we met our landlord and got groceries. But who is this 'we,' you ask. There is actually another intern called Kate who is working in another program but staying at the same house. It was practically serendipity that we met--we didn't know each other but we met at the airport and were on the same ferry! After the house, we quick stopped by the whale museum to take a look at what was in store for us. I'll go into detail in a later post, but what I've seen is STUPENDOUS!

And look at that marvelous sign!

Then Cindy got a call -- the whales were moving inward towards the shore! We jumped into the car and raced towards Lime Kiln point. There, we waited with bated breath...and waited...and waited.

While waiting, I took pictures

And then we saw them! They were in resting mode, which means that they had half their brains turned off and so were periodically bobbing up and down to get air, but weren't really active. It was amazing. Kate and I had only been on the island for under two hours and we had already seen whales. It was spectacular!

Unfortunately, my battery had died, so there are none of my photos of whales. I may grab some from the others who were photographing as well and add them in. But it was amazing.

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Start of a New Adventure

So, I'm back. And now I have a degree to come along with me. Well...not quite yet. As of May 12, 2013, I will have graduated with a B.A. while majoring in Japanese Language and Culture, with minors in Museum Studies and Anthropology. Wow.

And, after that, I'll be heading to the lovely island of San Juan to start my first job as a graduated student--working at the Whale Museum.

But where is San Juan Island, Sarah, you wonder. And how does this relate to your Japanese adventures?

Well, San Juan Island is right off the coast of Washington state. And there may be Japanese tourists there, but I'm planning on working on the museum side of my degree. That's what I want to  work in in the future, after all.

But yes, until then, I still have a lot of packing, as well as graduating to do. See you soon!