HMSC Currents

OSU Hatfield Marine Science Center Staff Newsletter

HMSC Currents

OSU inks largest research grant in its history to begin ship construction

July 17th, 2017 · No Comments · Uncategorized

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University has just received a grant of $121.88 million from the National Science Foundation to spearhead the construction of a new class of research vessels for the United States Academic Research Fleet. It is the largest grant in the university’s history.

An artist’s rendering of one of the new regional class research vessels whose construction OSU is spearheading.

This grant will fund the construction of the first of three planned vessels approved by Congress for research in coastal regions of the continental United States and Alaska. When funding for the next two vessels is authorized, the total grant to OSU could increase to as much as $365 million. The first vessel is slated to be operated by OSU for research missions focusing on the U.S. West Coast. The NSF will begin the competitive selection of operating institutions for the second and third vessels later this year – likely to universities or consortia for operations on the U.S. East Coast and the Gulf of Mexico.

“Oregon State University is extremely proud to lead this effort to create the next generation of regional ocean-going research vessels funded by NSF,” said OSU President Edward J. Ray. “Our exceptional marine science programs are uniquely positioned to advance knowledge of the oceans and to seek solutions to the threats facing healthy coastal communities – and more broadly, global ecological well-being – through their teaching and research.”

OSU was selected by the National Science Foundation in 2013 to lead the initial design phase for the new vessels, and to develop and execute a competitive selection for a shipyard in the United States to do the construction. Gulf Island Shipyards, LLC, in Louisiana was chosen and will conduct the detailed design verification over the next year. Officials hope to have a keel-laying ceremony for the first vessel in the spring of 2018, with the ship delivered to OSU for a year of extensive testing in 2020.

This new class of modern well-equipped ships is essential to support research encompassing marine physical, chemical, biological and geologic processes in coastal waters, said Roberta Marinelli, dean of Oregon State’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences.

“Rising sea levels, ocean acidification, low-oxygen waters or ‘hypoxia,’ declining fisheries, offshore energy, and the threat of catastrophic tsunamis are issues not only in the Pacific Northwest but around the world,” Marinelli said. “These new vessels will provide valuable scientific capacity for better understanding our changing oceans.”

The ships will be equipped to conduct detailed seafloor mapping, to reveal geologic structures important to understanding processes such as subduction zone earthquakes that may trigger tsunamis. The Pacific Northwest is considered a high-risk region because of the Cascadia Subduction Zone, which has produced about two dozen major earthquakes of magnitude 8.0 or greater over the past 10,000 years.

The new ships will also be equipped with advanced sensors that will be used to detect and characterize harmful algal blooms, changing ocean chemistry, and the interactions between the sea and atmosphere. The emerging fields of wave, tidal and wind energy will benefit from ship observations. Oregon State is the site of the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center, which in December was awarded a grant of up to $35 million from the U.S. Department of Energy to create the world’s premier wave energy test facility in Newport.

Some characteristics of the new regional class research vessels (RCRVs):

  • 193 feet long with a 41-foot beam;
  • Range of approximately 7,000 nautical miles;
  • Cruising speed is 11.5 knots with a maximum speed of 13 knots;
  • 16 berths for scientists and 13 for crew members;
  • Ability to stay out at sea for at least 21 days before returning to port;
  • High bandwidth satellite communications for streaming data and video to shore;

“This class of ships will enable researchers to work much more safely and efficiently at sea because of better handling and stability, more capacity for instrumentation and less noise,” said Clare Reimers, a professor in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences and project co-leader. “The design also has numerous ‘green’ features, including an optimized hull form, waste heat recovery, LED lighting, and variable speed power generation.”

Oregon State is expected to begin operating the first of the new ships in the fall of 2021, after a year of testing and then official Academic-Fleet designation by the University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System (UNOLS), according to Demian Bailey, also a project co-leader for OSU.

“There will be a full year of testing because there are many interconnected systems to try out,” Bailey said. “Any new ship needs to have shakedown cruises, but we’ll have to test all of the scientific instrumentation as well, from the acoustic multibeam seafloor mapping system to its seawater and meteorological data collection, processing and transfer capabilities.

“These ships will be very forward-looking and are expected to support science operations for 40 years or longer. They will be the most advanced ships of their kind in the country.”

OSU previously operated the 184-foot R/V Wecoma from 1975 until 2012, when it was retired. The university then assumed operations of Wecoma’s sister ship, R/V Oceanus, from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution; that ship will be retired when the new ship is ready.

The tentative timetable for the new ships:

  • Ship No. 1 keel laying – spring 2018;
  • Ship No. 1 transition to OSU for a year of testing – fall 2020;
  • Ship No. 1 should be fully tested, have UNOLS designation and be fully operational by fall 2021;
  • Ship No. 2 – Keel laying in winter of 2018, delivery in spring 2021, and UNOLS designation in late spring 2022;
  • Ship No. 3 – Keel laying in fall 2020, delivery in spring 2022, and UNOLS designation in spring 2023.

More information on the ships and the project is available at: http://ceoas.oregonstate.edu/ships/rcrv/.

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Surveying Sea Floor Animals for Offshore Renewable Energy

July 17th, 2017 · No Comments · Uncategorized

Sarah Henkel (yellow jacket) picks organisms out of sieve after they have been collected from the ocean floor.

CORVALLIS, Ore. – There is growing interest in developing offshore wind and wave energy facilities in the Pacific Northwest. But not much is known about the sediment and animal life along the sea floor in the region.

That presents a problem for renewable energy companies because they need to consider environmental implications before constructing facilities in the ocean.

A team of Oregon State University researchers have helped address that problem by using a 500-pound device with jaws to grab squares of sediment from the ocean floor at eight sites off the coasts of northern California, Oregon and Southern Washington.

In a just-published paper, they outline research that found relationships between sediment characteristics and animal life (mostly pencil eraser-sized clams and worms) were consistent across the sites they sampled.

That’s significant because it could allow renewable energy companies to reduce collections of marine animal life to characterize a potential development site. That type of analysis is costly and time intensive because it involves identification work by humans.

Instead, companies could primarily conduct sediment analysis, most of which can be automated. Once the sediment analysis is done it could be cross-referenced with the findings of the Oregon State team to predict the marine animals likely to be found at a site and potentially determine impacts.

The research, led by Sarah Henkel, a marine biologist at Oregon State’s Hatfield Marine Science Center, involved collecting sediment from 137 spots ranging in depth from about 160 to 360 feet, depths currently targeted for wave energy development.

The spots clustered around eight locations, from two to 10 miles off the coast of Eureka, California, six Oregon locations (Bandon, Siltcoos, Reedsport, Cape Perpetua, Newport, Nehalem) and Grays Bank, Washington.

Sarah Henkel (yellow jacket) watches as a box corer brings up sediment from the ocean floor.

In the Pacific Northwest, there has been recent interest in energy development off the coast of the several coastal Oregon areas, including Reedsport/Coos Bay, Newport and Tillamook, Henkel said.

Although recent plans to build a wind farm off the coast of Coos Bay fell through, Henkel currently is conducting similar collections and analyses at the depths targeted for offshore wind development in anticipation of future wind projects off Oregon.

Offshore renewable energy development is still in its infancy in the United States, with the first off-shore wind project recently completed in Rhode Island. European countries have a longer history of offshore renewable energy development.

The just-published paper, “Small proportions of silt linked to distinct and predictable differences in marine macrofaunal assemblages on the continental shelf of the Pacific Northwest,” was published in the journal Continental Shelf Research. Kristin Politano, who formerly worked in Henkel’s lab, is a co-author.

