marine science and the coast

OSU aquaculture program gets $2.15 million grant

CORVALLIS - An international aquaculture program at Oregon State University has received a $2.15 million grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development to manage a global research portfolio that includes a dozen other U.S. universities and 16 international institutions.

OSU's Aquaculture Collaborative Research Program - or Aquaculture CRSP - is one of nine such programs funded by USAID that focus on nutrition and income generation through improving food production and managing natural resources in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, Eastern Europe and Asia. The CRSPs also work with U.S. agricultural and agribusiness on applications from the research.

The OSU-led consortium will focus its research this year on aquaculture development in coastal and inland areas, with emphases on production technology, watershed management, and human health, nutrition and welfare, said Hillary Egna, program director since 1989.

"The environment for foreign assistance has been difficult in light of the federal budget," Egna said, "so the fact that our program continues to thrive underscores the relevance of our work."

Major research sites this year will include Mexico, Honduras, Peru, Brazil, Kenya, South Africa, Thailand, Bangladesh, Nepal, Vietnam and the Philippines, as well as outreach activities in neighboring countries.

In Asia, the OSU Aquaculture CRSP is sponsoring research in five countries. In addition to evaluating new species for aquaculture potential, research also will look at pond management practices and water treatment systems to deal with effluent, and genetic studies of tilapia, a popular fish.

Research in Africa includes aquaculture assessment in Tanzania and Ghana, a series of workshops in various countries, and a new multidisciplinary watershed project in Kenya.

Eleven countries in the Americas will include CRSP research with projects ranging from the analysis of local fish markets, to pond assessment efforts, to feed and larvae research on over-fished indigenous species.

In addition to managing international aquaculture research programs, the OSU Aquaculture CRSP sponsors research projects in OSU's Department of Fisheries and Wildlife and elsewhere in the College of Agricultural Sciences.

Egna said the CRSPs have a mandate to support aquaculture capacity building and training. Since its inception in 1982, the OSU program has supported more than 2,000 students in obtaining degree and non-degree training.

The $2.15 million in funding marks the seventh consecutive year of funding the OSU program has received from USAID under the current grant. The program received three previous multi-year grants as well.

More information on the program is available at http://pdacrsp.oregonstate.edu, or by calling Danielle Clair at 541-737-6416.

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Danielle Clair, 541-737-6416

Ocean management, research must look at big picture

SAVANNAH, Ga. - The world's oceans desperately need the type of large-scale, ecosystem-based management that has gained broad support in the terrestrial areas of the U.S., researchers said today - the marine equivalent of seeing the forest instead of the trees.

But the cohesive management of activities affecting "large marine ecosystems" such as the western coastal waters of the United States should be based on integrated knowledge and a research base that is far more comprehensive than what exists today, said Jane Lubchenco, the Wayne and Gladys Valley Professor of Marine Biology at Oregon State University, speaking Friday at the annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America.

"Too often in the past we have managed activities on the basis of a local problem or a particular species, rather than the larger ecosystems," Lubchenco said.

"And in some cases, even when we've tried to look at the big picture we didn't have sufficient understanding to do it well. In view of the rapid rate of change in marine ecosystems, it's now essential that we manage activities that affect oceans in a more holistic sense and develop the research programs to inform those decisions."

In her ESA presentation, Lubchenco cited the Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans, or PISCO, as a pioneering and successful attempt to begin to create the knowledge base that could make marine ecosystem-based management possible.

PISCO, a collaborative effort of OSU and three other universities, is using grants totaling $30 million from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the National Science Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and others to study the near-shore regions of the Pacific Coast over a period of years. It could form a model for more programs of this type, Lubchenco said.

"The type of data we're producing through PISCO research - which links physical, biological, climatic and other information through time and large ocean areas - is generating quite a bit of enthusiasm from many scientists," Lubchenco said. "We've had researchers come to us from Maine, Alaska, Chile and England, and ask how they could create similar programs for other marine ecosystems.

"Clearly, we have a powerful approach here that could serve as a prototype," she said.

Two major national reports on the state of U.S. waters and the global oceans are coming out this year - one released in June from the Pew Oceans Commission and another expected toward the end of the year from the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy.

"The two commissions are highlighting many similar issues," Lubchenco said. "These include the need for marine ecosystem-based management, better stewardship of oceans, regional governance, a better scientific knowledge base and improved education of the public."

