hatfield marine science center

Researchers measure giant “internal waves” that help regulate climate

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Once a day, a wave as tall as the Empire State Building and as much as a hundred miles wide forms in the waters between Taiwan and the Philippines and rolls across the South China Sea – but on the surface, it is hardly noticed.

These daily monstrosities are called “internal waves” because they are beneath the ocean surface and though scientists have known about them for years, they weren’t really sure how significant they were because they had never been fully tracked from cradle to grave.

But a new study, published this week in Nature Research Letter, documents what happens to internal waves at the end of their journey and outlines their critical role in global climate. The international research project was funded by the Office of Naval Research and the Taiwan National Science Council.

“Ultimately, they are what mixes heat throughout the ocean,” said Jonathan Nash, an Oregon State University oceanographer and co-author on the study. “Without them, the ocean would be a much different place. It would be significantly more stratified – the surface waters would be much warmer and the deep abyss colder.

“It’s like stirring cream into your coffee,” he added. “Internal waves are the ocean’s spoon.”

Internal waves help move a tremendous amount of energy from Luzon Strait across the South China Sea, but until this project, scientists didn’t know what became of that energy. As it turns out, it’s a rather complicated picture. A large fraction of energy dissipates when the wave gets steep and breaks on the deep slopes off China and Vietnam, much like breakers on the beach.

But part of the energy remains, with waves reflecting from the coast and rebounding back into the ocean in different directions.

The internal waves are caused by strong tides flowing over the topography, said Nash, who is in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. The waves originating in Luzon Strait are the largest in the world, based on the region’s tidal flow and topography. A key factor is the depth at which the warm- and cold-water layers of the ocean meet – at about 1,000 meters.

The waves can get as high as 500 meters tall and 100-200 kilometers wide before steepening.

“You can actually see them from satellite images,” Nash said. “They will form little waves at the ocean surface, and you see the surface convergences piling up flotsam and jetsam as the internal wave sucks the water down. They move about 2-3 meters a second.”

The waves also have important global implications. In climate models, predictions of the sea level 50 years from now vary by more than a foot depending on whether the effects of these waves are included.

“These are not small effects,” Nash said.

This new study, which was part of a huge international collaboration involving OSU researchers Nash and James Moum – as well as 40 others from around the world – is the first to document the complete life cycle of these huge undersea waves.

Media Contact: 

Jonathan Nash, 541-737-4573, nash@coas.oregonstate.edu

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Large "internal waves" are generally not seen at the surface, but their signature is - visible slicks and changes in surface roughness and color.

Solomon Islands dolphin hunts cast spotlight on small cetacean survival

NEWPORT, Ore. – A new study on the impact of ‘drive-hunting’ dolphins in the Solomon Islands is casting a spotlight on the increasing vulnerability of small cetaceans around the world.

From 1976 to 2013, more than 15,000 dolphins were killed by villagers in Fanalei alone, where a single dolphin tooth can fetch the equivalent of 70 cents ($0.70 U.S.) – an increase in value of five times just in the last decade.

Results of the Solomon Islands study are being reported this week online in the new journal, Royal Society Open Science.

“In the Solomon Islands, the hunting is as much about culture as economic value,” said Scott Baker, associate director of the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University and co-author on the study. “In other parts of the world, however, the targeting of dolphins and other small cetaceans appears to be increasing as coastal fishing stocks decline.

“The hunting of large whales is managed by the International Whaling Commission,” added Baker, who works out of OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Ore. “But there is no international or inter-governmental organization to set quotas or provide management advice for hunting small cetaceans. Unregulated and often undocumented exploitation pose a real threat to the survival of local populations in some regions of the world.”

The drive-hunting of dolphins has a long history in the Solomon Islands, particularly at the island of Malaita, according to Marc Oremus, a biologist with the South Pacific Whale Research Consortium and lead author on the study. In 2010, the most active village, Fanalei, suspended hunting in exchange for financial compensation from an international non-governmental organization. The villagers resumed hunting in 2013.

“After the agreement broke down in 2013, a local newspaper reported that villagers had killed hundreds of dolphins in just a few months,” Oremus said. “So we went to take a look.”

Oremus and co-author John Leqata, a research officer with the Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Resources, visited Fanalei in March of 2013 to document the impact on the population, and examine detailed records of the kills. During the first three months of that year, villagers killed more than 1,500 spotted dolphins, 159 spinner dolphins, and 15 bottlenose dolphins.

