By Tiffany Woods
NEWPORT, Ore. – High school and college students and a science teacher will learn to conduct research at sea Sept. 12-15 aboard a ship operated by Oregon State University.
The four high schoolers boarding the Oceanus are from Newport, Waldport, North Bend and Beaverton. The teacher, Carisa Ketchen, is from Toledo Jr/Sr High School. They will be joined by an undergraduate from Oregon Coast Community College as well as three OSU graduate students. The graduate students – two of whom have been on research cruises before – will serve as mentors for the other students.
Participants will learn about marine-related careers, what it’s like to live and work at sea, and how to work as a team to accomplish a variety of research tasks, said Tracy Crews, who manages Oregon Sea Grant’s marine education program and is coordinating everyone’s participation in the cruise.
“We’re trying to get the next generation of researchers excited to join the ranks,” she added.
The lead researchers will be Leigh Torres, a marine mammals scientist with Oregon Sea Grant and the OSU Extension Service; Sarah Henkel a seafloor ecologist in OSU’s College of Science; and Jessica Porquez, a seabird researcher at OSU.
The students will learn to collect sediment and animals from the ocean floor at a future wave energy test site off the coast of Newport. The goal is to collect baseline data to see how conditions might change over time after the wave energy devices are operating.
The students will also learn to collect plankton and to deploy equipment that records oceanographic data at different depths. They will also identify and count seabirds and marine mammals off the Oregon coast, with the aim of correlating their distribution to oceanic conditions and the location of prey. Additionally, the students will learn how researchers use camera-equipped drones to film whales. Torres hopes to launch a small boat from the Oceanus to collect whale poop. The samples would later be analyzed in a lab to understand the whales’ diet and stress levels.
“Since blue whales are being seen in significant numbers, we are hoping to encounter them in addition to gray whales and humpbacks,” Crews said.
The crew will also launch an unmanned, 5 ½-foot sailboat built and decorated by students at the Career Tech High School in Lincoln City. It contains a GPS unit that will allow students to track the boat’s location. The aim is to for students to monitor forecasted wave and wind conditions and predict where the boat will go. A note inside with contact information will encourage anyone who might find the boat to correspond with the students at Career Tech.