These and other efforts, she said, demonstrate the benefits of management based on large marine areas of the oceans. A large marine ecosystem is a cohesive area defined by ocean currents and similar marine plant and animal life - such as the Gulf of Mexico or the California Current Ecosystem on the western coast of the U.S. Effective management of activities affecting such large areas will require new mechanisms to integrate the wide variety of factors influencing the ecosystem, such as fishing, mining, agriculture, forestry, and coastal development.

Problems to be addressed include collapsing fisheries, invasive species, the impacts of climate change and pollution.

"It is becoming increasingly obvious that coastal oceans are affected by both land-based and ocean-based activities," Lubchenco said, "and we need new ways to understand how various activities affect the status of coastal marine ecosystems and the benefits they provide to humans."

Oceans pose a special challenge, Lubchenco said, because they have a wide range of natural variability, are directly affected by climatic forces, and are far more complex than has been appreciated in the past. Only a comprehensive body of research studying many issues over a wide range of space and time will provide the type of information needed to answer critical questions, she said.

Just recently, for instance, have PISCO scientists begun to document how the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, a 20-30 year ocean cycle, can affect everything in the ocean from algal blooms to upwelling, mollusks and salmon. One of the great management challenges, she said, is to incorporate an understanding of cycles like this into the decisions about coastal development, fisheries and more.

"It's true that we already know much more about our ocean ecosystems than is being reflected in our management of them," Lubchenco said. "It's also true that there's still a lot to learn, and for that we need broad-scale research programs over huge areas and many years, linking ocean and terrestrial processes, physical events , and biological and social consequences."

With that type of knowledge, enlightened policies and coordinated management, Lubchenco said, it's reasonable to believe that both oceans and the terrestrial systems to which they are closely linked can produce a wide variety of products and services for generations to come.

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Jane Lubchenco, 541-737-5337

New OSU, OCCC education program to train "Aquarists"

NEWPORT - Educators from Oregon State University and Oregon Coast Community College have jointly developed one the nation's first educational programs to train "aquarists," responding to a need for more experts with practical, applied knowledge in ornamental fish health and care.

The first class in this two-year, associates degree program at OCCC will begin this September. It has been supported by a new $750,000 grant from the National Science Foundation and other fund-raising efforts that provide a total of about $1 million to get the program under way. A large number of private companies in aquarium and marine science have also provided support.

"A national survey we did showed that there's a significant need for trained individuals to work in aquarium science who may not have bachelor's degrees in biology but have a solid background in ornamental fish health, aquarium design and operation, and many other topics," said Dr. Tim Miller-Morgan, an assistant professor of veterinary medicine at OSU. He is a Sea Grant Extension veterinarian and a co-developer of the program, along with Jane Hodgkins and Bruce Koike at OCCC.

It's anticipated that employment opportunities for graduates with these skills should be strong, the educators say. The first class will have a maximum of 25 students, and a few positions are still open.

"This aquarium science program will be a true signature program for Oregon Coast Community College," said Hodgkins. "Strong local partnerships with OSU and the Oregon Coast Aquarium have made this possible, and the program should be of great value to the aquarium and ornamental fish industry.

"They are looking for employees with practical, applied skills who can maintain healthy fish populations and the systems that support them," she added. "Those are the skills our graduates will have."

One of the directors and teachers in the new program will also be Koike, who has a master's degree in fisheries science from OSU and extensive experience in public aquariums, including service as director of animal husbandry at the Oregon Coast Aquarium.

Students in this program will learn about the captive biology of fish and invertebrates, aquarium system and exhibit design, communication skills, fish and invertebrate health management, nutrition and reproduction, and other topics. There will be an emphasis on laboratories and "hands-on" skills, and the program will include a 10-week internship in aquarium practice and operation.

Most of the courses will be taught at OSU's Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport.

More information about the program can be obtained on the web at http://www.occc.cc.or.us/aquarium/index.htm.

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Dr. Tim Miller-Morgan, 541-867-0265

Corvallis teacher joins Arctic research crew

CORVALLIS - Summer vacations are usually a routine excursion to a favorite Cascade lake or a week along Oregon's beautiful coast. But Gerhard Behrens, a third grade teacher at Adams Elementary School in Corvallis, is taking his summer vacation to the limit as he joins an Oregon State University crew aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Icebreaker Healy to the Nares Strait near Canada and Greenland.

