OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

hatfield marine science center

Southern right whales slowly rebounding, but still decades away from full recovery

NEWPORT, Ore. – A new study has determined that right whales in the Southern Hemisphere were once more abundant than previously thought, making their full recovery from near-extinction another 50 to 100 years away.

An international team of scientists using a combination of catch records from 19th-century logbooks and modern computer modeling techniques concluded that as many as 40,000 right whales once inhabited the waters near New Zealand before whaling drove them to the brink of extinction. As few as 20 mature females were estimated to have survived into the beginning of the 20th century.

Results of the study are being published this week in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

“This is the first time we have been able to estimate the pre-whaling abundance for this population of right whales before they were nearly decimated,” said Scott Baker, associate director of the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University, and co-author on the study. “Only a handful of whales survived, and those were threatened again in the 1960s by illegal Soviet whaling.

“The waters around New Zealand have been depleted of right whales for nearly 200 years,” added Baker, who works out of OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Ore. “We have little idea of the ecological role they played prior to whaling, or how they may contribute to ecosystems changes as their population slowly recovers.”

Baker and co-author Nathalie Patenaude initiated the decade-long study of the remnant New Zealand right whale population in 1995, in part because the region has one of the best historical catch records from whaling logbooks and other sources. Southern right whales were particularly vulnerable to exploitation because they are slow swimmers with strong fidelity to sheltered bays for calving, making them “predictable and easy targets,” the authors note.

The term “right whale” was coined because they were so easy to hunt.

“Once we had a good idea about the likely range of catches, we could do a full reconstruction using current estimates of abundance and population increase to measure the population’s trajectory through time and how large it was,” said Jennifer Jackson, lead author on the paper. Jackson, a former post-doctoral fellow with Baker at Oregon State, is now with the British Antarctic Survey.

The researchers’ analysis concluded that prior to whaling right whales were abundant in New Zealand waters, numbering about 28,000 to 33,000 individuals. If most of the right whales harvested in the southwest Pacific Ocean were New Zealand whales, the population rises to 47,000 whales.

“Put in context, the estimated size of the current New Zealand population is less than 12 percent of these numbers,” Jackson said.

Catch records of whaling from the early 19th-century were patchy and required a bit of detective work, said Emma Carroll of St. Andrews University, also a co-author on the study.

“We went back through early colonial New Zealand historical records and whaling logbooks, and even had to cross-reference what ships had been seen where to get an understanding of the scale of operations during the winter in New Zealand,” Carroll said.

Funding for the study was provided by the Royal Society of New Zealand, The Lenfest Ocean Program of the Pew Charitable Trust, Oregon State University’s general research fund, and the New Zealand National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA).

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Scott Baker, scott.baker@oregonstate.edu; 541-867-0255

Five years after tsunami, scientists cross fingers on invasive species establishment

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Five years after a massive earthquake struck Japan and triggered a tsunami that is still washing debris onto the West Coast of the United States, scientists are unsure whether any of the 200-plus non-native species that hitchhiked over on that debris have gained a foothold in Northwest waters.

Four separate findings of barred knifejaws (Oplegnathus fasciatus) – a fish native to Japan – have been reported over the past three years, and Mediterranean blue mussels have been ubiquitous on tsunami debris. Yet no populations of non-native species that arrived with the tsunami debris are known to have established reproductive populations.

“Maybe we dodged the bullet, although it is still too early to tell,” said John Chapman, an Oregon State University invasive species expert who has investigated tsunami debris along the Pacific coastline. “It is possible that we have not yet discovered these reproductive populations, or that some species from Japan may be cross-breeding with our own species.”

Scientists have not had adequate resources to look extensively up and down the Pacific coast for evidence of establishment by non-native species – especially along long stretches of rugged shoreline.

The magnitude-9 earthquake that struck Japan on March 11, 2011, was the largest in that country’s history and generated a tsunami that had waves estimated as high as 133 feet. The power of these two events, combined with the growth of human settlement over the past two to three centuries, created a new paradigm, said Samuel Chan, an expert in aquatic ecosystem health and invasive species with the Oregon Sea Grant program at Oregon State.

