marine science and the coast

Popular SeaFest Celebration to Return to Oregon Coast on June 23

NEWPORT, Ore. – After a one-year hiatus, the popular SeaFest celebration returns to the Oregon coast on Saturday, June 23, at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport.

The event offers entertaining and educational activities for visitors of all ages, with exhibits, lectures and interactive displays that celebrate the ocean’s bounty and Oregon’s coastal heritage, while seeking to increase public understanding of the marine environment and human impacts.

Among the activities will be a tour of OSU research vessels Elakha and Pacific Storm; a search-and-rescue exercise by the U.S. Coast Guard in Yaquina Bay; behind-the-scene tours of the research facilities at the Hatfield Marine Science Center, and numerous displays, lectures and hands-on activities.

SeaFest kicks off with two evening lectures on Friday, June 22, and continues on Saturday with a full day of activities beginning at 10 a.m. All events are free and open to the public.

“SeaFest is a great opportunity for people to spend a day or two at the Oregon coast and gain access to one of the premier research and education facilities related to marine science in the United States,” said George Boehlert, director of OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center. “Beyond the always popular touch tanks and exhibits in the visitor’s center, SeaFest visitors will get a peak at how some of our top scientists carry out their research.”

Behind-the-scenes tours will include a look at the facility’s unique seawater distribution system that allows the center to conduct research and maintain a diverse population of ocean fishes, crabs, sea stars and other invertebrates, including the giant Pacific octopus. Visitors can also tour the “nursery” for one of Oregon’s premier oyster breeding and stocking programs, a marine organism quarantine hospital with holding tanks for animals, and other laboratories.

Kipp Shearman, an OSU oceanographer, and his colleagues will show one of the undersea gliders used in ongoing research off the Oregon coast. The gliders can be programmed to run for three weeks at a time, collecting various oceanic measurements, and surfacing to “phone” the results to HMSC and OSU laboratories via satellite.

Guided walks along the estuary trail will offer visitors the chance to see and learn about the diversity of wildlife found in Yaquina Bay. SeaFest visitors also may board the “Oregon Rocket,” a 27-foot inflatable craft operated by Marine Discovery Tours for a free ride across the bay to Newport’s historic bayfront.

Saturday’s lectures in the main auditorium will address the topic of climate change, beginning with a presentation at 11 a.m. by Oregon Secretary of State Bill Bradbury, “Oregon’s Response to Global Climate Change Projections.”

Other Saturday lectures include “The Changing Rhythms of Oregon’s Coast Ocean,” by OSU oceanographer Jack Barth, beginning at 1 p.m.; “Climate Change and Ocean Conditions in Oregon’s Coastal Waters,” by NOAA fisheries specialist Bill Peterson at 1:30 p.m.; and “Impacts on Oregon’s Ocean Ecosystems and Salmon,” by OSU oceanographer Michael Harte at 2 p.m. A panel discussion on climate change will follow at 2:30 p.m.

Other activities at SeaFest include:

  • Displays by the OSU Sustainability Program on efforts by the university and the Hatfield Marine Science Center to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help the state meet its renewable energy goals;
  • Dozens of crafts, games and other programs designed for kids, including a “Passport to the Ocean” activity that gives children a passport to be stamped at different exhibits. Kids earning at least 11 stamps will win a prize;
  • Awards for the SeaFest poster contest winners and a special award presented by Bradbury to Lincoln and Benton County high school students who represented Oregon at the National Student Oceans Summit in Washington, D.C.

SeaFest actually begins on Friday, June 22, with a pair of lectures on climate change. Gail Achterman, director of OSU’s Institute for Natural Resources, will present an introduction to the topic at 7:05 p.m.; Stephen Hammond, acting director for the NOAA Ocean Exploration Program, will follow with a talk called “Exploring the Deep Ocean: New Discoveries and Implications for our Warming Planet.”

The Friday lectures coincide with the 200th anniversary of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The free public lectures will be followed by a reception commemorating the NOAA anniversary.

