Week 6: My Personal Oregon Trail

Yet again, another fantastic week in Oregon! I say Oregon, instead of just Charleston, because this week was full of traveling! As per usual, we are still continuing our work with the annual red rock crab mark-recapture project. This, and working on our pink shrimp fishery project, took up the majority of our Monday. Tuesday through Thursday, however, was a totally unique experience!

Steve Rumrill, the managing shellfish biologist of Newport and former professor at the University of Oregon, had earlier in the month invited me to join him in Astoria to help the Astoria shellfish biologist, Matt Hunter, with his razor clam stock assessment. And so, Tuesday morning I set out on Highway 101 to Astoria. Driving up the 101 was like driving through a postcard: ocean view from the top of cliff faces and lush forests. It was a long drive (eight and a half hours because traffic was terrible!) but it didn’t feel that way one bit because of the beautiful scenery!

Driving Highway 101 is simply a dream.


Wednesday and Thursday mornings were dedicated entirely to razor clam surveying. On Wednesday we headed out early—5:30am—to the transect site in Warrenton. The reasoning behind the early times is to ensure we are working as the tide is going out, in order to sample a larger portion of the beach and the razor clam stock.

Surveying razor clams is quite different from surveying cockles. We took an approximately meter sized basket and placed it along different elevations on the beach. We started at elevation zero—which is determined as the elevation in which no razor clams are found—so that we could ensure that we were not missing any clams higher up on the beach. We then moved down the beach, towards the water, in 50 meter increments.

At each elevation the basket is placed and a hydraulic pump is used to liquefy the sand. Razor clams are neutral buoyant and if they are within our sampling area (the basket), once the area liquefies, razor clams will float to the top. We pump water into the area for three minutes per basket, six times per elevation. The baskets, depending on the elevation, are moved either north or south to ensure we are sampling as much of the stock as possible.

An excellent razor clam specimen we retrieved during our stock assessment.
(Note: Clam measures to approximately 110mm.)

The hydraulic aspect of the sampling is quite interesting. A pump is placed in a “crab hole”—an area of pooling water on the beach—and a gasoline powered generator is used to power the pump. A hose sucks up the water from the crab hole and then pushes the water into a separate, longer hose which is attached to a wand at the end. The wand is made of PVC pipe with two openings: one to connect to the hose and one to project the water. This wand is used to liquefy the sand in the basket. The water comes out of the wand at nearly 8 gallons a minute and handling the wand can be tricky to maneuver, not to mention heavy. As with many things involving field work, there is a definite learning curve for good technique.

Blasting away at the sand, looking for razor clams.

The same process of razor clam surveying was repeated on Thursday at a gracious 6:00a.m. After finishing up with the stock assessment—and a yummy breakfast at Bagels by the Sea—I headed back to Charleston. Luckily, traffic was substantially better this time around and I made it home in just a little over 5 hours. After being up so early and having such a long drive you can bet I was ready for a good night’s sleep!

Friday, Scott and I headed out in the morning to Valino Island to recover cockles that had been marked and placed there in February. We wanted to retrieve as many as possible in order to meaningfully assess the cockles’ growth over time. Fortunately, we managed to find 33; approximately 100 were placed but only 30 are needed for meaningful statistical analysis. The cockles that we found had some cool annuli (growth rings) and crunching the data is going to yield some fascinating results that I will be sure to update you all on!


A cockle we recovered with some fascinating annuli!

Friday was also the day that Scott decided it’d be a good time to teach me how to back up a boat trailer. If you’ve ever watched somebody experienced in this matter back up a boat trailer you may have been deceived into thinking that it is a simple and easy task. You would be very wrong, as was I. Backing up a boat trailer requires an immense amount of directional multitasking. In order to successfully back up a boat trailer you must keep in mind that the truck and the boat are always going to be pushing and pulling in opposite directions and keeping track of what does what can be very dizzying. The boat docks are always filled with tons of seasoned boaters; no pressure when you have 50 professionals watching you, right? I didn’t do terribly and it’s all about practicing. I wouldn’t call me for all your trailering needs just yet.

It was nice to have some time to relax and catch up on rest this weekend after such a long, busy week. Of course, my idea of relaxation always seems to involve being active. This week my newest experience was slack lining. The concept of a slack line is quite simple: Tie said slack line in between two trees and try to keep your balance. The actuality of slack lining is quite difficult and there is a lot of falling off involved. Let’s just say you will learn how to fall with grace and not on your face. When walking on a slack line it is important to look straight ahead and not at your feet. Doing this, keeping a good center of gravity and a lot of practice and you’ll be a pro in no time; or you at least won’t be falling off as much!

The face of utter concentration.

Sunday was also particularly eventful. A few good friends of mine from OIMB—Theresa and Payton— and I spent the day laying out at Sunset Bay and playing some beach volleyball. In the evening the three of us asked one of the COSEE interns staying at OIMB, Zac, for some skim boarding lessons and he was happy to oblige. Though I had skim boarded before I was by no means an expert on the subject; as you can imagine there isn’t an abundance of surf in Indiana. However, we all picked up on it pretty quickly and had a ton of fun. Definitely a hobby I wish I could take back to Indiana with me, but all the more reason to revisit the coasts!

