marine science and the coast

Bill would create ocean observing system for Oregon

CORVALLIS - A request of $2 million recently included in a Senate Appropriations Committee bill would create an "ocean observing system" for Oregon. If passed by Congress, the system would be an ocean equivalent of the National Weather Service and provide valuable information about waves, currents and ocean conditions to a wide range of Oregon ocean users.

The Senate Appropriations Committee, at the request of Oregon Senators Gordon Smith and Ron Wyden, has included funding for the Oregon Coastal Ocean Observing System (OrCOOS) in the Commerce/Justice/Science appropriations bill. It passed through full committee and is expected to move to the Senate floor in July.

Oregon State University would establish OrCOOS through its internationally recognized programs in the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences (COAS), the College of Science, the Ocean Engineering group in the College of Engineering and the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport. Also participating would be OSU's Fisheries and Wildlife Department in the College of Agricultural Sciences. Other potential partners include Oregon state agencies, community colleges, private aquaria and industry.

The OrCOOS system would place multi-parameter buoys in Oregon coastal waters to measure water velocity, temperature, salinity and chlorophyll and to monitor hypoxia (a lack of dissolved oxygen in the ocean to support life). New technologies in radar that measure waves also would be put in place and models developed to pull the information together, according to Jack Barth, a professor in COAS.

"To make the information easily accessible to the public," he said, "all the data would be sent via satellite or radio to the coast to be put on the Internet as fast as possible."

Commercial groundfishing and trawl, Dungeness crab and shellfish fisheries are expected to benefit from the ocean observing system by receiving environmental data to help mitigate problems such as those caused by hypoxia. Recreational boaters, fishing charters and sightseeing cruises could use safety information provided by immediate, local observations of wave, current and meteorological conditions.

Also benefiting from the new data would be ocean researchers, natural resource managers, educational institutions, marine operations and those concerned with the ecosystem health, stability, biodiversity and management of the Oregon coast.

For more information, call COAS Dean Mark Abbott at 541-737-5195, or Barth at 541-737-1607.


COAS, 541-737-3504

COAS professor receives young investigator award

CORVALLIS - Kelly Benoit-Bird, an assistant professor of biological oceanography in the College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences at Oregon State University, is one of 28 scientists to receive the Office of Naval Research's 2005 Young Investigator Award.

Young Investigator awards are designed "to attract to naval research outstanding new faculty members at institutions of higher education, support their research and encourage their teaching and research careers." The awards are for as much as $100,000 a year for three years, with the possibility of additional support for capital equipment or collaborative research with a Navy laboratory.

Benoit-Bird's $396,600 award includes purchase of two scientific echo sounders with acoustic frequencies that extend to smaller organisms and larger animals - from zooplankton to sperm whales - that cannot be reached by other acoustic equipment.

"The echo sounders also expand our depth range to cover substantially deeper waters from 500-600 meters to about 1,200 meters," Benoit-Bird said.

The two new devices, "fancy fish-finders," will extend their reach beyond that of three others aboard a six-week cruise beginning Aug. 1 in California's Monterey Bay. The cruise is part of a large collaborative effort named Layered Organization in the Coastal Ocean (LOCO), which is led by scientists at OSU, the University of Hawaii, the University of Rhode Island and BAE Systems, with participation from several other labs.

Within the last decade, layers of phytoplankton and zooplankton concentrated in a space of a meter or less have been found in coastal waters. The purpose of the cruise is to answer questions about the physics of the layer and how it affects the ecosystem process. Benoit-Bird's work will concentrate on how these layers affect the movements and behavior of fish and fish foraging.


COAS, 541-737-3504

Disaster assistance program earns national award

CORVALLIS - A unique program to help Oregon fishing families make a transition out of fishing into other occupations has received a national award.

Ginny Goblirsch, an Oregon State University Sea Grant Extension agent based in Newport, and Flaxen Conway, a Corvallis-based Sea Grant community outreach specialist, received the award for superior outreach programming, among 30 state programs in the national Sea Grant network.