“A tsunami 300 years ago, or even just 60 years ago, would not have created as much marine debris that became a vehicle for moving species across the Pacific Ocean that could become invasive,” Chan said. “What makes these major tsunami-driven events different in modern times is the substantial human industrial infrastructure that we have built along the Pacific coast.”

The first indication that a potential problem loomed came in June of 2012, when a large concrete dock that originated in Misawa, Japan, washed ashore near Newport, Oregon – just a stone’s throw from OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center.

The 165-ton dock – which was 66 feet long, 19 feet wide and seven feet high – was covered with nearly 200 species of plant and animal life, including a species of brown algae (Undaria pinnatifida) that nearly covered the structure. Chapman and colleague Jessica Miller also found Northern Pacific sea stars, Japanese shore crabs, at least eight species of mollusk, an anemone, a sponge, an oyster, a solitary tunicate, three or more species of amphipods, four or more species of barnacles and worms, bryozoans, a European blue mussel known as Mytilus galloprovincialis, and a sea urchin.

“Frankly,” Chapman said, “we were blown away. We had always thought these organisms would not be able to survive the long trip across the Pacific Ocean, the middle of which is a biological desert. Yet here they were.”

In March of 2013, a boat from Japan containing five barred knifejaws washed ashore in the state of Washington; one is still on display in the Seaside Aquarium. A second knifejaw was filmed in a shipwreck near Monterey, California. Then a third knifejaw was found trapped in a crab pot near Port Orford, Oregon, in February 2015. Just two months later, another was discovered in a boat tank from Japanese tsunami debris near Seal Rock, Oregon.

“Those knifejaws all survived,” Chapman said. “Theoretically, the water temperatures north of Point Conception, California, are too cold for them to spawn. But it’s hard to know for sure.”

Chan has been working with colleagues from Japan’s Tottori University for Environmental Studies on a project that launched dozens of transponders into the waters off that country and traced their path across the Pacific Ocean to North America. The researchers’ goal is to find out what routes the tsunami debris might have taken and how that may influence the type of organisms found aboard the debris.

“Some species have been discovered that are not native to Japan, and others have not even been identified,” Chan noted. “The transponders bobbed around off Japan for some time and then went fairly quickly across the Pacific. But once they arrived here, they moved in and out of near-shore waters, and up and down the coast.

“Satellite tracking of transponders and their discovery by beachcombers indicates that they floated for 2-3 years before they beached on land,” Chan added. “The movement patterns of the transponders within the continental shelves of Japan and North American – where nutrients and food are relatively available – could be one piece of a complex puzzle that have allowed these organisms to survive the trans-Pacific journey.”

Chan said international exchanges in the five years since the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami have been a bright point, resulting in close collaboration and a shared sense of discovery among Japanese and American scientists.

“The debris still arriving five years later is a reminder that has raised awareness among people – many of whom have been complacent or unaware – about the power and destruction that earthquakes and tsunamis can cause on both sides of the Pacific,” Chan said.

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Sam Chan, 541-737-1583, Samuel.chan@oregonstate.edu;

John Chapman, 541-867-0235, john.chapman@oregonstate.edu

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(Left: OSU's John Chapman examines a mussel-encrusted boat from Japan.)

 

 

Natural Resources Leadership Academy 2012

Sam Chan informs coastal visitors about the Japanese dock (background) that washed ashore from Japan.

 

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A barred knifejaw from Japan survived its trans-Pacific Ocean journey.

 

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OSU's Jessica Miller examines a sea star.

Mariana Trench: Seven miles deep, the ocean is still a noisy place

NEWPORT, Ore. – For what may be the first time, scientists have eavesdropped on the deepest part of the world’s oceans and instead of finding a sea of silence, they discovered a cacophony of sounds both natural and caused by humans.

For three weeks, a titanium-encased hydrophone recorded ambient noise from the ocean floor at a depth of more than 36,000 feet in a trough known as Challenger Deep in the fabled Mariana Trench near Micronesia. The team of researchers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Oregon State University and the U.S. Coast Guard expected to hear little. They were surprised.

“You would think that the deepest part of the ocean would be one of the quietest places on Earth,” said Robert Dziak, a NOAA research oceanographer and chief scientist on the project. “Yet there really is almost constant noise from both natural and man-made sources. The ambient sound field at Challenger Deep is dominated by the sound of earthquakes, both near and far was well as the distinct moans of baleen whales and the overwhelming clamor of a category 4 typhoon that just happened to pass overhead.

