HMSC Currents

OSU Hatfield Marine Science Center Staff Newsletter

HMSC Currents

“Big Data” challenge seeks techie solution to science problem

December 15th, 2014 · No Comments · Uncategorized

NEWPORT, Ore. – Hatfield Marine Science Center researchers studying the marine food web have literally tens of millions of photographic images of small marine organisms called “plankton” to identify – a task that would take two lifetimes to finish manually.

Their hope is that the data science community can develop a computer algorithm that can do it automatically.

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Click on image for video about National Data Science Bowl competition.

This week, Booz Allen Hamilton, a management and technology consultant firm, and Kaggle, the leading online data science competition community, announced the launch of the inaugural National Data Science Bowl to seek a solution to this “big data” challenge.

They are offering prize money totaling $175,000 to the creators of the top three algorithms – the largest such purse designated for a Kaggle competition benefitting social good. More information on the National Data Science Bowl is available at:

The 90-day competition will not only provide the data science community a chance to flex its creativity and brain power, it hopefully will solve a challenge facing marine science researchers who need to process massive amounts of data in hours, not decades. The winning algorithms will be donated to Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Ore., for use by the scientific community.

“The National Data Science Bowl was born from the realization that, in order for the data science community to grow and thrive, it must be given opportunities to use its talents to benefit both business and society,” said Josh Sullivan, vice president of Booz Allen Hamilton’s Strategic Innovation Group. “We are extremely honored to partner with leaders such as Kaggle and the Hatfield Marine Science Center for this initiative.”

Robert Cowen, director of OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center, admits the task is daunting. In the summer of 2014, center researchers embarked on an 18-day expedition funded by the National Science Foundation to study interactions between larval fishes, their planktonic prey, and their predators in the Straits of Florida. With their specially designed imaging system, the In Situ Ichthyoplankton Imaging System (ISIIS), they collected 32 terabytes of images of plankton, fish and jellyfish.

That is an amount of data equivalent to 9 million MP3 songs, or enough music to listen to nonstop for 52 years.

Screen Shot 2014-12-15 at 11.22.02 AMPlankton are the fundamental biological building blocks of ocean ecosystems, yet scientists don’t know as much about them as they would like, including their diversity, interactions with other marine organisms, what triggers their blooms, and how they respond to climate change.

Advancing scientific knowledge about these tiny organisms begins with identifying and cataloguing them, Cowen pointed out.

“Many economically important animals – including fishes, crabs and other shellfish – are part of the plankton in their early life stages,” he said. “Much of what we study relates to understanding the relationship between larval fishes and their planktonic prey and predators.”

Ultimately, what scientists are interested in “is what drives variation in year-to-year population abundances of key fish species,” said Su Sponaugle, co-principle investigator on the project and a professor in the Department of Integrative Biology at OSU.

Jessica Luo, a doctoral student from the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences working with Cowen and Sponaugle at the Hatfield Center, said what the researchers need from the data science community is akin to “facial recognition” software for planktonic species.

“At a minimum, we’re aiming for an automatic classification system that can identify organisms to the class or order level, in general groups like fish or shrimps,” she said. “But with distinctly shaped or transparent organisms, we think it might be possible to get down to the genus or even species level. It will be difficult, because plankton are of all different sizes, shapes and orientations, and are moving in all different directions.”

Kelly Robinson, a post-doctoral researcher at the Hatfield Marine Science Center, said scientists would benefit greatly from an automated system that could provide near real-time data of plankton abundance and diversity while aboard ships.

Screen Shot 2014-12-15 at 11.16.41 AM“From a resource management perspective, it is less effective to analyze plankton abundance and diversity from four years earlier if the resource that depends on plankton responds rapidly to environmental change,” she said. “The current process of manually identifying organisms is time-consuming and laborious.  The ocean is changing rapidly and there is an urgency to learn as much as we can about plankton interrelationships to help ensure the health of our marine environments.”

For the competition, participants will be given access to nearly 100,000 underwater images and tasked with developing an algorithm that will identify and monitor them at a scale never before attempted. If successful, it will open up new doors to researchers and vastly improve the ability of resource managers to apply science to decision-making.

“The algorithms resulting from this competition will be applied to millions of images taken in a variety of marine environments, allowing cross-comparison and analysis at an unprecedented scale,” Cowen said.

By Mark Floyd, 541-737-0788;

Sources: Bob Cowen, 541-867-0211;; Jessica Luo, 650-387-5700;; Kelly Robinson, 253-232-3899,

This article is available online at:


Scientists prepare for another wave of tsunami debris, possible invasives

December 8th, 2014 · No Comments · Uncategorized

NEWPORT, Ore. – Scientists monitoring incoming tsunami debris were taken aback last spring when some 30 fishing vessels from Japan washed ashore along the Pacific Northwest coast – many of them covered in living organisms indigenous to Asia.

Screen Shot 2014-12-08 at 10.11.23 AMIncidence of wayward skiffs and other tsunami debris subsequently declined sharply over the summer because of seasonal shifts in the winds. Now, those winds and currents have returned to their winter-spring pattern and scientists are expecting more items to wash ashore – even though it is nearing four years since a massive earthquake and tsunami shook Japan.

Blue mussels have been found on literally every boat that has washed ashore and some 200 different species overall have been documented on tsunami debris, according to John Chapman, an Oregon State University marine invasive species specialist at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center.