Behrens will be aboard the icebreaker from July 21 through August 15 with researchers from the United States, Canada and Japan as they conduct research to understand how much seawater and ice flow south through the Nares Strait. The amount and timing of these flows affect North Atlantic waters and global ocean circulation, which is influenced by temperature and salinity. The 5-year, $3.5 million research project involves about 50 scientists from several research institutions and the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences at OSU.

Behrens was asked to join the cruise because of his interest in piloting science materials for the Corvallis School District.

"I've known Kelly Falkner, the lead investigator, for the last 12 or 13 years, and have had a lot of contact with the scientific community through the Science Education Partnerships program," said Behrens. SEPS is a local Corvallis program developed by OSU, Hewlett-Packard and Corvallis science teachers that uses community scientists to help teachers provide a quality science education for all students.

Behrens' job aboard the Healy hardly likens to standard vacation fare, but is a critical outreach component of the project.

"My primary job is to maintain a website with text and photographs so people can follow what is happening with the cruise on a day-to-day basis," said Behrens. "And I'm a big gopher - filling and marking bottles, collecting data, and watching monitors."

Anyone interested in tracking the progress of the study throughout the summer can log on to http://newark.cms.udel.edu/~cats/. Behrens will also have e-mail access during his trip. From July 21 through July 31, contact Behrens at gbehrens@sci.uscoastguard.net. From August 1 through August 15, he can be reached at gbehrens@bkr2.rdc.uscg.gov.

Behrens says he is anxious to return and inform his students about what it takes to become a scientist.

"When I come back, I can preach the gospel of the Arctic, and what scientists do in the field," said Behrens. "I want to let my students know what skills it takes to be a scientist - personal skills in addition to the math and science. Good scientists need to be able to look for patterns."

Behrens said he is looking forward to the research cruise with great anticipation and excitement.

"I'm looking forward to the sense of adventure every day," he said. "I have no idea what the Arctic is going to look like or what it's going to be like on a ship for that long. And I have some trepidation about motion sickness and being physically uncomfortable."

Behrens underwent rigorous preparation for the cruise. He spent two days in Anchorage, Alaska, this summer participating in survival training.

"We learned how to take care of ourselves in perilous situations, especially aircraft debacles," said Behrens. "We learned how to escape the vessel, and prepare ourselves mentally and physically."

Behrens is fascinated by the scope of the questions involved in the research cruise, and said he is enthusiastic about relating the study to his third grade students when he returns.

"The real emphasis in the science curriculum is going through a scientific process, how to ask a question," he said. "What I do with students is encourage the question. It doesn't necessarily have to be a big question, but some kind of question. COAS scientists are at the far end of the scale asking global questions. But it's important for younger students to ask any kind of question. As they get older, their questioning becomes more sophisticated, but to begin the questioning process is really important."



Gerhard Behrens

New research sheds light on Earth's largest animals

HONOLULU - Blue whales, the planet's largest animals, travel much farther and faster than scientists ever thought, searching for fertile marine upwelling zones that provide their diet of krill and help them grow as large as a hundred feet long and weigh in at a staggering 100 tons.

These and other findings on blue whales will be presented on Thursday, Feb. 14, by Oregon State University marine mammal expert Bruce Mate at a meeting of the American Geophysical Union's Ocean Sciences division in Honolulu.

Since 1993, Mate and his colleagues have tagged one hundred blue whales off the California coast and tracked their movements by satellite.

They found that blue whales travel rapidly from one feeding area to another, and continue to feed throughout the entire year. Other whales, including grays and humpbacks, stop feeding during their late fall migration and while at their winter breeding grounds --- areas that, in comparison to their summer feeding areas, are "biological deserts," Mate said.

"These blue whales move fast," said Mate, who directs the Marine Mammal Program at Oregon State University. "They are like a streak. They can't afford to waste a lot of time in low-density food zones, so they really move from one high productivity area to another."

During the strong El Nino of 1998, about half of the blue whales Mate saw were visibly emaciated. Their rapid movement in search of food and their normally huge fat reserves are adaptations that help them survive such events, Mate pointed out.

