OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

hatfield marine science center

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

Report: Willamette Valley water future mostly bright, though gaps may need to be addressed

CORVALLIS, Ore. – During the next 85 years, temperatures in Oregon’s Willamette River basin are expected to rise significantly, mountain snowpack levels will shrink dramatically, and the population of the region and urban water use may double – but there should be enough water to meet human needs, a new report concludes.

Fish may not be so lucky. Although ample water may be available throughout most of the year, the Willamette Valley and its tributaries likely will become sufficiently warm as to threaten cold-water fish species, including salmon and steelhead, the scientists say.

These are among the key findings of the Willamette Water 2100 Project, a five-year, $4.3 million study funded by the National Science Foundation and led by Oregon State University, in partnership with researchers from the University of Oregon, Portland State University and University of California at Santa Barbara.

“The Willamette River basin today is characterized by abundant annual water and sometime seasonal shortages,” said Anne Nolin, an OSU professor of environmental sciences and principal investigator on the study. “That should continue into 2100, despite much warmer temperatures, more people and a substantial loss of snowpack.

“The reason for optimism is the region’s 11 storage reservoirs coordinated by the Army Corps of Engineers that act as a valve for seasonal differences and preserve water for times of need,” Nolin added. “Without them, the picture would look quite a bit different.”

Analysis of global circulation models suggest that the Willamette River basin will warm between two and 13 degrees (Fahrenheit) by the year 2100, thus scientists used three separate scenarios to look at potential impacts based on low, medium and high rates of temperature increase. These temperature increases will result in a dramatic decline in snowpack – from 63 to 95 percent lower than average – changing seasonal water flow patterns.

Scientists also explored results from a range of population, economic and policy scenarios that allowed them to ask “what if?” questions for different human changes and interactions with climate changes. Much of the climate modeling for the project was developed through a regional integrated sciences and assessments (RISA) program at Oregon State, which is funded by NOAA and led by OSU Professor Philip Mote.

There is little doubt that temperatures will increase, the report notes, but there is less certainty about the impact of a changing climate on precipitation. Winters may actually be slightly wetter, though more of the precipitation will fall as rain instead of snow. Summers should be drier, necessitating more reliance on water held behind the region’s 11 storage reservoirs.

“Although there are a number of government entities – federal and state – involved in regulating water use from those reservoirs, there appears to be enough flexibility in the system to adequately adapt for changing conditions in the future,” said Nolin, a professor in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences.

The report notes that warmer temperatures, less snowpack and drier summers will greatly increase the danger of wildfire in the mountains feeding the Willamette River basin – by about 200 to 900 percent. Their simulations show that fire will open up lands to new forest types and reduce the availability of forestland for timber harvest.

Increasing urban use of water from a population that could double will involve costly expansions in infrastructure. As the population grows, more agricultural land near urban areas will be developed for housing and other needs, according to Samuel Chan, a watershed health specialist with Oregon Sea Grant and the broader impacts outreach lead for the Willamette Water 2100 Project.

However, the report shows that in some cases where urban areas are expanding into what are now irrigated farmlands, these locations may see a net decline in water use.

“The report notes the difference between water ‘diversions’ and water ‘consumptive use,’” Chan noted. “As the population grows, the need for water will increase, but much of it will be used, and then treated in wastewater plants and returned to the system. Other uses, like forests and agriculture, consume the water through evaporation and transpiration to the atmosphere.”

“The downside, though, is that treated water that is returned to the river is often warmer, increasing the impact on cold-water fish species,” he added.

The main drivers for changing water needs, the report concludes, are climate change, and growth in population and income.

“The dams built above the Willamette Valley were engineered for reducing the risk of floods, but they also do a valuable job in storing water for use during summer,” Nolin said. “They can store large amounts of water in the summer, when they are not kept empty for flood prevention and there is existing flexibility in water allocation policies that could help western Oregon adapt to a climate that may be quite different in the future.”

“Unlike many parts of the country, those of us who live in the Willamette Valley are lucky because we have abundant water for human use, and we have institutional capacity to help mitigate water scarcity,” she added. “However, the biggest negative impacts are likely to be for native cold-water fish and we will likely be facing a significant challenge in managing stream temperature for fish.”

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Anne Nolin, 541-737-8051, nolina@geo.oregonstate.edu;

Sam Chan, (cell: 503-679-4828), Samuel.chan@oregonstate.edu

Scuba fill station opens in Port Orford, as diving increases in popularity

PORT ORFORD, Ore. – Scientific and recreational scuba divers wanting to study or explore the rocky, subtidal reefs of the southern Oregon coast will be able to breathe a little easier with the opening this month of a scuba fill station at Oregon State University’s Port Orford Field Station.