This is one of the largest documented hunts of dolphins in the world, rivaling even the more-industrialized hunting of dolphins in Japan, noted Baker, whose genetic identification research was featured in the Academy Award-winning documentary on dolphin exploitation, “The Cove.”

“It is also troubling that teeth are increasing in cash value, apparently creating a commercial incentive for hunting dolphins,” Baker said.

In drive-hunting, the hunters operate in close coordination from 20 to 30 traditional canoes. When dolphins are found, the hunters used rounded stones to create a clapping sound underwater. The hunters maneuver the canoes into a U-shape around the dolphins, using sound as an acoustic barrier to drive them toward shore where they are killed.

“The main objective of the hunt is to obtain dolphin teeth that are used in wedding ceremonies,” Oremus said. “The teeth and meat are also sold for cash.”

Oremus said the Solomon Island hunters understand the risk of exploiting the population.

“The government of the Solomon Islands has contributed substantially to research in recent years, but is not well-equipped to undertake the scale of research needed to estimate abundance and trends of the local dolphin population,” Oremus said. “This problem exists in many island nations with large ‘Exclusive Economic Zones.’”

The research was supported by the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Pew Environmental Group and the International Whaling Commission.

Media Contact: 

Scott Baker, 541-272-0560, scott.baker@oregonstate.edu

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Dolphin teeth are sold for necklaces

Researchers think Axial Seamount off Northwest coast is erupting – right on schedule

NEWPORT, Ore. – Axial Seamount, an active underwater volcano located about 300 miles off the coast of Oregon and Washington, appears to be erupting – after two scientists had forecast that such an event would take place there in 2015.

Geologists Bill Chadwick of Oregon State University and Scott Nooner of the University of North Carolina Wilmington made their forecast last September during a public lecture and followed it up with blog posts and a reiteration of their forecast just last week at a scientific workshop.

They based their forecast on some of their previous research – funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which showed how the volcano inflates and deflates like a balloon in a repeatable pattern as it responds to magma being fed into the seamount.

Since last Friday, the region has experienced thousands of tiny earthquakes – a sign that magma is moving toward the surface – and the seafloor dropped by 2.4 meters, or nearly eight feet, also a sign of magma being withdrawn from a reservoir beneath the summit. Instrumentation recording the activity is part of the NSF-funded Ocean Observatories Initiative. William Wilcock of the University of Washington first observed the earthquakes.

“It isn’t clear yet whether the earthquakes and deflation at Axial are related to a full-blown eruption, or if it is only a large intrusion of magma that hasn’t quite reached the surface,” said Chadwick, who works out of OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport and also is affiliated with NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory. “There are some hints that lava did erupt, but we may not know for sure until we can get out there with a ship.”

In any case, the researchers say, such an eruption is not a threat to coastal residents. The earthquakes at Axial Seamount are small and the seafloor movements gradual and thus cannot cause a tsunami. Nor is the possible eruption tied to a possible Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake.

“I have to say, I was having doubts about the forecast even the night before the activity started,” Chadwick admitted. “We didn’t have any real certainty that it would take place – it was more of a way to test our hypothesis that the pattern we have seen was repeatable and predictable.”

Axial Seamount provides scientists with an ideal laboratory, not only because of its close proximity to the Northwest coast, but for its unique structure.

“Because Axial is on very thin ocean crust, its ‘plumbing system’ is simpler than at most volcanoes on land that are often complicated by other factors related to having a thicker crust,” said Chadwick, who is an adjunct professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “Thus Axial can give us insights into how volcano magma systems work – and how eruptions might be predicted.”

Axial Seamount last erupted in 2011 and that event was loosely forecast by Chadwick and Nooner, who had said in 2006 that the volcano would erupt before 2014. Since the 2011 eruption, additional research led to a refined forecast that the next eruption would be in 2015 based on the fact that the rate of inflation had increased by about 400 percent since the last eruption.

“We’ve learned that the supply rate of magma has a big influence on the time between eruptions,” Nooner said. “When the magma rate was lower, it took 13 years between eruptions. But now when the magma rate is high, it took only four years.”

Chadwick and Nooner are scheduled to go back to Axial in August to gather more data, but it may be possible for other researchers to visit the seamount on an expedition as early as May. They hope to confirm the eruption and, if so, measure the volume of lava involved.