The feeding habits of these California blue whales in fact dictate much of their behavior, Mate said. Like other whale species, they begin migrating southward in the fall, but individual whales stop when they encounter good feeding zones and may stay there for weeks at a time, whereas many other whales species migrate en masse and do not make such stops. Even the blue whales' winter destination and likely calving area --- a region off Central America called the Costa Rica Dome --- is a fertile upwelling site rich with krill.

By contrast, most gray whales head to the warm waters of lagoons along the Pacific coast of Baja California for calving, while humpbacks head to Hawaii. The warm waters in these areas help conserve body heat of newborn calves, but neither location has much in the way of food for the adults.

Much of these data about blue whales is new, Mate said. Despite being the planet's largest animals, little was known about the migration and winter habits of blue whales until scientists developed new technologies to study them.

Many of these new tools --- including the tags --- were developed at Oregon State University.

"In the old days, we would tag a whale and have to follow it by boat to stay within five miles, because that's how far the signal traveled," Mate said. "If it got out of range, that was it. And we could only track one animal at a time.

"Now we receive data on 15-20 blue whales simultaneously, as well as several other species," he added. "The technology is getting better all the time. It isn't unusual now to track whales via satellite for 4-5 months, and we tracked one blue whale for 307 days before the batteries were exhausted. That provides a lot of data."

Of the hundred whales Mate has tracked, 45 have provided significant long-term data. Those 45 whales traveled a composite 230,000 kilometers and dove some 2.5 million times. "One animal migrated more than 10,000 miles," he said.

The data that comes out of studies like these is significant, Mate says, because it tells scientists and resource managers where whales spend much of their time, where critical feeding and reproductive areas are located, and how much time they spend at the surface - all of which are important in estimating the population size. "Many of the productive areas for the California blue whales are just 30 miles or so offshore from San Francisco and Santa Barbara, where there is a lot of ship traffic," Mate said. "But shipping doesn't seem to have much of an effect."

Last year, Mate tagged a mother blue whale in the Sea of Cortéz and waited for her and her calf to return to California. They never did, staying off the coast of central Baja California. "That goes to show you, there are a lot of mysteries remaining," Mate said. "It was thought that all of the whales in the Sea of Cortéz were 'California whales.' The fact that a mother and her calf stayed down there is interesting; if those movements are typical, it may suggest that we've been underestimating calf production and perhaps the entire population."

This spring, Mate is planning to tag more blue whales in the Sea of Cortéz. Scientists estimate that there are about 2,100 blue whales off the coast of California each summer, which is about 25 percent of the world's population and the largest concentration on the planet. These whales will grow as large as 85 feet and 80 tons, while blue whales in the southern hemisphere may reach 100 feet and 120 tons.

An estimated 7,000-8,000 true blue whales are thought to live throughout the world. Mate's research is funded by the Marine Mammal Endowment at Oregon State University and by the Office of Naval Research.

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Bruce Mate, 541-867-0236

OSU scientist to lead cruise to Arctic in July

CORVALLIS - Oregon State University oceanographer Kelly Falkner is leading a 28-day international research expedition aboard the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker Healy this summer to study the role the Arctic Ocean plays in the global water cycle.

The cruise, which begins July 21, will include researchers from the U.S., Canada and Japan who are seeking to better understand how much seawater and ice flow south through the Nares Strait. The amount and timing of these flows affects North Atlantic waters and global ocean circulation, which is influenced by temperature and salinity. Over the past decade, scientists have observed significant changes throughout the North Atlantic. The head of Nares Strait sits at the confluence of major water mass boundaries within the Arctic that have recently been observed to shift, possibly in response to changed atmospheric pressure patterns.

The five-year, $3.5 million project involves about 50 scientists from several research institutions. During the cruise, researchers will take water samples and place instruments on the seafloor in Baffin Bay, Kane Basin and Kennedy Channel. The instruments will measure ocean currents, sea level, temperature and salt content over a three-year period.

To study conditions that may have occurred over several decades, researchers will collect bivalves and water samples along the Canadian and Greenland sides of the Nares Strait. Clams lay down their shells in distinct annual layers; the chemical composition of those layers can offer clues to the environmental conditions that existed at that time.