The research was funded by the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management and the Oregon Wave Energy Trust.

By Sean Nealon, 541-737-0787, sean.nealon@oregonstate.edu

Source: Sarah Henkel, sarah.henkel@oregonstate.edu, 541-867-0316

This story, photos and video are available online: http://bit.ly/2uuWd2c

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Acidified ocean water widespread along North American West Coast

June 27th, 2017 · No Comments · Uncategorized

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A three-year survey of the California Current System along the West Coast of the United States found persistent, highly acidified water throughout this ecologically critical nearshore habitat, with “hotspots” of pH measurements as low as any oceanic surface waters in the world.

Ocean acidification sensors.

The researchers say that conditions will continue to worsen because the atmospheric carbon dioxide primarily to blame for this increase in acidification has been rising substantially in recent years.

One piece of good news came out of the study, which was published this week in Nature Scientific Reports. There are “refuges” of more moderate pH environments that could become havens for some marine organisms to escape more highly acidified waters, and which could be used as a resource for ecosystem management.

“The threat of ocean acidification is global and though it sometimes seems far away, it is happening here right now on the West Coast of the United States and those waters are already hitting our beaches,” said Francis Chan, a marine ecologist at Oregon State University and lead author on the study.

“The West Coast is very vulnerable. Ten years ago, we were focusing on the tropics with their coral reefs as the place most likely affected by ocean acidification. But the California Current System is getting hit with acidification earlier and more drastically than other locations around the world.”

A team of researchers developed a network of sensors to measure ocean acidification over a three-year period along more than 600 miles of the West Coast. The team observed near-shore pH levels that fell well below the global mean pH of 8.1 for the surface ocean, and reached as low as 7.4 at the most acidified sites, which is among the lowest recorded values ever observed in surface waters.

The lower the pH level, the higher the acidity. Previous studies have documented a global decrease of 0.11 pH units in surface ocean waters since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. Like the Richter scale, the pH scale in logarithmic, so that a 0.11 pH unit decrease represents an increase in acidity of approximately 30 percent.

Highly acidified ocean water is potentially dangerous because many organisms are very sensitive to changes in pH. Chan said negative impacts already are occurring in the California Current System, where planktonic pteropods – or small swimming snails – were documented with severe shell dissolution.

“This is about more than the loss of small snails,” said Richard Feely, senior scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory. “These pteropods are an important food source for herring, salmon and black cod, among other fish. They also may be the proverbial ‘canary in the coal mine’ signifying potential risk for other species, including Dungeness crabs, oysters, mussels, and many organisms that live in tidepools or other near-shore habitats.”

Previous studies at OSU have chronicled the impact of acidified water on the Northwest oyster industry.

Chan said the team’s observations, which included a broad-scale ocean acidification survey via ship by NOAA, did not vary significantly over the three years – even with different conditions, including a moderate El Niño event.

“The highly acidified water was remarkably persistent over the three years,” Chan said. “Hotspots stayed as hotspots, and refuges stayed as refuges. This highly acidified water is not in the middle of the Pacific Ocean; it is right off our shore. Fortunately, there are swaths of water that are more moderate in acidity and those should be our focus for developing adaptation strategies.”

The researchers say there needs to be a focus on lowering stressors to the environment, such as maintaining healthy kelp beds and sea grasses, which many believe can partially mitigate the effects of increasing acidity.

Further, the moderately acidified refuge areas can be strategically used and managed, Chan pointed out.

“We probably have a hundred or more areas along the West Coast that are protected in one way or another, and we need to examine them more closely,” he said. “If we know how many of them are in highly acidified areas and how many are in refuge sites, we can use that information to better manage the risks that ocean acidification poses.”

Managing for resilience is a key, the researchers conclude.

“Even though we are seeing compromised chemistry in our ocean waters, we still have a comparably vibrant ecosystem,” Chan said. “Our first goal should be to not make things worse. No new stresses. Then we need to safeguard and promote resilience. How do we do that? One way is to manage for diversity, from ensuring multiple-age populations to maintaining deep gene pools.

“The greater the diversity, the better chance of improving the adaptability of our marine species.”

Chan, a faculty member in the College of Science at Oregon State University, was a member of the West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Panel appointed by the governments of California, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia.

About the OSU College of Science:  As one of the largest academic units at OSU, the College of Science has seven departments and 12 pre-professional programs. It provides the basic science courses essential to the education of every OSU student, builds future leaders in science, and its faculty are international leaders in scientific research.

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New video shows how blue whales employ strategy before feeding

April 19th, 2017 · No Comments · Uncategorized

Blue whales didn’t become the largest animals ever to live on Earth by being dainty eaters and new video captured by scientists at Oregon State University shows just how they pick and choose their meals.

There is a reason for their discretion, researchers say. The whales are so massive – sometimes growing to the length of three school buses – that they must carefully balance the energy gained through their food intake with the energetic costs of feeding.

Click on the photo for video link.

“Modeling studies of blue whales ‘lunge-feeding’ theorize that they will not put energy into feeding on low-reward prey patches,” said Leigh Torres, a principal investigator with the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State, who led the expedition studying the blue whales. “Our footage shows this theory in action. We can see the whale making choices, which is really extraordinary because aerial observations of blue whales feeding on krill are rare.”

“The whale bypasses certain krill patches – presumably because the nutritional payoff isn’t sufficient – and targets other krill patches that are more lucrative. We think this is because blue whales are so big, and stopping to lunge-feed and then speeding up again is so energy-intensive, that they try to maximize their effort.”

The video, captured in the Southern Ocean off New Zealand, shows a blue whale cruising toward a large mass of krill – roughly the size of the whale itself. The animal then turns on its side, orients toward the beginning of the krill swarm, and proceeds along its axis through the entire patch, devouring nearly the entire krill mass.

In another vignette, the same whale approaches a smaller mass of krill, which lies more perpendicular to its approach, and blasts through it without feeding.

“We had theorized that blue whales make choices like this and the video makes it clear that they do use such a strategy,” explained Torres, who works out of Oregon State’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Oregon. “It certainly appears that the whale determined that amount of krill to be gained, and the effort it would take to consume the meal wasn’t worth the effort of slowing down.

“It would be like me driving a car and braking every 100 yards, then accelerating again. Whales need to be choosy about when to apply the brakes to feed on a patch of krill.”

The researchers analyzed the whale’s lunge-feeding and found that it approached the krill patch at about 6.7 miles per hour. The act of opening its enormous mouth to feed slowed the whale down to 1.1 mph – and getting that big body back up to cruising speed again requires a lot of energy.

The rare footage was possible through the use of small drones. The OSU team is trained to fly them over whales and was able to view blue whales from a unique perspective.

“It’s hard to get good footage from a ship,” Torres said, “and planes or helicopters can be invasive because of their noise. The drone allows us to get new angles on the whales without bothering them.”

Video of blue whale feeding can be found here: https://oregonstate.box.com/v/whale-feeding.

By Mark Floyd, 541-737-0788, mark.floyd@oregonstate.edu

Source: Leigh Torres, 541-867-0895, leigh.torres@oregonstate.edu

This article is available online: http://bit.ly/2oKGMAh

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OSU to host Marine Science Day on April 8

March 31st, 2017 · No Comments · Uncategorized

NEWPORT, Ore. – Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center will hold its annual Marine Science Day on Saturday, April 8, giving visitors an opportunity to see laboratories behind-the-scenes, interact with student scientists and learn more about current marine research.