Evidence that was key to the successful forecast came in the summer of 2014 via measurements taken by colleagues Dave Caress and Dave Clague of Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute and Mark Zumberge and Glenn Sasagawa of Scripps Oceanographic Institution. Those measurements showed the high rate of magma inflation was continuing.

Media Contact: 

Bill Chadwick, 541-867-0179, bill.chadwick@oregonstate.edu

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Boca vent

Axial Seamount vent taken in 2011


Longest mammal migration raises questions about distinct species

NEWPORT, Ore. – A team of scientists from the United States and Russia has documented the longest migration of a mammal ever recorded – a round-trip trek of nearly 14,000 miles by a whale identified as a critically endangered species that raises questions about its status.

The researchers used satellite-monitored tags to track three western North Pacific gray whales from their primary feeding ground off Russia’s Sakhalin Island across the Pacific Ocean and down the West Coast of the United States to Baja, Mexico. One of the tagged whales, dubbed Varvara (which is Russian for Barbara), visited the three major breeding areas for eastern gray whales, which are found off North America and are not endangered.

Results of their study are being published this week by the Royal Society in the journal Biology Letters.

“The fact that endangered western gray whales have such a long range and interact with eastern gray whales was a surprise and leaves a lot of questions up in the air,” said Bruce Mate, director of the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University and lead author on the study. “Past studies have indicated genetic differentiation between the species, but this suggests we may need to take a closer look.”

Western gray whales were thought to have gone extinct by the 1970s before a small aggregation was discovered in Russia off Sakhalin Island – with a present estimated population of 150 individuals that has been monitored by scientists from Russia and the U.S. since the 1990s.

Like their western cousins, eastern gray whales were decimated by whaling and listed as endangered, but conservation efforts led to their recovery. They were delisted in 1996 and today have a population estimated at more than 18,000 animals.

Not all scientists believe that western gray whales are a separate, distinct species. Valentin Ilyashenko of the A.N Severtsov Institute for Ecology and Evolution, who is the Russian representative to the International Whaling Commission, has proposed since 2009 that recent western and eastern gray whale populations are not isolated and that the gray whales found in Russian waters are a part of an eastern population that is restoring its former historical range. He is a co-author on the study.

“The ability of the whales to navigate across open water over tremendously long distances is impressive and suggests that some western gray whales might actually be eastern grays,” Mate said. “But that doesn’t mean that there may not be some true western gray whales remaining.

“If so, then the number of true western gray whales is even smaller than we previously thought.”

Since the discovery that western and eastern gray whales interact, other researchers have compared photo catalogues of both groups and identified dozens of western gray whales from Russia matching whale photographs taken in British Columbia and San Ignacio Lagoon in Baja California, Mexico.

Protecting the endangered western gray whales has been difficult – five whales have died in Japanese fishing nets within the last decade. Their feeding areas off Japan and Russia include fishing areas, shipping lanes, and oil and gas production – as well as future sites oil sites. Their largely unknown migration routes may include additional hazards.

The study was coordinated by the International Whaling Commission, with funding provided by Exxon Neftegas Limited, the Sakhalin Energy Investment Company, the U.S. Office of Naval Research, and OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute.

Media Contact: 

 Bruce Mate, 541-867-0202, bruce.mate@oregonstate.edu; Ladd Irvine, 541-867-0394, ladd.irvine@oregonstate.edu

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Western Gray Whale - Sakhalin Island, Russia




Photos by Craig Hayslip, OSU Marine Mammal Institute

OSU to host Marine Science Day at Hatfield Marine Science Center

NEWPORT, Ore. – The Hatfield Marine Science Center will hold its annual Marine Science Day on Saturday, April 11, commemorating the 50th anniversary of this unique Oregon State University facility.

Dedicated in 1965, the center has become an integral part of coastal development, education, research, tourism and economics. Marine Science Day runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the center, located southeast of the Hwy. 101 bridge over Yaquina Bay in Newport.

“Marine Science Day is how we give back to the coastal, statewide and international communities we serve, but it is also a way to honor the past and celebrate the future in this, our 50th year,” said Bob Cowen, director of the center. “We will have many of our former faculty, staff and students at HMSC for a reunion that weekend, which will be very meaningful.

“We will get to see the shoulders we are standing on and harness 50 years of momentum as we look to the future,” he added.

Marine Science Day, which is free and open to the public, will also feature special exhibits about OSU’s new Marine Studies Initiative, which calls for OSU to host 500 students-in-residence at the Oregon coast by the year 2025 for a new, highly experiential undergraduate and graduate program in marine studies.