Divers can call the field station at 541-366-2500 to arrange an air fill, and a dive flag will fly during hours of operation to alert divers when the fill service is available. The station is located at 444 Jackson St. in Port Orford.

The work to secure a scuba fill station to help support research and ecotourism was coordinated by Tyson Rasor, coordinator for the Redfish Rocks Community Team, in partnership with OSU and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Marine Reserves Program. The project was funded primarily through a grant from Travel Oregon, with support from ODFW and the Wild Rivers Coast Alliance.

Funds to maintain the fill station are expected to come largely from donations collected for cylinder fills, according to Kevin L. Buch, the diving and small boat safety officer with OSU’s Research Office.

“Scuba fills will be available to approved scientific divers and to recreational divers with proof of certification, valid identification, and a cylinder meeting appropriate industry standards,” Buch said. “Advance notice of fill needs is appreciated, since staff members are often in the field.”

The fill station, from Syphers of Lummi Island, Washington, is operated under the auspices of the OSU Scientific Diving Program, and administered by Port Orford Field Station manager Tom Calvanese. The station produces certified air up to 3,500 pounds per square inch, and features a four-whip, DIN-compatible fill panel and more than 2,000 cubic feet of gas storage.

Staffing the station will be Oregon State University employees and volunteers from OSU, Redfish Rocks Community Team, and Oregon Coast Aquarium. All operators are certified in high-pressure cylinder HAZMAT and fill station operations.

More information is available by emailing diving.safety@oregonstate.edu, or by calling 541-737-6893.

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Kevin Buch, 541-737-6893, kevin.buch@oregonstate.edu;

Tom Calvanese, 541-366-2500, tom.calvanese@oregonstate.edu

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“State of the Coast” conference set Oct. 24 in Coos Bay

COOS BAY, Ore. – The annual State of the Coast conference, sponsored by Oregon Sea Grant, will be held on Saturday, Oct. 24, at Southwestern Oregon Community College’s Hales Center.

The event is designed to bring coastal and noncoastal Oregonians – including scientists, business and community leaders, fishermen, resource managers, teachers, students, recreationists and conservationists – together to learn, network, and talk about Oregon’s marine environment.

Registration in advance is recommended as space is limited. Registration, which is $35 for the general public and $25 for students, includes lunch, a reception and refreshments. Doors open at 8 a.m.; the conference begins at 9 a.m.  For more information and to register, visit http://www.stateofthecoast.com

Oregon Sea Grant is a coastal science, outreach and education program based at Oregon State University. The conference will explore several marine-related issues, including changing ocean conditions such as “The Blob” – a huge patch of unusually warm water in the Pacific Ocean; innovations in fishing, new approaches to ocean conservation, marine debris, water quality, a potential Cascadia Subduction Zone earthquake and others.

The conference will include talks, displays and hands-on activities.

Keynote speaker Wallace J. Nichols, author of the book, “Blue Mind: the Surprising Science that Shows How Being Near, In, On or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected and Better at What You Do,” will discuss some of the themes in his book. His talk will weave in neuroscience, psychology, biology and ecosystem analysis, as well as personal stories.

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Jamie Doyle, 541-297-4227;

Flaxen Conway, 541-737-1339 or 541-543-4854

Impacts of El Niño, La Niña on Pacific Ocean communities, beaches could expand in 21st century

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A coastal hazards analysis of 48 Pacific Ocean beaches in three continents, using data from 1979 to 2012, found the biggest factor influencing communities and beaches in all regions was the impact of El Niño and La Niña events.

The study also found their influence had alternate impacts in different parts of the Pacific basin. When one side of the Pacific experienced extreme coastal erosion and flooding because of El Niño the other side often experienced these hazards during La Niña. Some climate projections suggest that these events may occur more frequently in the 21st century, meaning that populated regions could experience more severe flooding or erosion.

Results of the study, which was funded by a variety of organizations, are being published this week in Nature Geoscience.

“There are many factors that can influence coastal vulnerability yet many future projections of coastal hazards focus only on sea level rise and  neglect the influence of seasonal water level anomalies, storm surges, wave-driven processes and other factors,” said Peter Ruggiero, an Oregon State University coastal hazards expert and co-author on the study.

“We knew that climate cycles play a major role in what happens to our coastlines, but the fact that El Niño and La Niña significantly affect coastal hazards throughout the Pacific in a fairly coherent manner was a bit of a surprise,” added Ruggiero, who is an associate professor of geology and geophysics in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences.