Media Contact: 

Ken Hall,

Study of Dead Whale May be Inconclusive, Scientists Say

NEWPORT, Ore. – It may not be possible to determine the cause of death of the gray whale that washed ashore south of Newport last weekend, officials say, due to the decomposition of the carcass and limited amounts of organ samples that could be taken.

Partly for that same reason, officials are also cautioning the public to stay away from the whale, avoid touching it and stop taking away body parts.

“We’ve had concerns because some people are touching the whale and even removing parts,” said Jim Rice, coordinator of the Marine Mammal Stranding Network operated at the Oregon State University Hatfield Marine Science Center.

“It’s a violation of the Marine Mammal Protection Act to remove any portion of a dead whale such as this,” Rice said. “But more than that, it’s a serious health concern. These are wild animals that could expose a person to a variety of bacteria, viruses or diseases. The public should treat them like you would any other wild animal, and stay away from the carcass until it is properly disposed of.”

This animal was a mature, female California gray whale, 41 feet long and about 5-10 years old, initial analysis indicates. Experts say it had already been dead for about three days when it washed ashore south of Newport Sunday morning, and is decomposing fairly rapidly.

“Because the whale may need to be moved to be disposed of, and was already in advanced decomposition, we were not able to obtain all of the organ samples that ordinarily would help us determine a cause of death,” Rice said. “We may or may not be able to make that determination, when all the work is done at the lab.”

Researchers, including six students of veterinary medicine at OSU, were able to take physical measurements; some samples of blubber to check for ingestion of environmental contaminants; gastrointestinal wall and content samples; and samples from a large, swollen, cyst-like structure on the whale’s tail that could reflect an injury or parasite. Studies of some of these samples are already under way at the OSU Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory. Examination of the gastrointestinal contents should help rule in or out the presence of domoic acid, a toxin potentially lethal to marine mammals.

Common causes of death for a mature whale include being hit by a ship, starvation, fishery entanglement or disease, Rice said. Researchers sometimes are unable to determine what caused mortality in whale deaths, he said.

The Oregon Marine Mammal Stranding Network is a collaborative volunteer effort to respond to reports of sick or dead marine mammals – including whales, seals and sea lions – and report data about the strandings to the National Marine Fisheries Service. It is headquartered at OSU’s Hatfield Marine Science Center and coordinated by Rice.

Partners in the network include OSU, Portland State University, the University of Oregon’s Institute for Marine Biology, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Oregon State Police, the Oregon Department of Parks and Recreation and others.

Media Contact: 

Jim Rice,

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Gray whale
Researchers and veterinary students from Oregon State University and the Hatfield Marine Science Center worked in May 2007 to take biological samples from a dead California gray whale that washed ashore south of Newport, Ore. Date: May 2007. (photo: contributed)

Beach Safety Videos from Oregon Sea Grant Available Online

CORVALLIS, Ore – People playing on Oregon beaches or swimming in the surf risk injury, or worse, from hazards that many don’t recognize: sneaky rip currents and dangerous rolling logs.

The Oregon Sea Grant program at Oregon State University has developed two short videos on these safety topics and made them available online so anyone can view them. The videos cover the nature of the risks and how to avoid or respond to them.

Beach location footage, animations, and interviews with experts combine to develop the safety messages.

The videos can be found online at http://seagrant.oregonstate.edu/video.

The videos would be particularly useful for hotels, motels, campgrounds, parks and other facilities where beach visitors congregate. Both videos are on a single DVD, “Beach Safety Basics,” which is available for $6.95 plus $2 shipping and handling, from Oregon Sea Grant, 322 Kerr Administration Building, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331. Order ORESU-V-07-003. Toll-free ordering: 800-375-9360.


CORVALLIS - A series of coastal workshops this month will introduce Oregon's commercial fishing fleet to new trawl gear designed to help them selectively catch abundant flatfish while avoiding species whose declining numbers have led to groundfish harvest restrictions.

The free workshops, sponsored by the Sea Grant Extension Program at Oregon State University, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Oregon Trawl Commission, will take place November 15-17 in Warrenton, Newport and Charleston.

The new gear was developed by Oregon trawlers and net-makers in cooperation with the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in an effort to reduce accidental bycatch of declining species, such as rockfish and whiting, while still permitting harvest of flatfish such as flounder and sole.

