OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

hatfield marine science center

Noted oceanographer to speak Nov. 12 at Hatfield

NEWPORT, Ore. – Don Walsh, a pioneering oceanographer famous for his 1960 dive to the deepest part of the ocean, will visit Newport on Tuesday, Nov. 12.

Walsh will give a free public lecture at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center. His presentation, “Lunch on Board the Titanic: Two Miles Deep in the Atlantic,” begins at 6:30 p.m. In his talk, Walsh will share his experience diving in a submersible down to the Titanic and other adventures from his career of more than 40 years.

A retired captain from the U.S. Navy, Walsh went on to enjoy a lengthy career as an oceanographer and ocean engineer who explored the deep oceans and polar regions. He has commanded submarines as a naval officer and deep-sea submersibles as a researcher.

In 1960, Walsh and Swiss oceanographer Jacques Piccard boarded the bathyscaphe Trieste and descended to the floor of the Mariana Trench in the northern Pacific Ocean – a depth of more than 35,000 feet, or nearly seven miles. It took five hours to reach the seafloor, and at 30,000 feet they heard a loud crack. Upon reaching the bottom, they discovered cracks in the window, and quickly began ascending.

The historic dive received worldwide attention. It also remained a world record dive for 52 years until James Cameron piloted his Deepsea Challenger to the same place in 2012.

Walsh, who has a courtesy appointment in OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences, will also visit schools in Newport during the week and give a seminar at the Hatfield Marine Science Center. That talk, intended for a research audience, is titled “Going the Last Seven Miles – Looking Backwards at the Future.” It begins at 3:30 p.m. on Nov. 12 in the Hennings Auditorium.

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

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Don Walsh

Ocean sound: The Oregon Coast rules when it comes to ambient noise

NEWPORT, Ore. – For more than a year, scientists at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center deployed a hydrophone in 50 meters of water just off the coast of Newport, Ore., so they could listen to the natural and human-induced sounds emanating from the Pacific Ocean environment.

Their recently published analysis has a simple conclusion: It’s really noisy out there.

There are ships, including container shipping traffic, commercial fishers and recreationalists. There are environmental sounds, from waves pounding the beach, to sounds generating by heavy winds. And there are biological sounds, especially the vocalizations of blue whales and fin whales. And not only is Oregon’s ocean sound budget varied, it is quite robust.

“We recorded noise generated from local vessels during 66 percent of all hours during the course of a year,” said Joe Haxel, an OSU doctoral student who is affiliated with both the Cooperative Institute for Marine Resources Studies (CIMRS) and NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory acoustics program at the Hatfield center. “In fact, there is an acoustic spike during the opening of the commercial crabbing season related to the high number of boats working the shallow coastal waters at the same time.

“But, at times, the biggest contributor to the low-frequency sound budget is from the surf breaking on the beach a few kilometers away,” he added. “That’s where Oregon trumps most other places. There haven’t been a lot of studies targeting surf-generated sound and its effect on ambient noise levels in the coastal ocean, but the few that are out there show a lot less noise than we have. Our waves are off the charts.”

The year-long study of noise, which was published in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, was supported by the Department of Energy, the Oregon Wave Energy Trust, NOAA and OSU.

The study is about more than scientific curiosity, researchers say. The research was carried out in support of OSU’s Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center and will play an important role in determining whether testing of wave energy devices off the Oregon coast may have environmental impacts.

Scientists must know what naturally occurring sounds exist, and at what levels, so when new sounds are introduced, there is some context for evaluating their intensity and impact.

Documenting marine noises for an entire year isn’t easy, the researchers pointed out. First, the equipment must withstand the rugged Pacific Ocean, so the OSU researchers deployed the hydrophone near the seafloor in about 50 meters of water so violent winter storms wouldn’t destroy the instrumentation. They focused on low-frequency sounds, where the majority of noise emitted by wave energy converters is expected to occur.

After combing through an entire year of data, they determined that Oregon’s low-frequency noise budget is often dominated by the constant sounds of breaking surf. These weren’t necessarily the loudest noises, though.

“The strongest signal we got during the course of the year came from a boat that drove right over our mooring,” said Haxel, who is pursuing his doctorate through OSU’s College of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences. “The second loudest sound came from the vocalizations of a blue whale, which can be incredibly loud. We were told by colleagues at the Marine Mammal Institute that blue whales have been sighted close to shore in recent years and it was probably within several kilometers of the hydrophone.”