The event is free and open to the public, and will be from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the center, located in Newport southeast of the Highway 101 bridge over Yaquina Bay. It will feature interactive, hands-on exhibits and opportunities to talk to researchers from OSU and other federal and state agencies.

The theme is “Celebrating Student Research” and student scientists will be among the researchers presenting exhibits on marine mammals, oyster aquaculture, ocean acidification, ocean noise, seagrass ecology, fisheries, deep sea vents and more. Visitors can learn about research diving with the OSU Dive Team, observe microscopic plankton, tour a genetics lab and hear about the NOAA Corps 100th year as a commissioned service.

Special activities for children will be offered by Oregon Sea Grant and the Oregon Coast Aquarium. The Oregon Coast STEM Hub and representatives from OSU and Oregon Coast Community College will also be available to engage K-12 students interested in pursuing marine studies.

Special events include:

  • A lecture at 2:30 p.m. by José R. Marín Jarrín, Charles Darwin Foundation, Galápagos, Ecuador, on “From Hatfield to the Charles Darwin Foundation: the importance of student research experiences.”
  • Opening celebration at 10:30 a.m. for the Experimental Seawater Facility, funded by the National Science Foundation.
  • A public feeding of the octopus Opal in the Visitors Center will be at 1 p.m.

Visitors may also learn about the progress of OSU’s Marine Studies Initiative, which seeks to host 500 students-in-residence in Newport by 2025.

“With a new teaching and research facility in the fundraising and design phase, Marine Science Day offers a great opportunity to understand why we are so excited about OSU’s Marine Studies Initiative,” said Bob Cowen, director of the Hatfield Marine Science Center.

“It is also a chance to learn about our scientists – who we are, what we do, and how we, as university, state and federal partners, work together and with communities to better understand and solve our marine and coastal challenges.”

More information on the event is available online at http://hmsc.oregonstate.edu/marinescienceday

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About OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center: The center is a research and teaching facility located in Newport, Ore., on the Yaquina Bay estuary, about one mile from the open waters of the Pacific Ocean. It plays an integral role in programs of marine and estuarine research and instruction, as a laboratory serving resident scientists, as a base for far-ranging oceanographic studies and as a classroom for students. Its campus includes research activities and facilities from six different state and federal agencies.

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Marine Science Day is Saturday, April 8!

March 15th, 2017 · No Comments · Uncategorized

Marine Science Day at the OSU Hatfield Marine Science Center 
Saturday, April 8, 10am-4pm in Newport, Oregon

Join the OSU Hatfield Marine Science Center (HMSC) in Newport for Marine Science Day.  HMSC will open its doors for a behind-the-scenes peek at the cutting-edge research, education and outreach in marine sciences that makes this marine laboratory unique. Meet researchers from Oregon State University and five government agency partners. Explore with interactive science displays presented by marine scientists and special family-friendly activities by Oregon Sea Grant and the Oregon Coast Aquarium. 

Come learn what’s new at the OSU Hatfield Marine Science Center on the Oregon Coast.

For more information, flyer, Schedule of Events or to volunteer, see hmsc.oregonstate.edu/marinescienceday. The event is free, open to the public and appropriate for all ages.
For accommodation requests related to a disability or other questions, email maryann.bozza@oregonstate.edu or call 541-867-0234.
Note: Most Marine Science Day exhibits and activities will be indoors, although visitors are advised to dress for the weather as some exhibits will be outdoors. The OSU Hatfield Marine Science Center is located at 2030 SE Marine Science Drive in Newport, Oregon. See our map and directions including public transportation options here.

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New, complex call recorded in Mariana Trench believed to be from baleen whale

January 11th, 2017 · No Comments · Uncategorized

Dwarf Minke Whale

Dwarf Minke Whale

sound in the Mariana Trench notable for its complexity and wide frequency range likely represents the discovery of a new baleen whale call, according to the Oregon State University researchers who recorded and analyzed it.

Scientists at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center named it the “Western Pacific Biotwang.”

Lasting between 2.5 and 3.5 seconds, the five-part call includes deep moans at frequencies as low as 38 hertz and a metallic finale that pushes as high as 8,000 hertz.

“It’s very distinct, with all these crazy parts,” said Sharon Nieukirk, senior faculty research assistant in marine bioacoustics at Oregon State. “The low-frequency moaning part is typical of baleen whales, and it’s that kind of twangy sound that makes it really unique. We don’t find many new baleen whale calls.”

Recorded via passive acoustic ocean gliders, which are instruments that can travel autonomously for months at a time and dive up to 1,000 meters, the Western Pacific Biotwang most closely resembles the so-called “Star Wars” sound produced by dwarf minke whales on the Great Barrier Reef off the northeast coast of Australia, researchers say.

The Mariana Trench, the deepest known part of the Earth’s oceans, lies between Japan to the north and Australia to the south and features depths in excess of 36,000 feet.

Minke whales are baleen whales – meaning they feed by using baleen plates in their mouths to filter krill and small fish from seawater – and live in most oceans. They produce a collection of regionally specific calls, which in addition to the Star Wars call include “boings” in the North Pacific and low-frequency pulse trains in the Atlantic.

“We don’t really know that much about minke whale distribution at low latitudes,” said Nieukirk, lead author on the study whose results were recently published in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. “The species is the smallest of the baleen whales, doesn’t spend much time at the surface, has an inconspicuous blow, and often lives in areas where high seas make sighting difficult. But they call frequently, making them good candidates for acoustic studies.”

Nieukirk said the Western Pacific Biotwang has enough similarities to the Star Wars call – complex structure, frequency sweep and metallic conclusion – that it’s reasonable to think a minke whale is responsible for it.

But scientists can’t yet be sure, and many other questions remain. For example, baleen whale calls are often related to mating and heard mainly during the winter, yet the Western Pacific Biotwang was recorded throughout the year.

“If it’s a mating call, why are we getting it year round? That’s a mystery,” said Nieukirk, part of the team at the Cooperative Institute for Marine Resources Studies, a partnership between OSU and the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory. “We need to determine how often the call occurs in summer versus winter, and how widely this call is really distributed.”

The call is tricky to find when combing through recorded sound data, Nieukirk explains, because of its huge frequency range. Typically acoustic scientists zero in on narrower frequency ranges when analyzing ocean recordings, and in this case that would mean not detecting portions of the Western Pacific Biotwang.

“Now that we’ve published these data, we hope researchers can identify this call in past and future data, and ultimately we should be able to pin down the source of the sound,” Nieukirk said. “More data are needed, including genetic, acoustic and visual identification of the source, to confirm the species and gain insight into how this sound is being used. Our hope is to mount an expedition to go out and do acoustic localization, find the animals, get biopsy samples and find out exactly what’s making the sound. It really is an amazing, weird sound, and good science will explain it.”

Sharon Nieukirk, 541-867-0268, Steve Lundeberg, 541-737-4039

About OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center: The center is a research and teaching facility located in Newport, Ore., on the Yaquina Bay estuary, about one mile from the open waters of the Pacific Ocean. It plays an integral role in programs of marine and estuarine research and instruction, as a laboratory serving resident scientists, as a base for far-ranging oceanographic studies and as a classroom for students.

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El Nino, Pacific Decadal Oscillation implicated in domoic acid shellfish toxicity

January 10th, 2017 · No Comments · Uncategorized

West Coast algae  Darker green colors near the West Coast of the United States reflect blooms of phytoplankton and high algal levels, some of which are toxic. (NASA photo)

West Coast algae
Darker green colors near the West Coast of the United States reflect blooms of phytoplankton and high algal levels, some of which are toxic. (NASA photo)

Researchers reported recently in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences a strong correlation between toxic levels of domoic acid in shellfish and the warm-water ocean conditions orchestrated by two powerful forces – El Niño events and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation.

