Sunday, February 18, 2007

Day of the Whales and the Institute of Marine Biology

On Friday (February 16) I met Andrei Adrianov, director of the Institute of Marine Biology (IMB; Институт биологии моря), and made my first trip out to the “Chaika” (“Seagull”), the train stop a few minutes outside of Vladivostok where all the institutes of the Russian Academy of Sciences Far Eastern Branch are located. Formerly the Soviet Union wanted to make a special little academic city (“Akademgorodok”) just outside of Vlad where all the institutes would be, but this did not quite work out in Vladivostok like the original Akademgorodok outside Novosibirsk. But, all the RFE branch institutes are in a nice spot easily reached from Vlad, and the Institute of Marine Biology is a horseshoe-shaped building perched scenically right on the coast.

IMB has 18 laboratories, 4 field stations throughout the RFE (including one on Kamchatka) and nearly 450 employees (a number that is decreasing due to reorganization required by the Russian government; of course, many of these employees are also administrative). Adrianov proposed to me two potential options for participation in scientific work at the institute: first, to work with scientists using underwater video devices to conduct monitoring of marine populations near Vladivostok and on the territory of the Far Eastern Marine Reserve (Russia’s only strictly protected, national-level marine reserve); and second, to work with scientists defining environmental standards for construction of a large aquarium (Russia’s first) on Russkii Island just a few minutes from Vlad – a big and new project right now for IMB. Of course, nothing is defined yet…after all, there still has to be someone to train me, of course.

On Friday at IMB I got to meet not only a couple of PhD scientists and laboratory directors but also the head of environmental education work at IMB, Liliya, and the head of the institute’s museum, Natasha. They invited me out to the institute on Sunday to celebrate international Day of the Whales (actually on Monday, Feb 19) with the children’s club they have created at the institute, “Children of the Sea” (Дети моря). The kids in the group (there were about 20 there on Sunday) are mostly 7th and 8th graders who won in an environmental project and essay competition held (voluntarily) in Vladivostok schools last year. (This year IMB is sponsoring a similar competition on a different theme – economic development in Vladivostok while maintaining a clean coastline.) These kids were pretty awesome – really active, smart and interested. A few students from Far Eastern State University also work with the club. Today they learned about and discussed why whales are unique, whale biology and taxonomy, learned what threats to whales exist and proposed plans themselves about how to decrease these threats. We also went outside and stamped out in the snow on the bay the outline of a whale, which they photographed and are sending to a school group in Kalinngrad for their Day of the Whales holiday.

In general, it seems that there are a number of activities in Vlad related to environmental outreach and education. I definitely really enjoyed the enthusiasm of all the kids, students and adults at the Day of the Whales – it’s exciting to see, and I always get into this kind of stuff. (The adults and students also did a really good job putting the whole event together – it was nicely done and really well-organized for both learning and lots of activity on the kids’ part – these people are pros.)

Also, I got my first admirer at the holiday – a 7th grader named Aleksei who wanted to take a picture on the bay with me, got my tea and bliny for me at snack time, and asked for my email address. Very cute. J

In other news…

Valentine’s Day Blizzard
On February 14th we had a fantastic snowstorm in Vlad. (I took some videos but I can't put them on my blog :-( Although the ultimate snowfall appears to not have topped a foot, the wind was unbelievable – it blew at a consistent 40-50 mph for all of the daylight hours (at least 12 hours straight). I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like it. (After all, in Denver in December I spent more time looking for my luggage then looking out the window at the snow – so it’s hard to compare.) For me it was literally impossible to go outside – I made it about 10 meters from the apartment door before I realized that getting blown over, slipping and falling – and not just once – was absolutely inevitable. Vlad does not usually get a lot of snow, although even if it did, who knows how quickly the city would have worked to make it possible for people to easily get around again – it’s Russia, after all. For the most part none of the sidewalks here have been cleared (and at this point, most of the snow has hardened into a sheet of ice, making simple shoveling impossible), and for the first couple of days after the blizzard very few of the many outdoor staircases in Vlad (it’s a hilly city, after all) had been cleared, meaning the snow packed up over the individual steps, hardened and the staircases turned into literal, smooth 45-degree angle ice slides. (Actually, I saw kids sledding on trays on the staircase outside my building….hmm, safe?) But, if walking faster than a mile an hour is potentially fatal, on the bright side they also did not plow the roads, which means many of the Vlad drivers have been forced to slow down, so you can cross the street more calmly. Plus, of course, the trees are very pretty coated in fresh snow.

Roman Viktyuk Theater (Театр Романа Виктюка), Moscow
On Saturday night Marina and I went to the theater to see the play “Nezdeshnii sad: Rudolf Nureev,” about the life of ballerina Rudolf Nureev, which was performed by the Roman Viktyuk Theater (apparently considered one of the most “scandalous” in Russia), visiting Vlad from Moscow. There was nothing really scandalous in this play, but it was totally different from anything I have seen before – different means of expression. Although at first I was not sure, I really enjoyed it! It was very, very well performed and brought up a lot of universal themes within the context of Nureev’s (very interesting – you should check it out) life.

1. Me trying to look scholarly sitting at an old scientist’s work table at the museum at IMB; 2. Katya, Arina and Ilya drawing a baleen whale (усатый кит) in preparation to explain how baleen whales are different from whales with teeth (зубчатые киты). 3. Dima explains his groups’ proposals for measures necessary to save the whales


Michael Joseph said...

Speaking of blizzards, Colorado east of Denver got slammed again. It didn't close the airport, but interstate 70 was closed for 400 miles in both directions, to Salina, Kansas (mid-state). The wind was so strong in Salina it whipped three inches of snow into seven foot drifts!

gi said...

Great start Cheryl! You will know more and more with every particular day. Hopefully at the end of your Fulbright you can get a knowledge of mysterious Russian soul