Haxel said the OSU researchers also recorded numerous vocalizations of fin whales and humpback whales, but a startling omission was that of gray whales, one of the most common West Coast whales.

“We didn’t document a single gray whale sound during the entire year, which was really surprising,” Haxel said. “Even during times when gray whales were visually sighted from shore within close proximity of the hydrophone, we never recorded any vocalizations. One theory is that they are trying to keep as quiet as possible so they don’t give away their location to orcas, which target their calves.”

Another unusual source of noise was the wind. Even at 50 meters below the surface, the hydrophone picked up sound from the wind – but not in the way one might think. It wasn’t the howling of the wind that was noticeable, Haxel said, but the ensuing waves, known as “whitecaps” or “wind chop,” and the clouds of bubbles that were injected into the water column.

Haxel compared his data on Oregon sounds to a handful of studies in the literature associated with high-energy environmental conditions to see how the region fared. All of the other studies were limited: a Monterey Bay, Calif., survey focused only on surf noises. A study off the Florida coast examined wind-generated sounds. And a study of the Scotia Shelf in Canada looked at wind and surf.

Oregon noise levels were similar to other regions for frequencies above 100 Hz, Haxel said, but rose sharply for frequencies affected by surf-generated noise – generally below 100 Hz.

“The bottom line is that the Pacific Ocean in the Northwest can be a remarkably loud environment and our wave climate in particular is amazing,” Haxel said. “That’s why wave energy is being targeted for this region in the first place. The study will provide some valuable information as the wave energy industry goes forward.

“We will be able to measure noise levels from the testing, or even the loading and unloading of equipment from the vessels, and compare those measurements with the range of background ambient sound levels already occurring in the area,” he added.

“It is a balancing act as some noise from the testing sites may serve as a warning signal for whales and other animals to avoid the area, helping to reduce the risk for collision or entanglement,” Haxel said. “But adding too much noise can be harmful, disrupting their communication or navigation.”

Media Contact: 
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Joe Haxel, 541-867-0282; joe.haxel@oregonstate.edu

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Tail of the whale
Blue whale vocalizations
are second loudest


 Coastal waves
Breaking surf tops
the charts for noise

 

Sound file of breaking surf:

http://oregonstate.edu/dept/ncs/media/wave-breaking.wav

 

Sound file of boat motors:

http://oregonstate.edu/dept/ncs/media/boat-noise.wav

Bald eagles increasing impact on murre colony at Yaquina Head

NEWPORT, Ore. – The recovery of bald eagle populations in Oregon is an environmental success story that has resulted in a resurgence of this iconic symbol in the state, which is good news – unless you happen to be a common murre living at the coast.

Scientists at Oregon State University who are studying the seabird have documented how the increase of bald eagles – especially along the central Oregon coast – is having a significant impact on the murre’s reproductive success. It is developing into a fascinating ecological tale of which the ending has not yet played out.

What has happened, the researchers say, is that bald eagles have taken up a seasonal residence near Yaquina Head and forage on the murres, which have a major nesting colony there. The predation of an occasional adult murre isn’t the issue, the researchers point out – it is the encroachment of “secondary predators” that is having a negative impact on the murres’ reproductive success.

“An adult eagle that swoops down and grabs an adult murre may disrupt the colony for a minute or two, but things get back to normal rather quickly,” said Robert Suryan, an OSU seabird expert at the university’s Hatfield Marine Science Center. “The problem arises when the eagles – especially juveniles that are not yet accomplished hunters – land on the colony and send the adult murres scurrying.

“That opens the door for brown pelicans and gulls to come in and grab the eggs, or even the murre chicks, and the results are pretty devastating,” Suryan added. “They literally will destroy hundreds of eggs in just a few minutes.”

The OSU-led project is supported by the Bureau of Land Management, the Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Suryan and his colleagues conducted studies of the Yaquina Head colony in 2007-10 and documented reproductive success of 55 to 80 percent – even with some eagle disturbance. By 2011, however, when more eagles began hunting at this colony, that success dropped to 20 percent. And it has gotten worse since after brown pelicans arrived last year.