Oregon State is raising funds for a new teaching and research facility on the Hatfield Marine Science Center campus.

Among the events during Marine Science Day are:

  • Interactive displays by researchers from Oregon State and its federal and state government agency partners;
  • Demonstrations from the OSU acoustics research group, where you will be able to “see” your voice on a spectrogram;
  • An opportunity to become a citizen scientist and learn how to monitor sea star wasting disease with researchers from PISCO – the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans;
  • Tidal touch pools with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s shellfish program;
  • Tours of the OSU animal husbandry program and the Oregon Coast Community College aquarium science program.

Several research groups at HMSC will offer unprecedented access to their studies, facilities and instruments during the event.

In addition to a see-your-voice exhibit, the acoustics group will have a display with a large hydrophone and sub-woofers so participants can hears actual sounds from the ocean. The Earth-Ocean interactions program will show video of undersea volcanoes and hydrothermal vents. The Plankton Portal program will show beautiful, fascinating images of plankton as part of a major international initiative to learn more about these small marine creatures.

OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute will help participants identify whales through binoculars, and the Molluscan Broodstock program will show its oyster and seaweed research projects.

Marine Science Day events:

  • 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. – Open house and tours of the Hatfield Marine Science Center, hosted by Oregon Sea Grant and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service;
  • 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. – “Pumped up for Pinnipeds,” an presentation in the Visitor’s Center Auditorium by the Oregon Coast Aquarium for children and others interested in seals and sea lions;
  • 1 p.m. – A feeding of the octopus in the HMSC Visitors Center;
  • 3 to 4 p.m. – “Buy a Fish, Save a Tree,” a presentation in the Visitor’s Center Auditorium by Tim Miller-Morgan of OSU on fish health management and sustainable ornamental fisheries.

More information on Marine Science Day can be found at: http://hmsc.oregonstate.edu/marinescienceday/

Media Contact: 

Maryann Bozza, 541-867-0234; maryann.bozza@oregonstate.edu

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New research reveals low-oxygen impacts on West Coast groundfish

CORVALLIS, Ore. – When low-oxygen “dead zones” began appearing off the Oregon Coast in the early 2000’s, photos of the ocean floor revealed bottom-dwelling crabs that could not escape the suffocating conditions and died by the thousands.

But the question everyone asked was, “What about the fish?” recalls Oregon State University oceanographer Jack Barth.

“We didn’t really know the impacts on fish,” Barth said. “We couldn’t see them.”

Scientists from NOAA Fisheries’ Northwest Fisheries Science Center and Oregon State have begun to answer that question with a new paper published in the journal Fisheries Oceanography. The paper finds that low-oxygen waters projected to expand with climate change create winners and losers among fish, with some adapted to handle low-oxygen conditions that drive other species away.

Generally the number of fish species declines with oxygen levels as sensitive species leave the area, said Aimee Keller, a fisheries biologist at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center and lead author of the new paper. But a few species such as Dover sole and greenstriped rockfish appear largely unaffected.

“One of our main questions was, ‘Are there fewer species present in an area when the oxygen drops?’ and yes, we definitely see that,” Keller said. “As it goes lower and lower you see more and more correlation between species and oxygen levels.”

Deep waters off the West Coast have long been known to be naturally low in oxygen. But the new findings show that the spread of lower oxygen conditions, which have been documented closer to shore and off Washington and California, could redistribute fish in ways that affect fishing fleets as well as the marine food chain.

The lower the oxygen levels, for example, the more effort fishing boats will have to invest to find enough fish. “We may see fish sensitive to oxygen levels may be pushed into habitat that’s less desirable and they may grow more slowly in those areas,” Keller said.

Researchers examined the effect of low-oxygen waters with the help of West Coast trawl surveys conducted every year by the Northwest Fisheries Science Center to assess the status of groundfish stocks. They developed a sturdy, protective housing for oxygen sensors that could be attached to the trawl nets to determine what species the nets swept up in areas of different oxygen concentrations.

The study combined the expertise of fisheries scientists such as Keller who assess fish stocks with oceanographers such as Barth who track ocean conditions to look at the relationship between the two.

“Initially, we would tell them where the low oxygen was, and they would trawl within areas ranging from low to high oxygen,” explained Barth, a professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “Later, oxygen sensors were deployed on all tows during the groundfish survey. They would look at the catch and the species richness.