The Groundfish Disaster Outreach Program, which Goblirsch and Conway began, helped members of the Oregon fishing community access support, resources and training. The federally funded program brought approximately $4 million to Oregon and served more than 800 displaced groundfishery workers.

The program was already underway in 2000 when a federal fishery disaster was declared for groundfish in Oregon, Washington, and California, in the wake of drastic harvest reductions. One key feature, according to participants, was how the outreach program successfully brought together affected members of the fishing industry and government service providers.

"This community-driven disaster relief program is very innovative," said Joyce Aho, manager of the Oregon Employment Department in Astoria. "It pulled together services from the Oregon Employment Department, multiple Workforce Investment Act and other support providers, and provided those services to the fishing community via fishing industry outreach peers."

The industry peers were the "essential" innovation to the program's success, said Connie Kennedy, president of Newport Fishermen's Wives. The peers were five fishermen's wives from different regions of the coast who were contracted to work part time as information providers and mentors to others in the industry who were in transition. They were meanwhile also going through the same transitions themselves and accessing the same services.

"These outreach peers were the eyes and ears of the fishing industry 'at sea level' where the real needs were being experienced," said Kennedy.

Communication is rarely smooth between independent-minded fishermen and government, but "Flaxen Conway and Ginny Goblirsch were instrumental in building a program based on mutual learning between the service providers and the fishing community culture to better serve affected areas," Kennedy said.

Success stories from the program in the Newport alone are numerous: 388 people were served by the outreach peer on the central coast.

"People who thought they were limited by their lifetime in fishing learned that many of the skills they used on the ocean or beachside were transferable to other vocations," Kennedy said.

One Newport fisherman went from running a vessel to running a water treatment facility; another skipper now works with deaf children; another frames houses, she said. More than 280 individuals from the central coast region are now working outside the fishing industry as a result of the program.

From a university and Sea Grant perspective, a key feature of the effort was that it was inclusive, according to Jay Rasmussen, Oregon Sea Grant Extension program leader. The Groundfish Disaster Outreach Program was guided by an advisory committee made up of members of both the fishing community and the resource agency community, he noted. And each port on the Oregon coast, big and small, had equal outreach, so that none was left out.

"This was truly an innovative, community-driven, collaborative outreach program, and I'm absolutely delighted that Ginny and Flaxen's creative and enormously successful efforts have been nationally recognized by their colleagues," said Rasmussen.

The fact that Sea Grant helped make a difference on the ground is what local leaders appreciate.

"This program has been the crucial instrument for helping groundfish fishermen transition out of the fishing industry into new, livable wage careers," said Joy McCarthy, marketing director of South Coast Business Employment Corp. of Coos and Curry Counties. "The needs of the participants in the program were met."


Jay Rasmussen, 541-867-0368

Earthquakes on Gorda Plate a common event

CORVALLIS - The strong earthquake that struck yesterday about 80 miles off the coast of Northern California was a type that's fairly common for that geologically active region and unlikely to produce a major tsunami, said researchers at Oregon State University.

However, that information couldn't be obtained immediately, and the tsunami warning that was sent out for an hour or two was appropriate - and from the nature of the tectonic activity in this area, may occur again in the future with some regularity, OSU scientists said.

OSU experts have done some of the most extensive analysis of faults and tectonic activity in this region of the Gorda plate, and said there have been about 25 similar earthquakes of moderate to large magnitude in this area since 1980, none of them producing a major tsunami.

"These earthquakes, and the one on Tuesday evening, are strike-slip quakes that generally do not produce tsunami events," said Jason Chaytor, a marine geologist with OSU and colleague of Chris Goldfinger, one of the world's leading experts on the Cascadia Subduction Zone. "It's not so much a reflection of the magnitude of the earthquake, which was at first thought to be 7.4, but the nature of the fault movement."

"But it takes a little time to pin down exactly where an earthquake originated and what type it is, so to be safe we have to send out tsunami warnings until we know more," Chaytor said. "And those warnings should be taken seriously."