To study flows that occurred hundreds or thousands of years ago, scientists will collect four sediment cores from the seafloor in North Baffin Bay. Analysis of the sediment cores should reveal environmental conditions over time. In addition, researchers will attempt to collect detailed maps of the seafloor in this area.

Falkner, an associate professor in OSU's College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, is involving local citizens in the research project. A new Canadian territory created in 1999 called Nunavut, which means "our land," covers 2 million square miles of Canada, and is home to 29,000 people in 26 communities. Falkner has visited the area, and engaged a first-year local college student, Pauloosie Akeeagok, to assist with the clam retrieval portion of the project.

"Pauloosie is a hunter, and is familiar with the behavior of walrus and eider ducks, both of which eat clams," said Falkner.

Akeeagok will assist in locating these wildlife and the clam beds, said Falkner, who also is seeking participation from the Greenland community.

"We hope to learn about the environment from its local residents, whose people have a long and rich history in the region, as we share our observations of it with them," said Falkner.


Kelly Falkner, 541-737-3625

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Baffin Bay
Baffin Bay

Summer HMSC visitors can keep in daily touch with research

NEWPORT - Summer visitors to Oregon State University's Hatfield Marine Science Center can take part in the latest research at sea.

The center is a major ocean science facility for the university and its sprawling campus at Newport's South Beach area covers more than 200,000 square feet. It is home to 11 federal, state and other agencies sharing space with five OSU programs. The Visitor Center is HMSC's window to the world, a 10,000-square-foot display area where people can learn about how science works and what it has taught us about the ocean. Admission to the visitor center is free, with a donation requested.

The centerpiece of this summer's activities is OceanQuest, according to Bill Hanshumaker, marine education specialist at the center. OceanQuest is a connection between ongoing marine research and the HMSC Visitor Center. Beginning July 1, there will be a presentation about what's going on at sea based on the most current data posted daily from the research vessel at sea. The hourlong programs begin at 1:30 p.m. and will be offered seven days a week.

"It's as current as we can make it," Hanshumaker said. "It will focus on the researcher, the research vessel, the scientific question, the equipment, and how they're going to answer that question."

At the end of the summer, Hanshumaker will switch places, going from the Henning Auditorium to the R/V Thompson, which is studying ocean vents. Hanshumaker will send digital pictures of research each day, as scientists explore Oregon's undersea volcanoes and geothermal vents through Sept. 10.

Also at the Visitor Center this summer will be free daily guided walking tours of the Yaquina Bay estuary. The HMSC manages 250 acres of estuary habitat. The daily walking tour begins every day at 11 a.m. and will last about an hour. It will cover a paved, wheelchair accessible path. Topics will include plants, the mudflats, birds and other wildlife, and how the center staff manages them.

The Visitor Center also features touch tanks featuring live sea and tidepool animals, including an octopus, and an interactive ROPOS exhibit. ROPOS, the Remotely Operated Platform for Science, is an undersea vehicle used to explore the ocean's depths. The exhibit simulates a ROPOS dive, with the operator sitting at a console with a joystick, watching videos shot at the bottom of the ocean through interactive computer software.

The HMSC Visitor Center is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week, including the Fourth of July.


Bill Hanshumaker, 541-867-0167

OSU researcher receives Heinz Award for the Environment

CORVALLIS - Jane Lubchenco, a professor at Oregon State University and one of the nation's leading marine biologists, has received the eighth annual $250,000 Heinz Award for the Environment, recognizing her studies on marine ecosystems and pioneering efforts to bridge the gaps between science and public policy.

Only six Heinz Awards, which are among the largest individual achievement prizes in the world, are given each year to national leaders in selected fields. The use of the funds is unrestricted, but Lubchenco said she plans to use it to support student education and research.

Lubchenco is the Wayne and Gladys Valley Professor of Marine Biology at OSU, a past president of both the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Ecological Society of America, and a member of the National Academy of Sciences. She has worked with everyone from political and business leaders to environmental and religious groups, and even the president of the United States, on issues of marine conservation, biodiversity, climate change and other key environmental and scientific issues.

As an internationally recognized scientist, Lubchenco has testified about the impact of human activities on the Earth, its atmosphere, land and oceans. She is also a crusader for the communication of scientific findings to the public and policy makers, so that more people understand the difficult environmental issues the world faces and decision makers are better able to craft important environmental policies that have a solid foundation in science.

