Taking the Long View: An inside look at the goings-on at the longest running avian ecology field station west of the Mississippi.

Point Blue Conservation Science: Where Are They Now? Featuring 1998 Palo Intern Moe Flannery

Where do Palomarin interns go after they complete their internship with us? Our growing numbers of Palomarin alumni often continue on in the fields of conservation science and bird ecology, many becoming influential in their chosen field of study. Still others whose lives have gone in different directions have pursued paths of equal remark and fascination. To celebrate the diversity and successes of our former interns, volunteers, and staff, in the “Where Are They Now?” series we share stories of individual alumni, then and now.

About Point Blue: Our mission is to conserve birds, other wildlife, and ecosystems through science, partnerships, and outreach.

Our Vision: Because of the collaborative climate-smart conservation work we do today, healthy ecosystems will continue to sustain thriving wildlife and human communities well into the future.

Visit Point Blue’s website to learn more.


Late last month, Palomarin alumnus Moe Flannery returned to Bolinas, this time to necropsy an 80-foot dead blue whale that washed up on Agate Beach and caused quite a stir.All Posts

Blue Whale the morning it washed ashore. Photo by Mark Dettling.
The blue whale the morning it washed ashore at Agate Beach. Photo by Mark Dettling.

Moe first came to Palomarin as a banding intern in 1998. She later became a staff biologist and the Palomarin Field Station Manager, where she trained and supervised interns and conducted and coordinated other field work in the region. Her time here marked a shift in her career, from a theater lighting technician to a biologist with a passion for applied conservation. At Palomarin, her study of molt (including her first scientific manuscript on Wrentits with co-author Tom Gardali) connected her to the extraordinary specimen collections at the California Academy of Sciences in San Francisco and planted the seed of appreciation for the contributions those collections make to scientists and to conservation. In 2002, she accepted a staff position at Cal Academy, where she remains today and works as collection manager of birds and mammals.

Moe with specimen at Cal Academy; photo by Stephanie Versin / CAS
Moe with specimen at Cal Academy. Photo by Stephanie Versin / California Academy of Sciences

Part of Moe’s job involves examining or necropsying marine mammals (whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions and otters) that die and wash up on Bay Area beaches, including in the Point Reyes area. She and her colleagues try to learn as much as possible from each death, including investigating its cause (think “CSI Marine Mammals” – see link for more info!). It was that part of her job that brought her to Agate Beach on May 27th, along with other researchers from Cal Academy and the Marine Mammal Center in Sausalito (including Point Blue’s Ryan Berger, who participates in some of these necropsy events), to perform a necropsy on the animal.

Moe (center) and necropsy team with blue whale. Photo by Mark Dettling
Moe (center) and necropsy team with blue whale. Photo by Mark Dettling

The same whale brought out hundreds of members of the public, including the spring Palomarin crew, to behold this animal and learn what they could about the death of an individual belonging to the largest species ever to have lived on the Earth’s land or in its oceans. Equally powerful to seeing (and smelling) the whale up close, was learning how the whale died (blunt force trauma consistent with a ship strike; see the Marin Independent Journal article about this). Palo’s own Mark Dettling provided interpretation to the observing public of the play-by-play of what the team was doing and learning during the necropsy, since the area was cordoned off for safety purposes and people could only watch from afar.

Moe during blue whale necropsy. Photo by Brian Fisher / California Academy of Sciences
Moe during blue whale necropsy. Photo by Brian Fisher / California Academy of Sciences

Moe maintains a strong connection to Palomarin, and through her work at Cal Academy is still involved in teaching our Palomarin interns as well as many others fortunate enough to be the recipient of her outreach efforts: generously offering her time to host behind-the-scenes tours of the museum, teaching the value of museum collections, showing and displaying specimens that are awe-inspiring to see firsthand (birds of paradise…Galapagos finches…the world’s largest collection of California sea lion skulls!), and inspiring many by sharing what she has learned about mammals, birds, and marine life (and death).

Moe acknowledges the role Palomarin played in allowing her to follow the nontraditional career path she has taken, including the opportunity to switch to the field of biology even though her background was in theater lighting and Chinese language. She says, “I am forever grateful for the opportunity that I was given when I was hired as a winter bander at Palo, a very coveted position. Geoff Geupel and Aaron Holmes [Palo lead staff at the time] took a real risk in bringing on an older (29 year old) intern from a non-traditional background. Working at Palo taught me how to be an accurate scientist and, more importantly, how to share that science with visitors in an engaging way. I would not be where I am today without all the experiences that I had at Palo”. Moe left an indelible mark on the field station during her time here and beyond, and, as is generally the case, Palomarin has also left its mark on her.

–Diana Humple, Palomarin Field Station program leader

Moe (center) and crew with Palo's float for Bolinas parade, July 4th, 2000
Palomarin group photo summer 2000 (Moe in center), with Palo’s float for Bolinas 4th of July parade

Read here for more about conflicts between whales and ships, including Point Blue’s involvement in disentanglement efforts and reducing ship strikes.

The Palomarin Field Station ((Palomarin or “Palo”), located in Point Reyes National Seashore, is open to the public.  Consider visiting us! Learn how by visiting our mist-netting demonstrations web page.