Cheryl Horton, an OSU graduate student working with Suryan on the project, said the eagles affect the colony in other ways as well.

“When juvenile pelicans or eagles land on the rocks, all of the birds scatter,” said Horton, a master’s candidate in fisheries and wildlife. “We documented some 300 murre chicks that washed up dead on the beach last summer after a single pelican disturbance. They no doubt panicked and slipped off the rock and weren’t yet able to swim.”

Horton said in past years, one or two bald eagles would perch in the trees above Yaquina Head and swoop down to prey on the murres. This year, the number has grown to as many as a dozen – many of them juveniles.

The eagles’ appearance is a reflection of protective measures adopted more than three decades ago, Horton said. In 1978, researchers documented 101 bald eagle breeding sites in Oregon; in 2007, that number had climbed to 662 sites.

Suryan said the eagles’ predation hasn’t had an apparent impact on the overall population of murres at the colony, but if the reproductive failures of the past couple of years continue, that will change.

“During the past 2-3 years, we are not only seeing more eagles, but the disturbances are lasting longer – into July – and more juveniles are hanging out at the colony,” Suryan said. “The implications really are quite interesting. Is the predation of the eagles on murres a learned behavior, or are they missing another food source?

“In Alaska, eagles feast on dead salmon on the streambanks, but when salmon numbers are low, they head over to the coast and decimate seabird colonies,” added Suryan, an associate professor of fisheries and wildlife at OSU. “What we’re seeing at Yaquina Head could just be a natural rebalancing of predators and prey as eagles recover, or it might be that the eagles are recovering into a system that is different than the one they previously occupied.”

As Yaquina Head is turning into an outdoor laboratory for this evolving ecological puzzle, the researchers are learning more than they ever imagined, Horton said.

“We captured video of a pelican grabbing a murre chick and shaking it until it regurgitated a fish that its parents had fed it,” Horton said. “Then the pelican dropped the chick and gobbled down the fish. Why were juvenile pelicans doing this? It seems like such a desperate way of finding food.”

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Bald eagle and murres

Bald eagle intrusion

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"Secondary" predators

common murre chick carcasses

Young murres drown

Hatfield Marine Science Center

About OSU's Hatfield Marine Science Center: The center is a research and teaching facility located in Newport, Ore., on the Yaquina Bay estuary, about one mile from the open waters of the Pacific Ocean. It plays an integral role in programs of marine and estuarine research and instruction, as a laboratory serving resident scientists, as a base for far-ranging oceanographic studies and as a classroom for students.

Public invited behind doors of HMSC April 13 for Marine Science Day

NEWPORT, Ore. – Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center will allow the public to explore “behind the scenes” of this unique facility on Saturday, April 13, when the Newport facility hosts its annual Marine Science Day.

The free event, which runs from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., will feature scientists and educators from OSU, federal and state agencies, Oregon Coast Aquarium, and the new NOAA Marine Operations Center-Pacific. It is a chance for the public to explore one of the nation’s leading marine science and education centers.

An online schedule of events is available at: hmsc.oregonstate.edu/marinescienceday

In addition to a diversity of marine science presentations, two research themes will be highlighted. One is the science behind bycatch reduction devices, which will be featured by researchers from NOAA Fisheries, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, OSU, Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, and Foulweather Trawl, a Newport netmaker.

Marine Science Day visitors will see actual bycatch reduction devices and have an opportunity to view videos showing how fish are excluded or retained, depending on their size, swimming ability or other characteristic. Other research will highlight genetics or other tools used to distinguish between wanted and unwanted catch. Scientists will be on hand to answer questions and discuss their research.

“Visitors will learn not only about the problem of bycatch but also about the solutions, which range from simple and elegant to complex and cutting-edge,” said Maryann Bozza, program manager of the center. “All of the different HMSC research displays on bycatch reduction will be grouped together.”

A second theme will be wave energy, highlighting the efforts of the OSU Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center to improve and facilitate testing of wave energy devices and evaluate their potential effects on marine habitats. HMSC’s Sarah Henkel, a senior research assistant professor in the OSU Department of Zoology, will present an update of wave energy developments on the Oregon Coast.

Henkel’s talk begins at 3 p.m. in the Visitor Center auditorium.

