OREGON STATE UNIVERSITY

marine science and the coast

Researchers seek squid-sighting reports

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Scientists tracking the northward migration of Humboldt squid into Oregon's offshore waters are enlisting commercial fishermen to help them keep count of these tentacled predators – and what they're eating.

Led by marine fisheries ecologist Selina Heppell, a professor in Oregon State University's Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, and graduate student Sarikka Attoe, the team is attempting to learn more about the squid, whose historic range has followed the Humboldt current in the eastern Pacific waters from the southernmost tip of South America to California.

Since 2002, the squid – Dosidicus gigas, also known as the jumbo squid – have been found in increasing numbers in the waters off Oregon, Washington and as far north as Alaska. Normally deep-diving, the animals are turning up in shallower coastal waters, sometimes in very large numbers. Aggressive feeders, they are known for swarming feeding frenzies when they come upon prey (usually small fish, crustaceans and other squid).

With funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) through Oregon Sea Grant, Heppell is attempting to map the distribution of catches of jumbo squid off the Oregon coast, identify correlations between squid catch and oceanographic variables, and determine what the squid are eating as they pass through Oregon's offshore waters – particularly whether they're dining on such commercially fished species as hake and salmon.

To aid in that effort, the researchers are asking fishermen to report sightings of the squid, including information about where they were seen (using GPS coordinates), approximate numbers of squid, and whether fishing was going on when the squid were seen.

Graduate research assistant Attoe has visited ports up and down the coast to explain the project to fishing groups and distribute waterproof posters and fliers promoting what she's dubbed “SQuID CSI,” an online reporting form at the Heppell Lab’s Web site,  http://oregonstate.edu/heppell/reportsquid.html .

Fishermen are also encouraged to collect samples of the squid for dissection by scientists to analyze what the animals are eating.

“Understanding the spread of jumbo squid and their potential role in the ecosystem is a top priority for scientists, managers, and fishermen on our coast,” said Heppell. “By working collaboratively with the fishing community, we're hoping to both broaden our ability to gather data, and increase public awareness about changes affecting ocean ecosystems.”

For more information about the project, contact SQuIDCSI@gmail.com.

Media Contact: 
Source: 

Selina Heppell, 541-737-9039

OSU scientist part of team assessing fish health after Gulf spill

CORVALLIS, Ore. –  An Oregon State University researcher who leads the Oregon Sea Grant program will take part on a rapid response team studying how the Deepwater Horizon oil spill is affecting fish and other marine life in the Gulf of Mexico.

The National Science Foundation announced Friday that the team, including OSU’s Stephen Brandt, will receive $200,000 to support a week-long research cruise this September to collect data about the conditions of fish in the northern Gulf. The new information will be compared with baseline data the team has recorded in multiple cruises of the same region dating back to 2003.

Funds come from the NSF's RAPID program, which supports quick-response research into the effects of natural and man-made disasters and other urgent situations.

Brandt, the director of the Oregon Sea Grant program at OSU, is an oceanographer and freshwater scientist with a long history of studying fish ecology around the world, including the Gulf of Mexico, Chesapeake Bay and the Adriatic Sea. Before coming to OSU in 2009, he was director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory in Michigan.

He is part of a research team that has conducted seven research cruises in the northern Gulf of Mexico since 2003, collecting detailed data about temperature, salinity, oxygen, phytoplankton, zooplankton and fish, and analyzing the effects of human activity on marine fish ecology.

The result is what Brandt calls “an extremely valuable data set” to compare the possible effects of the BP oil spill on the pelagic ecosystem of the northern Gulf of Mexico. The team also plans to make its historical data available to other Gulf researchers via the NSF's Biological and Chemical Oceanography Database.

“We're proposing to conduct the new cruise in September because that's the same time of year when we conducted our previous studies,” Brandt said. “That will allow us to compare the new data with comparable periods from past years, which should give us a good picture of how the spill is affecting the marine environment.”

The NSF grant will support a seven-day research cruise in early September to conduct high-resolution mapping of hydrography, oxygen, plankton and fish in the northern Gulf, both in the area west of the Mississippi Delta where they can compare results to data gathered in their earlier studies, and also in the region east of the Mississippi, where more oil from the spill is believed to be moving.

