Studying in Friday Harbor

Algae and my hand.

Since this blog is supposed to be about my “studying abroad”, here’s some of that.

I am taking classes through the University of Washington in Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. I am in three classes: invertebrate zoology, marine botany, and a research apprenticeship class. We spend about eight hours a day in lecture and lab, and take a lot of cool field trips. Our lab is right on the ocean and the spring weather has been improving everyday. Which are all things you already know.

Since I like making lists, here are some of the cool things I’ve done at FHL (Friday Harbor Labs).

Baby Pacific red octopus that tried to kill me.

1. Earlier in the quarter, we got the chance to release a baby Pacific octopus that had been caught accidentally in a trawl. I, of course, volunteered to walk the little guy down to the docks, his skin flashing red and white and changing texture as the water sloshed in his bucket. We met some students from another class along the way and stopped to show off our cephalopod friend. My TA kept joking that he was too poisonous to touch, though he just looked like he wanted an octopus cuddle. Finally, I gently lowered his tub into the water; he looked relieved to have fresh, cold water on him, but he wouldn’t budge from his corner. So, I reached down to give him some encouragement, and my TA yelled, “Nooooooooooooooo!” Slow-mo, I swear.

Apparently he wasn’t kidding about the poison thing.

No, this story does not end with octopus beak embedded in my arm and molluscan neurotoxins flooding my brain. I kind of wish it did. (Two things I secretly hope to accomplish/experience: bear attack, octopus bite.) Instead, I poked him nicely out with a stick and he stayed around the surface showing off his swimming skills for a while, until finally jetting away.

Rowing to town.

2. One of the other adorable activities at FHL is the lab row boats. The lab has had row boats available to its students since before there was a lab. It is a lovely tradition that we are allowed to continue, rowing across our small harbor for day-trips to town or just a small bout on the water.

Transect survey at Cattle Point, San Juan Island.

3. Another tradition of Friday Harbor is the many continuing-research projects set up at the labs and around the islands. Ecology projects always want to take decades to find answers, and here at FHL, that actually happens. We spent a day sampling transects at beaches on the island, adding to a data set that began in 1989 after the Exxon Valdez oil spill. The project aims to record the “undisturbed” state of ecological communities in this region for comparison if things end up “disturbed” (eg. another oil spill, global climate change, invasive species). Our names will never be in any publications, but it’s good to know we contributed to some larger understanding.

Tritonian, or "diamond back", nudibranch.

4. There are SO many nudis! I think I’ve seen about a dozen nudibranch species here. I even got to watch one dorid poop sponge spicules right out of his dorsal anus whilst I was examining him under a dissecting scope. May not be your idea of a good time, but I enjoyed it. Things tend to poop when I look at them under the microscope…

A spot prawn caught on our trawl aboard the Centennial.

5. There are deer, foxes, otters, and other various wildlife who live with us at FHL. They are not bashful and provide nice lecture distraction on a sunny day.

A perfect day for a research cruise.

6. I think I just like numbers because then I don’t need transitions. We get to use the lab’s real boats, too. We spent a day on the Centennial, a converted commercial fishing boat, doing trawls and grabs, and catching all sorts of exciting invertebrates to look at. It was the first sunny spring day, and the water was perfectly calm except for the harbor seals playing along side us. A quite different experience than my last time on a research vessel.

This is the mossy knoll just outside the library, locally referred to as "heaven".

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