“The crustaceans and bivalves are of particular concern because they could introduce new diseases, and compete with, displace or otherwise affect our oyster or mussel populations,” Chapman noted.

Just last week, a tote with numerous mussels washed up at Seal Rock – a sign that debris will still be arriving over the next few months. Of particular concern are boats and large objects that wash ashore carrying a variety of living organisms – including some new species that were not aboard the now-infamous dock that landed on Agate Beach near Newport, Ore., in June of 2012.

Screen Shot 2014-12-08 at 10.12.21 AM“We continue to find new organisms that we have never seen before,” Chapman said. “There isn’t as much diversity aboard the Japanese fishing vessels as there was on the dock, but each new species that we haven’t seen before is a cause for concern.

“No one can predict if these new species may gain a foothold in Northwest waters – and what impacts that may have,” he added.

Chapman and OSU colleague Jessica Miller have examined roughly a dozen boats that have washed ashore from the southern Oregon coast to the central Washington coast. Most of them were similar in style – long, narrow skiffs up to 30 feet in length, with no motors. As they drift from Asia to the West Coast of North America, they pick up a variety of organisms along the way.

“We’ve been surprised at the tenacity of some of these coastal Asian organisms that are arriving on the tsunami debris because the middle of the ocean isn’t the most biologically productive place for coastal species,” Miller said.

Among some of the species the Oregon State biologists have encountered over the past year are bat stars, which are sea stars that look like they have bat wings; striped knifejaw, fish that were found alive in at least one boat; and numerous small crustaceans.

Screen Shot 2014-12-08 at 10.15.22 AMTeams of scientists from around the North Pacific region, including Chapman and Miller, have identified more than 165 species that were aboard the original dock, and another 40-50 species that were found on other debris items, including boats. The rate of incoming debris should be slowing, the researchers say, but the arrival of so many boats last spring suggests that the threat is not over.

Invasive marine species are a problem on the West Coast, where they usually are introduced via ballast water from ships. OSU’s Chapman is well aware of the issue; for several years he has studied a parasitic isopod called Griffen’s isopod that was introduced from Asia. Griffen’s isopod infests mud shrimp in estuaries from California to Vancouver Island and is decimating their populations.

The OSU researchers are working with other scientists on the West Coast, who are attempting to genetically identify all of the species arriving on tsunami debris using genomic sampling – work led by Jon Geller of Moss Landing Marine Laboratory. Geller and his students also are collecting samples of marine life in Northwest coastal and estuary communities to look for evidence that non-native species may have established.

“We’re also doing a lot of old-fashioned looking,” Chapman said. “But new species can be difficult to identify if you aren’t searching for them directly in the first place. So we’ve identified three species that are particularly abundant in Asia, appear highly suited for invading the open coast, and would be readily apparent to searchers looking in the right place.”

These species include a hydroid, Eutima; a fly, Telmatogeton; and an amphipod crustacean, Caprella cristibrachium.

By Mark Floyd, 541-737-0788

Sources: John Chapman, 541-867-0235; Jessica Miller, 541-867-0381

This release is available online at:


Autopsies from space: who killed the sea lions?

November 25th, 2014 · No Comments · Uncategorized

By Markus Horning, Associate Professor of Wildlife Ecology at Oregon State University

A decade ago, we set out to unravel deep ocean crime scenes we weren’t even sure existed. The crime? Endangered Steller sea lions were rapidly disappearing in parts of Alaska. Their numbers dropped by 80% in three decades, yet only rarely did anyone see or sample dead sea lions. Live sea lions studied in the summer when they haul out to breed seemed healthy and had healthy pups.

We wanted to know when, where, and why sea lions die. To unravel the mystery, we needed information from those animals that we don’t see, those that might not breed, those that might never come back ashore. So we developed a special monitoring tag that could send us data about the sea lions we can’t directly observe…

…read more at The Conversation

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Teachers Dive into STEM Using Underwater Robots

November 19th, 2014 · No Comments · Uncategorized

WALDPORT —On a frigid Saturday morning on the Oregon Coast, a group of over thirty educators from across the state huddled around a pool,Katie Sard and Kara Allen gazing with pride at the underwater contraptions they had just created. From Port Orford to Seaside, teachers braved the icy roads to participate in a day long workshop designed to provide them with the skills they would need to teach their own students how to build Remotely Operated Vehicles or ROVs.

Waldport High School was the scene of this unique training which was supported by the Oregon Coast Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Hub and the Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) Center. During the day-long workshop, participants learned about the growing field of Marine Technology and how ROVs are being used off the Oregon Coast to monitor Marine Protected Areas (MPS), lay cable and install instruments for the Ocean Observing Initiative (OOI), and conduct research on deep-sea hydrothermal vents. Teachers then worked in small groups with seasoned mentors and students from Lincoln County, who shared their expertise and encouragement, as the new crop of teachers learned how to splice wires and solder circuit boards. According to Kama Almasi, a 7th-12th grade teacher in Waldport, “The kid-teachers were fabulous and inspiring!”