"Dr. Jane Lubchenco has been one of the most passionate voices raised in defense of the environment," said Teresa Heinz, chairman of the Heinz Family Foundation that made this award. "Here in the 21st century, as we face the possibility of drastic ecological change for the nation and the world, Dr. Lubchenco's work is more important than ever."

Among other accomplishments, Lubchenco has led efforts to establish marine reserves that preserve ocean habitats, helped encourage aquaculture to become more environmentally sustainable, and championed environmentally responsible energy practices and policies. Her innovative studies on intertidal and nearshore communities revealed both the complexity and fragile nature of marine ecosystems. In the political arena she worked to create more support for interdisciplinary research programs that cut across traditional scientific boundaries, and she has sought major increases in funding for environmental studies through the National Science Foundation.

When she began her tenure as president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, perhaps the nation's most prestigious organization of science professionals, Lubchenco called for a "social contract" between scientists and the public.

It was essential, she said, that researchers tackle and help develop solution to the many global environmental problems facing the world. But beyond that, Lubchenco said scientists should communicate their findings more broadly and effectively, moving past the confines of professional conferences and academic journals, and share their knowledge directly with those making decisions about the environment.

Towards that end, Lubchenco co-founded in 1998 the Aldo Leopold Leadership Program, which trains some of the nation's leading scientists in how to communicate more effectively with the general public, government and agency leaders, and even individual citizens. Scientists who have participated in this program, including several from OSU, are now sharing their expertise on such topics as global climate change, infectious diseases, biotechnology, fisheries, agriculture, plant ecology, the greenhouse effect, stream ecosystems, nutrient pollution, sustainability and many other areas.

"It used to be that a scientist who was speaking out in public was criticized and even vilified by his or her colleagues for a variety of reasons," Lubchenco has said. "But many scientists now see what they have to offer the world in terms of better information about a wide variety of environmental topics."

The Heinz Awards are named after U.S. Sen. John Heinz of Pennsylvania, who died in 1991. The first awards were given in 1994, and are made in some of the areas in which Sen. Heinz was most active, including the environment; human condition; public policy; arts and humanities; and technology, the economy and employment.

Lubchenco said she plans to use the award to expand opportunities for talented students to learn about ocean protection and restoration.

"The funds will enable them to have more opportunities to do research, to improve our scientific understanding of ocean ecosystems, and to learn to share this information with diverse groups of people," Lubchenco said. "More and more students are expressing a keen interest in marine conservation and science policy, and the award will enhance the range of opportunities available to them."

Lubchenco, who received her doctorate in 1975 from Harvard University, has been on the OSU faculty since 1976. She was named a MacArthur Fellow in 1992, and has received six honorary degrees, the most recent one from Princeton University.

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Kas Maglaris, 212-843-8056

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Jane Lubchenco
Jane Lubchenco

Project to extract DNA from extinct sea otters

CORVALLIS - A project to extract DNA from the remains of animals that died hundreds, or even thousands of years ago has been awarded $10,802 in funding from Oregon Sea Grant.

Deborah Duffield and Virginia Butler, both professors at Portland State University, were notified this month that they had received the program development funds for their project, which seeks to extract and analyze the DNA from bones of sea otters found in ancient middens along the Oregon coast.

While the subject sounds sufficiently exotic to be a science fiction novel, the project is one part of an effort with a very serious goal: to reintroduce to the Oregon coast a species that was hunted to the edge of extinction during a 200-year span from the early 1700s to the 1900s.

The last Oregon sea otter was killed in 1906. The 1911 Fur Seal Treaty signed by Russia, Japan, Britain and the United States and a 1913 federal law in the United States effectively ended the harvest of the sea otter, but by that time the species was extinct in Oregon and Washington, and clinging to survival in California and Alaska.

An attempt to reintroduce sea otters in Oregon was launched in 1970, but was not successful. Thirty-one sea otters were taken from a site in Alaska and deposited on the Oregon coast near Port Orford. The next year 64 more were added to the population that survived the first year, but the colony did not last. Researchers from Oregon State University, including Ron Jameson, monitored the animals. According to Jameson, who retired from OSU in January, it was never clear exactly why the colony did not survive.

