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Walter the Ray and robots are part of 104th birthday party for late oceanographer Walter Munk

Mary Coakley Munk introduces Walter the Ray at an Oct. 15 celebration of her late husband Walter Munk's 104th birthday.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Under rays of sunshine in La Jolla Shores, a cartoon ray was unveiled and robots swam as part of a celebration of the 104th birthday of late oceanographer Walter Munk.

About 100 people gathered at Kellogg Park for the Oct. 15 event presented by the Walter Munk Foundation for the Oceans at The Map of the Grand Canyons of La Jolla. Several people spoke about Munk — who was born Oct. 19, 1917 — and his achievements at UC San Diego’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography.

“Walter Munk’s contributions to science as a physical oceanographer and geophysicist allow for a greater understanding of ocean currents, tides … wind, waves, tsunamis and seismic waves and the Earth’s rotation,” said San Diego City Councilman Joe LaCava, whose District 1 includes La Jolla.

“Even at age 100, Walter studied the effects of climate change on sea-level rise and its impact on the Earth’s poorest 3 billion people,” LaCava added.

Mary Coakley Munk, San Diego City Councilman Joe LaCava and Ann Kerr Bache celebrate the late Walter Munk's birthday.
Mary Coakley Munk, San Diego City Councilman Joe LaCava and Ann Kerr Bache (from left) celebrate the late Walter Munk’s birthday at Kellogg Park in La Jolla Shores.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

“At age 101, we all thought Walter would live forever,” said his widow, Mary Coakley Munk (Munk died in 2019), “but now it’s up to us to challenge our youth to carry on his vision and fulfill his mission. So today is all about them.”

Kalia Chalom, a freshman at UCSD studying marine biology and ocean sciences and a recipient of a scholarship from the Munk Foundation, Pacific Beach Surf Shop and Pacific Beach Surf Club, said she has a “profound admiration” for Munk and looks forward “to an education that truly honors Dr. Munk’s dedication to doing good for our planet.”

UCSD student Kalia Chalom, a recipient of a Walter Munk Foundation scholarship, speaks at a celebration of Munk's birthday.
UC San Diego student Kalia Chalom, a recipient of a Walter Munk Foundation scholarship, speaks at a celebration of Munk’s birthday.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

Coakley Munk introduced Walter the Ray, an animated ray she said will be used in the foundation’s education programs and social media campaigns, including introducing species on The Map to those who use its QR code and app. The Map is a 2,200-square-foot LithoMosaic containing more than 100 life-size
mosaics of marine creatures.

Coaches from the nonprofit MATE II led invited middle school students from across San Diego in an activity to build remotely operated vehicles, or ROVs. MATE II works to help students learn and apply scientific, engineering and technical skills to solve real-world problems and strengthen their critical thinking, collaboration, entrepreneurship and innovation.

John Colosi, a former student and colleague of Munk’s, said the ROVs fit with Munk’s legacy.

Munk “had ideas, but he also built toys to go out in the ocean to get it done,” including drilling machines and acoustic tomography technology, Colosi said.

Thirteen teams of three or four students each received kits from MATE II containing pieces of pipe, wires and electronic bits and spent about 20 minutes building ROVs without adult help.

Wilson Middle School ROV teammates Isabella Ramirez, Daniel Rivera, David Narvaez and Jonah Kane
Wilson Middle School students Isabella Ramirez, Daniel Rivera and David Narvaez (from left) watch teammate Jonah Kane lower their remotely operated vehicle into the La Jolla Shores Hotel pool.
(Elisabeth Frausto)

The teams then walked their ROVs to the nearby La Jolla Shores Hotel, where they plugged in their creations and lowered them into the pool to see them work as they controlled them from the pool’s edge and remarked about their speed and movement.

The teams made their way back to The Map as the sun set, returned the ROV kits and strolled away with goody bags of Map information, cookies, bookmarks, key lanyards and hand sanitizer.

“It’s fun to see kids so engaged,” Coakley Munk said. ◆