Spines for a change

By: Peter, Rosie, Aaron—

Harbor seal pups gain 11 kilograms (24 lbs) in the first 5 weeks of their life, if everything goes according to plan.  However harbor seals in the Salish Sea are at their environmental carrying capacity, meaning that the population is the maximum that can be supported by the ecosystem.  This is, unfortunately, indicated by the number of seal pups that are found stranded or dead each year due to food shortages.

We began our morning at Friday Harbor Laboratories, where the necropsy of a seal pup was being conducted.  Lead by Dr. Joe Gaydos, author of our Salish Sea guidebook, Salish Sea: Jewel of the Pacific Northwest, and director of the SeaDoc Society. We observed the operation outdoors on the dock.  

The pup had been found a few days previous stranded on the beach and they had been forced to euthanize it because its mother was nowhere to be found at it was clearly in poor condition.  In the necropsy, the specialists examined the organs of the pup to determine what had caused its mother to separate from it and why it was so underweight.  They learned, by the inflammation and depressions in its lungs, the presence of pink foam in the trachea and the partial circumvention of the lungs in the circulatory tract that the pup was having difficulty receiving the oxygen that it needed.  They concluded that this was likely caused by a combination of factors stemming from the lack of sufficient food.

Students looking over the necropsy from the FHL pier.

Joe Gaydos answering our questions on marine mammal anatomy.

Next we arrived at Jacksons Beach on Griffin Bay to assist in the netting of fish for upcoming lab research at the Friday Harbor Labs.  We helped by loading the nets on the boat and pulling them in from shore after they were towed out.  Then we sourted through fish to find sand lance, flatfish and sculpin.

Looking through the nets for fish used for research at FHL.

After lunch we received an introduction to SONAR technology from our very own Tim Brogden, a former Navy SONAR technician.  We then followed this up with dinner with Megan Cook, a Community STEM Program Coordinator for the Nautilus, a unique research vessel that travels around the world doing deep sea exploration.  After dinner she presented about the Nautilus and its mission. Here is their website where you can see live footage of deep underwater exploring: http://www.nautiluslive.org. Our eyes were wide as we watched videos of thousand year old ship wrecks and organisms that seemed to be from another planet. Megan reminded us that humans are natural born explorers and that we are made to discover parts of our unknown world.

Signing off from new found Nautilus enthusiast and future leaders in ocean exploration!

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