Paul Heikkila, Sea Grant Extension agent in Coos County, calls results of testing the new gear "very encouraging, with dramatically decreased catches of rockfish and whiting with no loss of flatfish."

The Pacific Fishery Management Council will begin requiring use of the selective flatfish trawl in the nearshore fishery on Jan. 1, 2005.

The workshops are designed to help commercial fishermen understand how the trawl is designed, rigged and fished, and how it compares to conventional gear. The program will feature presentations by ODFW personnel on the project, including diagrams, pictures and models. Three fishermen and a net-maker will discuss their experiences with fishing and modifying the trawl.

The workshops are scheduled for:

  • Monday, Nov. 15, 2-5 p.m., Doogers Restaurant, 103 South Highway 101, Warrenton


  • Tuesday, Nov. 16, 2-5 p.m, Englund Marine, 424 S.W. Bay Blvd., Newport


  • Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2-5 p.m., Oregon Institute of Marine Biology (dining room), 63466 Boat Basin Road, Charleston

For more information contact Coos County Sea Grant Extension agent Paul Heikkila, Myrtle Point, at 541-572-5263, or by e-mail to paul.heikkila@oregonstate.edu, or Sea Grant Extension fisheries specialist Stephen Theberge, Astoria, 503-325-8573 or by e-mail to stephen.theberge@oregonstate.edu.

Media Contact: 

Paul Heikkila, 541-572-5263


CORVALLIS - If a major earthquake triggered a deadly tsunami in the Pacific Ocean, what impact would the wave have on millions of residents living along the U.S. Pacific Coast?

We'll know more on Nov. 15.

As part of a live, simulcast grand opening event of a new national earthquake engineering research network, which links 15 large-scale research facilities across the continent, researchers at Oregon State University's Tsunami Wave Basin will unleash a tidal wave on a scale model of a U.S. city on the Pacific Coast.

The program can be viewed via the Internet and Internet2 starting at 10:30 a.m. PST at http://www.nsf.gov/od/lpa/events/nees/webcast.htm.

The OSU presentation will be one of four remote demonstrations streamed live via the Internet to Washington, D.C., where the National Science Foundation is hosting the grand opening of the George E. Brown, Jr. Network for Earthquake Engineering Simulation. The NSF created this network to give researchers tools to learn how earthquakes and tsunamis affect the buildings, bridges, utility systems and other critical components of today's society.

More than 75 million Americans in 39 states live in towns and cities at risk for earthquake devastation, and much of the Oregon and Washington coastline is susceptible to impacts from tsunamis.

"We have the world's largest tsunami wave basin here at Oregon State, enabling us to perform experiments that will save lives through safer designs for buildings, bridges and other structures, and through better tsunami warning systems in the event of a tsunami attack," said Dan Cox, director of the O.H. Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory at OSU. "We are at the cutting edge of earthquake engineering research."

Other research sites around the nation feature such advanced tools as shake tables, centrifuges that simulate earthquake effects, unique laboratories, and field-testing equipment. All the sites are linked together via the high-speed Internet2 network and special software, enabling experiments to run simultaneously at two or more sites.

OSU developed some of the software for the national system, including a web interface that allows participation in tsunami experiments at OSU from remote sites. Not only can engineers across the country observe what's happening in the OSU Tsunami Wave Basin, they can use instant-replay, slow-motion and other advanced technology to enhance the experience.

"In many ways the new technology makes remote participation even better than being there," said OSU computer science professor Cherri Pancake, who led development of the software.

With these tools, engineers and students from all parts of the country can collaborate on multi-site experiments using simulators that generate earthquake effects strong enough to bring down full-sized buildings.

From that knowledge, researchers say, will come a new set of rules that engineers will use to design structures and materials that will better withstand earthquake forces and better tsunami warning systems that help in evacuation planning.

OSU's Tsunami Wave Basin, located in the O.H. Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory on 35th Street in Corvallis, will be featured for approximately 10 minutes at around 11:30 a.m. PST. More information on the earthquake network research at OSU can be found on the web at http://nees.oregonstate.edu.