Using a combination of time-series data spanning two decades, the scientists not only showed a clear link between domoic acid and these larger climatic phenomena, but also developed a new model to predict with some accuracy the timing of domoic acid risks in the Pacific Northwest.

The model is based on interpreting the status of the “Oceanic Niño Index” and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation – both of which are measures of climate, ocean water movement, currents and temperature. It’s designed to help coastal resource managers more effectively monitor this issue and protect public health.

The findings were made by researchers from Oregon State University, the University of Oregon, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. The work was primarily supported by NOAA.

Researchers also pointed out that the findings are particularly timely, given the potential for greater domoic acid outbreak occurrences as oceans continue to warm due to climate change.

Domoic acid, a potent neurotoxin produced by specific types of phytoplankton and ingested by shellfish, can cause serious health effects in humans and some other animals. In recent years, dangerous levels of these toxins have led to the repeated closure of crab and shellfish harvesting in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere. The problem threatens public health, marine wildlife and can cost millions for coastal economies. Until now, its connection to larger climatic forces has been suspected, but not confirmed.

“In the natural world there are always variations, and it’s been difficult to connect a specific event to larger forces that operate over periods of years and decades,” said Angelicque White, an associate professor and research team leader in the OSU College of Earth, Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences.

“To do so, long observational time-series are crucial. With NOAA’s commitment to sponsored coastal ocean research and monitoring, along with state support for monitoring shellfish toxins, we’ve finally been able to tease out short term variability from natural climate forcing.”

Beyond problems with domoic acid levels, White said, this correlation also appears to mirror problems with green crabs, an invasive species of significant concern in the Pacific Northwest. These same warm climate phases lead to increased numbers of green crabs in Oregon waters, where they compete with native Dungeness crabs. The conditions also deliver communities of lipid-poor “copepods” – types of small crustaceans that float with currents – from the south, that are associated with reduced salmon runs.

The new study shows that oscillations to positive, or warm-favorable conditions in natural climate cycles can reduce the strength of the south-flowing California Current. This allows more movement northwards of both warmer waters and higher levels of toxic plankton, and also brings that toxic mix closer to shore where it can infiltrate shellfish.

“Part of the concern is that a large influx of the plankton that produce domoic acid can have long-term impacts,” said Morgaine McKibben, an OSU doctoral student and lead author on the study.

“For example, razor clams are filter-feeders that bioaccumulate this toxin in their muscles, so they take much longer to flush it out than other shellfish. The higher the toxin levels, the longer it takes for razor clams to be safe to eat again, perhaps up to a year after warm ocean conditions have subsided.”

Domoic acid is produced by the diatom genus Pseudo-nitzschia, and enters the marine food web when toxic blooms of these micro-algae are ingested by animals such as anchovies and shellfish. Referred to as “amnesic shellfish poisoning,” human symptoms can range from gastrointestinal disturbance to seizures, memory loss or, rarely, death. It was only first identified as a public health threat in 1987, and has been monitored on the U.S. West Coast since 1991.

Domoic acid events have been linked to mass deaths of marine mammals, like sea lions, sea otters, dolphins and whales. And closures of Pacific Northwest beaches to shellfish harvests, such as those that occurred in 2003, 2015 and 2016, can result in large economic impacts to coastal towns and tourism. In 2015, domoic-acid related closures led to a decline in value of nearly $100 million for the West Coast Dungeness crab fishery, according to the Fisheries of the U.S. Report 2015.

“Advance warning of when domoic acid levels are likely to exceed our public health thresholds in shellfish is extremely helpful,” said Matt Hunter, co-author of the study with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. “Agencies like mine can use this model to anticipate domoic acid risks and prepare for periods of more intensive monitoring and testing, helping to better inform our decisions and ensure the safety of harvested crab and shellfish.”

By David Stauth, 541-737-0787

Contact: Angelicque White, 541-737-6397 or awhite@coas.oregonstate.edu; Morgaine McKibben, morgaine@coas.oregonstate.edu

Photos are available online: http://bit.ly/2iwo77I

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Wave energy center receives $40 million to construct world’s premier test facility

January 4th, 2017 · No Comments · Uncategorized

Oregon State University’s Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center today was awarded up to $40 million from the U.S. Department of Energy, to create the world’s premier wave energy test facility in Newport.

p3_0The NNMREC facility, known as the Pacific Marine Energy Center South Energy Test Site, or PMEC-SETS, is planned to be operational by 2020. It will be able to test wave energy “converters” that harness the energy of ocean waves and turn it into electricity. Companies around the world are already anticipating construction of the new facility to test and perfect their technologies, OSU officials say.

“We anticipate this will be the world’s most advanced wave energy test facility,” said Belinda Batten, the director of NNMREC and a professor in the OSU College of Engineering.

“This is a tribute to the support we received from the state of Oregon, and the efforts of many other people who have worked for the past four years – in some cases since the mid-2000s – to see this facility become a reality. It will play an integral role in moving forward on the testing and refinement of wave energy technologies.”

Those technologies, Batten said, are complex and expensive.

“These devices have to perform in hostile ocean conditions; stand up to a 100-year storm; be energy efficient, durable, environmentally benign – and perhaps most important, cost-competitive with other energy sources,” Batten said. “This facility will help answer all of those questions, and is literally the last step before commercialization.”

The DOE award is subject to appropriations, federal officials said today, and will be used to design, permit, and construct an open-water, grid-connected national wave energy testing facility. It will include four grid-connected test berths.

“OSU researchers are already international leaders on several new sources of energy that will be dependable, cost-competitive and efficient,” said OSU President Edward J. Ray.

“This is another enormous step for alternative energy, especially for an energy resource that Oregon is so well-suited to pursue. In coming years this new facility, aided by the assistance of OSU experts, will provide great learning opportunities for our students and have repercussions for wave energy development around the world.”

In making the award, the agency noted that more than 50 percent of the U.S. population lives within 50 miles of coastlines, offering America the potential to develop a domestic wave energy industry that could help provide reliable power to coastal regions.

Investments in marine and hydrokinetic energy technology will encourage domestic manufacturing, create jobs, and advance this technology to help achieve the nation’s energy goals, DOE officials said in their announcement of this award. Studies have estimated that even if only a small portion of the energy available from waves is recovered, millions of homes could be powered.

The new facility and award also received support from a range of academic and political leaders:

Oregon U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden: “This is great news for OSU and its partners and will launch a new level of local job creation and clean energy innovation. Oregon will use this opportunity to build on its solid position nationally and internationally as a leader in renewable wave energy.”

Oregon U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley: “This is a huge success story for Oregon State University, and I thank the Department of Energy for helping us harness the enormous potential of wave energy off the Oregon coast. This test facility will make Oregon the leader in bringing wave energy to the United States, which will create good-paying local jobs, and strengthen our coastal economies.”

Oregon U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader: “Being able to tap into our rich marine energy resources will unleash the potential for billions of dollars in investment along our coastlines. The research that will be made possible through this grant is absolutely critical to the full and effective implementation of wave energy converters into the U.S. green energy portfolio. This federal support is terrific news for OSU and the entire local economy as it allows Oregonians to lead the pack here at home on wave energy.”

Oregon U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici: “OSU is at the forefront of wave energy research. Wave energy has tremendous potential as a renewable resource to put our country on a path to a clean energy future. This critical federal support will allow the university, researchers, and students to continue to investigate and test the potential of wave energy. With this investment we are one important step closer to harnessing the power of the ocean to meet our nation’s clean energy needs, create good-paying jobs, and spur economic growth in our communities.”