The analysis also confirmed what scientists had suspected – the most dominant impacts on beaches and communities through climate cycles takes place in the boreal (northern) winter. Some projections suggest that the worst-case scenarios for sea level rise could displace up to 187 million people by the end of the 21st century, with flood losses exceeding $1 trillion (in U.S. dollars) for the world’s major coastal cities.

More frequent, and potentially more severe, El Niño and La Niña events could worsen the situation.

The researchers also looked specifically at the Pacific Northwest of the United States, which experiences extreme water level anomalies during major El Niño events – on the order of tens of centimeters, and changes in both wave height and direction. Storms reaching the coast from more steep southern approach angles cause significant “hotspots” of erosion, Ruggiero pointed out.

“The El Niño winters of 1982-83 and 1997-98 resulted in the most extreme coastal flooding and erosion hazards along the Oregon and Washington coast in recent decades – oftentimes taking many years to recovery, if at all,” the authors wrote in their analysis.

In 2013, Ruggiero led a study of Pacific Northwest beaches that found Washington’s beaches, on average, were more stable than those in Oregon, which had experienced an increase in erosion hazards in recent decades. His study found that since the 1960s, 13 of the 17 Oregon beach “littoral cells” – stretches of beach between rocky headlands and major inlets – have either experienced an increase in erosion, or less of a buildup in sand during beach-building months.

Some of the hardest hit areas along the coast include the Neskowin littoral cell between Cascade Head and Pacific City, and the Beverly Beach littoral cell between Yaquina Head and Otter Rock, where shoreline change rates have averaged more than one meter of erosion a year since the 1960s.

“We’re in the midst of a strengthening El Niño right now,” Ruggiero said, “and we already seeing some significant water level anomalies through tide gauge readings. Some people project that this 2015-16 El Niño could match those significant events of 1982-83 and 1997-98.

“If we get significant storms this winter during times of elevated water levels, the region could experience erosion and hazards not seen in some years.”

 


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Peter Ruggiero, 541-737-1239; ruggierp@science.oregonstate.edu

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Erosion at the central Oregon coast.

OSU names Haggerty interim dean of college

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Roy Haggerty, the Hollis M. Dole Professor of Environmental Geology at Oregon State University, has been named interim dean of OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences.

He succeeds Mark Abbott, who earlier this summer accepted a position as president and director of Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, effective Oct. 1. Oregon State will launch a national search for a new dean in September, according to Sabah Randhawa, OSU provost and executive vice president.

“I am delighted that Roy has agreed to serve as interim dean,” Randhawa said. “He is known as a leader with integrity and as a bridge builder, and his candidacy generated a great sense of enthusiasm across the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences.”

Haggerty has been on the OSU faculty since 1996 and served as head of the geology program from 2003-06 in the Department of Geosciences, before it was merged with the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences. With more than 100 faculty members and nearly a thousand graduate and undergraduate students the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences is one of the largest and strongest programs of its kind in North America.

An expert in hydrology, Haggerty’s research has addressed transport of nutrients, carbon and heat in streams, nuclear waste disposal issues in the United States and Sweden, and other forms of groundwater contamination.

In his two decades at OSU, his work has been supported by more than $9 million in grants and contracts from the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S.D.A. Forest Service and other organizations. He has taught at all levels, from introductory earth sciences to advanced classes in hydrology.

He is the principal investigator for the Willamette Water 2100 project, sponsored by the NSF, and involving 20 faculty members at OSU, University of Oregon, Portland State University and the University of California, Santa Barbara. The project seeks to understand how climate change, population growth and human activity may affect water scarcity in the Willamette Basin throughout the 21st century.

Haggerty is a graduate of the University of Alberta and has master’s and doctoral degrees in hydrogeology from Stanford University.

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Sabah Randhawa, 541-737-2111, Sabah.Randhawa@oregonstate.edu;

Roy Haggerty, 541-737-1210, roy.haggerty@oregonstate.edu

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    Interim dean Roy Haggerty

Survey: Oyster industry more sold on ocean acidification impacts than public

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Although some people in the general public remain skeptical about the impacts of ocean acidification, a growing number of professionals who make their living off the ocean have become believers.

A newly published survey found that more than 80 percent of respondents from the United States shellfish industry on the West Coast are convinced that acidification is having consequences – a figure more than four times higher than that of public perception, researchers say. About half of the people in the industry report having already experienced some impact from acidification.

Results of the study, led by researchers at Oregon State University, are being published this week in the Journal of Shellfish Research. It was funded by Oregon Sea Grant.

