Friday, December 29, 2006

Unexpected Visitors

Last night a Japanese fishing vessel came to Midway in order to drop off an injured crew member who needed to be evacuated to Honolulu. The poor guy got a long line fish hook in his neck and needed medical attention. The crew had a very hard time getting their ship (the Kotobuki Maru No. 38) into the harbor due to high winds, big seas, and the limited maneuverability of their vessel. While they were making their way into the channel that leads to the harbor the ship struck the bottom, although we did not know this at the time. It took almost 30 minutes for the crew to get their ship tied up to the dock due to the wind but they finally got the vessel secure and were able to unload the crewman. I spoke to our doctor, who examined the man upon his arrival, and he told me that the hook was imbedded in the man's neck and had barely missed the carotid artery (extremely lucky). None of the crew from the ship speaks English but eventually a translator was brought up on the radio and the Captain was able to communicate to the staff here that they had hit bottom while coming in and were leaking diesel. Once we found that out our night got busy in a hurry! A crew was organized to assemble and deploy an oil containment boom around the ship. I was in the boat that pulled the boom into place around the ship (with John and Twan) while another crew on the dock helped secure the boom in place. The whole operation went smoothly, and everyone worked together very well. In the photo above, taken this morning, you can see the orange containment boom around the hull of the ship. As of tonight, the ship is still here, waiting for repairs and a Coast Guard inspection crew who are flying in tonight.

Monday, December 25, 2006

"Twas the Night Before Christmas....

"Twas the night before Christmas and all through the Atoll, every creature was stirring, especially the party biologists." Well, it is officially Christmas here at Midway atoll, and we rang it in in style. After a long week of work the crew here cut loose a little bit and got funky on the dance floor to the sounds of our home grown jam band the "Chugach Band." The band is made up almost entirely of guys from Thailand who play a mix of classic rock, and funky Thai jams that got the party thumping. It was a very good time, and everyone on the island participated in the party. In the photo above are Caleb and Gretchen, two of the volunteers here who help me out with my work. Caleb is a botanist from Homer, Alaska and Gretchen has lived in Hawaii, studying Monk Seals for several years. They both are wonderful people and talented biologists. Gretchen was recently engaged to another one of the researchers on the island and they are a fun couple to be around. In the photo to the left I am boogieing down with Tanaya who is here to care for a group of captive monk seal pups that are going to be released into the wild in a few months. She is from San Francisco and is part of a research group that has pioneered techniques for the care and keeping of wild seals.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Bits and Pieces

My work out here on Midway requires a lot of direct contact with the birds. We are putting bands on individual birds so that we can track them over time to better understand factors that effect adult survival and breeding success. To get the bands on the birds we have to reach under them while they sit on their nest, incubating their eggs. We prefer not to pick them up or restrain them to put the bands on because it can be stressful for the birds and the humans. Although most of the birds are pretty mellow, some birds take offense with us reaching under them and they lash out with their bill. The albatross bill is extremely well adapted for snatching up small squid (their primary prey item) off the water. However, it is also incredibly well suited for grabbing and tearing fingers, backs of hands, shins, ankles and any soft body part that gets within snapping radius. It is not hard to tell who on Midway is working on the albatross, all you have to do is check their wrists and hands for bits and pieces of missing skin.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Saturday Night at Midway

It is a quiet Saturday night here at Midway. I am winding down after a nice, full day off. After a week of wind and rain the weather let up this morning and the sun was out most of the day. I spent much of the day on the beach, sitting in the sun watching the alabtross flying all around me. We had a good, strong breeze coming out of the west and the birds were showing off their aerial acrobatics. It is incredible to see how effortlessly they can manuever in the air, given how ungainly they are on land. I took a long swim in the ocean today and a small flock of White Terns followed me almost the whole time. They are incredibly curious and will fly right up to you to check you out. Whenever I stopped for a rest they came in close and I thought one was going to land on my head!