College of the Atlantic continues to spearhead the development of Mount Desert Rock as a fully op...College of the Atlantic continues to spearhead the development of Mount Desert Rock as a fully operational research station that will eventually expand its research repertoire beyond marine mammal science. Credit: Sean ToddOwned by College of the Atlantic, the Mount Desert Rock Marine Field Station, a member of the Organization of Biological Field Stations (OBFS), is a treeless island with a light tower and buildings that were once inhabited by lighthouse keepers and their families in the 19th century. The island is now the home of the Edward McCormick Blair Marine Research Station, and its surrounding waters are home to humpback whales, fin whales, northern right whales, common dolphins, and white-sided dolphins. College of the Atlantic students can spend the summer on the island, with only one boat coming out to the island per week.

College of the Atlantic students deploy the Sea-Bird SBE19v2plus CTD probe.College of the Atlantic students deploy the Sea-Bird SBE19v2plus CTD probe. Credit: Sean Todd“It’s physically, mentally, and socially challenging to spend extended time on the island,” says Dr. Sean Todd, College of the Atlantic’s Steve K. Katona Chair in Marine Science and Director of Allied Whale in Bar Harbor, Maine. Todd has been the Chair for 15 years and has worked in the Gulf of Maine for 20 years. “Not only is the island isolated, it can get intense weather. In 2009, for example, Hurricane Bill took out our boathouse and the first floor of a building,” he mentions. While the college owns the island and its buildings, the Coast Guard owns the Aids To Navigation mounted on the light tower. Facility maintenance can be challenging due to harsh island conditions and extreme weather events.

No stranger to harsh environments, Todd works in Antarctica as well. Some of his students have also been placed in research positions in Antarctica. Some have prepared for the unrelenting conditions at the world’s southernmost continent by doing research at Mount Desert Rock.


Both undergraduate and graduate students spend the summer at Mount Desert Rock, usually six to eight students at a time for a ten to twelve week period. High school students also visit the island, in week-long organized field classes. Students experience rough conditions and learn how to thrive in a savage environment, including learning how to keep the island running. Todd notes that many of the students learn how to maintain the facilities that include College of the Atlantic students use the cupola atop Mount Desert Rock's light tower to look for...College of the Atlantic students use the cupola atop Mount Desert Rock's light tower to look for whales. Credit: Sean Toddphotovoltaics, diesel generators and power

inverters. “We do ship in our own drinking water, though!” says Todd.

Physical monitoring is performed on an annual basis in summer and fall. Water quality monitoring has been performed since the 1970s and currently employ a Sea-Bird SB19v2 depth probe to gather data. Data is gathered at specific depths on parameters such as temperature, conductivity, salinity and density. Vertical stratification of the water is assessed and correlated with local productivity.

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