Brandt, along with Cynthia Sellinger of OSU's College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, and Sarah Kolesar of Oregon Sea Grant, will be responsible for analyzing fish data collected during the cruise. His co-investigators are zooplankton specialists Michael Roman and James J. Pierson of the University of Maryland's Horn Point Laboratory, and plankton ecologist David G. Kimmel of Eastern Carolina University. The team also hopes to employ a number of student research assistants through the NSF's Experience for Undergraduates program.

The cruise would employ the research vessel Pelican, operated by the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium, as well as a towed unit known as a Scanfish, equipped with sensors that can measure oxygen, chlorophyll, oil and plankton in the water. The researchers also plan to conduct fish and plankton trawls to count marine organisms and sample the fishes' stomach contents, and will coordinate with researchers on other vessels to produce a comprehensive picture of the state of marine life in the north gulf and how it has been affected by the oil spill and recovery efforts.

Media Contact: 
Source: 

Stephen D. Brandt, 541-737-3396

Invasive “tunicate” appears in Oregon’s coastal waters

CORVALLIS, Ore. – An aggressive, invasive aquatic organism that is on the state’s most dangerous species list has been discovered in both Winchester Bay and Coos Bay, and scientists say this “colonial tunicate” – Didemnum vexillum – has serious economic and environmental implications.

Its propensity to foul surfaces of boats, fishing nets, water intakes, docks and buoys could make it costly to control, and its ability to smother shellfish beds and sensitive marine environments threatens other marine life.

“This is not a welcome addition to our bays and now the clock is ticking,” said Sam Chan, an invasive species specialist from Oregon State University and chair of the Oregon Invasive Species Council. “The fouling potential from tunicate invasions can be severe, given its ability to reproduce asexually by budding, or breaking off as fragments, and through sexual reproduction where tadpoles emerge, swim and attach themselves to surfaces to form new colonies.

Didemnum vexillum was found in Puget Sound several years ago and the expense for treating this invasive species can be quite high,” added Chan, who is affiliated with the OSU-based Oregon Sea Grant Extension program. “So it is important to determine how widespread the invasion may be.”

A team of scientific divers, coordinated by the Oregon Coast Aquarium, will begin looking in Newport’s Yaquina Bay – and perhaps other locations – for colonies of Didemnum vexillum.

The Didemnum invertebrates were first discovered in Winchester Bay, and later in Coos Bay. They are native to Japan and can live from the estuary to the continental shelf. In calm water, colonies may grow in long, beard-like expanses on substrates such as docks, mooring lines, boat hulls and aquaculture infrastructure.

In faster currents, Didemnum forms low, undulating mats overgrowing seabeds of pebbles, boulders and jetty rock. The organisms will grow over, and choke clams, oysters, mussels, anemones and other marine creatures by covering their feeding siphons, and can serve as a barrier between bottom-feeding fish and their prey.

What most concerns scientists, Chan said, is that the tunicates’ reproduction cycle begins during the next two months, increasing the chances that colonies will spread. Didemnum is on the list of “100 Worst Invasive Species to Keep out of Oregon.”

Between 2007 and 2009, the Washington State Department of Fish and Game spent $850,000 managing the tunicate invasion in Puget Sound, Chan pointed out.

The Winchester Bay tunicate patch was discovered earlier this year by Lorne Curran and Fritz Batson, while Curran was surveying marine life for the organization, REEF. They spotted the organisms in an area called “the triangle” – an enclosed portion of the lower bay shaped like a wedge of pie. Curran photographed the tunicates, and contacted Chan, who then shared the images with tunicate expert Gretchen Lambert, and others, who confirmed the identification.

On April 26, Curran and several divers from the Oregon Coast Aquarium surveyed nearby Salmon Harbor Marina in Winchester Bay to see if the invasion had spread across the bay – and to their relief, it had not. But that relief was short-lived when they returned to the triangle and found that the tunicate colonies appeared to be thriving.