Last year, Goldfinger and Chaytor published a research paper outlining the intense stresses that the Gorda plate is under and the large number of strike-slip faults that are produced as a result in this area of very active tectonic movement. More information on this research can be found on the web at www.activetectonics.coas.oregonstate.edu

This region is just north of what's called the "Mendocino Triple Junction" of the Pacific plate, the North American plate, and the Gorda plate - which is getting squeezed by the movement of the Pacific plate and undergoing intense deformation.

Also near here, Chaytor said, is the southern boundary of the Cascadia Subduction Zone - a large subduction fault that runs from the triple junction hundreds of miles north to the northern tip of Vancouver Island. It is this fault, experts say, which will some day be the source of a massive earthquake that may shake much of the Pacific Northwest and quite likely will cause major tsunami events.

The Cascadia Subduction Zone is quite similar geologically to the area that had a major earthquake and tsunami last year near Sumatra. Subduction zones are characterized by land movements that have more of an "up and down" movement to them, while in strike-slip earthquakes the fault movement is more side-to-side, and far less likely to cause a tsunami.

There's no known correlation between strike-slip earthquakes on the faults in the Gorda plate, Chaytor said, and activity on the subduction zone.

"We're studying whether there may be any mechanism by which strike-slip earthquakes of this type relieve some of the pressures on the subduction zone," Chaytor said. "That's an important question, but at this point we don't have an answer to it."

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Jason Chaytor, 541-737-9622

SeaFest celebration marks 40 years of OSU's Hatfield Center

NEWPORT - A coastal celebration called SeaFest, growing in popularity every year, will return to Oregon State University's Hatfield Marine Science Center this June 24-25, coinciding with the center's 40th anniversary.

This fourth annual SeaFest provides a chance for Oregonians to take an in-depth look at one of the nation's most sophisticated marine science research facilities, visit the university's two research ships (the Wecoma and Elakha), see dozens of exhibits created just for the event, and inspect the popular aquarium displays featuring sea stars, anemones, sea urchins and Roxy, the giant Pacific octopus.

"SeaFest is the one time of year when the public gets to interact with scientists at the center and tour the labs and facilities used for research," said George Boehlert, director of the Hatfield Marine Science Center.

This year, SeaFest will begin on Friday, June 24, with a special kick-off event in the Visitor Center, featuring an evening lecture, alumni reunion, and the unveiling of a new historical exhibit highlighting changes at the OSU center over the past 40 years. A special lecture by deep-ocean explorer and pioneer Don Walsh, followed by a reception and reunion, highlights the Friday activities.

The day-long festival and open house begins at 10 a.m. on Saturday, June 25, and continues until 5 p.m.

"Over the past three years, more and more people from across the region have discovered this event, which is very popular with families," said Ken Hall, program manager at the Hatfield center and coordinator of SeaFest. He predicts this year's attendance will top 5,000 people.

"It is becoming a big community event," Hall added, "and a draw for people to come to the coast, so we have added more activities, exhibitors, food and entertainment to the mix."

Still, says Hall, what people love most about SeaFest are the back wing tours, hands-on displays and activities that make learning about the marine and coastal environment a fun experience.

The Hatfield Marine Science Center is Oregon State University's 49-acre coastal campus in Newport where scientists from OSU and other federal and state agencies conduct research focusing on marine and coastal issues.

Co-sponsoring SeaFest with OSU are the university's partner agencies at the Hatfield Center: Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Special topic lectures in the Hennings Auditorium are scheduled throughout the day, including a presentation by one of the world's leading experts on tsunami hazards, OSU's Harry Yeh, who will speak on "Lessons learned from the Indian Ocean Tsunami and its application to the Oregon Coast." His talk begins at 2 p.m.

Other lecturers include Michael Morrissey, director of OSU's Seafood Laboratory in Astoria, who will discuss new tastes and trends in seafood products (11 a.m.); Rick Bartow, a Yurok artist and musician, who will explore "Salmon Spirituality and Water" (noon); and Kelly Benoit-Bird, an OSU oceanographer, who will discuss her research on acoustic and optical techniques in studying marine creatures.

More than 30 community organizations and local artisans are participating with displays and activities ranging from craft-making to crab-shaking, Native American storytelling, games for kids, and beach and boating safety demonstrations.

