Quite Amazing.

Santa Barbara Travel Blog

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I’m back from my research trip. And all I can say is “wow”.

Yesterday was possibly the coolest day of my life. Yes, I say that every time I do something new out here, but really, I don’t think I will ever get a chance to do something like that again.

Actually, it all started on Tuesday night… the boat was leaving at 5:45 am, so a research assistant here named Dani made arrangements for Anja, Dez and I to sleep on the R/V SHEARWATER on Tuesday night. I’ve never slept on a boat… actually I’ve pretty much only been on a boat once before, so that alone was pretty sweet. We got there around 8:00 and used our special dock key to get access to the marina. Captain Lou was there waiting for us, and he helped us get all settled in. We walked around Cabrillo Blvd for a bit (thats the road that runs right along the beach), and then headed back to our home for the night. Anja and I sat up at the bow on our towels and just looked at the stars. It was a super clear night, so it was a great moment… there are about a million ships in that marina, but it was super quiet. Except for the occasional barking of a sea lion. Its amazing how far sounds travel on the ocean.

We headed to bed after that, and even though Captain Lou told us we could sleep until we got to the islands, we woke up the second the boat started at 5:30ish. Good thing, because we didn’t really want to miss the ride over anyway. We headed upstairs and met all the researchers, and then got started. I was really nervous because I had no idea if I would get seasick… the good news is I didn’t. Anja and I quickly made the discovery that rather than getting sick on boats, we get extremely hungry. Seriously, I don’t think we stopped eating the entire 13 hours we were out there. We made up some theory about the rocking of the boat increasing digestion to make us feel better about it.

It took about an hour to get to Santa Cruz Island… Huge cliffs everywhere. It reminded me of the White Cliffs of Dover, except that these cliffs were white from bird poop. Santa Cruz is where the researchers were doing all of their ashy storm-petrel counts. The species is pretty amazing… basically they are at high risk because of a lot of things that humans have done. There are currently between just 5,200 and 10,000 in existence… thats all, in the whole world. Unbelievable! If things continue like this, the researchers told me that they predict they will make the endangered species list in the next few years. Lucky Dez got to be a researcher herself for the day, but Anja and I pretty much just hung out on the boat and observed what was going on (which was good enough for me… plenty of time to sit in the sun and take it all in. Although I am a bit jealous that Dez got to go exploring around a bunch of caves). The first stop was a cave called Bird Egg cave, I believe. Quite appropriate. In order to get to the cave, we had to pull the research vessel in as close to the wall as we could get, and then the 4 researchers had to take a small boat (skiff) in to the shore. A guy named Charlie was in charge of the skiff, and he would drive them in and then go pick them up when they radioed to him. But the skiff was kept on top of the vessel, so everytime we stopped, it had to be loaded and unloaded. That’s where Anja and I came in… basically we had to pull a bunch of ropes and do exactly what Charlie told us to lower it down to the water and then later pull it back up. I had no idea what I was doing, because he kept using boat lingo. But we had to wear hard hats and a work vests, so at least we looked official.

Anyway, after Charlie took them into the cave, we were just hanging out for about two and a half hours. When we first pulled in, I saw this blob on the rock and I thought for sure it was some dead animal, but turns out it was a sea lion. She started barking at us really loud… clearly we were making her angry being there. Anja and I obsessively started taking pictures of her, because come on, thats what we do, and we noticed that she had a pup! The thing couldn’t have been more than a few hours old, which would explain why the momma was mad. She eventually got used to us being there, and we pretty much just watched the mom and pup the rest of the time we were there. We came within about 30 feet of the two of them… felt like I was in a zoo or something, except there were no bars or glass panels. All in all, pretty amazing to see.

Next stop was a huge rock out in the ocean full of sea birds. The researchers hopped on there, and Charlie came back to get me and Anja. We pulled on our wetsuits (which, I might add, I was extremely attractive in… nothing like a full body spandex suit. I felt like a super hero.) and got our snorkle gear, and Charlie drove us out to this tiny cove. The water was so still in there, we could see everything. The water was also FREEZING. I thought I was going to die when I first jumped in… but the wetsuit did its job after a few minutes and at least kept me alive. But it was a little big in some places, so every time I moved, the water would rush past my skin and I’d lose my breath for a second or two. I had never been snorkling before, and I think it was my favorite part of the day. I’m not sure why, but I didn’t expect to actually see anything, but there was so much down there! Sea urchins EVERYWHERE… seriously, covering every surface. Some of the biggest sea stars I have ever seen in my life… they were bright purple and gorgeous. There were a few sea anemones, and we also saw a sculpin and a garibaldi, which is bright orange, and California’s state fish since 1995. The coolest was a red octopus, which for some reason really freaked me out. I saw it, pointed it out to Anja, and then got extremely scared and swam away as fast as I could. What an idiot.

After the cold got to us, we waved to Charlie to come get us, and went back to the boat to warm up. The researchers came back a bit after that, and we had a huge feast (not that I hadn’t already been eating all day…) Then it was off to the next site, but the waves really picked up and it was decided that it would be too dangerous for the group to try to get into the cave. The last site of the day was on the east side of the island, and we had a great view of Anacapa Island. Charlie taught us to put on the immersion suits while we waited. They are basically huge red suits made of thick wet suit material that are designed to save your life in the event of an emergency. They have little feet and hands on them and hoods that cover everything except your eyeballs. Basically you look like a giant, red, gumby doll. The immersion suits even have an inflatable pillow, so you can rest comfortably while your boat sinks to the bottom of the ocean. If something really did happen, they say you should be able to get into the suit in less than 2 minutes, so thats what we tried to do. Its VERY difficult. After putting on the suit (in much more than two minutes… guess I wouldn’t have made it), Anja and I waddled up to the wheel house to take a picture with Captain Lou. I don’t think he thought it was as entertaining as we did :)

The researchers eventually got back from their last stop, and Anja and I were doing our duty resecruing the skiff on top of the boat while we got started back to the mainland. The waves by this time were massive because the wind got pretty strong throughout the day. We hadn’t been moving for more than a few minutes, when a HUGE wave crashed over the top of the boat and soaked both Anja and me. It was freezing, and our only clothes were soaked, but it was hilarious. We decided it was best to stay inside for the ride home, and we took in the view from the kitchen table. The waves were at least 9-13 feet high the whole way home, which was pretty scary at time. I guess its nothing major for these experts, but I really thought that we were going to capsize a few times. It was pretty much like an hour long amusement park ride. Scary, but totally worth it.

I may not have actually done any of the research, but I still think I learned a ton and I’m so glad Dani invited us to come on the trip. I learned some new ship lingo… like did you know that on a boat, a map is not called a map, its a chart. Don’t mess that up. Actually seeing a lot of the animals up close that I have been looking at pictures of while I do all my work here in the office was really cool. And actually getting to be at the Islands was even better! I didn’t know what to expect, but it was crazy how empty and peaceful they were. I can’t imagine what the islands would look like today if they hadn’t been designated as a marine sanctuary… full of tourist traps and skyscraper hotels, I’m sure. What a waste that would be… After that trip, I now feel like I can better appreciate everything that the Channel Islands have to offer, and I’m even more motivated to do my work over here on State Street, to help other people appreciate it too. All in all, it was amazing. We decided we are most definitely going back for an Island Packers tour, where you get taken out there on a boat, and you can hike, snorkle and kayak all day/weekend.

Woah, super long. Sorry… I just don’t want to forget an instant.
Stay tuned, pictures will be posted soon!!

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