Dan Cox, 541-737-3631


ORVALLIS - Rita Colwell, former director of the National Science Foundation, will present the John L. Fryer Memorial Lecture on Dec. 10 at Oregon State University, honoring a pioneer of fish disease research who died last August.

Colwell was a close friend of Fryer and his family, and will speak on "The Future of Marine Biotechnology."

Her presentation will be at 4 p.m. at the LaSells Stewart Center on the OSU campus, and is free and open to the public. It will be followed by a reception featuring remarks by family, military and academic colleagues. People wishing to attend the reception, which will include food and beverages, are asked to send an RSVP by Nov. 24 to Jerri Bartholomew at this email address: Jerri.Bartholomew@oregonstate.edu.

Prior to the lecture and reception, a building dedication ceremony will be held at 1:30 p.m. at the Salmon Disease Laboratory, 34347 N.E. Electric Road in Corvallis. Fryer received his doctorate from OSU in 1964, was on the OSU faculty for more than 40 years and served a long tenure as chair of its Department of Microbiology. He was widely recognized at the university and internationally for his work on the infectious diseases of fish, especially salmon in the Pacific Northwest.

His research helped train generations of students and covered many fields. He isolated viruses that were serious threats to salmon health, developed vaccines, improved salmon aquaculture and characterized important disease-causing organisms.

Media Contact: 

Jerry Bartholomew, 541-737-0496


NEWPORT - The popular OSU Hatfield Marine Science Visitor Center has a new exhibit whose short acronym underlines the effect the center thinks it will have on visitors: WOW.

The "World Of Wet" Pets exhibit is the first at the center to highlight ornamental fish, and is also the first major, permanent exhibit in several years.

It's likely to be a crowd-pleaser, with its own room where five large tanks are devoted to a kaleidoscope of ornamental fish species, including opalescent koi from an Oregon koi farmer, fancy goldfish from China, freshwater cichlids from Africa, and the multi-striped clownfish of "Finding Nemo" fame.

With the exhibit, the science center is addressing the interests of the very large number of Americans of all ages. The keeping of ornamental fish has become one of the top two or three hobbies in the United States, said Dr. Tim Miller-Morgan of Oregon State University.

The exhibit is the brainchild of Miller-Morgan, a doctor of veterinary medicine and the Oregon Sea Grant Extension veterinarian specializing in ornamental fish health and husbandry. Oregon Sea Grant manages the Visitor Center.

"The WOW Pets exhibit room is intentionally different from most of the rest of the Visitor Center," said Miller-Morgan. "It's a quiet place, where you can stop to think about what you've seen at the center, or simply enjoy the colorful ornamental fish."

The room also shows its relationship to the educational mission of the center with a display and free brochures that provide basic information about the hobby and the ornamental fish industry.

At a recent grand opening celebration, Robert Malouf, the director of Oregon Sea Grant, invited guests to look below the colorful surface of the exhibit and appreciate how the exhibit was a reflection of a new and broader interest in ornamental fish health and husbandry, not only at the center but at OSU.

Dr. Howard Gelberg, dean of the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine, voiced his support of the outreach and teaching being undertaken by Miller-Morgan.

"He's a real pioneer," said Gelberg of Miller-Morgan. "There was nobody to teach him some of the ornamental aquatic animal health information he's now offering our students."

Gelberg shared his own lifelong personal interest in ornamental fish, saying that it had helped spark his fascination with life sciences, and he predicted that veterinarians would play an increasing role in the ornamental fish industry in the future.

George Boehlert, director of the Hatfield Marine Science Center, noted that the World of Wet Pets exhibit is consistent with an emphasis of the center to attract the public to the facility and better acquaint them with the "research enterprise" there.

Miller-Morgan acknowledged several sponsors of the exhibit, including Bill and Judy Saunders, owners of Springbrook Koi Farm; Dr. Paul Jensen, a Lincoln city dentist; Northwest Koi and Goldfish Club of Portland; and Steve Weeks, owner of Pacific Coast Imports. He also acknowledged the support of the Oregon Coast Community College and students in the college's aquarium science program.