“We tried to get it down to the individual species level, where we could tell which fish correlated with which oxygen levels.”  

Low-oxygen waters appear off the West Coast in two ways, Barth said. The first is the eastward movement of deep, oxygen-poor water that laps up against the West Coast. The second occurs when wind-driven upwelling brings nutrients to the surface, fueling blooms of phytoplankton that eventually die and sink to the bottom. Their decay then consumes the oxygen, leaving what scientists call hypoxic conditions where oxygen levels are low enough to adversely affect marine organisms.

The scientists examined the effects of varying oxygen levels on four representative species: spotted ratfish, petrale sole, greenstriped rockfish and Dover sole.

Spotted ratfish and petrale sole were the most sensitive to changes in oxygen levels, with their presence declining sharply as the amount of oxygen dissolved in the water declines. But greenstriped rockfish and Dover sole were largely unaffected by dissolved oxygen levels.

Dover sole is adapted to low-oxygen waters, with gill surface areas two to three times larger than other fish of similar size that allow it to absorb more oxygen from the same amount of water. Dover sole also are among a few fish species that can reduce their oxygen consumption to very low concentrations, probably an adaptation to low-oxygen conditions.

The research is continuing, with trawl survey vessels carrying oxygen sensors on all of their tows since 2009, Keller said. Further data should provide insight into the response of additional fish species to low oxygen conditions, Keller said.

Media Contact: 

Michael Milstein, NOAA Fisheries, 503-231-6268

Mark Floyd, OSU, 541-737-0788


Jack Barth, 541-737-1607, barth@coas.oregonstate.edu

Warm winter wraps up – concern about low snowpack continues

CORVALLIS, Ore. – If it seemed like Oregon has had a lot of unseasonably warm days this winter, well, it’s because we have. Now the focus is on a very low snowpack – and the implications that may have later this year.

The meteorological winter – which is comprised of December, January and February – recently wrapped up and depending on where you live in Oregon, it was one of the warmest – if not the warmest – winters on record.

“It has been a very, very warm winter – almost historically so,” said Philip Mote, director of the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute at Oregon State University. “On one hand, the warm temperatures have made for a rather pleasant winter. On the other hand, the snowpack situation has been atrocious, and that really raises concerns for water levels in many streams later this summer.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s seasonal outlook calls for “significantly enhanced likelihood” for a warm spring – especially in western Oregon and western Washington – and a “somewhat reduced likelihood” for a wet spring.

“That’s not a hopeful outlook for the kind of late recovery of snowpack that we have seen in some previous low-snow winters,” Mote noted.

How warm has this winter been? Mote said that each winter month was warmer than average at almost every recording station in Oregon. More than a hundred high temperature records were broken in Oregon – just in December. Another 114 high temperature records were broken in February.

Overall, Mote said, this should go down as the second warmest winter for the Pacific Northwest behind 1933-34, according to data from NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center. That was the Dust Bowl era - and 2014-15 wasn’t far behind. NOAA reports that parts of eastern and southern Oregon were more than eight degrees warmer than average for the meteorological winter.

Along the coast, temperatures in some places reached the low 70s, amazingly mild for mid-February.

In many other places in western Oregon, temperatures in the 60s were not uncommon. In fact, Roseburg reported 12 days of 60-degree-plus temperatures in February alone, according to National Weather Service data.

Although temperatures were warm, it wasn’t unusually dry, Mote said.

“The precipitation levels were unremarkable – just a bit lower than usual,” he pointed out. “However, a lot more of the precipitation fell as rain instead of snow – and that could have a major impact down the road. California, Oregon and Washington hardly have any snow – less than 10 percent of normal in some basins.”

On a regional basis, the winter temperatures looked like this:

  • Astoria: December was 4.4 degrees warmer than average; January was 2.5 degrees warmer; and February was 5.1 degrees warmer.
  • Eugene was 4.6 degrees warmer than average in December, 2.9 degrees warmer in January, and 5.3 degrees in February. Eugene reached a high of 62 degrees in December, 68 in January (a record for the month), and 65 in the month of February, which had five days of temperatures in the 60s.
  • McMinnville recorded a record high temperature of 66 degrees on Feb. 17, breaking the old mark of 65 set in 1996.
  • Portland was 3.7 degrees warmer than average in December, 2.0 degrees warmer in January, and 5.4 degrees warmer in February. The Rose City had seven days of 60-degree-plus weather in February alone.
  • Roseburg was 6.1 degrees warmer than average in December, 3.5 degrees warmer than average in January, and 4.8 degrees warmer than average in February. Roseburg had a total of 12 days of temperatures in the 60s in February.
  • Pendleton wasn’t as warm as the rest of the state early in the winter, but February was 5.5 degrees warmer than average and Pendleton recorded a high of 66 degrees on Feb. 6.
  • Salem set a new record high for February on Feb. 16, when the mercury reached 66 degrees, breaking the old record of 65 set in 1902.