In addition to the hands-on training, participants in Saturday’s workshop received ROV kits to take Kama Almasi and WHS Studentback to their classrooms and use with their own students. The goal of the workshop being to engage hundreds of 6th -12th grade students in designing and building their own underwater robots. Each teacher who participated in the workshop will have the opportunity to bring their top 1 or 2 student teams to the Oregon Regional MATE ROV competition which will be held on the Oregon Coast in April of 2015. This statewide competition is one of 23 regional contests supported by the MATE Center and numerous other partners. Qualifying participants will earn the chance to represent Oregon at MATE’s International ROV Competition which will take place at the end of June in St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada.

For more information contact Tracy Crews at or see

Testing ROVs in Pool


Sea star wasting on Pacific Coast linked to virus, scientists report

November 18th, 2014 · No Comments · Uncategorized

Researchers have linked sea star wasting disease, which has ravaged west coast sea star populations this year, to a virus. See the Oregonian for more:

Purple ochre sea star  affected by Sea Star Wasting Syndrome.  Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Cerny-Chipman, Oregon State University

Purple ochre sea star affected by Sea Star Wasting Syndrome. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth Cerny-Chipman, Oregon State University


LED lights shown to reduce eulachon bycatch

October 25th, 2014 · No Comments · Uncategorized

Researchers have discovered a simple but extraordinarily effective means of keeping threatened eulachon out of fishing nets trawling for pink shrimp: light up their escape route.

Scientists with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife found that LED lights attached to the trawl lines illuminate the escape path under the net, allowing eulachon and other species that enter the net to find their way back out.

Read more on the NOAA Fisheries website.

Left: A pink shrimp haul without the use of LED lights shows Eulachon bycatch. Right: The results of LED lights hung on the trawl lines. LEDs have significantly reduced bycatch of threatened Eulachon as well as other fish by showing where the fish can escape the net.

Left: A pink shrimp haul without the use of LED lights shows Eulachon bycatch. Right: The results of LED lights hung on the trawl lines. LEDs have significantly reduced bycatch of threatened Eulachon as well as other fish by showing where the fish can escape the net.


2014 Tsunami Evacuation Drill for South Beach Peninsula

October 21st, 2014 · No Comments · Uncategorized


Photo by Barb Dudley

Employees of the Marine Science Community on Newport, Oregon’s South Beach Peninsula participated in a tsunami evacuation drill on IMG_0152IMG_0154IMG_0149 October 17, 2014. The evacuation drill, conducted annually as part of the statewide Great Oregon Shakeout, involved over 100 participants from 6 different state and federal agency employers, the Oregon Coast Aquarium as well as others from local neighborhoods and businesses including Rogue Brewery and the Port of Newport marina. Tremendous support from Newport Police and Fire including the Newport Police Volunteers allowed a brief closure of Highway 101 for participants to cross to Safe Haven Hill at the southwest corner of the Yaquina Bay Bridge. According to Bob Cowen, Director of the OSU Hatfield Marine Science Center, the closure allows participants to avoid crossing under the bridge, emphasizing the significant danger of being near or on the bridge after an earthquake. Many participants noted the improvements to the Hill made by the City of Newport, including open space at the assembly area on top and improved trails on the northeast and southwest sides. A FEMA grant secured by the City’s Community Development Department will complete the improvements in summer 2015, which will include a storage unit which may be used as a supply cache by the organizations planning to evacuate to this assembly area.

Photo by Barb Dudley

Photo by Barb Dudley

To learn more about how to prepare for earthquakes and tsunamis on the coast of Oregon, see, and attend the Prepare Together in 2014 emergency readiness fair sponsored by your local public safety and community volunteer agencies. The readiness fair will be held at the Lincoln County Fairgrounds, Newport, Saturday, October 25, 11:00am – 2:00pm and is open to the general public at no charge. Saturday, October 25, 2014, 11:00am – 2:00pm Readiness Fair: 11:00am – 2:00pm Cascadia Presentation: 11:30 am – 12:30pm Lincoln County Fairgrounds 633 NE 3rd St., Newport Contact Lincoln County Emergency Management for more info: (541) 265-4199


Study: Could sleeper sharks be preying on protected Steller sea lions?

October 15th, 2014 · No Comments · Uncategorized

NEWPORT, Ore. – Pacific sleeper sharks, a large, slow-moving species thought of as primarily a scavenger or predator of fish, may be preying on something a bit larger – protected Steller sea lions in the Gulf of Alaska.

A new study found the first indirect evidence that this cold-blooded shark that can grow to a length of more than 20 feet – longer than a great white shark – may be an opportunistic predator of juvenile Steller sea lions.

Results of the study have just been published in the journal Fishery Bulletin. The findings are important, scientists say, because of management implications for the protected Steller sea lions.15356259249_df395528c2_z

For the past decade, Markus Horning of the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University has led a project to deploy specially designed “life history transmitters” into the abdomens of juvenile Steller sea lions. These buoyant archival tags record data on temperature, light and other properties during the sea lions’ lives and after the animals die the tags float to the surface or fall out ashore and transmit data to researchers via satellite.

From 2005-11, Horning and his colleagues implanted tags into 36 juvenile Steller sea lions and over a period of several years, 17 of the sea lions died. Fifteen transmitters sent data indicating the sea lions had been killed by predation.

“The tags sense light and air to which they are suddenly exposed, and record rapid temperature change,” said Horning, who is in OSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. “That is an indication that the tag has been ripped out of the body, though we don’t know what the predator is that did this.

