Pelagic Surveys… Well, Kinda
Last Tuesday, I was invited to be part of a survey conducted by USFWS of the west side, or the side only visible by boat, of offshore rocks along the central Oregon coast. We were looking for Cormorant and Western Gull nesting sites and Pigeon Guillemots. These nest are not accessible for viewing from the mainland and therefore required us hop on a zodiak and go for a ride. I had been invited by my roommate, Peter, who works for USFWS after we had stopped by the office and ran into Shawn, one of the biologists on staff. We had stopped in to pick up a few things for a trip we planned, When Shawn saw us and asked Peter if he was still interested in helping out with some surveys. Peter said yes and then asked if I would like to help. I said yes without knowing exactly what we would be doing (something I often do), and explained to Shawn how I conducted the surveys a Yaquina Head with the OSU seabird oceanographic lab. He said there was plenty of room on the zodiac and that they needed the help, and me coming along should be fine. He then went on to explain what exactly we would be looking for, Corm’s and PiGu’s on the west side of rocks from Newport to Depoe Bay starting around 9. “Have you been on a boat before?” Shawn asked “Well not really, not out in the ocean” I replied. What had I gotten myself into I thought, as we left the office I was somewhat nervous and anxious and wondered if I would succumb to sea and become another victim, I had heard the stories before.
The morning of our trip was a very cloudy one, yet surprisingly calm. On our way to Newport, I would periodically look over my shoulder at the clear patches of forest and look out to the water. The waves were nonexistent and the trees were still, a different sight from their usual tremble caused by the winds. We’d stop by the grocery store to pick up snacks and a hot breakfast before we set out. We didn’t pick up any seasickness meds, I was really worried about it that I think I was making myself nauseous with anxiety. When we arrived, Shawn was hitching up the trailer carrying the boat to the pick up. I walked up to the boat greeted and thanked him again for letting me ride along. He had a big smile on his face and thanked me for helping with the surveys and then tossed me a float coat. “See if that fits you,” it looked like a snow jacket you would wear in the dead of winter. After being fitted with a coat and pants I went in to the office, and ran into Dawn, the person that I work closely with at USFWS. She asked me if I was nervous and if I had taken any meds, “Did you eat a real greasy breakfast?” I replied by nodding my head slowly, confirming that I had consumed the breakfast sandwich. “Oh, well you’ll just chum all the fish in,” she said jokingly.
As we headed out of the bay I could feel th nerves that were bubbling in my stomach begin to ease off. We were ripping through the water and catching some pretty good air. It was so much fun! The boat would bounce off every incoming wave and the view was incredible. We saw so much wildlife just riding up north to Depoe Bay. Harbor Porpoise, Common Murres and even some Grey Whales. After being out there for a couple of hours, I felt comfortable, like a natural out on the water. We had stopped near Yaquina Head for lunch. At that point, the sun had peeked out from under the blanket of clouds and everything seem calmer, as if the birds were taking a break too. After doing our surveys and seeing some more awesome wildlife, like Marbled Murrelets and even a Tufted Puffin, our day ended with racing through the bay at top speed. It was such a thrill! Being out at sea with some great biologists and helping out with monitoring being done by a federal agency is something anyone interested in research and wildlife would absolutely love, and I am glad I got to be a part of it.