Among other highlights of Marine Science Day:

  • Visitor Center activities will include new wave energy exhibits, the recently dedicated Japanese tsunami dock exhibit and a new interactive wave tank.
  • The center’s new octopus, named “Miss Oscar,” will be featured in a 1 p.m. interpretive talk and octopus feeding demonstration.
  • The public can take self-guided tours through the facility’s marine research labs, library and classrooms, where scientists will have interactive exhibits explaining their research. Visitors may also take guided tours of HMSC’s seawater facilities and aquatic animal husbandry laboratory.

A number of educational activities for children and families will be available, presented by Oregon Sea Grant, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Oregon Coast Aquarium.

The OSU Hatfield Marine Science Center is located at 2030 S.E. Marine Science Drive in Newport, just south of the Highway 101 bridge over Yaquina Bay.

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Maryann Bozza, 541-867-0234

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Hatfield1 octopus

Miami marine science leader named director of OSU’s Hatfield center

CORVALLIS, Ore. – One of the nation’s leading marine science education and research facilities is getting a new director.

Robert K. Cowen, a marine biologist and administrator from Miami, Fla., has been named director of Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. He succeeds George Boehlert, who recently retired.

Janet Webster will continue serving as interim director of the center until Cowen begins his duties in late July.

Cowen holds the Robert C. Maytag Chair of Ichthyology at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, where he has served on the faculty since 1998. He previously was on the faculty of State University of New York at Stony Brook and conducted research as a doctoral student at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, Calif.

“Bob Cowen has marine science education and research experience on both coasts and is well-suited to lead the Hatfield Marine Science Center into the future,” said Richard Spinrad, OSU’s vice president for research. “That future could include the development of a cohesive marine science-based curriculum as well as continuing to expand the center’s robust research and public outreach missions.”

Cowen’s studies range broadly, encompassing such issues as coastal fish ecology, fishery oceanography, larval transport and connectivity of marine organism populations. He has served on numerous national committees and panels, and is affiliated with the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans (PISCO), a multi-institutional research effort led by OSU. He also has served as associate dean for research at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science.

“I am very enthusiastic about joining the Hatfield Marine Science Center and OSU – not only for their great reputation, but also for the huge potential for bridging marine science education and science activities across the university,” Cowen said.

OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center is located on a 49-acre site in Newport, and has a combined annual budget of about $45 million and 300 employees. Its mission includes both research and education and what makes the facility unique, officials say, is that it houses scientists and educators from OSU and several federal and state agencies - a collaborative environment unmatched at most marine science facilities in the country.

Among those agencies are the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture, Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, and Environmental Protection Agency.

The center also includes the Cooperative Institute for Marine Resources Studies – a joint research initiative between OSU and NOAA; the university’s Marine Mammal Institute; the Coastal Oregon Marine Experiment Station, which is the first of its kind in the country; and the Northwest National Marine Renewable Energy Center, a national leader in the development of wave energy.

“I look forward to working with all partners at Hatfield to further its education, science and public outreach missions,” Cowen said.

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Rick Spinrad, 541-737-0662

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Robert Cowen

New study questions the role of kinship in mass strandings of pilot whales

NEWPORT, Ore. – Pilot whales that have died in mass strandings in New Zealand and Australia included many unrelated individuals at each event, a new study concludes, challenging a popular assumption that whales follow each other onto the beach and to almost certain death because of familial ties.

Using genetic samples from individuals in large strandings, scientists have determined that both related and unrelated individuals were scattered along the beaches – and that the bodies of mothers and young calves were often separated by large distances.

Results of the study are being published this week in the Journal of Heredity.

Scott Baker, associate director of the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State University, said genetic identification showed that, in many cases, the mothers of calves were missing entirely from groups of whales that died in the stranding. This separation of mothers and calves suggests that strong kinship bonds are being disrupted prior to the actual stranding – potentially playing a role in causing the event.

“Observations of unusual social behavior by groups of whales prior to stranding support this explanation,” said Baker, who frequently advises the International Whaling Commission and is co-author of the Journal of Heredity article. The OSU cetacean expert is a professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife at the university’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Ore.

The mass stranding of pilot whales is common in New Zealand and Australia, involving several thousand deaths over the last few decades, according to Marc Oremus of the University of Auckland, who is lead author on the study. The researchers say their genetic analysis of 490 individual pilot whales from 12 different stranding events showed multiple maternal lineages among the victims in each stranding, and thus no correlation between kinship and the grouping of whales on the beach.