“It appears that the infestation is growing rapidly,” Curran said. “Where in February I saw mostly one-foot-square colonies, this time I encountered more colonies that were two-foot to three-foot square.” The tunicates were found on both jetty rocks and on some of the mooring lines and “stringers” of an oyster-growing facility in the triangle.

As Chan was working with scientists, community officials and divers on the Winchester Bay discovery, he received word that a second invasion had been discovered by University of Oregon scientist Richard Emlet in the Charleston Boat Basin in Coos Bay. Emlet notified Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife shellfish biologist Scott Groth, who contacted Chan.

“Based on the size and morphology of both Didemnum vexillum populations, we think they probably became established at roughly the same time – about two years ago,” Chan said. “The origin is still unclear and we have to be careful not to point fingers.”

Chan said tunicate infestation can be introduced through a variety of vectors, including boats and aquaculture.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife is in the final stage of a risk assessment. When completed, recommendations will be made and an action plan developed.

“We’re reviewing the literature for successful eradication projects on rocky outcrops or jetties, but we’re not finding a lot,” said Rick Boatner, ODFW’s aquatic invasive species coordinator. “This is new ground for Oregon, and we’ll have to be creative with our solutions.”

Chan and ODFW officials say the best approach may be to establish a pilot “adaptive learning” control and monitoring project within the triangle in early summer before water temperatures warm enough to trigger the tunicates’ reproductive cycle. Support for such a project may come through an “Invasive Species Control” fund established by the Oregon Legislature and signed by Gov. Ted Kulongoski in 2009. The Oregon Invasive Species Council must declare an emergency to activate this account, Chan said.

Possible methods of eradication include “smothering” the colonies, physically removing them and vacuuming all traces, or applying a vinegar and/or bleach solution. The Oregon Invasive Species Council will hold workshops in affected coastal communities later this spring to inform the public about tunicates before the pilot control project begins.

Vallorie Hodges, dive safety officer for the Oregon Coast Aquarium, said the Winchester Bay tunicates resembled certain species of soft corals.

“The colonies I observed were all of that cream color and had a sort of undulating soft, lobed or folded appearance in some areas,” she said, “while more of a flat mat in others. I saw them not only on the mooring lines (of the oyster facility) but also on the stringers themselves – and on the shellfish.”

Despite their invasive nature and ability to “foul” marine structures, tunicates also are being studied as a natural product for unique compounds that may have biomedical applications.

Media Contact: 
Source: 

Sam Chan, 503-679-4949

Multimedia Downloads
Multimedia: 

Hodges photo 1

Veterinarians seek causes of human disease using aquatic models

CORVALLIS, Ore. - Recent graduates of veterinary medicine programs are using common fish species to increase medical understanding and develop prevention protocols for some of the world’s most prevalent and least understood diseases – including cancers, infectious diseases and birth defects.

With funding from the National Institutes of Health, the Oregon State University College of Agricultural Sciences is providing select veterinary school graduates from around the country with broad training in biomedical research relevant to the study of human disease.

The training is not part of traditional curriculums offered in most U.S. veterinary schools, said Robert Tanguay, an OSU associate professor in agricultural sciences and the director of the program. In addition to research experience, trainees who participate in the program have the opportunity to earn advanced graduate degrees.

“We’re taking the skills they have acquired and channeling them toward hypothesis-testing research using powerful aquatic models,” said Tanguay.

The program, which is focused on developing research projects that are applicable to human health, incorporates aquatic research organisms like zebrafish, rainbow trout and medaka to determine the genetic causes of human diseases.

“A surprisingly large number of human diseases can be modeled in fish,” said Tanguay, who also heads the Sinnhuber Aquatic Research Laboratory at OSU. “With about 80 percent of genes in humans also present in these fish, they present an opportunity to better understand risks to human health.”

The NIH awarded Tanguay about $850,000 to be spread over five years for the initiative.

“The work being done in the program focuses on moving the research from the science bench to the patient bedside,” said Tanguay. “Our group uses the zebrafish model because they’re really similar to us and are vertebrates and offer many unique advantages to rapidly unravel disease mechanisms.”