Skim boarding at Sunset Bay!

After such an exciting week, I’m interested to see where these final following weeks take me. Stay tuned, until next time!


Week Four: Busy As A Bee, Happy As A Clam!

I’m never sure as to what each week will bring here in Coos Bay. Every week has always managed to top the previous and this week was no exception. Tuesday, Scott, Jim, and I boated down to Indian Point to start the ODFW’s annual cockle survey. Using ArcGIS I generated 60 random points and uploaded the locations of these 60 points onto a GPS. These 60 points would serve as our sampling sites. We would lay down one square meter quadrats at the waypoints found on the GPS and rake a four tine rake over the quadrat once and record and collect the cockles found. Then we would turn 90 degrees and rake one more time and record the number of cockles found and collect them as well. This was repeated for each quadrat.

Raking for Pacific Heart Cockles at Indian Point

On Thursday we did this same process, only this time at Valino Island. Valino Island is a protected area and Indian Point is an area known for heavy commercial harvest of cockles. We chose these two sites in order to compare how harvest (or lack thereof) affects cockle size and recruitment over time. While Indian Point was very sandy Valino Island was quite the opposite. Valino Island is essentially a mud flat and it is easy to get stuck and sink. Scott and Jim had to pull me out of the mud several times, but not before musing—i.e., laughing—over how funny they thought my predicament was.


Stuck in the mud at Valino Island

When we returned back to the ODFW I placed the cockles into tanks of circulating water in order to take accurate wet weights. When clams are left out of water they tend to spit water out of their siphons which can give you inaccurate weight data; this is why we placed the clams back into water before recording weight. I also recorded shell length, height, and fatness which will be used in our analysis. Using R we ran some preliminary statistical tests that suggest that Valino Island, the reserve area, has much larger cockles but Indian Point has higher amounts of recruitment.

We also have been continuing our red rock crab surveys and we were lucky enough to have the pleasure of working alongside Sylvia Yamada, a professor and research scientist from OSU. Sylvia has been doing work throughout the years on the invasive green crab and was a delight to work with. Her plethora of knowledge and fascinating anecdotes made for a great week of crab processing. She brought Fukui traps, a Japanese trap that allows all sizes of crabs to walk through. We had been using box traps which bias samples by not letting the larger crabs in. However we did run into some trouble with the Fukui traps: the seals ate all our bait!

Scott, Larry, Sylvia, and I processing red rock crabs

The notorious bait thief!

Thursday was considerably out of the ordinary. Dean, a fish biologist for the ODFW, invited me along to process yellow-eyed rockfish with him. It was truly a treat as yellow-eyed rockfish have a harvest limit of two tons per year—a very small allowance—and are not often encountered. We recorded lengths and weights of the rockfish and also recorded their sex and stage of maturity. Dean also pulled otoliths from the rockfish. Otoliths are ear bones and are used to determine the age of a fish. We even had encountered a few fish that had been eaten by hagfish, which enter through the gills and eat the fish from the inside out. The fish remains whole but the body is completely flaccid as all its musculature and organs have been consumed. It was very surreal to see. And on top of the fun of handling some cool fish, a buyer stopped by to purchase halibut from the boat we were working with and gave us all brownies. Brownies for breakfast: how could I say no to that?

Yellow-eyed rockfish

Later in the week, Jim Carlton, an expert on the subject of Japanese tsunami marine debris (JTMD) and invasive species, came to visit OIMB to give a lecture on the incoming debris and teach a class on the topic of biological invasions. In a previous blog post I mentioned how Scott and I had discovered a Japanese pallet that had washed ashore. We had sent the samples and pictures we had taken to Jim and during his visit he informed us that the pallet had come from the Morinaga-dairy business, a famous dairy business in Yamato which is located in the metropolis of Tokyo. It was determined that the pallet contained various hydroids, Mediterranean mussels (M. galloprovincialis), pelagic barnacles known as Lepas, as well as jingle shells (Anomia cytaeum). Jingles are not commonly found on JTMD which made it an interesting find.

There is no such thing as a dull weekend at OIMB. Friday night the director, Jan, announced that a dying dolphin had washed up on Bullard’s Beach in Bandon and was hoping to have help in retrieving it. And so, Saturday morning I had the opportunity to drive to Bandon with a group of friends to help Jan retrieve the dolphin so that it could be dissected in the Birds and Mammals course. After about fifteen minutes of combing Bullard’s Beach we found the dolphin, loaded it onto a stretcher and carried it up and over the dunes to the truck to be hauled back to OIMB. The dolphin weighed over 200 lbs. but with one person on each corner of the stretcher it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would be to carry. Though, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a little sore!

Recovering a striped dolphin for dissection

As you can see, the birds had gotten to the specimen before we did

This coming week I’ll be heading to Corvallis to talk to the public about my summer work and Oregon Sea Grant. Each week always unfolds a new and exciting surprise and I’m ready to see what that will be this week! Until next time!