Renee Klein is a kindergarten-through-12th-grade educator who teaches at Cornerstone Preparatory Charter School in Venice and is a Venice resident. She received a grant from the National Geographic Society to participate in an Earthwatch Institute scientific study of Monterey Bay marine mammals.
She was selected for this project to enable her school and students to participate with her in the “live from the field” experience.
Klein also volunteered for five years with the Museum of Tolerance and served on the board of directors of Outward Bound Adventures for five years. She participated with Ocean Explorers for three years and four years with the Center of Ocean Science Education Excellence, and she is a member of the National Marine Educator Association and is most recently a fellow of Earthwatch.
The following passages are from Klein’s daily journal. The entries are her account of the ten-day Monterey Bay expedition in November.
Day 2, Elkhorn Slough: We observed a group of sea lions basking in the sun and just hanging out together. A lone harbor seal came by with just the top of his head above water.
On our way out of the harbor, we encountered dozens of sea otters floating on their backs.
We encountered several pinnipeds — California sea lions and harbor seals — and porpoises. Much to our surprise, we encountered humpback whales feeding and we followed them for nearly one hour.
We recorded information or data each time we encountered and observed a marine mammal and took GPS (Global Positioning System) way points every 15 minutes.
We record all of our collected data on the computer at the end of the day for the research project and for further study.
We also took more than 300 photographs for documentation and we looked over every picture to determine the quality and value of it for further use.
Day 3, Moss Landing, Sea Otter Observation: Our field study focus was on observing sea otters today.
We recorded their dives and surfacing, behavior, their prey and size of prey. We used their paws to observe and compare the size of their prey.
We observed them eating clams, worms and urchins and hitting the clamshell on a big rock on their chest to crack it open.
We observed many otters (more than 30) huddled together in what is called a “raft.” They interacted playfully, traveled together and rested, floating on their back with their paws up and continuously grooming their fur like a cat.
This aquatic member of the weasel family is found along the coasts of the Pacific Ocean in North America and Asia.
Day 4, Monterey Bay: The City of Monterey is located on Monterey Bay along the Pacific Coast in central California.
The Monterey area is home to the Naval Postgraduate School, the Defense Language Institute, former Fort Ord, Fleet Numerical Oceanography Center, the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Monterey American Viticultural Area, Cannery Row, Fisherman’s Wharf and a Marine Mammal Center field station.
Day 5, Dolphin Observation Survey: Our sea conditions today were less than ideal, with large swells that made it difficult to go close to the surf and to observe dolphins.
Bottlenose dolphins stay in the surf area within the inshore waters no further than two kilometers off shore and can easily be seen from the beach.
The near shore waters are a highly productive spawning ground for coastal fish, which attracts dolphins to this area of the surf. We were not able to get any photo identification from the boat today due to the swells.
We were able to encounter a number of sea otters in the swells milling around or resting around the kelp and we counted more than 100 sea lions just congregating on the rocks.
We saw a sea lion that had fresh shark wounds, which will make it difficult for it to forage and survive. We observed many brown pelicans in the sea that have also been endangered due to human impact of contaminants in the ocean.
Day 6, Monterey Bay Aquarium: I had greatly anticipated this day to visit the aquarium, which surpassed all my expectations.
The aquarium is situated in Monterey Bay on Cannery Row and was one of the old canneries. Every window in the aquarium has a spectacular view of the bay.
I passed through a group of more than 60 harbor seals resting on the beach when I was walking to the aquarium.
Everyone had told me about the tremendous kelp forest tank that occupies three floors of the aquarium. It is magnificent to view and to experience the diversity and web of life in the kelp forest.
The sea otters depend on a healthy kelp forest and they help to maintain it as well, so it is not consumed by sea urchins, which have threatened kelp forests in Southern California regions.
The otters place their young in the kelp while they forage for food.
The film program at the aquarium was most informative, with important relevant issues regarding conservation of our oceans, which we must deal with as a global community. The programs were interactive, with knowledgeable marine biologists from MBARI (Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute) who were responsive to our questions.
I was able to see the following films: Exploring Monterey Canyon, Surviving Sharks and Empty Oceans, Empty Nets.
Information about making sustainable seafood choices is available through interactive Seafood Watch, a guide that can help people choose seafood that’s good for one’s health and for the ocean’s.
The guide was given out to everyone at the aquarium. It tells how it is important to ask questions when shopping for fish and eating out.
There are concerns with how fish are caught or farmed and with the health of their habitat due to other human impacts. We need to avoid fish from sources that harm other marine life or the environment.
The aquarium provides hands-on/stewardship programs for children of all ages, schools and educators and is proactive on many conservation issues to protect our oceans and wildlife.
It was a transformational and educational experience.
The galleries and exhibits are stunning; especially the coral, jellies and ocean’s edge. I enjoyed seeing the penguins, wetland and aquatic bird exhibit, sea otters and outer bay areas.
Day 7, Recording and Transcribing Observation Data: We recorded data each day throughout our observation of the Monterey marine mammals.
At the end of the day, we transcribe the recorded data and photo ID into the computer log to save and create an Excel spreadsheet with GIS (geographic information system).