“There was also a lot of noise from ship traffic, identifiable by the clear sound pattern the ship propellers make when they pass by,” added Dziak, who has a courtesy appointment in Oregon State’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “Guam is very close to Challenger Deep and is a regional hub for container shipping with China and The Philippines.”

The project, which was funded by the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, was designed to establish a baseline for ambient noise in the deepest part of the Pacific Ocean. Anthropogenic, or human-caused noise has increased steadily over the past several decades and getting these first recordings will allow scientists in the future to determine if the noise levels are growing.

Getting those first sounds wasn’t easy.

The bottom of the Challenger Deep trough is roughly seven miles below the ocean’s surface. In fact, you could put the world’s tallest peak – Mount Everest – in the trench and its top would still be more than a mile from the surface.

The pressure at that depth is incredible, said Haru Matsumoto, an Oregon State ocean engineer who along with NOAA engineer Chris Meinig helped to develop a hydrophone capable of withstanding such pressure. In the average person’s home or office, the atmospheric pressure is about 14.7 pounds per square inch; at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, it is more than 16,000 PSI.

“We had never put a hydrophone deeper than a mile or so below the surface, so putting an instrument down some seven miles into the ocean was daunting,” Matsumoto said. “We had to drop the hydrophone mooring down through the water column at no more than about five meters per second. Structures don’t like rapid change and we were afraid we would crack the ceramic housing outside the hydrophone.”

Partnering with the U.S. Coast Guard, the researchers deployed the hydrophone from the Guam-based cutter Sequoia in July 2015. It took more than six hours for the instrument package to free-fall to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. Its recordings filled the flash drive in about 23 days, but the researchers had to wait until November to retrieve the hydrophone because of ships’ schedules and persistent typhoons.

Once back on site, they recovered the hydrophone mooring by sending an acoustic signal from the ship above, triggering its release from the seafloor. Attached floats allowed it to gradually ascend to the surface.

“It is akin to sending a deep-space probe to the outer solar system,” Dziak said. “We’re sending out a deep-ocean probe to the unknown reaches of inner space.”

For the past several months, Dziak and his colleagues have been analyzing the sounds and differentiating natural sounds from ships and other human activities.

“We recorded a loud magnitude 5.0 earthquake that took place at a depth of about 10 kilometers (or more than six miles) in the nearby ocean crust,” Dziak said. “Since our hydrophone was at 11 kilometers, it actually was below the earthquake, which is really an unusual experience. The sound of the typhoon was also dramatic, although the cacophony from big storms tends to be spread out and elevates the overall noise for a period of days.”

Matsumoto said the hydrophone also picked up a lot of noise from the surface of the ocean – some seven miles above – including waves and winds disturbing the surface.

“Sound doesn’t get as weak as you think it does even that far from the source,” he said.

Another OSU co-investigator on the project, Joe Haxel, will lead a planned return to Challenger Deep in 2017, where the researchers will deploy the hydrophone for a longer period of time and attach a deep-ocean camera.

Dziak, Matsumoto and Haxel are affiliated with the Acoustics Program in the NOAA/Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory and work at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Ore. The project in Challenger Deep is one of a number of projects in which the U.S. Coast Guard partners with NOAA to sponsor scientific research.

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Bob Dziak, 541-867-0175, Robert.P.Dziak@noaa.gov;

Haru Matsumoto, 541-867-0272; haru.matsumoto@oregonstate.edu

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A link to sound files, images and a video can be found at: http://bit.ly/1QSb8Mv

 

 

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OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center to hold Fossil Fest on Feb. 13

NEWPORT, Ore. – Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center will hold its annual Fossil Fest event on Saturday, Feb. 13, in Newport from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Fossils are top-of-mind for many Oregonians, following the discovery in late January of mammoth bones during a construction project at Reser Stadium on the OSU campus. Loren Davis of OSU and Dave Ellingson of Woodburn High School will be available during the day to talk about the find, share photos, and discuss other important fossil discoveries in the Northwest. They will give a talk on “Reser Fossils” at 3 p.m. in Hennings Auditorium.