Zebrafish are small, striped tropical fish often sold in pet stores. They are unique from other animal species in that the embryo of the fish is transparent, allowing for direct observation of the fish at early developmental stages. In addition, like the human genome, the zebrafish genome has been fully sequenced allowing for direct comparison between fish and man at the genetic level.

“There are unique opportunities and challenges in using aquatic models to improve human health,” said Tanguay. “The exponential worldwide increase in the use of these models for biomedical research has led to a significant shortage of qualified scientists who have experience using these powerful tools. Training veterinarians in their use addresses an ever-growing need in the biomedical research community.”

Source: 

Robert Tanguay, 541-737-6514

OSU scientists to study whale-deterring sounds

NEWPORT, Ore. – Scientists from Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute will begin a project in December to test whether a low-power acoustic deterrent device can prevent migrating whales from entering a 500-meter-radius area of the near-shore ocean that may eventually contain wave energy platforms and cables.

Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, the project is the first step toward reducing potential risks of wave energy to marine mammals, said Bruce Mate, director of the OSU institute and an internationally recognized expert on whales.

“This won’t answer all of the questions,” Mate said, “but it will give us a better idea if low-level acoustics can be used as a tool to help protect the whales by moving them small distances out of harm’s way.”

In an effort to inform citizens, fishermen and other ocean users about the project, OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center will host a community forum on Wednesday, May 12, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. in the Hennings Auditorium. Speakers will describe the study’s methodology and outline the type and frequency of the sounds that will be used in the project. There will be time for questions and dialogue.

Mate said that many of the concerns voiced about wave energy’s potential impact on whales involve entanglement in cables, but that risk is minimal because the cables would be rigid and have tens of thousands of pounds of pressure on them. However, migrating whales travel at a speed of about four miles an hour and running into a four-inch to six-inch thick cable – or mooring platform – could cause traumatic injury, he pointed out.

“If an acoustic device can successfully reroute whales in a minor way on their migration, the implications go beyond wave energy,” Mate said. “The technology could be used to prevent whales from entering waters with environmental risks, for example, such as oil spills.”

Mate has spent much of his 41-year career studying endangered and threatened whales and pioneered the use of satellite tags to help track marine mammals. His research on different whale species’ migration routes, diving patterns, and breeding and calving locations has greatly enhanced the ability of resource managers to protect the animals.

The four-month pilot project, which begins in late December, will target gray whales, which are the predominant large whale species in Oregon’s near-shore waters. A 2008 study by Mate and Joel Ortega found that 61 percent of migrating gray whales sighted off the coast passed within Oregon’s Territorial Sea, which is within three nautical miles of the shore.

The scientists will place an acoustic device on a mooring just west of Yaquina Head near Newport which will emit a low-pitched one-second “whoop” sound three times a minute during a six-hour stretch each day. The sound energy will be less than 1 percent of sonar emitted from a single fishing boat, the scientists say, but hopefully it will be enough to subtly influence whale movement, Mate said.

“We do not even expect gray whales to react to the sound unless they are within 500 to 750 meters of the mooring location,” Mate said. “We’re not talking about much sound here. Although baleen whales, including grays, don’t have sophisticated sonar, they are good listeners, so we hope it will alert them to be more aware.”

The researchers have applied for a permit from the National Marine Fisheries Service for the project to test the acoustic devices – the same level of permit required for flying an airplane over the water to count whales, or photographing whales during a ship-based survey.

Mate said the acoustic device would emit one-eighth of one watt, which they hope will make the whales alter their paths about 500 meters from the noise.

Gray whales generally migrate past Yaquina Head twice a year. In December, whales begin heading south toward breeding and calving areas and tend to be farther offshore. They return in two “waves” – singles in March and April, and then north-bound mothers with calves in May, usually within a half mile of shore. The researchers will conduct their north-bound acoustic tests on the single whales and not the mother-calf pairs that travel closer to shore, Mate said.

“Ideally, we’d like to see the whales respond to these pings by moving about 500 meters around the device, which adds just a tiny bit – one hundredth of one percent – to their migration distance,” Mate said.