More weather information is available on the Oregon Climate Change Research Institute website at: http://occri.net/. The institute is housed in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences.

Media Contact: 

Phil Mote, 541-913-2274; pmote@coas.oregonstate.edu

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A barefoot toddler at the Oregon Coast in January reflects the warm winter in the Northwest this year. (photo by Theresa Hogue)


Fish native to Japan found in Port Orford waters

NEWPORT, Ore. – A team of scientists from Oregon State University and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is studying an unusual fish captured alive in a crab pot near Port Orford this week called a striped knifejaw that is native to Japan, as well as China and Korea.

The appearance in Oregon waters of the fish (Oplegnathus fasciatus), which is sometimes called a barred knifejaw or striped beakfish, may or may not be related to the Japanese tsunami of 2011, the researchers say, and it is premature to conclude that this non-native species may be established in Oregon waters.

But its appearance and survival certainly raises questions, according to OSU’s John Chapman, an aquatic invasive species specialist at the university’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport.

“Some association with Japanese tsunami debris is a strong possibility, but we cannot rule out other options, such as the fish being carried over in ballast water of a ship or an aquarium fish being released locally,” Chapman said. “But finding a second knifejaw nearly two years after the discovery of fish in a drifting Japanese boat certainly gets my attention.”

In March 2013, five striped knifejaws were found alive in a boat near Long Beach, Washington, that had drifted over from Japan. Four of the fish were euthanized, but one was taken to the Seaside Aquarium, where it is still alive and well.

OSU marine ecologist Jessica Miller examined the four euthanized knifejaws from Washington in 2013, analyzing their otoliths, or ear bones, for clues to their origin.

“The young fish of these species are known to associate with drift and may be attracted to floating marine debris,” Miller said. “Japanese tsunami marine debris continues to arrive on beaches in Oregon and Washington – and some debris from Japan washed up on the southern Oregon coast this month – so it is not inconceivable that the Port Orford fish was associated with Japanese marine debris.

“The species is also found in other parts of Asia and the northwest Hawaiian islands, so it is native to a broader range than just Japan,” she added. “At this time, there is no evidence that they are successfully reproducing in Oregon.”

Tom Calvanese, an Oregon State graduate student researcher working with Oregon Sea Grant on the start-up of a new OSU field station in Port Orford, worked with the fisherman to secure the exotic species. The fish is approximately 13 centimeters in length, and thus not a fully grown adult, and was captured in a crab pot between Port Orford and Cape Blanco  - just off the Elk River in southern Oregon.

“We are fortunate to have this occur in a fishing community that is ocean-aware,” Calvanese said. “The fisherman who caught the fish identified it as an exotic then transported it to shore alive, where the fish buyer was able to care for it. It was then brought to my attention, initiating a response from the scientific community that will result in an exciting learning opportunity for all.

“It appears to be in good shape and was swimming upright, though it had a small cut in its abdomen,” Calvanese said. “I talked to Keith Chandler at the Seaside Aquarium who suggested feeding it razor clams, which it took readily.”

Steven Rumrill, a biologist with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, is working with Calvanese and others to transport the fish to a quarantine facility at the Hatfield Marine Science Center, where it will be under the care of OSU aquatic veterinarian Tim Miller-Morgan of Oregon Sea Grant.

“It is important that the fish be held in quarantine until the wound is healed and for sufficient time to ensure that it is free from any pathogens or parasites that could pose a threat to our native fishes,” Rumrill said.

Sam Chan, an OSU invasive species expert affiliated with Oregon Sea Grant and vice-chair of the Oregon Invasive Species Council, has seen striped knifejaws in Japan and estimates this fish may be 1-2 years old.

“Therefore, it is unlikely to have left Japan in the 2011 tsunami,” Chan said, “but a boat could have been milling around Asian waters for the past 2-3 years and then picked up the fish and ridden the currents over. The big question is – are there more of these?”