This challenges another popular hypothesis – that “care-giving behavior” directed at close maternal relatives may be responsible for the stranding of otherwise healthy whales, Oremus said.

“If kinship-based behavior was playing a causal role in strandings, we would expect that whales in a stranding event would be related to one another through descent from a common maternal ancestor, such as a grandmother or great-grandmother – and that close kin would be clustered on the beach,” Oremus said. “Neither of these was the case.”

Because of the separation of mothers and calves, or in some cases, the outright absence of mothers among the victims, the study has important implications for agencies and volunteers who work to save the stranded whales, Baker said.

“Rescue efforts aimed at ‘refloating’ stranded whales often focus on placing stranded calves with the nearest mature females, on the assumption that the closest adult female is the mother,” Baker pointed out.  “Our results suggest that rescuers should be cautious when making difficult welfare decisions – such as the choice to rescue or euthanize a calf – based on this assumption alone.”

Long-finned pilot whales are the most common species to strand en masse worldwide, the researchers noted, and most of their beaching events are thought to be unrelated to human activity – unlike strandings of some other species. Both naval sonar and the noise of seismic exploration have been linked to the stranding of other species.

The phenomenon is not new. In fact, mass strandings of whales or dolphins were described by Aristotle more than 2,000 years ago and were thought to have some kind of natural cause, Baker said, although it is unclear what that may be.

“It is usually assumed that environmental factors, such as weather or the pursuit of prey, brings pilot whales into shallow water where they become disoriented,” Baker said. “Our results suggest that some form of social disruption also contributes to the tendency to strand.”

“It could be mating interaction or competition with other pods of whales,” Baker said. “We just don’t know. But it is certainly something that warrants further investigation.”

The researchers hope their study will lead to better genetic sampling of more pilot whales and other stranded whale species, as well as the use of satellite tags to monitor the survival and behavior of whales that are helped back into the ocean.

“The causal mechanisms of these strandings remain an enigma,” Oremus said, “so the more avenues of research we can pursue before and after the whales beach themselves, the more likely we are to discover why it happens.”

The study was funded by the Marsden Fund of the Royal Society of New Zealand and the Australian Marine Mammal Centre, with support from the New Zealand Department of Conservation and the Australian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment. Baker’s work is supported by a Pew Marine Conservation Fellowship for the study of dolphins around islands of the South Pacific.

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Scott Baker, 541-272-0560

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Invasive species danger from tsunami may not be known for years

NEWPORT, Ore. – Scientists from Oregon State University, who have examined more than three dozen pieces of debris from the 2011 Japanese tsunami that have washed ashore on the Northwest coast, say the potential damage from invasive species may not be known for years.

The researchers say some of the pieces of debris they’ve examined have included algae, barnacles, mussels, starfish, snails and other organisms that are found only in Asia. While few species on the floating debris are native exclusively to the West Coast of the United States, several of the species they examined can be found in both locations.

Which of the species originating in Asia, if any, gains a toehold in the Pacific Northwest – and what potential damage there may be ecologically and economically – is nearly impossible to anticipate, they say.

“Ecologists have a terrible track record of predicting what introduced species will survive and where,” acknowledged John Chapman, a marine invasive species specialist at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Ore. “The real question for scientists who study these species is the big picture view – how do things get introduced into a new location and move around the world?

“The Japanese tsunami was a terrible tragedy and the debris that is arriving is certainly an unintended consequence,” he added. “But it is providing us with an unprecedented experiment on species introduction.”

Chapman and OSU colleague Jessica Miller were among the first scientists to examine the huge dock that washed ashore in June of 2012 near Newport. Ripped from its moorings in Misawa, Japan, it floated across the Pacific Ocean for 15 months, arriving near Agate Beach covered in seaweed, barnacles, mussels and other organisms.

Since then, they have examined another Misawa dock that beached in northwest Washington, as well as numerous boats and other large pieces of debris. Models produced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration suggest that another peak of debris will arrive on the West Coast between now and June, as favorable winds and currents drive floating objects ashore.

It should subside during the late spring and summer, Miller noted, but some debris is projected to arrive over the next five years.