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown: “I commend the talented team of Oregon State University researchers, staff, and students who lead the nation in research and development of wave energy technology. This U.S. Department of Energy grant announcement of up to $40 million leverages years of work and partnership with our state. This innovative work will contribute to Oregon and the nation’s clean energy mix of the future.”

Oregon State Sen. Arnie Roblan: “After the work of the coastal caucus during the 2016 session to secure a state match for this grant, I am pleased by this news. This grant will enable cutting edge research that will bring a variety of individual innovators to the Oregon coast. We are uniquely positioned to help the nation determine the efficacy of their energy devices to Oregon.”

Cynthia Sagers, vice president for research at OSU: “This award is a major win for Dr. Batten and her team.  It comes after years of collaboration among OSU researchers, state and federal agencies, and industry partners. With it, we are one step closer to a clean, affordable and reliable energy future.”

 This story is available online.

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New, complex call recorded in Mariana Trench believed to be from baleen whale

December 20th, 2016 · No Comments · Uncategorized

dwarf minke whale

Dwarf minke whale

A sound in the Mariana Trench notable for its complexity and wide frequency range likely represents the discovery of a new baleen whale call, according to the Oregon State University researchers who recorded and analyzed it.

Scientists at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center named it the “Western Pacific Biotwang.”

Lasting between 2.5 and 3.5 seconds, the five-part call includes deep moans at frequencies as low as 38 hertz and a metallic finale that pushes as high as 8,000 hertz.

“It’s very distinct, with all these crazy parts,” said Sharon Nieukirk, senior faculty research assistant in marine bioacoustics at Oregon State. “The low-frequency moaning part is typical of baleen whales, and it’s that kind of twangy sound that makes it really unique. We don’t find many new baleen whale calls.”

Recorded via passive acoustic ocean gliders, which are instruments that can travel autonomously for months at a time and dive up to 1,000 meters, the Western Pacific Biotwang most closely resembles the so-called “Star Wars” sound produced by dwarf minke whales on the Great Barrier Reef off the northeast coast of Australia, researchers say.

The Mariana Trench, the deepest known part of the Earth’s oceans, lies between Japan to the north and Australia to the south and features depths in excess of 36,000 feet.

Minke whales are baleen whales – meaning they feed by using baleen plates in their mouths to filter krill and small fish from seawater – and live in most oceans. They produce a collection of regionally specific calls, which in addition to the Star Wars call include “boings” in the North Pacific and low-frequency pulse trains in the Atlantic.

“We don’t really know that much about minke whale distribution at low latitudes,” said Nieukirk, lead author on the study whose results were recently published in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. “The species is the smallest of the baleen whales, doesn’t spend much time at the surface, has an inconspicuous blow, and often lives in areas where high seas make sighting difficult. But they call frequently, making them good candidates for acoustic studies.”

Nieukirk said the Western Pacific Biotwang has enough similarities to the Star Wars call – complex structure, frequency sweep and metallic conclusion – that it’s reasonable to think a minke whale is responsible for it.

But scientists can’t yet be sure, and many other questions remain. For example, baleen whale calls are often related to mating and heard mainly during the winter, yet the Western Pacific Biotwang was recorded throughout the year.

“If it’s a mating call, why are we getting it year round? That’s a mystery,” said Nieukirk, part of the team at the Cooperative Institute for Marine Resources Studies, a partnership between OSU and the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory. “We need to determine how often the call occurs in summer versus winter, and how widely this call is really distributed.”

The call is tricky to find when combing through recorded sound data, Nieukirk explains, because of its huge frequency range. Typically acoustic scientists zero in on narrower frequency ranges when analyzing ocean recordings, and in this case that would mean not detecting portions of the Western Pacific Biotwang.

“Now that we’ve published these data, we hope researchers can identify this call in past and future data, and ultimately we should be able to pin down the source of the sound,” Nieukirk said. “More data are needed, including genetic, acoustic and visual identification of the source, to confirm the species and gain insight into how this sound is being used. Our hope is to mount an expedition to go out and do acoustic localization, find the animals, get biopsy samples and find out exactly what’s making the sound. It really is an amazing, weird sound, and good science will explain it.”

Editor’s note: Audio is available here: http://bit.ly/2gydAqz; a photo of a dwarf minke whale is available here: https://flic.kr/p/NLnkQb. This story is available online: http://bit.ly/2hvVurd. The study on which this story is based is available online: http://bit.ly/2harkfA

By Steve Lundeberg, 541-737-4039, steve.lundeberg@oregonstate.edu

Contact: Sharon Nieukirk, 541-867-0268, Sharon.Nieukirk@oregonstate.edu

 

 

About OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center: The center is a research and teaching facility located in Newport, Ore., on the Yaquina Bay estuary, about one mile from the open waters of the Pacific Ocean. It plays an integral role in programs of marine and estuarine research and instruction, as a laboratory serving resident scientists, as a base for far-ranging oceanographic studies and as a classroom for students. Its campus includes research activities and facilities from six different state and federal agencies.

 

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First-ever HMSC Film Fest! Sept 22

September 16th, 2016 · No Comments · Uncategorized

Hatfield Marine Science Center to host ocean research film fest

@OSUPlanktonLabNEWPORT, Ore. – A mini-film festival outlining some of the latest in coastal research and marine initiatives will be held on Thursday, Sept. 22, at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport.

The series of short films will run from 5 to 6:30 p.m. and again from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the Hennings Auditorium of the Visitor Center. The HMSC Film Festival is free and open to the public.

HMSCFilmFestAmong the topics in the films are:

  • Oregon State University’s Marine Studies Initiative;
  • Ocean sound in the bottom of the Mariana Trench, with NOAA’s Bob Dziak;
  • Blue whales nursing, with Leigh Torres of OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute;
  • Ocean acidification, by OSU’s Justin Smith, with Caren Braby and Steven Rumrill of ODFW;
  • At sea larvae and plankton sampling with faculty and students from the Cowen/Sponaugle Lab at HMSC.

Also featured will be OSU’s Bill Chadwick, who will present a summary of a research expedition searching for new hydrothermal vents, and a time-lapse video of the R/V Thompson going through the locks into Lake Union in Seattle.

The university’s latest marine-themed commercial will also be shown.

OAFilm“These films exemplify the Marine Studies Initiative recently launched by OSU, said Bob Cowen, director of the OSU center. “We are excited about the opportunity to share our cutting-edge research with a wide audience through these dynamic and impactful films.”

More information is available at the center’s event website, http://hmsc.oregonstate.edu/events. Visitors traveling from the Willamette Valley should check on road closure information for U.S. Highway 20 at http://us20pme.org

 

By Mark Floyd, 541-737-0788, mark.floyd@oregonstate.edu

Source: Maryann Bozza, 541-867-0234, maryann.bozza@oregonstate.edu

This release is available online at: http://bit.ly/2ctQxgy

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Ocean acidification panel at HMSC – January 28

January 28th, 2016 · No Comments · Uncategorized

NEWPORT – The OSU Hatfield Marine Science Center and the Union of Concerned Scientists will host a reception and panel discussion on the environmental and economic impacts of ocean acidification on our coastal communities. The event is from 5-7 pm this Thursday, January 28  in the HMSC Visitor Center’s Hennings Auditorium.

Expert panelists will discuss the science of ocean acidification, local impacts and potential solutions with community members and elected officials.

