Field season and off-season

Written by Alyssa Stoller

I am currently on a train after returning from our field season in Iceland. Going through the jarring process I have gone through many times before. I am exhausted; overheated because I am dressed in the many layers that would not fit in my baggage; disoriented by the numerous people around me; and now wondering if the past few months were a dream. 

I have heard many people call the transition after field season returning to “real life” – I have said this before myself. I feel that we naturally tend to call “real life” the version of life we lead where we are more stressed, and our existence feels more mundane. We are told from a young age that we need to prepare for the “real world”; and when we return from vacation, we say, “it is time to go back to reality”. It seems we cannot accept that we could possibly be that happy all the time. It seems to scare us. 

Photo by Rebecca Douglas

I have often felt caught between this “double life” since 2014 – whale season and not whale season. I remember being told back in my first year by the researcher I was working with, “just wait until the off-season, you will miss the whales, and you will be desperate to get back to them”. Well, she was right, I miss the whales dreadfully in-between field seasons. I crave the high I get when I see them and everything else can seem quite pale in comparison. My in-between life has, in many ways, simply become waiting for field seasons to begin again.  

Photo by Alyssa Stoller

This is not to say that I do not enjoy life outside of field seasons, but it is different. Luckily, over time they have become more connected to one another, by continuing whale related work outside the season. But somehow, I do wish it was possible for the link to the whales to feel just as strong, even when I am not with them in person. I wish the memories were just as vivid. 

I do not think this a problem unique to myself, and in most ways it is a problem I am extremely lucky to have. For a lot of my life, I get to live out exactly what I have always dreamed of doing. I think back to how desperate I was to do anything remotely whale related, how scared I was that it might not happen. 

So how do we continue to feel connected to what we love the most? How can we remain just as passionate about our work, regardless of what it is, without always being completely engulfed in its presence? I am not sure I know the answer. 

Photo by Alyssa Stoller

In the end, we had an extremely successful season, despite some windier/snowier days towards the end. It was the first field season of our Scars from Above project, and it went incredibly well. In total we:

• Collected data on 46 days

• 66 data collection sessions lasting 156 hours

• Aerial images collected from around 80 individual humpback whales (further data processing is needed for an exact number)

Additionally, we successfully retrieved our hydrophone that had been deployed for a year in northeast Iceland. 

Photo by Rebecca Douglas

As we begin data processing in the coming months, continue other existing Whale Wise projects and charity administration, I hope that I can hold onto the feeling of field season and carry it into my other life. Both versions of life are reality in the end, but I will tightly grasp onto my version with the whales. I will do my very best to try and incorporate the feelings, thoughts and emotions the whales conjure up inside of me into the other aspects of my life. Perhaps this is what is needed for us all, to hold close inside the things that bring us joy and passion, as we cannot be physically close to them always. We must attempt to independently hold our happiness. 

Photo by Tom Grove

Cover photo by Rebecca Douglas

One Comment on “Field season and off-season

  1. Alyssa,
    A beautifully written piece – so profound . Having experienced Iceland for the first time this summer visiting Jess and the whales , I can relate a little bit to your thoughts as you re enter “ real life “.
    Well done on a wonderful field season .


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