Chan said Oregon Sea Grant – an OSU-based marine research, education and outreach program – would work with Oregon fishermen, crabbers and others to keep a lookout for additional striped knifejaws and other exotic species.

Calvanese posted a brief video of the fish on you-tube: http://youtu.be/XzA4NPXTYqg

Oregonians who believe they have spotted an invasive species are encouraged to report it at http://oregoninvasiveshotline.org, or call 1-866-INVADER.

Media Contact: 

John Chapman, 541-961-3258, john.chapman@oregonstate.edu;

Jessica Miller, 541-867-0381, Jessica.miller@oregonstate.edu;

Tom Calvanese, 415-309-6568, tom.calvanese@oregonstate.edu;

Sam Chan, 503-679-4828, sam.chan@oregonstate.edu;

Steven Rumrill, 541-867-0300, ext. 245; Steven.S.Rumrill@state.or.us

OSU to outfit undersea gliders to “think like a fish”

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University researchers have received a $1 million grant from the W.M. Keck Foundation that will allow them to outfit a pair of undersea gliders with acoustical sensors to identify biological “hot spots” in the coastal ocean.

They also hope to develop an onboard computing system that will program the gliders to perform different functions depending on what they encounter.

In other words, the scientists say, they want to outfit a robotic undersea glider to “think like a fish.”

“We spend all of this time on ships, deploying instrumentation that basically is designed to see how ocean biology aggregates around physical features – like hake at the edge of the continental shelf or salmon at upwelling fronts,” said Jack Barth, a professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences and a principal investigator on the project. “But that just gives us a two-week window into a particular area.

“We already have a basic understanding of the ecosystem,” Barth added. “Now we want to get a better handle of what kind of marine animals are out there, how many there are, where they are distributed, and how they respond to phytoplankton blooms, schools of baitfish or oceanic features. It will benefit a variety of stakeholders, from the fishing industry and resource managers to the scientific community.”

Barth is a physical oceanographer who knows the physical processes of the coastal ocean. He’ll work with Kelly Benoit-Bird, a marine ecologist, who specializes in the relationships among marine organisms from tiny plankton to large whales. Her work utilizes acoustics to identify and track animals below the ocean surface – and it is these sensors that will open up a new world of research aboard the gliders.

“Our first goals are to understand the dynamics of the Pacific Northwest upwelling system, find the biological hotspots, and then see how long they last,” Benoit-Bird said. “Then we’d like to learn what we can about the distribution of prey and predators – and the relationship of both to oceanic conditions.”

Using robot-mounted acoustic sensors, the OSU researchers will be able to identify different kinds of marine animals using their unique acoustical signatures. Diving seabirds, for example, leave a trail of bubbles through the water like the contrail left by a jet. Zooplankton show up as a diffuse cloud. Schooling fish create a glowing, amoeba-shaped image.

“We’ve done this kind of work from ships, but you’re more or less anchored in one spot, which is limiting,” Benoit-Bird said. “By putting sensors on gliders, we hope to follow fish, or circle around a plankton bloom, or see how seabirds dive. We want to learn more about what is going on out there.”

Programming a glider to spend weeks out in the ocean and then “think” when it encounters certain cues, is a challenge that falls upon the third member of the research team, Geoff Hollinger, from OSU’s robotics program in the College of Engineering. Undersea gliders operated by Oregon State already can be programmed to patrol offshore for weeks at a time, following a transect, moving up and down in the water column, and even rising to the surface to beam data back to onshore labs via satellite.

But the instruments aboard the gliders that measure temperature, salinity and dissolved oxygen are comparatively simple and require limited power. Using sophisticated bioacoustics sensors that record huge amounts of data, and then programming the gliders to respond to environmental cues, is a significant technological advance.

“All of the technology is there,” Hollinger said, “but combining it into a package to perform on a glider is a huge robotics and systems engineering challenge. You need lots of computing power, longer battery life, and advanced control algorithms.”

Making a glider “think,” or respond to environmental cues, is all about predictive algorithms, he said.

“It is a little like looking at economic indicators in the stock market,” Hollinger pointed out. “Just one indicator is unlikely to tell you how a stock will perform. We need to develop an algorithm that essentially turns the glider into an autonomous vehicle that can run on autopilot.”

The three-year research project should benefit fisheries management, protection of endangered species, analyzing the impacts of new ocean uses such as wave energy, and documenting impacts of climate change, the researchers say.