“At least three of the deaths were different,” he added. “They recorded abrupt temperature drops, but the tags were still dark and still surrounded by tissue. We surmise that the sea lions were consumed by a cold-blooded predator because the recorded temperatures aligned with the deep waters of the Gulf of Alaska and not the surface waters.

“We know the predator was not a killer whale, for example, because the temperatures would be much higher since they are warm-blooded animals.” Data collected from the transmitters recorded temperatures of 5-8 degrees Celsius.

That leaves a few other suspects, Horning said. However, two known predators of sea lions – great white sharks and salmon sharks – have counter-current heat exchanges in their bodies that make them partially warm-blooded and the tags would have reflected higher temperatures.

By process of elimination, Horning suspects sleeper sharks.

The Oregon State pinniped specialist acknowledges that the evidence for sleeper sharks is indirect and not definitive, thus he is planning to study them more closely beginning in 2015. The number of sleeper sharks killed in Alaska as bycatch ranges from 3,000 to 15,000 annually, indicating there are large numbers of the shark out there. The sleeper sharks caught up in the nets are usually comparatively small; larger sharks are big enough to tear the fishing gear and are rarely landed.

“If sleeper sharks are involved in predation, it creates something of a dilemma,” said Horning, who works out of OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Ore. “In recent years, groundfish harvests in the Gulf of Alaska have been limited in some regions to reduce the potential competition for fish that would be preferred food for Steller sea lions.

“By limiting fishing, however, you may be reducing the bycatch that helps keep a possible limit on a potential predator of the sea lions,” he added. “The implication could be profound, and the net effect of such management actions could be the opposite of what was intended.”

Other studies have found remains of Steller sea lions and other marine mammals in the stomachs of sleeper sharks, but those could have been the result of scavenging instead of predation, Horning pointed out.

The western distinct population of Steller sea lions has declined to about 20 percent of the levels they were at prior to 1975.

The study was supported by multiple organizations.

By Mark Floyd, 541-737-0788;

Source: Markus Horning, 541-867-0270,

This article is available online at:


Anglers, beachcombers asked to keep an eye out for transponders from Japan

September 25th, 2014 · No Comments · Uncategorized

Northwest anglers venturing out into the Pacific Ocean in pursuit of salmon and other fish this fall may scoop up something unusual into their nets – instruments released from Japan called “transponders.”

These floating instruments are about the size of a 2-liter soda bottle and were set in the ocean from different ports off Japan in 2011-12 after the massive Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. Researchers from Tattori University for Environmental Studies in Japan have been collaborating with Oregon State University, Oregon Sea Grant, and the NOAA Marine Debris Program on the project.

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The researchers’ goal is to track the movement of debris via ocean currents and help determine the path and timing of the debris from the 2011 disaster. An estimated 1.5 million tons of debris was washed out to sea and it is expected to continue drifting ashore along the West Coast of the United States for several years, according to Sam Chan, a watershed health specialist with Oregon State University Extension and Oregon Sea Grant.

“These transponders only have a battery life of about 30 months and then they no longer communicate their location,” Chan said. “So the only way to find out where they end up is to physically find them and report their location. That’s why we need the help of fishermen, beachcombers and other coastal visitors.

“These bottles contain transmitters and they are not a hazardous device,” Chan added. “If you find something that looks like an orange soda bottle with a short antenna, we’d certainly like your help in turning it in.”

Persons who find a transponder are asked to photograph it if possible, and report the location of their find to Chan at; or to the NOAA Marine Debris Program regional coordinator in their area at They will provide shipping instructions to persons who find the transponders so that the instruments can be returned to the research team.

One of the first transponders discovered in the Northwest washed ashore near Arch Cape, Oregon, in March 2013, about 19 months after it was set adrift. The persons who found it reported it to Chan, who began collaborating with researchers in Japan.

Another transponder was found near the Haida Heritage Site, formerly the Queen Charlotte Islands – the same location where a Harley-Davidson motorcycle floated up on a beach in a shipping container long after being swept out to sea in Japan by the tsunami.

“These transponders have recorded a lot of important data that will help us better understand the movement of tsunami and marine debris throughout the Pacific Ocean,” Chan said. “Everyone’s help in recovering these instruments is greatly appreciated.”

By Mark Floyd, 541-737-0788;

Source: Sam Chan, 541-737-4828;

This release is available online at:


After the Meltdown – Energy Regime Crisis and Environmental Conflicts in Post-Fukushima Japan

September 19th, 2014 · No Comments · Uncategorized

Friday, October 10 at 7pm at the OCCC Central Campus at 400 SE College Drive, in Newport

The Oregon Coast Community College Foundation is proud to announce the upcoming Williams Lecture Series, a free bi-annual community lecture created to enliven public discussion, especially on controversial issues. This year’s presentation will feature Nicholas Lougee, Ph. D., a professor and researcher at the University of Oregon. He will present his research of the effects of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.

After the 2011 tsunami, why were environmental organizations not in the lead of mass protests within Japan, demanding an end to nuclear energy in the earthquake- and tsunami-prone nation? Dr. Lougee will present his research findings, which are the first to quantitatively operationalize power structures in Japan and test their impact on the behavior of a large sample of environmental organizations. Lougee will give his lecture on Friday, October 10 at 7pm at the OCCC Central Campus at 400 SE College Drive, in Newport.

