Study suggests education, manufacturing changes could reduce sea lion entanglements

Sea lion injured by entanglement - OSU photo, 2010CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new study by researchers at Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute suggests most entanglements of Steller sea lions in human-made marine debris along the Pacific coast could be prevented through education and changes to manufacturing and packaging processes when the entangling materials are produced.

In the first study of its kind in the Pacific Northwest, Kim Raum-Suryan, an OSU faculty research assistant, studied Steller sea lions between 2005 and 2009 at two of Oregon’s most iconic locations, the Sea Lion Caves and Cascade Head. Steller sea lions use these as “haul-outs,” places where the mammals rest on land between feeding forays.

Over the past 30 years, the Steller sea lion population has declined by more than 80 percent, resulting in its threatened status in the eastern portion of its range (central California to southeast Alaska) and endangered status in the western portion (western Alaska).

During the study, which was completed with funding from Oregon Sea Grant, Raum-Suryan witnessed 72 animals entangled in debris including: black rubber bands used on crab pots; hard plastic packing bands used around cardboard bait boxes (and other cardboard shipping boxes); and hooks and other fishing gear.

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Can warning systems save lives in near-shore tsunamis?

Oregon State University’s Chris Goldfinger has doubts. “The earthquake is the warning,” said Goldfinger, a marine quake expert who happened to be in Japan when last month’s devastating quake and the ensuing tsunami struck.

But physicist Jörn Lauterjung, who has been working on such systems since the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, believes Japan’s history of seismic preparedness – including warning systems – prevented even more lives from being lost.

Near-shore quakes pose very different risks than distant ones, and the March 11 disaster illustrated the point. Despite tsunami warnings that went out within three minutes of the quake, coastal Japanese had only about 10 minutes to get to higher ground – and in some cases, that wasn’t high enough to escape the onrushing water. Coastal Oregonians, by contrast, had hours after being warned to evacuate, and by the time the wave made its way across the Pacific, it was small enough to do damage only to selected harbors.

Reverse the situation, though, and the US coast could have as little time to react as did the Japanese. Tsunami preparedness educators emphasize that point: If you’re on the coast and the ground shakes, don’t wait for a warning – or anything else – before moving to higher ground.

Read more about the issues and technology  in Scientific American: Make Or Breaker: Can a Tsunami Warning System Save Lives During An Earthquake?