Media Contact: 
Source: 

Bruce Mate, 541-867-0202

May 10 Science Pub to explore world of seals and sea lions

CORVALLIS, Ore. – Seals, sea lions and other “pinnipeds” are vital cogs in many marine ecosystems, yet they face an uncertain future and threats from fisheries, climate change and marine debris – as well as from other top predators.

While their populations are healthy and near carrying capacity in the Pacific Northwest, populations of seals and sea lions have declined to historically low levels in western Alaska and the Bering Sea.

Markus Horning, a pinniped expert from Oregon State University’s Marine Mammal Institute, will discuss the reasons for these differences this Monday, May 10, in a Science Pub presentation at the Old World Deli, 341 S.W. 2nd St. in Corvallis. His talk, “Consummate and Consumed Predators: Threats to Seals and Sea Lions in a Changing Ocean,” begins at 6 p.m.

Science Pub Corvallis is free and open to the public; attendees are encouraged to arrive early, as space and seating are limited.

Pinnipeds are effective marine predators and their consumption of salmon has raised the ire of some Northwest fishing enthusiasts – even though salmon and seals have co-existed for thousands of years. Yet their protected status has also created challenges for resource managers, who must balance the recovery of multiple threatened species.

In his talk, Horning will discuss the roles and impact of research, rescue and rehabilitation programs on these “charismatic, yet difficult to monitor” marine mammals. He also will touch on recent high-profile rescues of sea lions in Florence and Newport that were threatened by entanglement with marine debris.

And he will discuss how climate change, killer whales and other factors affect marine mammals.

One reason for the decline of Steller sea lions in Alaska may be predation. Horning is principal investigator in an ongoing study that uses lifelong monitors implanted inside the sea lions to track the animals’ temperature rates – and provide clues to the cause of their eventual deaths. Preliminary results suggest greater-than-expected predation of these protected marine mammals by orcas.

In another study, Horning is learning more about the extraordinary physical capabilities of Weddell seals in Antarctica. When these seals dive, he says, they have the ability to reduce the flow of blood to many of their organs, including their skin, liver and kidneys, while keeping their hearts, brains and swimming muscles supplied with blood and oxygen. That allows them to reduce their heart rate from about 100 beats per minute to 40 beats – and sometimes as low as five beats per minute – and remain underwater in search of prey.

Horning’s research is funded by NOAA and the National Science Foundation. He is one of the leading scientists affiliated with OSU’s internationally recognized Marine Mammal Institute, which is headquartered at the university’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport.

For more information on the lecture series, call 541-737-4611 or visit Corvallis Science Pub on Facebook.

Media Contact: 
Source: 

Markus Horning, 541-867-0270

Freeing Willy: OSU-led team uses novel cage to disentangle sea lion

NEWPORT, Ore. – Less than one month after deploying a “capture cage” in an experimental effort to catch and rescue sea lions caught in man-made debris, a team led by Oregon State University used the floating enclosure to confine and free an adolescent California sea lion from a plastic packing band that had been caught around its neck for more than a year.

The animal had become a familiar sight in Newport since first being spotted in September 2008, with area residents and tourists often calling the OSU-based Marine Mammal Stranding Network in hope of seeing it freed. Locals nicknamed the animal “Willy” and often expressed dismay at the tight, white band that over time had cut through the animal’s skin and blubber and embedded itself into muscle tissue, said OSU’s Jim Rice, who coordinates the stranding network.

“The animal was coping with the problem well, despite the ugliness of the wound, but there was the potential that it could have caused systemic infection that might have killed him,” said Rice, who works out of OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. “It was a very ugly wound.”

On Wednesday, however, the animal was spotted along with six other sea lions inside the capture cage. Dan Lewer, a Newport veterinarian; Jim Burke, director of husbandry at the Oregon Coast Aquarium; Rice and several others rushed to the cage in a skiff, where they were able to close its door, confining five of the animals inside.

Though initially alarmed, the animals soon quieted enough for the tangled animal to be lightly sedated, using a syringe affixed to a pole. Team members were then able to reach through the cage with a second pole device to cut and finally remove the band. A reversal agent was administered to counter the sedation, and the animal was back in the water shortly thereafter.

