Sea Legs

To “get one’s sea legs” – a maritime catchphrase I have recently added to my ever expanding list of boat-related vocabulary.  Commonly used in association with one’s inability to remain poised onboard a moving vessel, this phrase also refers to the issue of motion sickness.  As in, Leanna hadn’t found her sea legs before yesterday, so she threw up six times off the back of the boat.  Too much information?  Apologies to any readers with weak stomachs.

The morning of January 11th was very exciting.  It was my first real day on the water!  My first real chance to see some whales!  We topped off the boat’s tank at a local gas station, grabbed a quick slice of pizza for lunch, and we were on our way.  After loading all the gear onto the R/V Selkie, we launched the boat out of Fernandina Beach.  Soon after, we got a call from an aerial survey plane that there was a North Atlantic Right Whale mother and calf about 25 miles offshore.  The seas were rough.  Very lumpy.  We charged ahead.  I already knew pizza was a bad idea.

While en route to that pair, we came across a different female with her new calf and decided to stick around to collect some acoustic and behavioral data.  My stomach was unquestionably queasy and my dizziness was rising at a steady pace.  I asked right then about boat-vomit protocol.  “So if I need to throw up, I just do it off the side of the boat?”  There was a unanimous “yes” from my fellow researchers, followed by a couple versions of “make sure you’re downwind.”  I made sure I was downwind.

We hadn’t even started collecting data yet.

As I held on to the boat and waited for the sea sickness to pass, the three others (Grace, Dana, & Jess), fully equipped with their sea legs, manned the camera, identified the whale (#2753 if you feel like looking her up in the NARW catalog), and started setting up the hydrophones.  It was all a blur as I hurled that pre-boat pizza off the port side stern.  Next thing I knew, I was assigned to operate the digital recorder.  There was no way  that I was going to be able to look at and read that tiny little screen, so I just put on some headphones and crossed my fingers that everything was set properly.

We stayed with that mom/calf pair for about an hour, and then it was time to head back to shore.  Once the boat got moving, I started to feel less ill…the wind on my face, the knowing that solid land was in my near future.  As we arrived back at the dock and I stepped off the boat, I immediately felt better.  Granted, all the pizza and any trace of breakfast was long gone from my system.  But now I know – no pizza before boats.  And maybe next time I’ll take a little dramamine (or some non-drowsy equivalent).

Back on land, it finally hit me.  I saw a whale.  I actually saw two whales – one mom and one calf.  Wow.  Those guys are HUGE.  I saw my first whale and it was a North Atlantic Right Whale.  There’s only about 500 of them in the entire population, and I saw two of them.  It was an awesome experience.  Minus the vomit.

Leanna Matthews                                                                                                                                 PhD Student, Parks Lab

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