“The shellfish industry recognizes the consequences of ocean acidification for people today, people in this lifetime, and for future generations – to a far greater extent than the U.S. public,” said Rebecca Mabardy, a former OSU graduate student and lead author on the study. “The good news is that more than half of the respondents expressed optimism – at least, guarded optimism – for the industry’s ability to adapt to acidification.”

The mechanisms causing ocean acidification are complex and few in the shellfish industry initially understood the science behind the issue, noted George Waldbusser, an OSU marine ecologist who has worked with Northwest oyster growers on mitigating the effects of ocean acidification. However, he added, many have developed a rather sophisticated understanding of the basic concepts of carbon dioxide impacts on the ocean and understand the risks to their enterprise.

“Many have seen the negative effects of acidified water on the survival of their juvenile oysters – and those who have experienced a direct impact obviously have a higher degree of concern about the issue,” Waldbusser pointed out. “Others are anticipating the effects of acidification and want to know just what will happen, and how long the impacts may last.”

“Because of some of the success we’ve had in helping some hatcheries adapt to changing conditions, there is a degree of optimism that the industry can adapt,” added Waldbusser, who was Mabardy’s mentor in the College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences at OSU.

Waldbusser’s colleague Burke Hales has worked with the Whiskey Creek Shellfish Hatchery and others to create a chemical monitoring and treatment regimen for seawater. Waldbusser’s research has shown there is a fine line in how quickly larval oysters must develop their shell at a stage when they are most vulnerable to the corrosiveness of acidified water.

Shellfish industry leaders were asked who should take the lead in responding to the challenges of acidification and their strong preference was the shellfish industry itself, followed by academic researchers. A majority said that any governmental regulations should be led by federal agencies, followed by the state and then local government.

“As a whole, the industry felt that they should be working closely with the academic community on acidification issues,” Waldbusser said. “In the spirit of full disclosure, there were some people who reported a distrust of academics – though without any specifics – so we clearly have some work to do to establish credibility with that subset of the industry.”

Among the other findings:

  • Of those respondents who said they have been affected by ocean acidification, 97 percent reported financial damage, while 68 percent cited emotional stress.
  • The level of concern reported by industry was: 36 percent, extremely concerned; 39 percent, very concerned; 20 percent, somewhat concerned; 4 percent, not too concerned; and 1 percent, not at all concerned.
  • Most respondents felt that ocean acidification was happening globally (85 percent), along the U.S. West Coast (86 percent), and in their local estuary (84 percent).

“One thing that came out of this survey is that we learned that not only is the shellfish industry experiencing and acknowledging ocean acidification,” Mabardy said, “they are committed to learning about the issue and its implications for their business. They want to share their insights as they are forced into action.”

“The next step is to continue shifting conversations about ocean acidification from acknowledgement of the problem, toward solution-oriented strategies,” she added.

Since graduating from OSU, Mabardy has worked at Taylor Creek Shellfish Hatchery in Washington and is now beginning a position as the outreach and project coordinator for the Pacific Coast Shellfish Growers Association.

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

Becky Mabardy, beckymabardy@gmail.com

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George Waldbusser (near) and Burke Hales of OSU work with the oyster industry on acidification monitoring and mitigation. Photo link: https://flic.kr/p/xn83LK

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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George Waldbusser (left) and Burke Hales.

 

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Industry leaders are concerned about the impact of ocean acidification on oysters.

OSU ranked third nationally in best places to study natural resources

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Oregon State University is ranked third by College Factual in its ranking of “Best Places to Study Natural Resources and Conservation.”

OSU is the only Northwest school on the list. Virginia Tech is ranked No. 1 nationally, followed by the University of Florida at No. 2. Fellow Pacific-12 Conference institution University of California is ranked seventh, while nearby University of California-Davis is eighth.

Oregon State has a national reputation for it natural resource programs. In recent years, it was ranked No. 1 in the nation in conservation biology by the journal, Conservation Biology. The Chronicle of Higher Education recently has ranked the university’s wildlife science program at tops in the nation, and its fisheries science program, second nationally.

The university also has been ranked ninth in the world by QS World University Rankings for its agriculture and forestry programs, which are a significant part of OSU’s natural resources curriculum.

College Factual is a ranking service begun in 2013 that uses outcomes-based data to help guide students in their college selection process. It uses data from the Department of Education and elsewhere to rank programs on overall excellence, affordability, graduation rates, and success of graduates finding jobs.

“Being ranked so highly at a national level is validation for the strong programs we have across the university that educate students and conduct research in the natural resources and conservation areas,” said Selina Heppell, interim head of OSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife in the College of Agricultural Sciences.

“It’s important to recognize the numerous partners we have – on campus and at our Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport,” she added. “Many of the scientists from state and federal agencies teach and mentor OSU students, providing invaluable experiential learning that really separates Oregon State from many other universities.”