Special guest lecturer William Orr, an emeritus anthropologist from the University of Oregon, will speak at 1:30 p.m. on “Lagerstatten: World Class Fossil Sites,” in the auditorium. The lecture will focus on what makes certain fossil sites so valuable, both in the United States and abroad. He also will sign copies of his books, “Oregon Fossils” and “Geology of Oregon.”

A lecture by Guy DiTorrice will focus on “Douglas Emlong – Fossil Pioneer, Fossil Dreamer.” It begins at 11:30 a.m. in the auditorium. DiTorrice will highlight Emlong’s contributions to the Smithsonian and other topics.

Fossil Fest also will include fossil displays and hands-on activities by the North American Research Group, fossil displays from Lincoln County presented by Kent Gibson, and information for participants on where to find fossils.

“We’d also encourage any visitors to bring in their own fossil specimens for identification help,” said Bill Hanshumaker, an OSU marine educator and outreach specialist with the Hatfield center.

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Bill Hanshumaker, 541-867-0167, bill.hanshumaker@oregonstate.edu

Study: Endangered western gray whales have food, yet aren't recovering

NEWPORT, Ore. – The eastern gray whales that commonly appear along the West Coast of the United States seemingly have recovered from over-hunting with new protective guidelines established in the 1970s. Their counterparts across the ocean – western gray whales – have not fared as well.

Some scientists believe that a lack of prey may be a limiting factor in the recovery of western gray whales, which number fewer than 200 in their feeding area near Russia’s Sakhalin Island. For years, researchers were unable to assess the growth of whale prey in the region because of the remote location, inaccessible conditions of winter ice cover, and the rugged weather that prevented winter sampling.

However, researchers from Russia and the United States studied an inch-long crustacean, Ampelisca eschrichtii, an amphipod that is a favorite food of the western gray whale, in samples that were collected from the Sakhalin Shelf between late spring and early fall over six years between 2002 and 2013. The research team found enough information in the limited samples to assess the missing winter-life history of these amphipods and to document their great abundance and production.

Their results were published this week in the journal PLOS ONE.

“The Sakhalin Shelf could be the richest gray whale feeding area in the world,” said John Chapman, a co-author who works at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Oregon. “But this discovery includes some surprises, still surrounded by mystery.”

One such mystery was the discovery that Ampelisca eschrichtii are simply too abundant to be threatened by over-consumption by western gray whales. If that is the case, the researchers say, why aren’t western gray whales rebounding like their eastern gray counterparts when food is plentiful and protections are in place?

“That’s really the enigma,” Chapman said. “Access to prey could be limited by an unsuitable benthic community or by unsuitable sediments. The whales’ benefits from the rich food source could also be limited by the distance and energetic costs of their trans-Pacific migration to reach it.”

Previous research by Russian and U.S. scientists – including Bruce Mate at Oregon State – documented the extraordinary migration of several western gray whales across the Pacific Ocean and down the coast of the Americas all the way to breeding grounds of Baja Mexico.

“Such extreme migration between the feeding grounds on the Sakhalin shelf and the breeding grounds in Baja California and back may be too energetically costly to pay for the trip,” Chapman said.

The researchers say their study of Ampelisca eschrichtii documented low frequency of brooding females, a lack of early-stage juveniles and the lack of growth in individuals found in the late spring and summer samples of the study.

“These results indicate that Ampelisca eschrichtii grow and reproduce primarily in winter, under the ice,” Chapman said. “This is certainly significant because other Arctic Ampelisca species might similarly depend on winter ice formation to grow and reproduce.”

Unlike western gray whales, some eastern grays thrive along the West Coast of the Americas on a varied diet that includes mysid shrimp and other crustaceans; they are not dependent on winter ice for their abundance.

However, whales on both sides of the north Pacific Ocean depend in varying degrees on the Arctic species of Ampelisca to survive.

“The whales can’t get to this prey until the ice recedes each summer,” Chapman pointed out. “But if the ice-free areas expand too far, or persist too long, the production of these crustaceans could decrease significantly.

“Ice could be the gray whales’ ‘golden goose,’ and if it dies, there might be fewer golden eggs for gray whales everywhere.”