Panelists are:

  • Dr. George Waldbusser, Assistant Professor, OSU College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences
  • Alan Barton, Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery
  • Dr. Francis Chan, Associate Professor and Senior Researcher, OSU College of Science
  • Emily Heffling, Western States Outreach Coordinator, Union of Concerned Scientists

Join us for a light reception and meet our panelists before the presentation.

The event, hosted by HMSC Director Bob Cowen and State Representative David Gomberg, is family-friendly, free and open to the public. RSVP requested – eheffling@ucsusa.org or 510-809-1584.

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Public invited to see shark necropsies at OSU’s Hatfield Center on Saturday

January 7th, 2016 · No Comments · Uncategorized

Shark DayNEWPORT, Ore. – Oregon State University marine educator Bill Hanshumaker will conduct side-by-side necropsies of two sharks commonly found in the northeast Pacific Ocean this Saturday, Jan. 9, at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport.

The dissections, which are part of Hatfield’s annual Shark Day, will begin at 1:30 p.m. in the Visitor Center. The public is invited.

The sharks were bycatch from the hake industry and secured by the NOAA Observer Program, then donated to OSU. Hanshumaker, an Oregon Sea Grant outreach specialist, will conduct a comparative dissection of the two sharks, analyzing similarities and differences in their nervous, reproductive and digestive systems.

The Pacific sleeper shark is a rather mysterious animal that lives in moderately to very deep water. In fact, sleeper sharks have been observed or filmed by submersibles at 4,000 feet off Japan, and at 6,300 feet off Hawaii. The shark has a large stomach in which it can store large quantities of food to survive times of prey scarcity in the deep Pacific Ocean. It feeds on a variety of bottom-dwelling and swimming fishes, as well as octopus, shrimp, hermit crabs, and even marine mammals.

Blue sharks are found in very deep waters and prefer cooler regions, so they are frequently found in sub-tropical areas like the West Coast. Considered dangerous to divers, blue sharks are fast swimmers known to leap out of the water to see what kinds of food may be on the surface. They can range for thousands of miles, for food or to mate, and have an appetite for squid, fish, mollusks, small sharks and seabirds.

The public also is invited to see the center’s shark jaw collection, as well as continuous showings in the Hennings Auditorium of shark videos from around the world. Numerous other displays will be open.

Winter hours for the Hatfield Marine Science Center are Thursday through Monday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is by donation.

By Mark Floyd, 541-737-0788, mark.floyd@oregonstate.edu

Source: Bill Hanshumaker, 541-867-0167, Bill.Hanshumaker@oregonstate.edu

This article is available online at: http://bit.ly/1mD4r3G

 

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OSU/NOAA study: Warm-water years are tough on juvenile salmon

January 6th, 2016 · No Comments · Uncategorized

ChinookNEWPORT, Ore., 12/16/15 – A new analysis of juvenile Chinook salmon in the Pacific Ocean documents a dramatic difference in their foraging habits and overall health between years of warm water and those when the water is colder.

The study found that when the water is warmer than average – by only two degrees Celsius – young salmon consume 30 percent more food than during cold-water regimes. Yet they are smaller and skinnier during those warm-water years, likely because they have to work harder to secure food and the prey they consume has less caloric energy.

Results of the research, conducted by researchers from Oregon State University and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, are being published this week in the journal PLOS One.

“When young salmon come out to sea and the water is warm, they need more food to keep their metabolic rate up, yet there is less available food and they have to work harder,” said Elizabeth Daly, an Oregon State senior faculty research assistant with the Cooperative Institute for Marine Resources Studies, a joint program of OSU and NOAA.

“Our long-term data set contradicts the long-held assumption that salmon eat less during warm-water regimes,” Daly added. “They actually eat more. But they still don’t fare as well. When the water is warm, salmon are smaller and thinner.”

Daly teamed with Richard Brodeur, a NOAA Northwest Fisheries Science Center researcher, to examine 19 years of juvenile salmon surveys, from 1981-85 and 1998-2011. The rich, long-term data set revealed the trophic habits, size and condition of yearling Chinook salmon caught soon after they migrated to the ocean. The researchers found that during both warm- and cold-water regimes, the diet of the salmon is primarily fish, but when the water is cold, they also consume more lipid-rich krill and Pacific sand lance. When the water is warmer, the salmon’s diet had more juvenile rockfish and crab larvae.

Previous research led by Bill Peterson, a NOAA fisheries biologist and courtesy professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences (CEOAS), found that the makeup of copepods during cold-water years differs greatly than during warm-water years. In cold years, these small crustaceans drift down from the north and are lipid-rich, with much higher nutrient levels than copepods from the south.

And though salmon may not directly consume these copepods, they are eating the fish that do consume them, noted Brodeur, also a courtesy faculty member in CEOAS.

“The warm years typically have less upwelling that brings the cold, nutrient-rich water to the surface,” Brodeur said. “Or in the case of 2005, the upwelling was so late that many of the salmon died because there was no food when they entered the ocean.”

“Salmon populations may be able to handle one year of warm temperatures and sparse food,” Brodeur added. “But two or three years in a row could be disastrous – especially for wild fish populations. They may have to travel much farther north to find any food.”

Hatchery-raised salmon that are released in similar numbers in warm- or cold-water years may fare slightly better during bad ocean conditions, the researchers noted, because they tend to be larger when they enter the marine environment.

Daly and Brodeur, who work out of OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Oregon, said that the 19 survey years they analyzed included 10 warm-water years and nine cold-water years. In some cases, the warm water was a result of an El Niño, while in other years it was a lack of upwelling.

During the last two years, an unusually large, warm body of water has settled into the ocean off the Pacific Northwest that scientists have dubbed “The Blob,” which is forecast to be followed this winter by a fairly strong El Niño event. Though recent spring Chinook salmon runs have been strong due to cooler ocean conditions in 2012-13, the impact of this long stretch of warm water on juvenile fish may bode poorly for future runs.

“So far this year, we’ve seen a lot of juvenile salmon with empty stomachs,” Daly said. “The pressure to find food is going to be great. Of those fish that did have food in their stomachs, there was an unusual amount of juvenile rockfish and no signs of Pacific sand lance or krill.

“Not only does this warm water make it more difficult for the salmon to find food, it increases the risk of their own predation as they spend more time eating and less time avoiding predators,” she added.

About OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center: The center is a research and teaching facility located in Newport, Ore., on the Yaquina Bay estuary, about one mile from the open waters of the Pacific Ocean. It plays an integral role in programs of marine and estuarine research and instruction, as a laboratory serving resident scientists, as a base for far-ranging oceanographic studies and as a classroom for students.

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HMSC/MMI respond to blue whale washed ashore in Oregon

November 6th, 2015 · No Comments · Uncategorized

The OSU Hatfield Marine Science Center (HMSC) has been in the news with a 78-foot blue whale that washed up near Gold Beach, OR this week. Dr. Bruce Mate , Director of the OSU Marine Mammal Institute (MMI), and Jim Rice of MMI’s Oregon Marine Mammal Stranding Network are on scene, and are making arrangements for the skeleton to come to HMSC in Newport, OR for eventual display. See today’s story on Oregon Public Broadcasting.