Tim Miller-Morgan, (541) 867-0265

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Ornamental fish

A new "World of Wet" Pets exhibit at OSU's Hatfield Marine Science Center is now open, showcasing the types of ornamental fish that have become one of the most popular hobbies in the nation. OSU is one of the few universities in the country with an educational program in ornamental fish care. (Photo by Eric Rasmussen)

Oregon's North Coast explored in new Web site

CORVALLIS - A new web site called the North Coast Explorer is now available to area citizens, restoration groups, resource managers, policy makers and many others to make more informed decisions about natural resource use and management in one of Oregon's most beautiful regions.

The site, at http://www.northcoastexplorer.info, is a prototype that its creators hope can serve as a model for a statewide natural resource information system. It integrates access to natural resource data, tools, and expertise, and focuses its support efforts on the Oregon Plan for Salmon and Watersheds.

The information available at this web site can help people learn about everything from the history of the North Coast to the way its fisheries are managed or the local climate, said Gail Achterman, director of the Institute for Natural Resources at Oregon State University.

"Users can join a discussion group, read detailed stories about certain issues, or find data they might need to address a local problem," Achterman said. "We hope that this site, and many others like it, will help empower citizens with new and relevant information, and set the stage for more informed and effective decision making about natural resource issues in Oregon."

Collaborators on the web site included the Institute for Natural Resources at OSU, OSU Libraries, the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, the InfoGraphics Lab at the University of Oregon, the Natural Resources Information Management Program of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the Oregon Department of Administrative Services, and the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. The Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board provided financial support to create the web site.

The site contains diverse information and decision support tools. One "featured story" on the web site explores the Oregon Coastal Coho Assessment, a project to address the conservation and recovery of coastal coho salmon in Oregon. A different section examines the history of culvert development on coastal streams, relics of development that later became a major issue in fish passage. A click on a map can identify the location of restoration projects and urban growth boundaries. And interested users can learn about invasive species, such as the bullfrog, that threaten native ecosystems.

People with more information to contribute are encouraged to submit these resources to the North Coast Explorer on-line library. Suggestions are also welcomed about needed improvements or additions.

The Willamette Basin Explorer, a companion web site that offers natural resources information for the Willamette Basin, is available online at http://www.willametteexplorer.info

Media Contact: 

Gail Achterman, 541-737-9875

Byrne lecture at OSU: Tsunami expert to link Asian disaster, PNW

CORVALLIS - No one is certain when, but the kind of deadly mega-earthquake and tsunami that struck southeast Asia in December may also happen in the Pacific Northwest.

What has been learned from the Asian tsunami and what can be done to help the U.S. - and the world - better prepare for future tsunamis? Oceanographer Eddie Bernard, a national leader on these issues, will give a free public talk on the subject at Oregon State University on May 2.

Bernard's talk begins at 7:30 p.m. in LaSells Stewart Center. It is part of the John Byrne Lecture Series, sponsored by Oregon Sea Grant and the OSU College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences.

Bernard, director of the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has substantial professional experience with tsunamis. In the 1970s he developed numerical models to study the dynamics of tsunamis; he directed the National Tsunami Warning Center in Honolulu from 1977-80; and more recently he chaired the National Tsunami Hazard Mitigation Program and the International Union of Geodesy and Geophysics' Tsunami Commission.

For all his experience, Bernard said that the December tsunami in Asia has caused him and others in the field to reassess what they know about tsunamis, and in particular, what they think can happen should a similar tsunami strike the Pacific Northwest coast, which has similar geologic characteristics.

"Many people have seen the pictures of the huge waves as they hit Thailand," he noted. "But Thailand didn't get the worst of it, Indonesia did. And what happened there sets the stage for what we could expect to happen here. The waves were bigger than we thought - some more than 100 feet high at Banda Aceh (Indonesia); and the inundation lasted hours."

Bernard's Byrne lecture will present a scientist's perspective on what happened and what is being learned from the Asian tsunami, what the implications for the Northwest are, and what federal, state, and local governments are doing to prepare for and protect people and property from a major tsunami. The talk will be illustrated with photos and video, and is intended for a broad public audience.