The exhibits will include information on fish behavior, invasive species, hydrothermal vents, odd deep-sea creatures, ocean health and several other topics.

Always popular, a search-and-rescue exercise with U.S. Coast Guard helicopter and vessels on Yaquina Bay is planned for mid-afternoon, conditions permitting.

Visitors will also be able to walk out to the dock to visit the research vessels Wecoma and Elakha, which are used for near-shore and deep-water oceanographic research in the Pacific. Researchers from OSU's College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences will be on hand to demonstrate the use of oceanographic sampling gear, and answer questions about research conducted onboard.

Persons interested in learning more about SeaFest 2005 can find information online at the OSU website: http://hmsc.oregonstate.edu/seafest/ or by calling 541-867-0212. Website information will be updated as activities are added to the schedule.


Story By: 

Ken Hall, 541-867-0234

Lecture by undersea adventurer Don Walsh kicks off SeaFest

NEWPORT - Famed undersea explorer Don Walsh, who made history in 1960 co-piloting a submersible dive to the ocean's greatest known depths, will deliver a special evening lecture at Oregon State University's Hatfield Marine Science Center on June 24 beginning at 7 p.m.

His lecture kicks off the fourth annual SeaFest celebration, which continues on Saturday.

In 1960, U.S. Navy Lieutenant Walsh and Swiss undersea explorer Jacques Piccard navigated an early generation submersible, the Bathyscaph Trieste, to the deepest point in the world's oceans. This was the Challenger Deep in the western Pacific, at a depth of 35,840 feet, still the world's record. Forty-five years later, more than 1,000 people have stood atop Mt. Everest, nearly as many have gone into space, yet only two men have ever been to the ocean's greatest depth.

Walsh will speak about his pioneering experiences over the past 40-plus years in ocean exploration. In the audience will be some of the new generation of undersea explorers - scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) hydrothermal vents research group at the Hatfield Marine Science Center.

"Recounting these early experiences of ocean exploration points out where we've been and how much we have yet to learn," said Stephen Hammond, leader of an ocean research program at NOAA's Pacific Marine Environmental Lab in Newport. Hammond also is acting director of NOAA's Ocean Exploration Program in Washington, D.C.

Following the Walsh lecture will be a reception and birthday cake-cutting in honor of the Hatfield Marine Science Center's 40th anniversary, which is being celebrated in 2005. It will be a reunion for former students, researchers and staff of the center, who are being invited back to Newport for the event.

The public is also invited to attend both the lecture and reception.

The Friday evening lecture launches the center's annual SeaFest celebration, which continues on Saturday with a day-long open house and community festival on the grounds of the Hatfield Marine Science Center from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.

To learn more about SeaFest 2005, information can be found online at the OSU website: http://hmsc.oregonstate.edu/seafest/ or by calling 541-867-0212. Website information will be updated as activities are added to the schedule.



Hatfield Marine Science Center, 541-867-0234

OSU's Hatfield Center, Oregon Coast Aquarium sign pact

NEWPORT - The Oregon coast's leading marine science research facility and one of its leading tourism and public outreach attractions will partner in a series of ventures designed to ultimately increase the "ocean literacy" of the general public.

Oregon State University's Hatfield Marine Science Center and the Oregon Coast Aquarium have signed a memorandum of understanding to collaborate on research, education and outreach.

"It is a partnership that is long overdue," said George Boehlert, director of OSU's Hatfield Marine Science Center. "Given our proximity, and the similarity of our missions, it is surprising that it hasn't happened before. By working together, we can leverage additional resources and provide more opportunities for Oregonians by sharing research expertise, laboratories, classrooms, display areas and educational programming."

Dale Schmidt, president and CEO of the Oregon Coast Aquarium, said the details of the collaboration will develop over time. But, he added, the partnership already has begun.

"We are working more closely with the scientists and educators at the marine science center than ever before," Schmidt said. "We share similar missions of education and outreach, but Hatfield has much more behind-the-scenes research on ocean and estuarine dynamics and habitat, while our strength is in bringing to the public's attention the creatures that live in those environments.