Oregon State has become a national leader in the use of undersea gliders in research to study the coastal ocean and now owns and operates more than 20 of the instruments through three separate research initiatives. Barth said the vision is to establish a center for underwater vehicles and acoustics research – which would be a key component of its recently announced Marine Studies Initiative.

The university also has a growing program in robotics, of which Hollinger is a key faculty member. This collaborative project funded by Keck exemplifies the collaborative nature of research at Oregon State, the researchers say, where ecologists, oceanographers and roboticists work together.

“This project and the innovative technology could revolutionize how marine scientists study the world’s oceans,” Barth said.

Media Contact: 

Jack Barth, 541-737-1607, barth@coas.oregonstate.edu;

Kelly Benoit-Bird, 541-737-2063, kbenoit@coas.oregonstate.edu;

Geoff Hollinger, 541-737-5906, Geoff.hollinger@oregonstate.edu

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acoustic_image_benoit-bird smart_glider_OSU glider

Study outlines threat of ocean acidification to coastal communities in U.S.

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Coastal communities in 15 states that depend on the $1 billion shelled mollusk industry (primarily oysters and clams) are at long-term economic risk from the increasing threat of ocean acidification, a new report concludes.

This first nationwide vulnerability analysis, which was funded through the National Science Foundation’s National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, was published today in the journal Nature Climate Change.

The Pacific Northwest has been the most frequently cited region with vulnerable shellfish populations, the authors say, but the report notes that newly identified areas of risk from acidification range from Maine to the Chesapeake Bay, to the bayous of Louisiana.

“Ocean acidification has already cost the oyster industry in the Pacific Northwest nearly $110 million and jeopardized about 3,200 jobs,” said Julie Ekstrom, who was lead author on the study while with the Natural Resources Defense Council. She is now at the University of California at Davis.

George Waldbusser, an Oregon State University marine ecologist and biogeochemist, said the spreading impact of ocean acidification is due primarily to increases in greenhouse gases.

“This clearly illustrates the vulnerability of communities dependent on shellfish to ocean acidification,” said Waldbusser, a researcher in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences and co-author on the paper. “We are still finding ways to increase the adaptive capacity of these communities and industries to cope, and refining our understanding of various species’ specific responses to acidification.

“Ultimately, however, without curbing carbon emissions, we will eventually run out of tools to address the short-term and we will be stuck with a much larger long-term problem,” Waldbusser added.

The analysis identified several “hot zones” facing a number of risk factors. These include:

  • The Pacific Northwest: Oregon and Washington coasts and estuaries have a “potent combination” of risk factors, including cold waters, upwelling currents that bring corrosive waters closer to the surface, corrosive rivers, and nutrient pollution from land runoff;
  • New England: The product ports of Maine and southern New Hampshire feature poorly buffered rivers running into cold New England waters, which are especially enriched with acidifying carbon dioxide;
  • Mid-Atlantic: East coast estuaries including Narragansett Bay, Chesapeake Bay, and Long Island Sound have an abundance of nitrogen pollution, which exacerbates ocean acidification in waters that are shellfish-rich;
  • Gulf of Mexico: Terrebonne and Plaquemines Parishes of Louisiana, and other communities in the region, have shellfish economies based almost solely on oysters, giving this region fewer options for alternative – and possibly more resilient – mollusk fisheries.

The project team has also developed an interactive map to explore the vulnerability factors regionally.

One concern, the authors say, is that many of the most economically dependent regions – including Massachusetts, New Jersey, Virginia and Louisiana – are least prepared to respond, with minimal research and monitoring assets for ocean acidification.

The Pacific Northwest, on the other hand, has a robust research effort led by Oregon State University researchers, who already have helped oyster hatcheries rebound from near-disastrous larval die-offs over the past decade. The university recently announced plans to launch a Marine Studies Initiative that would help address complex, multidisciplinary problems such as ocean acidification.

"The power of this project is the collaboration of natural and social scientists focused on a problem that has and will continue to impact industries dependent on the sea,” Waldbusser said.

Waldbusser recently led a study that documented how larval oysters are sensitive to a change in the “saturation state” of ocean water – which ultimately is triggered by an increase in carbon dioxide. The inability of ecosystems to provide enough alkalinity to buffer the increase in CO2 is what kills young oysters in the environment.

Media Contact: 

George Waldbusser, 541-737-8964; waldbuss@coas.oregonstate.edu

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Northwest hatchery operation



Oysters threatened by acidification



A young oyster