"It's one of those situations where we just don't have any evidence supporting any particular hypothesis. They produced pups, there was no huge immediate post release mortality. Suddenly, around 1975 or so, the numbers started to drop off and they effectively disappeared," he said.

Some of the animals may have moved north and joined the translocated colony in Washington, but it's difficult to say even that with any certainty, Jameson said.

"One of the things we did that was different than what we do today with translocated populations, we didn't have any kind of radio telemetry devices. Those animals weren't even tagged," he said.

"You can move sea otters to wherever you want, but they're going to choose where they want to stay," he said.

The effort to relocate sea otters to Washington's Olympic Peninsula bore better results; the otters survived and are now flourishing, growing from 59 in 1970 to more than 600 today.

In the intervening years, biologists and anthropologists argued whether the Alaska and California sea otter were the same species or genetically distinct cousins. In recent years, genetic studies support the idea that they are related but distinct subspecies. That being the case, supporters hope that finding which subspecies more closely resembles the extinct Oregon otters would result in a more successful attempt to reintroduce the animal to the state's coastal waters.

That is the aim of the project Duffield, a biologist at PSU, and Butler, an anthropologist, received funding for. Their research will focus on samples of sea otter bones and teeth found in Indian middens along the Oregon coast. The samples, mostly provided by Oregon State University anthropologist Roberta Hall, have been dated in a range from 200 to 2,000 years old.

"When there's been a coastal culture that has been using the sea otter as part of its food source and source of fur, there will often be good sized pieces of skeletal remains in the middens," Duffield said. "We have 18 really good ones, definitely sea otter."

Advances in DNA technology have made the work straightforward, if painstaking. "The technology for ancient DNA has just grown and grown in the last few years," Duffield said.

The researchers take a clean sample, "crack it or crush it," (in the case of this project the material will be frozen in liquid nitrogen and crushed,) then extract and purify the DNA.

Working with such old samples, it is difficult to extract complete DNA strands, Duffield said. But it is not necessary to have the entire sequence. Scientists can identify specific points of difference in the genes of existing California and Alaskan sea otters, and it is these markers that will be the focus of comparison with the DNA extracted from the long-dead Oregon samples.

PSU grad student Kim Valentine will perform the lab work.

Duffield agreed that the idea of extracting DNA from an extinct species smacked just a little of "Jurassic Park," the Michael Crichton novel in which DNA was extracted to allow the cloning of dinosaurs. But no one is talking about cloning the Oregon sea otter. Researchers just want to know which existing subspecies most closely resembles the extinct Oregon variety.

There is also one other important difference between science fiction and the real science she will be doing on the sea otter. "Luckily, they are much smaller" than Crichton's dinosaurs, she said with a laugh.


Deborah Duffield, 503-725-4078

OSU alumni are invited to spend a weekend at the coast

CORVALLIS - Oregon State University alumni and supporters are invited to spend a weekend in Newport July 25-27 learning about whales, mystery writing, and getting a behind-the-scenes peek at the Hatfield Marine Science Center.

The weekend package begins with a dinner at OSU's Hatfield Marine Science Center on Friday, July 25. Following dinner, the staff will take participants for an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the research OSU conducts at the center.

On Saturday, mystery writer Ron Lovell, a former professor of journalism and English at OSU, will discuss the art of mystery writing. Lovell's book, "Murder at Yaquina Head," was published last year. Lovell's talk will be followed by a tour of the Newport bay front and a private tour of the Yaquina Head Lighthouse, where participants will learn about OSU's latest research at the lighthouse site.

OSU President Tim White will join the tour Saturday night for a beach barbecue at the Hallmark Resort.

At Sunday's farewell brunch, Bruce Mate, one of the world's leading whale researchers, will deliver a talk, "Traveling in the Mist of a Whale's Blow: Discovering their Mysterious Habits." Mate, known worldwide for his work using satellite technology to track whale migrations, has been featured on the Discovery Channel and other television networks.

The event is sponsored by the OSU Alumni Association. The cost is $100 for association members and $110 for non members. Children ages 6-12 are $50 and children under five are free. The cost includes all activities and meals except Saturday lunch. Lodging is not included. To register call the OSU Alumni Association at 877-305-3759 or go to http://alumni.oregonstate.edu/events/weekend.html.


Scott Elmshauser, 541-737-8883