This data is extremely important to our PI (principal investigator), Dr. Daniela Maldini. It is through this data that she can see consistent patterns in behavior, habitat, feeding, social patterns of interaction and the daily movements of the marine mammals.
The data gives necessary information to better understand these animals.
Today, I selected a specific sea otter for the focal study, to observe for several hours around sunset. We will call her Ophelia.
I observed her interaction/socialization with other sea otters, times of travel, her grooming, foraging/feeding and resting.
She played with other otters for nearly one hour and groomed her grizzled fur off and on throughout the observation.
At one point, I could see that Ophelia became very tired and began to drift away from the otter raft (composed of a close-knit group of otters).
She went into a rest position, floating over to a small shore, close to the mouth of Elkhorn Slough. She beached herself and wiggled onto shore, resting for more than a half-hour before returning to the otter raft in the early evening.
At this point, I had to end the data collection for another day, returning to our computer to enter the information into the Excel program. This is a long-term study and will take several years to better understand the sea otter dynamics at Elkhorn Slough and Monterey Bay.
Day 8, Bottlenose Dolphin Sightings: It was more than a perfect day, not a cloud in the sky, warm and sunny, and no swells. It was as though the dolphins were waiting for us, because our sightings began within minutes of leaving the harbor.
Sean Van Sommeran, our fearless captain, gave his little superstitious tap on the boat’s outdrive, which can be detected by the dolphins through the reverberation in water.
We spent the remainder of our day surrounded by the pod of bottlenose dolphins. We had more than 40 dolphin sightings today, including several mothers and their calves.
I had never seen dolphins breach so high, wave after wave, nor ride alongside a boat as well as bow riding.
Sean said they were actually watching us and that their hearing is so acute that most likely they recognize the familiar sound of our motor.
We just kept heading south. I could no longer tell whether they were keeping up with us or we were keeping up with them.
Anna Janovicz, our Earthwatch team leader, was taking a photo ID of as many dorsal fins as possible and broke her record this year with 483 pictures.
Sean and Anna were so familiar with this pod that they had given them names from previous encounters and recognized their dorsal fins.
This was definitely part of the Monterey Bay bottlenose resident population, as opposed to a transient unit of dolphins that are only present temporarily.
Our principal investigator is exploring the long-term fidelity to a particular area for long periods and maintenance of their school structure through time.
She is aware of particular “social units” that move back and forth along the coast. Today, we observed the high cohesion amongst the females, “mothers” with their calves, which was most exciting.
We were treated this evening to Sean Van Sommeran’s special presentation and research on sharks in Elkhorn Slough, Monterey Bay, A“o Nuevo and in Guadelupe Island, Mexico.
Sean is the founder of the Pelagic Shark Research Foundation and will be the primary investigator of the Monterey marine mammal expedition next year with Earthwatch.
I could not believe that there are more than 400 species of sharks, and only a few are really a potential threat to people and these would need to be provoked to be harmful.
Day 9, Live from the Field: It is the intention of my involvement in the Earthwatch expedition to be able to provide my students the opportunity to learn firsthand with me as I experience the field study project with Monterey marine mammals.
We have arranged conferences using our computer “eye cams,” microphone and audio. When the technology and Internet are cooperative, it has been an exciting and engaging interaction.
Upon my return to school, I hope to be able to further our project with conservation projects and stewardship in our community.
I will create new lesson plans and curriculum for further study of marine mammals.
Sadly, today was our last field study with the sea otters.
We observed their raft behaviors when they are together, their social interaction, play, rest, grooming, travel and foraging.
We updated our observations every five minutes with these behavioral changes. We also noted their movements of exiting and entering the channel.
In order to cover all times of day with our observations, we arrived at sunrise. Two days ago, we observed through sunset, when we could no longer see them.
Following our observations, we did a beach cleanup and I stumbled upon a common murre, a seabird that often spends most of its time at sea.
The murre is a northern counterpart of the penguin, in the auk family. He was unable to fly or move, but quite alive and breathing.
I recognized his condition similar to what I saw in brown pelicans with domoic acid poisoning, which temporarily paralyzes their movement and ability to fly.
The birds can literally drop from the sky. We called the Department of Fish and Game dispatch, which is open 24 hours a day, and the SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) came two hours later to pick him up from us. Hopefully, he can be treated in time if his condition is a result of domoic acid.
Day 10, The Departure: Our morning was filled with team good-byes and the realization that we are all returning to different corners of our planet and most likely our physical paths would not cross again.
Our team consisted of folks from Brazil, the Philippines, Japan, Mexico and the United Kingdom. We were harmonious, tight-knit and shared a great passion for the Monterey marine mammal study.
We shared our many digital photographs in our last moments together on a CD that Anna burned for each of us. Anna also prepared delectable cinnamon apple pancakes along with our bacon specialist, Peter.
One by one we each began our departure. I had rented a vehicle, coming north to Monterey and now returning south on Highway 1, California’s coastal route of immeasurable beauty.
Driving home gave me time to contemplate this year’s curriculum and lessons in marine sciences, our conservation projects and outreach stewardship activities.
I am also most grateful to Earthwatch for this opportunity and to be an educator fellow.