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Mysteries Beneath the Ice

October 22nd, 2015 · No Comments · Uncategorized

Yaquina Arts Association Photographers present: 

Mysteries Beneath the Ice – A presentation by Ice Cave Explorer Brent McGregor

Monday, November 2 at 6:30 pm

Hatfield Marine Science Center Visitor Center Auditorium, Newport, Oregon

Ice Cave Explorer and accomplished outdoor and adventure photographer and photography instructor Brent McGregor has traveled extensively to explore caves – especially ice cave – around the world, including in Oregon. He discovered the Pure Imagination Cave on the Sandy Glacier, a system of glacier caves within the ice of Mount Hood in Oregon. He has been featured on the television program Oregon Field Guide, the radio program “Think Out Loud,” the Oregon magazine “1859” and nationally on a “TED Talk” along with numerous articles and appearances in the national and international news media. A video of his explorations is available at https://vimeo.com/111161365. McGregor’s program will encompass the unexpected discoveries, surprises and science that have come from mapping previously unknown ice caves throughout the Pacific Northwest’s Cascades Mountains.

McGregor’s presentation is at 6:30pm and is free and open to the public.

The OSU Hatfield Marine Science Center is at 2030 SE Marine Science Drive. For more information, contact maryann.bozza@oregonstate.edu or call 541-867-0234.

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To breathe or eat: Blue whales use efficient foraging to maintain massive body size

October 3rd, 2015 · No Comments · Uncategorized

 

21450338438_27a9ccbbd3_kCORVALLIS, Ore. – As the largest animals to have ever lived on Earth, blue whales maintain their enormous body size through efficient foraging strategies that optimize the energy they gain from the krill they eat, while also conserving oxygen when diving and holding their breath, a new study has found.

Large, filter-feeding whales have long been thought of as indiscriminate grazers that gradually consume copious amounts of tiny krill throughout the day – regardless of how prey is distributed in the ocean. But tagged blue whales in the new study revealed sophisticated foraging behavior that targets the densest, highest-quality pretty, maximizing their energy gain.

Understanding blue whale feeding behavior will help inform protections for the endangered species and its recovery needs, the scientists say. The study, by researchers from NOAA Fisheries, Oregon State University and Stanford University, was published this week in Science Advances.

“For blue whales, one of our main questions has been: How do they eat efficiently to support that massive body size,” said Elliott Hazen, a research ecologist with NOAA Fisheries’ Southwest Fisheries Science Center and lead author of the research. “Now we know that optimizing their feeding behavior is another specialization that makes the most of the food available.”

Adult blue whales can grow to the length of a basketball court and weigh as much as 25 large elephants combined, but they operate on an “energetic knife-edge,” the researchers point out.  They feed through the extreme mechanism of engulfing as much prey-laden water as they weigh and then filtering out the tiny krill it contains.

But feeding expends tremendous amounts of energy and the dense krill patches they need to replenish that energy are often deep and difficult to find.

In their study, the researchers compared the foraging of 14 tagged blue whales to 41 previously tagged blue whales off the coast of California, combining the data with acoustic surveys that measured the density of their sole prey, krill – tiny (less than one inch) crustaceans found throughout the world’s oceans.

The researchers found that when the krill were spread out, or less dense, blue whales fed infrequently to conserve their oxygen and energy use for future dives. When krill density increased, they began “lunge-feeding” more frequently, consuming more per dive to obtain as much energy from the krill as possible.

21450109000_8180274acc_k“Blue whales don’t live in a world of excess and the decisions these animals make are critical to their survival,” said Ari Friedlaender, a principal investigator with the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center and co-author on the study. “If you stick your hand into a full bag of pretzels, you’re likely to grab more than if you put your hand into a bag that only had a few pretzels.”

The feeding pattern that focuses more effort on the densest krill patches provides a new example of blue whale foraging specializations that support the animals’ tremendous size.

This kind of lunge-feeding takes a lot more effort, but “the increase in the amount of energy they get from increased krill consumption more than makes up for it,” noted Jeremy Goldbogen, a marine biologist from Stanford University and co-author on the study.

“Lunge-feeding is a unique form of ‘ram-feeding’ that involves acceleration to high speed and the engulfment of large volumes of prey-laden water, which they filter,” Goldbogen noted. “But we now know they don’t take in that water indiscriminately. They have a strategy that aims to focus feeding effort on the densest, highest-quality krill patches.”

In their study, the researchers found a threshold for krill that determined how intensively the blue whales fed.

“The magic number for krill seems to be about 100 to 200 individuals in a cubic meter of water,” Hazen said. “If it’s below that range, blue whales use a strategy to conserve oxygen and feed less frequently. If it’s above that, they’ll feed at very high rates and invest more effort.”

The researchers say this insight into blue whale feeding will help determine how best to protect the species, which is listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

“If they are disturbed during the intense, deep-water feeding, it may not have consequences today, or this week, but it could over a period of months,” Friedlaender said. “There can be impacts on their overall health, as well as on their fitness and viability for reproduction.”

The study was funded by the U.S. Office of Naval Research.

Contacts: Mark Floyd (OSU), 541-737-0788, mark.floyd@oregonstate.edu; Michael Milstein (NOAA Fisheries), 503-231-6268, Michael.milstein@noaa.gov

Sources: Ari Friedlaender, 919-672-0103, ari.friedlaender@oregonstate.edu; Jeremy Goldbogen, 831-655-6234, jergold@stanford.edu; Elliott Hazen, 831-658-3202, Elliott.hazen@noaa.gov

This story is available onlinehttp://bit.ly/1RkCC9U

 

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“Big Data” foundational to NSF-funded leadership training program at OSU

September 30th, 2015 · No Comments · Uncategorized

NSF selects Oregon State to build cohorts of leaders in marine science data and policy

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University this fall will begin selecting graduate students for a bold new program to train cohorts of students that will tackle emerging issues in marine science.

The National Science Foundation chose Oregon State to develop the program, which focuses on the use of “big data” to analyze and understand the effects of human activities and climate change on the ocean system around the world. It also requires students to look at the impact of potential management decisions on the stakeholders – the fishing industry, for example – as well as the environment.

This National Science Foundation Research Traineeship (NRT) program is being funded by a five-year, $3 million grant from NSF.

“This really is a new approach to the training of students in natural resource education,” said Lorenzo Ciannelli, a professor of ocean ecology in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences and principal investigator on the project. “Typically, students in science focus on a comparatively narrow area of the discipline and work individually.

“In our NRT program, students will address marine science issues with significant societal impact and will have to work in a group with 2-3 other students who have different backgrounds and expertise,” he added. “They will not only have to understand the science, but what it means for the resource management, and the people that it impacts.”

A core group of faculty from the colleges of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, Engineering, Liberal Arts and Science will provide leadership on the project, bringing to the initiative such diverse backgrounds as mathematics, human development and family science, sociology, genetics, computer science, ocean modeling, statistics, geography and others.

Requiring students to work across disciplines is what they’ll encounter in the working world, said Sastry Pantula, dean of OSU’s College of Science, which is actively involved in the new program.

“Solving major complex issues related to climate change, marine studies and risk assessment requires people to have a diversity of expertise to work together,” Pantula said. “No single person has expertise in all sciences, mathematics and statistics. Bringing an interdisciplinary cohort together will enhance depth in core areas, breadth of communication across various fields, and strength in statistical and computational skills. This program takes advantage of the unique collaborative spirit of OSU.”

The program will provide for more than 30 fellowships for OSU master’s and doctoral students, and has room for perhaps an additional 30 students if they have an alternative funding source, Ciannelli said. The students and participating faculty will decide on the projects.

One example of an issue is what the university included in its proposal to NSF – the management of chinook salmon along the Oregon coast.

“If you look at chinook, the management is rather complicated,” Ciannelli pointed out. “The fishery is comprised of numerous different stocks, some of which are doing well, like the Columbia River, and others which are struggling, like that of the southern range, including the Klamath River and Sacramento River.

