Dr. Jim Paruk is investigating how loons are faring on the Louisiana shore of the Gulf of Mexico after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, as well as how they are 2,000 miles north in Saskatchewan, Canada at their summer breeding grounds.
“To me, loons embody the essence of wilderness,” Dr. Paruk told Earthwatch. “They have a lot of spunk, and in contrast to, say, a goose or a swan that eats mostly plants, loons are hunters; they are apex predators. It’s a tough life being at the top of the food chain. I’m drawn to those aspects of a loon that symbolize wildness, independence, and freedom.”
A great moment in the field:
“One of my favorite teams was composed of students from Los Angeles - students who had never seen a loon or even flown on a plane. I tried over and over to get them to swim in a lake, but to them, people only swam in a swimming pool. I couldn’t even get them to jump in the water. That is, until the last night. It was after our wrap-up, about 11 p.m., and picture this: Here we are on this tranquil starlit lake. The loons had all flown off the lake, and it was as peaceful as it can get. Can you believe I was able to get them to jump off the dock on their last night? What a great moment!”
“On this still, very quiet evening, I’d asked this one quiet student about her interests. Now keep in mind that this student was as quiet as they come. So I was surprised when she said, ‘I love to sing.’ And she proceeded to belt out - and nail - that song ‘I will always love you’ by Whitney Houston. It resonated across the lake like you wouldn’t believe!”