 

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Selina Heppell, 541-737-9039

Researchers studying Oregon’s “resident population” of gray whales

NEWPORT, Ore. – Every year, some 20,000 gray whales migrate between the breeding lagoons of Baja, Mexico, and the bountiful feeding grounds off British Columbia and Alaska, often passing close to shore along the Northwest coast – creating a popular tourist attraction.

For some reason, however, about 200 of these whales annually cut short their northern migration, opting instead to cavort along the coastline from northern California to Washington throughout much of the summer. Although they don’t live year-round off the Northwest coast, they are known informally as Oregon’s “resident” gray whales.

Scientists don’t know as much as they’d like about our ocean-dwelling neighbors, thus a team of researchers from Oregon State University, led by master’s student Florence van Tulder, aims to learn more. She is leading a project this summer to spot gray whales that like to frequent the Oregon coast, track their movements and behavior, and compare them with photo archives in an attempt to identify individual whales.

As part of the study, the OSU researchers will also monitor activities of commercial, charter and recreational fishing boats – as well as whale-watching vessels – to determine if they have an effect on the whales’ behavior.

“Our goal is not to curtail boat use in waters near whales, but to develop a list of best-practices that we can share with the fishing and whale-watching industries,” said van Tulder, who is a student in OSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife in OSU’s College of Agricultural Sciences. “We’d like to learn more about these whales and better understand how and where they feed along the Oregon coast.”

For the next several weeks, van Tulder and her research team will set up viewing locations at two popular waysides – Port Orford and Boiler Bay State Park near Depoe Bay. There they will use a surveyor’s instrument called a theodolite to track and map the movement of individual whales at a fine scale as they forage. The data collected will tell them how the whales use different areas, how they search for food patches, and how they interact with vessels.

During the team’s first week at Boiler Bay, they spotted a whale with overlapping spots on its tail that they nicknamed ‘Mitosis.’ The whale did a quick “drive-by” and left the study area, but returned two days later and foraged for more than three hours in one small area of just a few hundred yards. The following day, Mitosis arrived again and didn’t stay as long, but covered a much broader area.

“We think the reason they’re attracted to these foraging hotspots along the Oregon coast is an abundance of mysid shrimp,” van Tulder said. “During summer months, the mysid can be really dense, from the seafloor to the surface, and really close to the shore. We want to know if this wealth of foraging is enough to get them to disrupt their migration north. Or is there some other mechanism at work that makes 200 whales act differently than the other 20,000? That’s what we hope to find out.

“There’s also the question of how they even locate the shrimp,” she added. “Gray whales don’t use echo-location, so how do these whales search for and find dense prey patches? It may be possible that this knowledge is passed along from mother to calf among this population subset.”

Gray whales are one of the few endangered species success stories, scientists say. The population of eastern gray whales has recovered from the exploitation of 20th-century whaling to become robust. Their near-shore migration has spawned a new industry of whale-watching along the Oregon coast that in 2009 was worth an estimated $29 million – a figure likely higher today.

Leigh Torres, an OSU whale specialist with the Marine Mammal Institute who is van Tulder’s mentor for the project, said the work done this summer by the student research team will help scientists learn more about how the whales use their habitat – and interact with humans.

“There is still a lot we don’t know about these whales, so the fine-scale tracking of their feeding behavior, with concurrent tracks of vessels, will be very enlightening,” Torres said. “We’d like to know more about how gray whale foraging strategies differ between the two study sites or when there is a dependent calf, or multiple whales are around.

“We’re also interested in how the whales behave when there are boats in the vicinity,” Torres added. “Are there behavior differences based on boat traffic and composition? Whales might react to some boats, but perhaps not others based on speed, approach, motor type, etc. We hope to give back to the whale and fishing industries what we’ve learned so they can establish their own guidelines about how close to get to whales so they can maintain a profitable business and the whales can continue to utilize the habitat.”

Federal law prohibits boats from approaching within 100 yards of whales.

The researchers also are interested in whether other gray whales may be joining the group of 200.

“It’s possible that other gray whales historically did what this population subset is doing now, but got away from it for some reason,” she said. “Or it may be that some whales are just opportunistic and want to stick around and chow down on the shrimp. With a long-term study, we hope to find out.”

van Tulder and her research team will alternate between Port Orford and Boiler Bay through mid-September and welcome interaction from the public.

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Florence van Tulder, 206-491-1166, vantuldf@onid.oregonstate.edu;


Leigh Torres, 541-867-0895, leigh.torres@oregonstate.edu 

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The OSU research team at Port Orford.