“But when you catch fish out in the ocean, you aren’t sure where they’re from, so how do you gauge the impact on a particular river basin system?” he added. “The challenge is to see if you can create a fine-scale management tool that might be allow more fishing, yet protect depleted stocks. Or it may turn out that the students will find the current management system is the best approach for the situation.”

OSU researchers, including Professor Michael Banks, Ph.D. student Renee Bellinger and others, already are involved in a project along the coast to use genetic identification on fish caught in the ocean to identify their river of origin in hopes of enabling “real-time” management protocols.

“I would envision some of our students working on that project,” Ciannelli said.

Pantula said the amount of data involved in such studies can be staggering, weaving in not only salmon catch data, but also ocean conditions, genetic analysis, historic data, and climate data. The program’s focus on ‘big data,’ risk assessment and uncertainty quantification is important, he said, because such analysis is becoming an increasingly important research tool. The integration of policy implications and communication to stakeholders and the public is essential.

“This program also fits in greatly with OSU’s Marine Studies Initiative and the critical need to enhance data science on campus,” Pantula said.

By Mark Floyd, 541-737-0788, mark.floyd@oregonstate.edu

Sources: Lorenzo Ciannelli, 541-737-3142, lciannelli@coas.oregonstate.edu; Sastry Pantula, 541-737-4811,Sastry.Pantula@oregonstate.edu

This article is available online: http://bit.ly/1LZCpo4

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How Oceanography Saved the World

August 6th, 2015 · No Comments · Uncategorized

HMSC50thColorWe are gearing up for our big HMSC 50th Anniversary Celebration tomorrow! Friday August 7, starting at 3pm with a talk by NOAA Chief Scientist and OSU Alumnus Dr. Rick Spinrad in the Visitor Center Auditorium – How Oceanography Saved the World. Can’t join us in person? Tune in online on Adobe Connect.

After the talk, we’ll convene in a BIG TENT outside for the BIG 5-0! Speakers include:

Dr. John Byrne, Former NOAA Administrator and Emeritus OSU President, OSU Dean of Oceanography AND HMSC Director

OSU President Ed Ray

Michele Longo Eder, OSU Trustee and an active member of the Oregon Coast’s fishing community

State Representative David Gomberg

plus Rick Spinrad, Janet Webster, Jack Barth, Bob Cowen, HMSC Grad Student Marisa Litz. We’ll also hear a submission to the Congressional Record from Senator Ron Wyden, read by his staff, Fritz Graham, congratulating HMSC on fifty years!

Don’t miss the premiere of a new video as well as a slideshow of historic photos.

HMSC will host a reception in the Visitor Center afterwards, with food, special activities, memorabilia and historical exhibits. All are welcome!

Again, that link to the live broadcast of Rick Spinrad’s talk is at: https://oregonstate.adobeconnect.com/_a827349107/hmsc-fw407/

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HMSC Researchers studying Oregon’s “resident population” of gray whales

August 4th, 2015 · No Comments · Uncategorized

Florence van Tulder looks for whales at Boiler Bay near Depoe Bay.

Florence van Tulder looks for whales at Boiler Bay near Depoe Bay.

Every year, some 20,000 gray whales migrate between the breeding lagoons of Baja, Mexico, and the bountiful feeding grounds off British Columbia and Alaska, often passing close to shore along the Northwest coast – creating a popular tourist attraction.

For some reason, however, about 200 of these whales annually cut short their northern migration, opting instead to cavort along the coastline from northern California to Washington throughout much of the summer. Although they don’t live year-round off the Northwest coast, they are known informally as Oregon’s “resident” gray whales.

The research team at Port Orford

The research team at Port Orford

Scientists don’t know as much as they’d like about our ocean-dwelling neighbors, thus a team of researchers from Oregon State University, led by master’s student Florence van Tulder, aims to learn more. She is leading a project this summer to spot gray whales that like to frequent the Oregon coast, track their movements and behavior, and compare them with photo archives in an attempt to identify individual whales.

As part of the study, the OSU researchers will also monitor activities of commercial, charter and recreational fishing boats – as well as whale-watching vessels – to determine if they have an effect on the whales’ behavior.

“Our goal is not to curtail boat use in waters near whales, but to develop a list of best-practices that we can share with the fishing and whale-watching industries,” said van Tulder, who is a student in OSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences. “We’d like to learn more about these whales and better understand how and where they feed along the Oregon coast.”

For the next several weeks, van Tulder and her research team will set up viewing locations at two popular waysides – Port Orford and Boiler Bay State Park near Depoe Bay. There they will use a surveyor’s instrument called a theodolite to track and map the movement of individual whales at a fine scale as they forage. The data collected will tell them how the whales use different areas, how they search for food patches, and how they interact with vessels.

During the team’s first week at Boiler Bay, they spotted a whale with overlapping spots on its tail that they nicknamed ‘Mitosis.’ The whale did a quick “drive-by” and left the study area, but returned two days later and foraged for more than three hours in one small area of just a few hundred yards. The following day, Mitosis arrived again and didn’t stay as long, but covered a much broader area.

“We think the reason they’re attracted to these foraging hotspots along the Oregon coast is an abundance of mysid shrimp,” van Tulder said. “During summer months, the mysid can be really dense, from the seafloor to the surface, and really close to the shore. We want to know if this wealth of foraging is enough to get them to disrupt their migration north. Or is there some other mechanism at work that makes 200 whales act differently than the other 20,000? That’s what we hope to find out.

“There’s also the question of how they even locate the shrimp,” she added. “Gray whales don’t use echo-location, so how do these whales search for and find dense prey patches? It may be possible that this knowledge is passed along from mother to calf among this population subset.”

Gray whale surfacing

Gray whale surfacing

Gray whales are one of the few endangered species success stories, scientists say. The population of eastern gray whales has recovered from the exploitation of 20th-century whaling to become robust. Their near-shore migration has spawned a new industry of whale-watching along the Oregon coast that in 2009 was worth an estimated $29 million – a figure likely higher today.

Leigh Torres, an OSU whale specialist with the Marine Mammal Institute who is van Tulder’s mentor for the project, said the work done this summer by the student research team will help scientists learn more about how the whales use their habitat – and interact with humans.

“There is still a lot we don’t know about these whales, so the fine-scale tracking of their feeding behavior, with concurrent tracks of vessels, will be very enlightening,” Torres said. “We’d like to know more about how gray whale foraging strategies differ between the two study sites or when there is a dependent calf, or multiple whales are around.

“We’re also interested in how the whales behave when there are boats in the vicinity,” Torres added. “Are there behavior differences based on boat traffic and composition? Whales might react to some boats, but perhaps not others based on speed, approach, motor type, etc. We hope to give back to the whale and fishing industries what we’ve learned so they can establish their own guidelines about how close to get to whales so they can maintain a profitable business and the whales can continue to utilize the habitat.”

The researchers also are interested in whether other gray whales may be joining the group of 200.

“It’s possible that other gray whales historically did what this population subset is doing now, but got away from it for some reason,” she said. “Or it may be that some whales are just opportunistic and want to stick around and chow down on the shrimp. With a long-term study, we hope to find out.”

van Tulder and her research team will alternate between Port Orford and Boiler Bay through mid-September and welcome interaction from the public.

By Mark Floyd, 541-737-0788, mark.floyd@oregonstate.edu

Sources:  Florence van Tulder, 206-491-1166, vantuldf@onid.oregonstate.edu; Leigh Torres, 541-867-0895, leigh.torres@oregonstate.edu

This article is available online at: http://bit.ly/1IKqJb0

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