Wendy Williams created the Williams Lecture Series in 1993 in honor of her husband, William Appleman Williams, noted historian. Williams was known as the “Father of Revisionist History.” He taught American diplomatic history and foreign policy for over 30 years as OSU. His last teaching assignment was at OCCC, where he taught maritime history. Ms. Williams made a donation to the OCCC Foundation to create a fund for the lectures.

For more information about the Williams Lecture Series, contact OCCC Foundation Executive Director, Bryn Huntpalmer at or 541-867-8531.



Environmental Drivers May Be Adding to Loss of Sea Stars

August 15th, 2014 · No Comments · Uncategorized

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Purple ochre sea star affected by Sea Star Wasting Syndrome. Photo by Elizabeth Cerny-Chipman, a doctoral student in OSU Department of Integrated Biology

The Hatfield Marine Science Center recently hosted a symposium,Sea Star Wasting Syndrome: Status of the Science and Identification of Response Actions. A panel of national experts was gathered for the 2-day event. Stay tuned to HMSC Currents as more information regarding the symposium and Sea Star Wasting Syndrome becomes available.

Posted by: Dylan McDowell, July 24, 2014 on Oregon Sea Grant’s Breaking Waves

NEWPORT – The rapid loss of sea stars along the US west coast may be caused in part by environmental changes, and not solely by a specific pathogen as many had previously thought.

This new hypothesis emerged from a recent symposium on sea star wasting syndrome (SSWS) hosted at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center. Oregon Sea Grant enlisted the Center’s support to bring together 40 top researchers from as far north as Alaska and as far south as Santa Barbara, California. The goal was to clarify the science and develop recommendations for further research, monitoring and possible responses to SSWS.

Read the full story on Oregon Sea Grant’s “Breaking Waves” blog…

Learn more

To find out more about SSWS, or to get involved in the monitoring, visit these sites with information on citizen science programs near you:


The Marine Field Methods Course – HMSC Summer 2014

August 12th, 2014 · No Comments · Uncategorized

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Nozomi Sasaki holding a juvenile rockfish caught in the seine during the Marine Field Methods course.

During the summer at HMSC, it’s not only the Visitors Center that gets busy! Summer term Hatfield Marine Science Center students from the FW 499 course, “Marine Field Methods” spent their days learning practical field and sampling techniques before taking their knowledge out into the environment.

The Marine Field Methods is an intensive review of common practices for sampling in the marine environment with real world applications. Students learn to critically evaluate methods for strengths and weaknesses before attempting a field project and to assess functionality for obtaining quality accurate data in order to properly answer a question. Safety, permitting, reporting, data analysis, and plenty of field experiences are all a part of the course!

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Marine Field Methods students prep to snorkel (From left: Zoe Wiggers, Tayler Nichols, and Katie Crooks)



August 5th, 2014 · No Comments · Uncategorized


Hatfield Marine Science Center’s summer COSEE (Centers for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence) Pacific Partnerships PRIME (Promoting Research Investigations in the Marine Environment) interns participated in an Exchange Day last Thursday (31/7) with fellow COSEE students working at OIMB (Oregon Institute of Marine Biology) in Charleston, Oregon. Earlier this month, OIMB COSEE interns were given a similar chance to explore Hatfield Marine Science Center.

 Despite the three-hour drive to reach OIMB, the six COSEE interns who participated in the trip were energized and ready to learn as soon as they hit the campus. The day began with a trip out to a nearby intertidal field site: the morning weather was beautiful and while learning about the phytoplankton research that OIMB personnel Peter and Leyia were doing, the students were given a chance to explore the nearby tide-pools.


 That afternoon, the interns were given the chance to tour OIMB, including their housing and dining facilities, wet-and-dry classrooms as well as individual research labs. There the interns were quizzed about an assortment of deep sea vertebrate and invertebrate specimens on display in a lab, given the chance to interact with a resident experimental sea cucumber and given background on developing research within OIMB. Many COSEE interns asked questions about graduate student research and the academic sphere, including grant writing and opportunities to develop their own resumes.

 COSEE students remarked that they were extremely grateful to have the chance to explore other research facilities within their field, and would hope to visit the Institute again before the end of their stay at Hatfield Marine Science Center this summer.


COSEE Interns investigate an OIMB wet-lab containing corals and other organisms brought back from research trips.


15-year analysis of blue whale range off California finds conflict with shipping lanes

July 25th, 2014 · No Comments · Uncategorized

NEWPORT, Ore. – A comprehensive 15-year analysis of the movements of satellite-tagged blue whales off the West Coast of the United States found that their favored feeding areas are bisected by heavily used shipping lanes, increasing the threat of injury and mortality

The researchers note that moving the shipping lanes off Los Angeles and San Francisco to slightly different areas – at least, during summer and fall when blue whales are most abundant – could significantly decrease the probability of ships striking the whales. A similar relocation of shipping lanes in the Bay of Fundy off eastern Canada lowered the likelihood of vessels striking endangered right whales an estimated 80 percent.


A map showing an area heavily used by the tagged blue whales off southern California, bisected by shipping lanes. (image by Ladd Irvine, OSU Marine Mammal Institute).

Results of the study – which was supported by the Office of Naval Research, the National Geographic Society, the National Science Foundation, private gifts to the Oregon State University Marine Mammal Institute and others – are being published this week in the journal PLOS ONE.