"Putting our expertise together should result in a dynamic array of educational possibilities, research projects, and outreach programs."

One area of collaboration already well under way is a partnership between the two institutions and Oregon Coast Community College, offering the only two-year degree program in the nation that focuses on aquarium science.

OSU's Hatfield Marine Science Center is located just east of the Highway 101 bridge in Newport. The 49-acre campus has about 300 employees; 40 percent from OSU and the rest representing a number of state and federal agencies, including the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Its teaching and research laboratories support investigation in marine biology and ecology, oceanography, botany, microbiology, zoology, geochemistry, genetics, marine fisheries and aquaculture. Since the 1960s, the Oregon Sea Grant Program has led informal activities at the Newport facility and now manages the popular visitor's center, which draws more than 125,000 visitors annually. The Hatfield center also has docking facilities for two OSU research ships, the Wecoma and the Elakha.

The Oregon Coast Aquarium - located just a few hundred yards to the south - draws roughly half a million visitors a year. Its touring education outreach program visited more than 10,000 students last year, and another 20,000 students attended on-site classes.

The aquarium has a well-known sea otter breeding program and is conducting research on the animals' olfactory capabilities. The facility also is home to several other rehabilitation and conservation programs that encompass the western snowy plover, the Oregon silverspot butterfly, and yelloweye rockfish. It was the first zoological facility to hatch a rhinoceros auklet in captivity.

Both facilities annually draw thousands of school children for field trips, and both Boehlert and Schmidt say the students' experience at the central Oregon coast can be even greater as the two facilities begin to work together on programming, exhibits, and field trip opportunities.

Norma Paulus, a former Oregon Superintendent of Public Instruction and a board member of the Oregon Coast Aquarium, said the benefits of such collaboration could be profound. "Working together on youth and family educational programs is a natural for this cooperation," Paulus said. "Together, OSU and the Oregon Coast Aquarium have the potential to develop educational tools and curricula in marine science that can improve education statewide and potentially have national impacts."

OSU President Ed Ray first met with aquarium board members in the fall of 2004 to initiate discussions of cooperation. At that time, he said, the National Ocean Policy Commission had just called for new educational programming to increase the public's ocean literacy.

"I firmly believe that the Oregon Coast Aquarium's public-serving expertise, and the academic and research capabilities of OSU's Hatfield Marine Science Center can blend together to develop some exciting, far-reaching programs that bring notable focus to Oregon," Ray said.

Story By: 

George Boehlert, 541-867 0444

Oregon Sea Grant program rated "excellent throughout"

CORVALLIS - A national panel of experts spent four days this month reviewing the Oregon Sea Grant Program based at Oregon State University, and gave the program its highest rating, "excellent."

"Oregon Sea Grant is excellent throughout, and the program assessment team was extremely impressed," said Robin Alden, chair of the team and a member of the national Sea Grant Review Panel.

The OSU-based Oregon Sea Grant conducts programs of research, education, extension, and communications relating to marine and coastal resources.

Rich Holdren, OSU's senior associate vice president for research, noted that Oregon Sea Grant "received the highest score that any program has received since these reviews were initiated." There are 30 state Sea Grant programs - one in every coastal state.

The review scored program management and planning but gave its main emphasis to Sea Grant's success in connecting with users of information, such as the fishing industry, adult education teachers, and the research community. In those connections, Alden said, Oregon Sea Grant is "exemplary - extremely strong."

And in each category of contribution to science and technology, to extension, public communications, and education, the reviewers rated the program as demonstrating the "highest performance."

After considering documentation and hearing throughout their visit from those who benefited from Sea Grant initiatives such as the Groundfish Disaster Outreach Project and the program's management of the OSU Hatfield Marine Science Visitor Center, the assessment team gave the program highest marks for delivering significant results relating to society, the economy, and the environment.

Mandated by Congress, the review of state Sea Grant programs occurs approximately every four to five years. The last review, in which Oregon emerged as one of the two best programs among 30 in the nation, was conducted in 2000. The team of six reviewers included senior individuals from academia, government, and the private sector.


Bob Malouf, 541-737-2714

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.

Story By: 

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.

Story By: 

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)