An Update from the South Coast

A lot has happened since my last post. This week alone I have worked on an ODFW lamprey assessment by electrofishing Winchester Creek’s headwaters, participated in a Sea Grant funded eel grass monitoring survey, and seined for juvenile fish with visiting scientists from OSU. Most importantly, I have successfully completed all of my crab sampling in the South Slough Research Reserve. After deploying 160 traps, I processed over 2,100 crabs in just 12 days. Of these only 86 were the invasive green crabs I was targeting.

Though I had wished to collected more data on the species, my mentor and her colleagues were pleased with my results. I found green crabs in locations they have never been found before. My data also indicates the highest abundance of these crabs in the Coos estuary in the last 19 years. I am currently collaborating with a professor from OSU to publish a report on the status of the European Green Crab along Oregon’s Coast. Please enjoy the pictures below taken on my last day of sampling.




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!

Third Week’s The Charm!

Hello again!

With the holiday weekend over I must say I’m exhausted. I’m not sure where the week went! This past week at the ODFW was all about starting up our annual red rock crab surveys. Monday, Jim and I set eight crab pots off the docks of the small boat basin of Coos Bay. We filled them with leftover fish fillets thrown away by fishermen and boy, did they smell gnarly! We let them soak overnight and have been checking them daily in the mornings.

Past surveys have shown that basin is comprised of mainly Dungeness and red rock crabs. We have been measuring the carapace length and taking weights of whole (no appendages missing) Dungeness crabs. For red rock crabs we have quite the laundry list of tasks to perform and data to collect. Red rock crabs are weighed, carapace length is measured, and we check and account for missing appendages and determine the sex of the crab. We then tag the crab with a t-bar tag that includes an individual identification number that we can use for mark-recapture studies. We also clip the eighth carapace spine on the right-hand side to help compensate for tag loss. If a crab is a recapture we note that as well. Flyers are posted around the boat basin that encourages people to call in recreational recaptured red rock crabs with incentive of a prize. This is done to monitor removal of red rock crabs from the small boat basin. We hope to use this annual project to predict red rock population size and variability over years, as well as to monitor and analyze red rock crab recruitment.

My mentor's sense of humor always keeps me on my toes!

My mentor’s sense of humor always keeps me on my toes!

And let me tell you, if you have never handled a crab you are in for a surprise. Watching my mentor work up crabs made it all seem very easy and effortless, but in reality there is an art to avoiding being pinched. Dungeness crabs will make your extremities sting for a short while, but get your hand caught in the grips of red rock chelae and you are in for a painful crush. However, I am slowly trying to master the art.

This week we also had the day off for the Fourth of July. OIMB held a lovely picnic overlooking the ocean on Cape Arago. The food was amazing: grilled oysters, BBQ tuna, hotdogs, and endless desserts. A few friends and I headed over to South Cove after lunch where we were lucky enough to spy a grey whale swimming fairly close to shore. We also found a washed up juvenile salmon shark with quite the chunk taken out of his left side. In the evening, we hiked down to Pirate’s Cove where we sat up on the rock faces that overlooked Bastendorf Beach and watched the locals set off some impressive fireworks.

Hiking up and down to get to Pirate's Cove: no easy feat!

Hiking up and down to get to Pirate’s Cove: no easy feat!

In addition to the fun of field work and number crunching, I like to try something new each week. This week my friend, Jaron, taught me how to long board. My balance was great but my coordination was what onlookers could call, well, “lacking”. But after a couple hours I was zooming around without falling, a success in my books! It was so much fun and I am definitely going to continue practicing.

Each week here brings so much excitement! Can’t wait to see what this week has in store!

Long boarding for the first time

Long boarding for the first time

Field Work Frenzy!

Hello all!
I’m so excited to update you on my week! This past week was all about field work, which is my favorite part of any job. Monday we kicked off the week heading down to Indian Point where Jim, my officemate and colleague, and Scott, my mentor, had previously placed two crab pots filled with pit tagged cockles. Our goal was to dig up the crab pots (no easy feat in such coarse sand!) and retrieve the cockles to measure their growth over the previous two weeks. Unfortunately, many of the cockles had died but we could still collect all the growth data we needed from them, such as shell length, height, fatness, and clam weight.

A typical day at the ODFW in Charleston, OR

Wednesday I had the opportunity to venture outside of shellfish biology and got to ride along and seine with the marine fish department. Our target species was Chinook salmon but we also found many other species of fish such as greenlings, sand lances, English soles, staghorn sculpins, and smelts. We also found hundreds of small Dungeness crabs and comb jellies.  A few people held one end of the seine on the beach and the boat was driven around in an arch until the boat reached the other end of the beach. We then pulled the seine up to the shore and then sifted through the bag for fish.
We sampled 4 sites along a seven mile stretch of water, from Charleston to North Bend. We measured lengths and weights of our target species in order to later be able to calculate a condition factor (K) which is used to estimate the condition (health) of fish. We also identified which salmon were hatchery salmon by checking to see if the adipose fin was clipped. Clipped fins indicated hatchery spawned salmon.

Port Orford

Thursday’s field site in Port Orford

Thursday was by far my favorite field work day of the week. Jim and I drove out to Woodruff Creek near Port Orford. After scaling down a sharp cliff-face in waders to get to our sampling site my adrenaline was definitely pumping. We sampled eight, random, 1m^2 quadrats. Our target species was littleneck clams. Digging through all the tide pools was amazing and we found some cool intertidal species; my favorite find was a clown nudibranch (sea slug). The tide pools were teaming with diverse fauna: several species of crabs, gunnels, peanut worms, sea stars, sculpins, the list goes on and on! Though we were out sampling in the warm sun for three or so hours I enjoyed every minute of lifting cobble and boulders and digging through sand to find littleneck clams. When you love what you do, it never seems like work!


A clown nudibranch (sea slug) I found in one of our quadrats in Port Orford

And what’s work without a little play? I have made some good friends at the Oregon Institute of Marine Biology (OIMB) where I am being housed. All the students are friendly and always ready for adventures. After dinner, rain or shine, we’ll get together to play volleyball or Frisbee or go hang out on the beach. Thursday was particularly fun, as I swam in the Pacific Ocean for the first time. It took a few minutes to get used to the cold water but soon we were having the time of our lives swimming through the breakers.


A typical night at OIMB

This weekend, a few friends and I drove over to Sunset Bay where we spent our day climbing through the cliff sides where we found some pretty stellar tide pools. As the tide began to roll in, so did the fog. The fog is a unique part of the Oregon coast that I have come to love.  In Indiana, fog is something you wake up to and it appears as a boring, thick sheet. Here in Oregon, fog comes in at random times throughout the day and it rolls in looking like thick cumulus clouds gliding across the ground and pouring like falls over cliff sides. It’s a beautiful event that I’ve fallen in love with and there is something very relaxing about the whole occurrence. On our way back to OIMB we stopped at an overlook of the cove and ended up sighting some sea lions and even a whale, which was the cherry on top of a good day. I can’t wait to see what adventures this week holds!