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John Chapman, 541-867-0235, john.chapman@oregonstate.edu

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Ampelisca eschrichtii

Ampelisca eschrichtii

2015 goes down as the warmest in Oregon history

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A mild winter, an early spring and warmer-than-average temperatures every season have contributed to a record-breaking year, as 2015 will go down as the warmest in Oregon since state records began in 1895.

Oregon’s previous record high average temperature of 49.9 degrees was set in 1934 – the height of the Dust Bowl – when the entire country was plagued by hot, dry weather.

Despite a cold, icy end to December in Oregon, the average temperature in 2015 was 50.4 degrees, not only a record but far above the average yearly temperature for the 20th century, which was 47.8 degrees, according to Oregon State University’s Philip Mote, who directs the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute on campus.

“In previous years, we’ve had periods where the weather was warmer for differing spells,” Mote said. “In 2015, though, it was warmer than average almost all the way through the year.” A combination of meteorological conditions and greenhouse gases led to the record warm year, he added.

The statistics are from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information.

Oregon was not alone in experiencing a warm 2015, according to Kathie Dello, deputy director of the Oregon Climate Service at OSU. Washington, Montana and Florida also experienced record high temperatures, and in several other states 2015 went down in the top five of all time.

It appears this will be yet another record warm year for average global temperature, Dello pointed out, and it is officially the second warmest year in the United States, despite blizzards and Arctic temperatures in the Northeast.

“If you are 31 years of age, you have not lived through a single month in which the global temperature was below average,” Dello said. “And if you are 31 and living in Oregon, you have only experienced three years here that were cooler than the 20th-century average.”

Researchers calculate the average temperature for each day by looking at the highest and lowest temperatures. If the high reaches 90 degrees and the low is 60, that day’s average temperature is 75 degrees. They then calculate the average monthly temperature, and finally, the average yearly temperature.

The average for the state is done by analyzing temperatures at a series of long-established weather stations throughout the state.

 “We had a ridge of high pressure that set up and kept the weather warm and dry throughout most of the summer and fall,” Mote said. “That followed a winter in which we got nearly average precipitation, but much of it came from the south and it fell as rain instead of snow.”

Mote said the record-setting 2015 weather was a combination of meteorological phenomena and the Earth gradually getting warmer because of human activities.

Through rigorous statistical analysis, scientists are able to tease out the impacts of El Niño, greenhouse gas emissions, volcanic activity and solar activity on temperatures. Mote said 2015 would have been a warm year because of meteorological conditions, but the 1-2 degrees (F) attributable to greenhouse gases pushed temperatures into record territory.

“There’s little doubt that the insulation of the planet from greenhouse gas emissions played a role in the warming throughout the year,” he said.

The OSU researchers say expect more of the same in 2016.

“With El Niño and the remnants of The Blob (a huge warm patch of water in the North Pacific Ocean), it should be another warm year for the Earth, and for Oregon,” Dello said.

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Phil Mote, 541-737-5694, pmote@coas.oregonstate.edu;

Kathie Dello, 541-737-8927, kdello@coas.oregonstate.edu

 

 

 

 

 

A 72-degree day in January (2015) at Yachats on the Oregon Coast. (photo by Theresa Hogue)

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

NEWPORT, 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.

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

Selina Heppell named head of OSU Fisheries and Wildlife Department

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Selina Heppell, an Oregon State University conservation biologist, has been named head of the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences.

She is the first woman to hold that position in the department’s 80-year history.

Heppell succeeds former department head W. Daniel “Dan” Edge, who earlier this year was named associate dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences. A faculty member in fisheries and wildlife since 2001, Heppell has served as associate and interim head of the department.

“Selina has provided terrific leadership during her term as interim head of the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife and I am delighted that she will continue to lead the department, which is one of the best in the nation,” said Dan Arp, dean of the College of Agricultural Sciences. “She is a distinguished researcher and teacher with a demonstrated commitment to excellence.”

Heppell will lead one of the largest natural sciences programs at OSU, with more than 600 registered undergraduate majors in Corvallis and online, 180 graduate students and eight degrees and certificates. There are about 140 (non-student) employees in the department, which brought in about $7.4 million in research grants and contracts in 2015.