“As far as I know, this was the first use of a capture cage for this purpose, so it was very exciting,” said Rice, who will present findings on the cage work at a conference next week. “Most of the work I do, quite frankly, revolves around dead animals. So this has been a wonderful opportunity to actually help an animal in distress.”

The rescue comes less than two weeks after Rice and others successfully freed a Steller sea lion from a trawl net that had trapped it on coastal rocks inside the Sea Lion Caves in Florence. That rescue, the first ever performed at the caves, attracted national media attention.

Entanglements are a significant and growing problem, with hundreds of sea lions and seals thought to be caught in debris at any given time along the U.S. West Coast. Sightings of tangled animals have become increasingly common in coastal areas from San Francisco to Alaska, where humans are in close proximity to these marine mammals.

In early March, Rice and colleagues deployed the capture cage on the Newport bayfront at Dock 1, where coastal visitors frequently see the animals sunning themselves on the floating dock. Built by Mulder Sheet Metal, Inc., in Newport, the cage is a modified floating dock enclosed on four sides by a galvanized steel structure, with sliding doors on two sides. It is designed primarily to serve as an additional “haul out” area for sea lions to use freely, with its doors locked in the open position so animals can comfortably come and go as they choose.

This project has been the result of a collaborative partnership involving OSU’s Marine Mammal Institute, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, Oregon Coast Aquarium, the Animal Medical Care veterinary practice of Newport, and the Port of Newport, which provided the skiffs and allows the capture cage at its docks.. ODFW has used capture cages for years to study and monitor sea lion populations, and its cage design was used to model the cage now in use for disentanglement purposes.

Lewer and Steve Brown of the Animal Medical Care veterinary practice landed a grant to allow for the construction of the capture cage.

Disentanglement efforts have not had formal funding so the Marine Mammal Stranding Network is soliciting donations and sponsorship to enhance the project, including the purchase of a special Web camera for rescuers to continuously monitor the capture cage.

Donations for the project may be made to the Marine Mammal Stranding Fund at the OSU Foundation (800-354-7281). To make a gift online, go to http://bit.ly/aStaCr

Source: 

 

Jim Rice, 541-867-0446

Multimedia Downloads
Multimedia: 

Sea lion 2

An Oregon State University-led team helped rescue a sea lion in Newport that was entangled in plastic.

Sea lion 1
An Oregon State University-led team helped rescue a sea lion in Newport that was entangled in plastic.

Sea lion 3
An Oregon State University-led team helped rescue a sea lion in Newport that was entangled in plastic.

OSU team performs historic rescue of entangled animal at Sea Lion Caves

Editor's note: Video footage of this rescue and an interview with Jim Rice are available at http://bit.ly/aZb7Sn. A high-resolution, broadcast version of the same footage is available at http://files.me.com/universitymarketing/w63sto.mov. Finally, an embeddable file of the footage is available through the OSU You Tube channel at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=160GaUQBD2U.

FLORENCE, Ore. -  An Oregon State University team worked quickly with the owners of Sea Lion Caves and federal authorities late Thursday to rescue a Steller sea lion tangled in a trawl net and trapped among coastal rocks.

The Marine Mammal Stranding Network rescuers removed the netting and set the 250-pound animal free, preventing its likely death from starvation or trauma. Within minutes, the sub-adult sea lion, likely a female estimated to be about 4 years old, was swimming with dozens of other sea lions in the churning water at the entrance to Sea Lion Caves, one of Oregon’s most popular coastal tourist destinations.

“There was a fair amount of net wrapped around its face and neck, and several feet of trailing net were trapped between rocks. The animal only had about a 10-foot radius of movement,” said Jim Rice, who coordinates the network as part of the OSU Marine Mammal Institute. “It had been stuck there for about a day, and we estimate it had been tangled in the net for a few days, maybe a week. It would not have been able to forage or eat where it was stuck, and eventually, the net would have cut into the face and neck, causing serious tissue damage.”