“We’re observing more ‘settlement’ on these debris items that appears to have occurred soon after the tsunami,” said Miller, an OSU marine ecologist at the Hatfield Marine Science Center. “Recently, we have sampled several boats that were clearly colonized by animals, such as the blue mussel, after the tsunami.

“We are trying to improve our understanding of the mechanisms that allow organisms to disperse across the ocean,” she added.

The researchers say that some of the Asian aquatic species that “hitchhiked” aboard the tsunami debris may have reproduced during their trans-Pacific journey, and it is possible they could have released gametes into local coastal waters. This increases the chance that these non-native organisms may become established and turn into invasive species.

Once established, these species also have the potential to breed with similar local species and create hybrid organisms, the researchers noted. “Certainly there is precedent for that in the invasive species world,” Chapman pointed out. “Just look at kudzu, Himalayan blackberry and English ivy – they’re all hybrids. So the potential exists.”

The OSU scientists and three other researchers have received a grant from the National Science Foundation to quantify the species arriving on tsunami debris, assess their abundance, and characterize the organisms morphologically and genetically. They also are examining the species’ reproductive state and looking for parasites on host organisms.

Other researchers involved in the project include Jim Carlton of Williams College, who is one of the leading experts in the world on marine invasive species; Gregory Ruiz of the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center and Portland State University (who studies parasites and pathogens); and Jon Geller of Moss Landing Marine Laboratories (who studies genetics).

As the two-year anniversary of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami approaches, the OSU scientists say the risk of non-native species aboard the debris becoming invasive is still very real.

“From day one, we’ve been asked which species we should be worried about,” Chapman said, “and the answer is just not that simple. We cannot predict which starfish or algae species poses the biggest threat – but we know that invasions in general are bad. We just don’t know which of them, if any, will turn out to be a problem five, 10 or 20 years down the road.

“And we do know that the rate of new, introduced species discoveries has increased exponentially over the last hundred years,” Chapman added. “More are coming.”

Miller concurs, saying the threat from the tsunami debris may not be known for years.

“I think it is safe to say that we are still concerned that some of these non-native species could establish themselves along our West Coast,” she said. “And the potential ecological impacts could be significant.”

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John Chapman, 541-867-0235

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ODFW photo of Japanese boat
Boat from Japan
at Gleneden Beach

Tsunami debris species 1
Japanese organism
attached to the boat

Tsunami debris image 3
Buoy from Astoria

OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center to unveil Japanese dock exhibit on March 10

NEWPORT, Ore. – A new exhibit featuring a portion of a dock that washed ashore near Newport more than a year after the devastating March 2011 Tohoku, Japan, earthquake and tsunami will open on Sunday, March 10, at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport.

The unveiling of the tsunami awareness exhibit will begin at 2 p.m. at the center, located at 2030 Marine Science Drive in Newport, just southeast of the Highway 101 bridge. It is free and open to the public.

The opening and dedication takes place two years after a massive earthquake rattled northern Japan, triggering a tsunami that killed thousands of people. The tsunami also inundated Japan’s coastline and ripped loose at least three massive docks from the city of Misawa, one of which floated across the Pacific Ocean and washed ashore just north of Newport near Agate Beach in early June of 2012.

A slice of the dock was cut away and preserved, and will serve as an educational exhibit and memorial to the events that brought it to Oregon.

“The exhibit will be a vivid reminder that a similar earthquake and tsunami could just as easily happen here in the Pacific Northwest,” said Janet Webster, interim director of OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center. “The exhibit also will highlight the risk from invasive species, and detail the journey of the dock from Misawa to Newport.”

Webster said the dock has been of great interest to the public and to scientists since it arrived at Agate Beach. It drew thousands of visitors to the coast before it was carted away and cut into pieces, and captured the attention of biologists who rushed to examine the dozens of living organisms attached to the structure.

Television crews from Japan have visited the OSU center several times to follow up on the story, and the arrival of other tsunami debris up and down the coast brings another wave of attention.

Shawn Rowe, an OSU free-choice learning specialist based at Hatfield, said the exhibit provides a good opportunity to broaden public awareness about earthquakes, tsunamis, invasive species, and preparedness. It resonates with the public, he noted, because it had not occurred in recorded history.