“We’re a big family,” Heppell said, “and I am very happy to work with such a fantastic group of faculty, staff and students.”

Heppell came to OSU after a post-doctoral appointment at the Environmental Protection Agency in Corvallis. Much of her research has been devoted to the study and protection of some of the slowest-growing animals in the sea, including sturgeon, sea turtles, sharks and West Coast rockfish. She uses computer models and simulations to examine how these species respond to human impacts – and how they may respond to future climate change.

She shares a laboratory with her husband, Scott Heppell, on campus and at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. The Heppells teach a conservation biology course in Eastern Europe, and have done field research on fish in the Caribbean, in addition to their West Coast research.

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Selina Heppell, 541-737-9039, Selina.Heppell@oregonstate.edu;

Dan Arp, 541-737-2331, dan.arp@oregonstate.edu

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OSU's Selina Heppell

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

NEWPORT, Ore. – 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.

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Elizabeth Daly, 541-867-0404; elizabeth.daly@oregonstate.edu;

Ric Brodeur, 541-867-0335, Richard.Brodeur@noaa.gov

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Oregon Sea Grant announces 2016-18 research grant recipients

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon Sea Grant, a marine research, outreach, education and communication program based at Oregon State University, is awarding $1.7 million in competitive, federally funded research grants for 2016-18.

The grants will go to eight principal investigators at OSU, Oregon Health & Science University, and the University of Oregon for research into marine-related issues.

"Oregon Sea Grant is committed to supporting the science needed to address challenges facing our coastal communities and ecosystems,” said Shelby Walker, director of Oregon Sea Grant. “These projects reflect a broad array of issues important to the future of coastal Oregonians, communities and our environment."

The projects and their principal investigators are listed below (click on the links for additional information):

  • “Indexing the vulnerability and adaptive capacity of marine shellfish to combined stressors of ocean acidification and hypoxia,” Francis Chan, OSU Department of Integrative Biology. (Co-PIs are Eli Meyer and Kristin Milligan, OSU; and Steven Rumrill, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife) More information.
  • “Does ocean productivity contribute to dune ecosystem function? Connecting wrack subsidies to Oregon dune coastal protection and conservation services,” Sally Hacker, OSU Department of Integrative Biology. (Co-PIs are Peter Ruggiero and Francis Chan, OSU) More information.
  • “Distribution and degradation of the anti-diabetic drug, Metformin, and its breakdown product, guanylurea, in the Columbia River basin,” Tawnya Peterson, OHSU Institute of Environmental Health. (Co-PI is Joseph Needoba, OHSU). More information.
  • “Utilizing uranium-to-calcium ratios to determine best management practices for shell planting and oyster culture to mitigate ocean acidification impacts,” Alyssa Shiel, OSU College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. (Co-PIs Adam Kent and George Waldbusser, OSU). More information.
  • “Improving coastal ocean forecasting and visualization through collaboration in discovery, learning and practice,” Ted Strub, OSU College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. (Co-PIs Flaxen Conway and Alexander Kurapov, OSU). More information.
  • “Predatory impacts of large medusa on ichthyoplankton in the Northern California Current,” Kelly Sutherland, University of Oregon’s Oregon Institute of Marine Biology. (Co-PI Richard Brodeur, NOAA’s Northwest Fisheries Science Center). More information.
  • “Evaluating the vulnerability of Oregon seagrass beds to eutrophication,” Fiona Tomas Nash, OSU Department of Fisheries and Wildlife. (Co-PIs Steven Rumrill and Anthony D’Andrea, ODFW; James Kaldy, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Bree Yednock and Joy Tally, South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve; and Renee O’Neill, OSU). More information.
  • “Competing effects of relative sea-level rise and fluvial inputs on blue carbon sequestration in Oregon salt marshes,” Robert Wheatcroft, OSU College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. (Co-PIs Laura Brophy and Michael Ewald, Institute for Applied Ecology; Erin Peck, OSU). More information.

As part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s nationwide Sea Grant College Program, Oregon Sea Grant receives a share of congressionally appropriated research dollars every two years to award via a competitive process to university-based scientists studying ocean and coastal issues important to the region and the nation.

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Shelby Walker, 541-737-6200, Shelby.walker@oregonstate.edu