While the OSU performed the rescue, cooperation from the Sea Lion Caves and quick assistance from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration made it possible. Sea Lions Caves managers rarely allow anyone into the cordoned off areas where the animals congregate; patrons view the sea lions from a spectator platform separated by a short wall and fence from the cave interior.

“I’ve been there for 50 years, and this is the first time we’ve ever had an animal trapped like that and the first time for a rescue, so it’s very exciting,” said Steve Saubert, a co-owner of the Caves. “Our goal at Sea Lion Caves is to preserve nature – not just sea lions, but birds, ground squirrels, deer. We have a lot of wildlife around here. So being able to save this animal was very important to us.”

While the Caves were quick to close the attraction early Thursday so rescuers could get to the animal with minimal disruption, the OSU team also needed approval from NOAA, which oversees any human interaction with sea lions in such situations. NOAA gave its approval “almost immediately,” said Rice, making the daylight operation possible.

That didn’t, however, mean that the sea lions would appreciate having strangers among them. Though juveniles and females primarily populate the Caves, the animals can be aggressive. In addition to damaging tissue, a sea lion bite can cause serious infection from organisms typically living in their mouths.

To create a barrier between rescuers and the sea lion, the team used plywood “crowder boards,” which proved valuable when the animal tried to bite them. Still, only light sedation, administered by a veterinarian was part of the rescue team, was necessary to subdue the sea lion while the netting was removed.

“Once the netting was released, the tissue in the neck bounced back and regained its normal appearance, virtually immediately,” said Rice, who called it lucky that the animal had become stuck at the Caves. “It was because she was basically immobilized at the Cave that we had the opportunity to approach her. We typically don’t have this opportunity with entangled animals – they’re typically able to flee and escape a would-be rescuer.”

Source: 

Markus Horning, 541-867-0270

Jim Rice, 541-867-0446

Steve Saubert, 541-999-8095

Multimedia Downloads
Multimedia: 

sealion3 Sea lions

net2 Net around sea lion

sealion1 Sea lion rescue

jim rice Jim Rice

sealion4 Sea lion

net4 Net around sea lion

Delaney to present inaugural lecture commemorating hydrothermal vents discovery

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A leading oceanographer who has discovered numerous hydrothermal vents off the coasts of Oregon and Washington will give the inaugural lecture in a new series at Oregon State University commemorating the original discovery of undersea vents by OSU researchers.

John Delaney, from the University of Washington, will give a free public lecture at OSU on Friday, Feb. 19, which is the 33rd anniversary of the first discovery. His talk, “At the Leading Edge of a Global Environmental Renaissance: Next Generation Science in the Oceans,” begins at 4 p.m. in Gillfillan Auditorium (located on 26th Street just west of Monroe Avenue).

In February of 1977, a research expedition to the Galapagos led by OSU’s Jack Corliss first discovered undersea hydrothermal vents and an entire colony of marine creatures – many of which had never been observed.

“The discovery marked a turning point in the understanding of life on Earth and has been described as one of the most important discoveries in oceanography,” said Robert Collier, an OSU oceanographer who was aboard the ship 33 years ago.

Also along on that pioneering expedition were OSU oceanographers Lou Gordon and Jack Dymond, and long-time San Francisco Chronicle science writer David Perlman.

Delaney is the Jerome M. Paros Endowed Chair in Sensor Networks at the University of Washington, where he has earned a reputation as a passionate and tenacious advocate for ocean science and education. With Delaney’s leadership and encouragement, the National Science Foundation launched the RIDGE research initiative in 1989, which has proven to be a model of community-driven seafloor exploration for two decades.

He was an early proponent for the Neptune cabled observatory effort, and is a principal investigator for the NSF’s Ocean Observing Initiative, partnering with several OSU researchers.

The new Hydrothermal Vent Discovery Day Lecture Series is sponsored by OSU’s College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences.

Media Contact: 
Source: 

Marty Fisk, 541-737-1458

New study finds surprisingly high rate of steelhead mortality in estuary

CORVALLIS, Ore. – A new study by researchers at Oregon State University found that up to nearly half of the ocean-bound juvenile steelhead surveyed in two Oregon river systems appear to have died when they reached the estuaries – before they could reach the ocean.