The analysis is the most comprehensive study of blue whales movements ever conducted. It was led by researchers at Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute, who tracked the movement of blue whales off the West Coast to identify important habitat areas and environmental correlates, and subsequently to understand the timing of their presence near major ports and shipping traffic.

“The main areas that attract blue whales are highly productive, strong upwelling zones that produce large amounts of krill – which is pretty much all that they eat,” said Ladd Irvine, a researcher with OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute and lead author on the PLOS ONE study. “The whales have to maximize their food intake during the summer before they migrate south for the winter, typically starting in mid-October to mid-November.”

“It appears that two of their main foraging areas are coincidentally crossed by shipping lanes,” Irvine added.

In their study, the researchers attached transmitters to 171 blue whales off California at different times between 1993 and 2008 and tracked their movements via satellite. Their study looked at seasonal as well as individual differences in whale distribution, documenting a high degree of variability – but also a strong fidelity to the upwelling zones that coincide with ship traffic to and from the major ports of Los Angeles and San Francisco._Bluewhale

Blue whales can grow to the length of a basketball court, weigh as much as 25 large elephants combined, and their mouths could hold 100 people, though their diet is primarily krill – tiny shrimp-like creatures less than two inches in length. The blue whale is the largest creature to ever inhabit the Earth, yet little was known about their range or where they went to breed until Oregon State’s Bruce Mate led a series of tracking studies featured in the popular 2009 National Geographic documentary, “Kingdom of the Blue Whale.”

An estimated 2,500 of the world’s 10,000 blue whales spend time in the waters off the West Coast of the Americas and are known as the eastern North Pacific population. The huge whales can travel from the Gulf of Alaska all the way down to an area near the equator known as the Costa Rica Dome.

The majority of the population spends the summer and fall in the waters off the U.S. West Coast, with the areas most heavily used by the tagged whales occurring off California’s Santa Barbara and San Francisco, which puts them in constant peril from ship strikes.

“During one year, while we were filming the documentary, five blue whales were hit off of southern California during a seven-week period,” said Mate, who directs the Marine Mammal Institute at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Ore. “Blue whales may not be as acoustically aware as species that rely on echolocation to find prey and there is some evidence that the location of the engines in the rear of the ship creates something of an acoustic shadow in front of them, making it hard for whales to hear the ship coming.

“Putting some kind of noise deterrent on the ships isn’t really an option, however,” Mate added. “You don’t really want to drive endangered whales out of their prime habitat and best feeding locations.”Size_Bluewhale

Moving the shipping lanes would not be unprecedented, the researchers note. Scientists brought concerns about right whale ship strikes in the Bay of Fundy to the International Maritime Organization, and the industry led the effort to modify shipping lanes in the North Atlantic more than a decade ago.

Daniel Palacios, also a co-author on the paper and a principal investigator with OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute, said vessel traffic between Santa Barbara and Los Angeles moved south of its current location in the past to comply with the California Clear Air Act, but shifted back to its current location after getting an exemption to the legislation.

“It is not often that research results are so applicable to a policy decision.” Palacios said, “It’s not really our place to make management decisions, but we can inform policy-makers and in this case it is pretty straightforward. You will eliminate many of the ship strikes on blue whales by moving the shipping lanes south of the northern Channel Islands.”

The solution for the San Francisco area is similar, the researchers note, though not quite as simple. Three separate shipping lanes are used in the region and all cross through the home range and core areas of blue whales tagged in this study.

“We did find that the northernmost shipping lanes crossed the area that was most heavily used by tagged whales,” Irvine noted. “Restricting use of the northern lane during the summer and fall when more whales are present is one option; another would be to extend one lane further offshore before separating it into different trajectories, minimizing the overlap of the shipping lanes with the areas used by blue whales.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is planning a review of shipping lanes in the southern California area, which will be informed by this study. A variety of stakeholders must be consulted, however, before any changes are implemented.

Other funding sources for this study over the years including the TOPP Program (Tagging of Pacific Pelagics), the OSU Marine Mammal Institute Endowment, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, the Packard Foundation, NASA, the U.S. Geological Survey, the National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Smithsonian Institution.

By Mark Floyd, 541-737-0788;

Sources: Ladd Irvine, 541-867-0394,; Bruce Mate, 541-867-0202,; Daniel Palacios, 541-990-2750,

This story is available online at:



Celebration of Life for Dr. Lavern Weber

July 18th, 2014 · No Comments · Uncategorized


All are welcome to attend a Celebration of Life for Dr. Lavern Weber, who served as HMSC director for over 25 years.
When: 6 p.m. on Saturday, July 26

Where: Hatfield Marine Science Visitor Center in Newport, OR. ( Map to HMSC )

Condolences and memories may be sent to Lavern’s family via the email address:

For more information about Dr. Weber’s life, see

In lieu of flowers, donations may be given to the OSU Foundation for the Lavern Weber Visiting Scientist Fund ( or for the COMES Founders’ Scholarship Fund ). 

 Please note: If you would like to volunteer to help at this event, please email


Summer Kickoff BBQ

July 15th, 2014 · No Comments · Uncategorized



Last Thursday, Hatfield Marine Science Center’s newest group of summer session students and interns joined grad students and faculty for HsO’s (Hatfield Student Organization) “Summer Kickoff Barbecue”. HsO functions as a resource for all students at Hatfield to provide better communication between students and staff, include opportunities for research and professional development as well as acting as an advocate for student needs.

