Hello Again Sea Grant Readers,
Michelle Fournet checking in with an update about the marine mammals of our Oregon Coast. In my first blog entry (where I introduced myself as one of the 2013 Malouf Fellowship recipients) I told you a little about the marine mammal survey that I’m conducting along the Oregon Coast. Well I wanted to follow up with a short synopsis of what we’ve seen and who’s been along for the ride.
We’ve been conducting surveys on at least a monthly basis — more when the weather cooperates. This may seem intermittent, but we had good the good fortune to go out quite a few times during the winter months, allowing us to conduct one of the first ever rigorous marine mammal surveys on our coast during that season. We’re looking for signs of all marine mammals, but I’m particularly interested in odontocete species (dolphins and porpoises). So far we’ve seen harbor porpoises on nearly every survey, we’ve seen Dall’s porpoise on many of our surveys (including one glorious bow riding event), and we’ve seen at least one species of common dolphin.
I’m interested in these species in particular because they are commonly described as sound sensitive. Our coastal waters are home to bustling marine industry, the lifeblood of many of our coastal communities. Vessel traffic, marine research, tourism, sustainable energy development, and more all produce noise. Sound travels faster and further in the marine environment. On this one hand this makes sound the ideal sensory modality for marine communication, on the other it also means the ocean is particularly vulnerable to noise pollution. The input of anthropogenic noise, or man-made noise, may alter the behavior of marine mammal species that rely on sound to navigate, communicate, or forage.
The first step to assessing species resilience (a key tenet in the application of ecosystem based management) is knowing how much these sound sensitive species are currently overlapping with industries that produces noise, and how that overlap is likely to change as we make decisions about how to develop our ocean resources. All of this research is firmly rooted in the answering the question: who’s there and when?
I’ve been fortunate to expand my research team over the past few months. We have a number of volunteers from the community of Newport as well as students from OSU staffing the Elakha as she makes her coastal surveys. In conjunction with a marine bird survey, conducted under the leadership of M.S. student Jess Porquez and her advisor Dr. Rob Suryan of the Hatfield Marine Science Center, we were able to mount a large scale training initiative to get volunteers prepared for their time on the water.
Lastly, in thanks to the Malouf Fellowship, I will be attending the Northwest Student Chapter Meeting for the Society of Marine Mammalogy this coming May. It will be a great opportunity to present some of the work that I’m pursuing as a grad student, as well as rub elbows with other marine mammoligist students. Meeting and collaborating with other students in the field is priceless. We are often facing the same problems, and in collaboration can brainstorm some effective solutions. Further, it’s always nice to spend a weekend with ocean-minded folk, watch a few whales, and talk shop.