The scientists aren’t sure if such a mortality rate in the estuary is typical or elevated due to increased predation – most likely by marine mammals or seabirds. One goal of their research is to begin establishing better baseline data on juvenile salmon and steelhead mortality so resource managers can make more accurate predictions on runs of returning adult fish.

“A female steelhead may lay 2,000 to 5,000 eggs – and in rare cases, more than 10,000 eggs – and for the population to remain stable, at least 2-3 percent of the juveniles migrating to the ocean have to survive and return as adults,” said Carl Schreck, a professor of fisheries and wildlife at OSU and leader of the Oregon Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Unit on campus. “If you get much more than that, it’s a banner year.

“But it’s hard to predict adult returns if you don’t have good data on outgoing juveniles,” Schreck added, “and this study is an effort to make that monitoring more precise.”

Declining salmon and steelhead runs have been blamed on everything from habitat loss through logging to housing developments on coastal rivers, but the consensus has been that ocean conditions are perhaps the single most important element in how robust the populations may be in a given year. Yet the OSU study found that mortality is significant before the fish even make it to the Pacific Ocean, said David Noakes, a professor of fisheries and wildlife at OSU and one of the principal investigators in the study.

“Steelhead will live in the fresh water for one to two years and then migrate out to the ocean where they’ll spend another two or three years,” Noakes said. “If only 2-3 percent survive, it would be interesting to know what the keys to survival may be for the select few. Are the biggest juveniles more likely to survive? The fastest? Those that have the fewest parasites?  Is there something in their genetics that better helps some of them adapt to the new salt water environment?

“We need to determine what the so-called ‘normal’ predation rates are in the estuary, and get a better handle on what is killing the fish,” he added.

In their study, the OSU researchers inserted small ultrasonic transmitters into 280 juvenile steelhead over a two-year period. The dollar bill-sized fish were captured in traps at sites on the middle stretches of the Alsea and Nehalem river systems, tagged and measured, and then released back into the rivers and tracked on their way to the ocean. About nine out of 10 fish made it safely from the release point to tidewater, and then the ultrasound transmissions from 50 to 60 percent of those survivors abruptly stopped when they reached the estuary.

The scientists received enough signals from surviving fish to know that it wasn’t a failure in signal transmission. And, Schreck says, during an earlier study using tags that broadcast a radio frequency, they recovered transmitters from a cormorant rookery near the mouth of the Nehalem River, and have tracked signals from the tags to a burgeoning seal population – also near the Nehalem’s mouth..

“There are a lot of seals right near the mouths of both rivers and seals can eat a lot of young fish,” Schreck said. “It’s why the steelhead need thousands of eggs to keep the population going.”

One other possible explanation for the high mortality, Noakes said, is that the young fish couldn’t handle the transition from fresh to salt water. Salmon, steelhead and other “anadromous” fish have a complex life cycle and for centuries have utilized both the ocean and river systems. But a high mortality rate might be normal and a way to weed out weak fish that can’t make the adaptation to a new environment.

 “We know that fish need a number of things to trigger their migration to the ocean, including the amount of seasonal light, certain temperatures, enough water flow, etc.,” Noakes said. “But we don’t know why some fish remain in the river for one year before heading out to sea, and others stay for two years. Just preparing to go from fresh water to a salt water environment requires an enormous adjustment.

“There may be something about that adaptation that contributes to the mortality,” he added.

If the mortality rate of juvenile steelhead is atypical, it could be increasing because of some environmental factor – warmer water, more parasites, chemical contaminants, or higher acidification of ocean waters coming into the estuary, for example.

Or predation may be higher because of more seals, sea lions and seabirds.

Much of the research about steelhead migration, spawning behavior and basic biology is emerging from studies done at the Oregon Hatchery Research Center, a joint venture between OSU’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, and the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. Located on Fall Creek, a tributary of the Alsea River, the research center is giving fish biologists unprecedented new looks at the physiology and behavior of steelhead.

Media Contact: 
Source: 

David Noakes, 541-737-1953