Monthly Archives: May 2014

Lucky Duck #245

Over spring break, marine debris student intern, Abby, spent the day hunting for petroglyphs and marine debris on the three-mile stretch of beach from Cape Alava to Sand Point.

By far the most interesting find was a weathered blue plastic duck, found among some seaweed in the wrack, with a large sharpie-marked “#245” on the bottom of it. Abby guessed it might have been a part of some project, so she brought it back to the COASST office to investigate. 

Blue Duck Profile

Maybe #245 is its race number and this little guy made it a lot farther than the finish line.

Was #245 its race number and this guy made it a lot farther than the finish line?

Curtis Ebbesmeyer, a local oceanographer whose work revolves around modeling ocean currents, popularized the use of marine debris as a type of tracking movement of water on the ocean surface. He got his start after a large shipment of 29,000 plastic “Friendly Floatees” bath toys were dumped into the Pacific Ocean in 1992 and for the next 15 years or so people were finding toys from this specific spill washing up on beaches all over the world.

Photo credit A. Larson. Another example of a beached duck. You won't find this guy in the COASST field guide.

Photo credit A. Larson. Another example of a beached duck, but you won’t find this guy in the COASST field guide!

Picking up on this idea, schools, cities, and various non-profit organizations have taken to releasing batches of rubber ducks into streams and oceans, and relying on helpful beachcombers to report where and when they’re found. While COASST won’t be releasing any ducks or wood blocks (the slightly more eco-friendly version), future marine debris participants will collect information on where and when an object was found, material size, markings and identity to provide insight into source and movement patterns for all debris.

As to the little blue duck? After some CSI sleuthing on Google we found a “vintage” duck of the same style for sale on Etsy. Heidi did mention the Annual Great Olympic Peninsula Duck Derby, a good and local contender, but recent releases feature classic, yellow ducks. Finally, a potential match – could it be from the San Clemente (CA) Ocean Festival, about 1,740 kilometers south of the spot Abby found it on the North Coast of Washington?



New Footprints – Sophie Pierszalowski

Sophie Alaska

What opportunities await COASST Interns after graduation? This week, we had the opportunity to catch up with Sophie Pierszalowski (COASST Intern, 2008).

Since graduating with a B.S. in Biology and Aquatic and Fisheries Science (2010), Sophie pursued work a marine mammal genetics lab at NOAA’s Alaska Fisheries Science Center and conducted research on humpback and fin whales with the Gulf of Alaska Apex Predator-Prey Project through the University of Alaska, Fairbanks.

After those two big breaks, she had another: digging into a recently uncovered whaling catch logbook from Port Hobron, Alaska (SE side of Kodiak Island), starting in the 1920s. In addition to that, what occupies all her time? “Analysis and writing to finish my MSc,” says Sophie, now with Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute, Department of Fisheries and Wildlife.

Sophie’s research involves looking at Humback Whale genetics (who is related to who? is there lots of mixing? or are they all from the same “small town”?) population structure (old ones? young ones? some middle-aged?) and feeding ecology (what do they eat? where do they eat?) in Southeast Alaska, especially whales in Glacier Bay National Park).

After she knocks off all that, we had a a feeding ecology question or our own: where will Sophie be next? Chowing on fresh-caught seafood in Kodiak Alaska? Unwrapping an energy bar at a trailhead in the Cascades?  Wherever she forages, we hope she stops by to nibble off the  COASST office brownie plate soon!