“It was a unique confluence of circumstances that led to the dock arriving in Newport,” Rowe pointed out. “While fishing floats, logs and debris arrive on the West Coast from Asia with some regularity, rarely does a structure this large that had been anchored for years in an inlet in Japan – and thus accumulating local seaweeds and organisms – rip loose and journey across the ocean.”

The Hatfield Marine Science Center recently installed a tsunami interpretive trail beginning at the center, which highlights an evacuation route to higher ground for employees, residents and visitors to Newport’s South Beach peninsula.

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Mark Farley, 541-207-5283

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Newport to hold tsunami evacuation drill on Oct. 11

NEWPORT, Ore. – Growing awareness of the potential dangers of a major earthquake and tsunami has prompted Oregon State University and community leaders in the coastal town of Newport to expand the scope of their annual tsunami evacuation drill.

OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center is coordinating the exercise, which will begin at 10:18 a.m. on Thursday, Oct. 11. Several hundred participants are expected from OSU and the federal and state agencies co-located on the South Beach peninsula, and well as employees and residents from adjacent locations. As part of the drill, Highway 101 will close for five minutes.

The OSU Hatfield Marine Science Center is located on Newport’s South Beach Peninsula, a growing hub for marine science research and applications – and right in the tsunami inundation zone. The area also includes the new NOAA Marine Operations Center – Pacific, the Port of Newport’s public marina, the Oregon Coast Aquarium and headquarters for Rogue Ales.

George Boehlert, director of the Hatfield Marine Science Center, said the 300 or so employees at the center are well aware of tsunami dangers. In fact, NOAA and OSU scientists located there conduct cutting-edge research on tsunamis and subsea earthquakes and volcanoes and they helped prompt the first drills, which last year were expanded to include all of the South Beach Peninsula neighbors.

The closest high ground for many South Beach peninsula workers and residents is a hill just west of the entrance to the Yaquina Bay Bridge. Dubbed “Safe Haven Hill”, the Oregon Department of Transportation-owned property is more than 85 feet high and estimated to accommodate several thousand people if necessary.

Although it is possible to reach the top, the hill appears overgrown and inaccessible, with access limited to two rough, steep trails. The City of Newport is aggressively pursuing grant funding to increase access.

“Safe Haven Hill serves as a critical assembly point for South Beach Peninsula evacuees, and making it accessible to as many people as need it is a high priority for us,” said Newport Mayor Mark McConnell. “HMSC has been a great partner, and their activities have helped the city jump-start our outreach efforts to other neighborhoods within the inundation zone.”

Maryann Bozza, program manager for the OSU center and organizer of the drill, said the goal in last year’s exercise was “to reach our actual evacuation point, which is the top of the hill at 85 feet, and build confidence in our staff that we can achieve 85 feet of elevation in 15 minutes.”

“This year we'll take the next step and throw in some obstacles, which are likely after a large earthquake,” Bozza said. “Evacuees may not be able to make a bee line for the top of the hill, so they need to be aware of alternate routes."

The challenge of safely escorting several hundred people across the Oregon Coast’s busiest highway has become a community-wide effort. A team led by Newport Police Officer Tom Lekas includes the Newport Police, Newport Police Volunteers, Lincoln County Emergency Management, Newport Fire Department, Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) members, Oregon Emergency Management and Oregon Department of Transportation.

“The road closure is an inconvenience to drivers, but it is a key component of a realistic drill,” said Boehlert. “The only other route to Safe Haven Hill passes under the Yaquina Bay Bridge, which is likely to be down or unsafe after a major earthquake.”

The Oct. 11 drill will begin at 10:18 a.m., with a highway closure of less than five minutes in both directions planned for about 10:30 a.m. Several hundred participants are expected and the entire drill is expected to last one hour.

A second drill will occur on Thursday, Oct. 18, in conjunction with the statewide Great Oregon Shakeout drill, scheduled for “10/18 at 10:18.” At that drill, South Beach Peninsula participants will walk to the Oregon Coast Community College hill, which is a mile away and serves as an alternate evacuation point for South Beach peninsula employees. No highway closures are planned for that day.

Media Contact: 
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Maryann Bozza, 541-867-0234; cell: 541-219-2612

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Image taken from 2011 tsunami evacuation drill at Hatfield Marine Science Center. Photo Credit: Newport News-Times.