Bernard has served as director of the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, one of NOAA's Oceanographic Research Laboratories, since 1983. He directs a broad range of oceanographic research programs including ocean climate dynamics, fisheries oceanography, El Niño forecasts, and seafloor spreading, as well as tsunamis.


Eddie Bernard, 206-526-6800

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Eddie Bernard

55,000-year-old trees revealed by the elements

CORVALLIS, Ore. - An Oregon State University oceanographer has discovered remnants of an ancient forest in a seaside cliff near Yachats, Ore., with exposed tree sections that have been dated at older than 55,000 years.

Those trees, which apparently were flattened during an ancient landslide and preserved in sediment, are now being exposed - and may help shed light on the multuous historical natural conditions along the Oregon coast, researchers said.

Bill Smyth was on a family outing exploring the beach during a very low tide when he saw a layer of tree trunks exposed at an odd angle sticking out of the sea cliff between Yachats and Cape Perpetua. A layer of jumbled sediments and broken rocks above the trees suggests that the forest was buried in a landslide - possibly in connection with a major earthquake. A massive quake in the 8.5 to 9.0 range struck the southern coast in 1700.

But when the carbon dating was complete, Smyth and colleague Roger Hart, a former OSU oceanographer now working as a geologist for the Oregon Department of Geology and Mineral Industries, learned that the trees died at least 55,000 years ago.

And 55,000 years is as far back as that dating technique reliably works. The trees may be even older, said Smyth, who is an associate professor in OSU's College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences.

"The age of the trees is impressive," Smyth said. "They may be 80,000 or even 100,000 years old. Getting a firmer date on the trees would be a nice piece of the puzzle in better understanding the tectonic history of the region."

But the trees also raise a question for scientists: Why are they being exposed now?

Since wood usually decays in a few decades - especially when battered by the marine elements - the exposure of the trees must be more recent.

"It looks to me like there has been erosion of the sea cliffs from waves," Hart said. "Why? That starts to get into the controversy. There's been at least one study that suggests that the wave height has been increasing, and it could be normal progression from sea levels rising.

"But there have been some other studies that suggest that we are getting a pattern of more persistent, stronger winds from the southwest," Hart added, "and that wind intensity and storm frequency have been increasing since about 1948. There's also the possibility that this is related to the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, a 20- to 25-year cycle of lower pressure in the northern Pacific that induces more wind and storms."

Hart was one of the lead scientists who analyzed newly exposed tree stumps that suddenly appeared on Oregon beaches in 1997. At the time, he said, they credited the sudden exposure to erosion caused by a strong El Nino event.

But El Nino erosions usually correct themselves within a year or two, Hart said, and many of the exposed trees are still visible. These trees, which at 7,000 years of age are much younger than Smyth's find, can still be viewed along the coast in places like Neskowin, where "more than 200 stumps are rooted on the beach, out in the waves," he said.

Smyth said it is hard to determine how many of the 55,000-year-old-plus trees are lodged in the slide area near Yachats, but he assumes the buried forest goes back quite a distance into the bank. His discovery is feeding the interest of scientists from several disciplines.

Smyth said that other researchers who have examined the trees - which appear to be some kind of spruce - are able to gather clues to the ancient atmosphere by deducing what kind of nourishment these trees may have had. Differences in the tree rings can suggest moist or dry years, giving clues to climate change.

An issue of immediate concern is why these ancient old spruce trees are suddenly greeting coastal visitors more than 55,000 years after getting buried in a landslide. Whether the answer lies in rising sea levels, more intense wave action, or a period of greater storm activity, the erosion could have serious implications.

Highway 101 lies only a few feet above where the trees are exposed, the researchers point out.

"One thing we need to remember is that the Oregon coast is constantly changing," Smyth said. "At times in our past, the sea level was much higher, and at other times, the coast line was miles out into where the ocean now is.

"If nothing else, these trees are a nice reminder that things don't remain the same forever."

Media Contact: 

Bill Smyth, 541-737-3029

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Ancient forest