The BBQ, held in the HMSC Housing Pavilion outside of HMSC’s dormitory area, provided plenty of great food, games and opportunities for students and interns to get to know one another. Many grad students brought information with them on the projects they were working on at Hatfield, as well as contact information for interested interns and students. The accessibility of the graduate students for questions and creating connections was commented on by interns and students alike as “invaluable”, especially regarding research experiences and advice for undergraduates.

Once the brats and burgers were cooked, the group enjoyed a variety of cooperative games including relay races and “cheetoh face”, and a good time was had by all.

In addition to the Summer Kickoff BBQ and other seasonal events, Hatfield Student Organization also regularly holds an “HMSC Donut Break” social for staff and students to mingle and enjoy donuts and coffee.

PicMonkey Collage

Left: Students line up to try and successfully catch Cheetohs on their whipped cream-covered faces during “Cheetoh Face”.
Right: A group eagerly awaits the signal to begin their relay race.


Where Have All the Sea Stars Gone?

July 2nd, 2014 · No Comments · Uncategorized

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Purple ochre sea star affected by Sea Star Wasting Syndrome. Photo by Elizabeth
Cerny-Chipman, a doctoral student in OSU Department of Integrative Biology.

The Hatfield Marine Science Center recently hosted a symposium, Sea Star Wasting Syndrome: Status of the Science and Identification of Response Actions. A panel of national experts was gathered for the 2-day event. Stay tuned to HMSC Currents as more information regarding the symposium and Sea Star Wasting Syndrome becomes available.

 Where have all the sea stars gone? The haunting and evocative Peter, Paul, and Mary melody from the sixties about the flowers, is playing in my head. We just returned from walk on our beach and were looking for sea stars in a place called Fishing Rock. We usually could find dozens, sometimes hundreds, always too numerous to count, and I loved taking pictures of them, their arms unfurled and sometimes extended in the most amusing and almost human like manner. Their arms were sometimes akimbo and some looked like they were dear friends or lovers holding hands, intertwined in almost passionate appearing embrace. They were like charming old friends, the kind who are always at home when you might happen to drop in for a visit. Like seeing sea gulls, pieces of kelp, agates, and bits of driftwood, the sea stars greeted us without fail. Although their scientific value is yet to be determined, their value as treasured friends and as an intrinsic part of our coastal ecosystem is incalculable in its loss; their charming and ubiquitous presence provided an aesthetic balance to the seascape and tide pool environment. To gaze at rocks with a wide empty swath, like a blackboard partially erased is unsettling, not unlike seeing a painting of a sunset that suddenly and inexplicably has lost its color. Their disappearance is disturbing, distressing, and a disequilibrium of both science and spirit.

 Sea stars are disappearing by the thousands, up and down the Pacific coast, from a syndrome called sea star wasting syndrome. First, there is development of lesions, then entire limbs of the stars fall off, rendering the star incapable of sustenance and unable to sustain life. There are  numerous theories about possible cause from bacterial to viral infection, to toxic food sources, and high water temperatures, though none has been confirmed. So far there are no known cures or interventions, though there are a few protocols begin practiced in some aquariums with some limited success. What this means to the rest of the Pacific ecosystem is unknown. There have been other die offs in the past, but none apparently with the scope and magnitude of the current disaster. Much is being done to study, research, and document this astonishing loss. It is hoped something will be learned that will prove useful as an intervention, yet little is known at this point as the sudden onset and speed of population decimation is unprecedented.
 I  have always believed in the notion that we all can make a difference for the better, and when I was an instructor, I used to share the following essay with my students…
 “Walking along a deserted beach, she saw a man in the distance. He was leaning down, picking something up and throwing it out into the ocean. Upon closer inspection she realized that the native was picking up starfish that had been washed up onto the beach, and one at a time, he was throwing them back into the water. Standing amongst thousands of stars she asked him why he was doing this. “I’m throwing these starfish back into the ocean. You see, it’s low tide and if I don’t throw them back into the sea they’ll die from lack of oxygen.” She responded by telling him that it was a futile task, that there was no possible way he could save all of them and and that the situation was probably happening on hundreds of beaches up and down the coast. “Can’t you see that you can’t possibly make a difference?” Bending down and hurling yet another starfish into the sea, he replied, “Made a difference to that one.” (from “One at a Time” by Jack Canfield and Mark V. Hansen)
 This story, and its optimism, fill me with emotion with its poignancy as sea star wasting syndrome seems unrelenting in its ability to erase the entire population of sea stars all along the Pacific coast from Canada to southern California. We are stymied at how to make a difference for the sea stars and as this is being written, the oceanographic science community from aquariums and universities around the country are convening to share what is known, hypothesize what might be done, and develop effective treatment protocols to preserve and save the few remaining intact sea stars we have in captivity.
 I find comfort in the shared concern among science and lay community alike and am heartened  to hear of research and protocols that may help preserve the remaining sea star community housed in aquariums. Our finest scientists are doing their best to make a difference and we will learn more in the coming weeks. The Hatfield Marine Science Center, in Newport, Oregon is among many education and research institutes involved in the most current research. If they can make a difference to one of the sea stars, perhaps the popular refrain, “when will they ever learn?”, from the Peter, Paul, and Mary song, will take on a new and inspired significance.
Annie Thorp, Intrepid Volunteer, HMSC
June 25, 2014
Photo courtesy of Oregon State University Flickr:


Zostera Marina: The Tomas-Nash Lab Work at Hatfield Marine Science Center

June 26th, 2014 · No Comments · Uncategorized


 The Tomas-Nash lab at OSU has been setting up some mesocosms at HMSC to grow eelgrass (Zostera marina) as part of the work they are conducting to study the impacts of different anthropogenic stressors and the role of diversity (genetic, taxonomical and functional) on ecosystem processes (such as herbivory and predation) on eelgrass beds.

 The lab (OSU Faculty Fiona Tomas-Nash, lab manager Jeremy Henderson and MRM student Jen Motley), with the help of OSU Prof. Sally Hacker and Dr. Jim Kaldy (EPA), is conducting field measurements in the field (in Yaquina Bay and other estuaries of the Oregon coast) in order to identify the main species of grazers and predators in OR eelgrass beds and is also carrying out grazing and predation experiments both in the field and in the lab to quantify the influence of consumers on eelgrass ecosystem functioning.


 Part of this research is performed within the framework of the Zostera Experimental Network project (ZEN;, which is a collaborative partnership among ecologists in N America, Europe and Asia to conduct coordinated experimental research to understand the functioning of eelgrass (Zostera marina) ecosystems across the globe.

 If you see Fiona, Jeremy or Jen around the HMSC campus or at their ‘outdoor lab’ near the east wing, stop by to say hello!


From top left to bottom right:
Fiona Tomas-Nast (OSU), Jeremy Henderson (Lab Manager), Jen Motley (MRM Student)


Mixed Compostables – If it Grows, it Goes!

June 23rd, 2014 · No Comments · Uncategorized

Two informational sessions about curbside composting in Lincoln County will be held at HMSC.

 Note different locations. Both are free and open to the public. Sponsored by the HMSC Sustainability Committee.

Wednesday, June 25, 6pm in the HMSC Visitor Center Auditorium. 
Thursday, June 26, 12-1pm, in the HMSC Guin Library.
Come learn about the new Mixed Compostables program and get your questions
answered at this informative presentation and question-answer session.
Thompson¹s Sanitary and the City of Newport are preparing to bring you a
new service, designed to help our community decrease waste going to the
Landfill. Preparing for a July roll out, Newport Residents will be able to
compost their Yard Debris (lawn clippings, leaves and small branches),
Kitchen Food Scraps, and Food-Soiled Paper all in one cart. Combined with
your Comingled recycling container, much less waste should be going into
your garbage cart destined for the landfill. The State of Oregon has
adopted waste reduction goals for each County in the State and Thompson¹s
Sanitary is proud to assist the City of Newport and Lincoln County in
trying to reach this goal.
Customers of Thompson¹s Sanitary will receive a new, 95 gallon cart
specifically for Organic, Compostable waste as described above when the
program begins (July). Customers will be notified of the actual
distribution of carts.

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Explore Siletz Bay National Wildlife Refuge by Canoe or Kayak

June 23rd, 2014 · No Comments · Uncategorized

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service invites you to explore Siletz Bay National Wildlife Refuge with a series of twelve guided canoe and kayak trips during June, July, and August 2014.  During these trips visitors will spend about two hours paddling through the heart of Siletz Bay Refuge while learning about its wildlife and natural history.

Participants must provide their own canoe or kayak for each trip. If you don’t have one available, they can be rented from the Siletz Moorage or other venues in the Lincoln City area. During the summer, the area of Siletz River nearest the mouth of the bay often has unpredictable winds and waves.  For this reason we do not recommend this paddle trip for beginners, experience is strongly recommended. For your safety please dress appropriately for paddling in all weather conditions. Wearing a personal flotation device (PFD) is mandatory.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service can provide binoculars, field guides, and PFD’s to use during the trip if needed.  Trips are limited in size, and scheduled on a first-come first-serve basis; therefore, you must call or e-mail ahead to make a reservation. Please include the amount of boats in your party when making the reservation. Once you are registered, we will send out additional information regarding the trips.  All trips will launch within 15 minutes of the time listed. Visit our website for updates and space availability

Paddle trips will take place on the following dates:

Thursday, July 3rd: 5:30-7:30 PM

Monday, July 7th: 8:45-10:45 AM

Friday, July 18th: 6:00-8:00 PM

Monday, August 4th: 7:00-9:00 AM

Tuesday, August 5th: 8:00-10:00 AM

Wednesday, August 6th: 9:30-11:30 AM

Saturday, August 16th: 5:30-7:30 PM

Siletz Bay is one of the estuaries located along the Pacific Coast Scenic Byway. On either side of Highway 101, starched skeleton trees jut forth from the estuary and are reminiscent of a time when the salt marsh was diked for pasture. Osprey, Red-tailed Hawk, and occasionally Bald Eagle can be seen roosting at the top of these snags.  A variety of estuarine dependent birds including Great Blue Heron, Great Egret, and some species of waterfowl can be seen foraging in the tidally influenced waters.  The refuge also provides nursery grounds for Coho and Chinook salmon, steelhead, and cutthroat trout. Don’t miss your chance to participate in our interpretive paddle tour of Siletz Bay Refuge!

To make a reservation contact Meagan Campbell at 541-270-0610 or

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals, and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit Connect with our Facebook page at