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Newport, Oregon, United States

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Newport, Oregon, United States

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News Article | April 19, 2017
Site: phys.org

There is a reason for their discretion, researchers say. The whales are so massive – sometimes growing to the length of three school buses – that they must carefully balance the energy gained through their food intake with the energetic costs of feeding. "Modeling studies of blue whales 'lunge-feeding' theorize that they will not put energy into feeding on low-reward prey patches," said Leigh Torres, a principal investigator with the Marine Mammal Institute at Oregon State, who led the expedition studying the blue whales. "Our footage shows this theory in action. We can see the whale making choices, which is really extraordinary because aerial observations of blue whales feeding on krill are rare." "The whale bypasses certain krill patches – presumably because the nutritional payoff isn't sufficient – and targets other krill patches that are more lucrative. We think this is because blue whales are so big, and stopping to lunge-feed and then speeding up again is so energy-intensive, that they try to maximize their effort." The video, captured in the Southern Ocean off New Zealand, shows a blue whale cruising toward a large mass of krill – roughly the size of the whale itself. The animal then turns on its side, orients toward the beginning of the krill swarm, and proceeds along its axis through the entire patch, devouring nearly the entire krill mass. In another vignette, the same whale approaches a smaller mass of krill, which lies more perpendicular to its approach, and blasts through it without feeding. "We had theorized that blue whales make choices like this and the video makes it clear that they do use such a strategy," explained Torres, who works out of Oregon State's Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Oregon. "It certainly appears that the whale determined that amount of krill to be gained, and the effort it would take to consume the meal wasn't worth the effort of slowing down. "It would be like me driving a car and braking every 100 yards, then accelerating again. Whales need to be choosy about when to apply the brakes to feed on a patch of krill." The researchers analyzed the whale's lunge-feeding and found that it approached the krill patch at about 6.7 miles per hour. The act of opening its enormous mouth to feed slowed the whale down to 1.1 mph – and getting that big body back up to cruising speed again requires a lot of energy. The rare footage was possible through the use of small drones. The OSU team is trained to fly them over whales and was able to view blue whales from a unique perspective. "It's hard to get good footage from a ship," Torres said, "and planes or helicopters can be invasive because of their noise. The drone allows us to get new angles on the whales without bothering them."


News Article | December 14, 2016
Site: www.eurekalert.org

CORVALLIS, Ore. - A sound in the Mariana Trench notable for its complexity and wide frequency range likely represents the discovery of a new baleen whale call, according to the Oregon State University researchers who recorded and analyzed it. Scientists at OSU's Hatfield Marine Science Center named it the "Western Pacific Biotwang." Lasting between 2.5 and 3.5 seconds, the five-part call includes deep moans at frequencies as low as 38 hertz and a metallic finale that pushes as high as 8,000 hertz. "It's very distinct, with all these crazy parts," said Sharon Nieukirk, senior faculty research assistant in marine bioacoustics at Oregon State. "The low-frequency moaning part is typical of baleen whales, and it's that kind of twangy sound that makes it really unique. We don't find many new baleen whale calls." Recorded via passive acoustic ocean gliders, which are instruments that can travel autonomously for months at a time and dive up to 1,000 meters, the Western Pacific Biotwang most closely resembles the so-called "Star Wars" sound produced by dwarf minke whales on the Great Barrier Reef off the northeast coast of Australia, researchers say. The Mariana Trench, the deepest known part of the Earth's oceans, lies between Japan to the north and Australia to the south and features depths in excess of 36,000 feet. Minke whales are baleen whales - meaning they feed by using baleen plates in their mouths to filter krill and small fish from seawater - and live in most oceans. They produce a collection of regionally specific calls, which in addition to the Star Wars call include "boings" in the North Pacific and low-frequency pulse trains in the Atlantic. "We don't really know that much about minke whale distribution at low latitudes," said Nieukirk, lead author on the study whose results were recently published in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. "The species is the smallest of the baleen whales, doesn't spend much time at the surface, has an inconspicuous blow, and often lives in areas where high seas make sighting difficult. But they call frequently, making them good candidates for acoustic studies." Nieukirk said the Western Pacific Biotwang has enough similarities to the Star Wars call - complex structure, frequency sweep and metallic conclusion - that it's reasonable to think a minke whale is responsible for it. But scientists can't yet be sure, and many other questions remain. For example, baleen whale calls are often related to mating and heard mainly during the winter, yet the Western Pacific Biotwang was recorded throughout the year. "If it's a mating call, why are we getting it year round? That's a mystery," said Nieukirk, part of the team at the Cooperative Institute for Marine Resources Studies, a partnership between OSU and the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory. "We need to determine how often the call occurs in summer versus winter, and how widely this call is really distributed." The call is tricky to find when combing through recorded sound data, Nieukirk explains, because of its huge frequency range. Typically acoustic scientists zero in on narrower frequency ranges when analyzing ocean recordings, and in this case that would mean not detecting portions of the Western Pacific Biotwang. "Now that we've published these data, we hope researchers can identify this call in past and future data, and ultimately we should be able to pin down the source of the sound," Nieukirk said. "More data are needed, including genetic, acoustic and visual identification of the source, to confirm the species and gain insight into how this sound is being used. Our hope is to mount an expedition to go out and do acoustic localization, find the animals, get biopsy samples and find out exactly what's making the sound. It really is an amazing, weird sound, and good science will explain it."


Scientists at OSU's Hatfield Marine Science Center named it the "Western Pacific Biotwang." Lasting between 2.5 and 3.5 seconds, the five-part call includes deep moans at frequencies as low as 38 hertz and a metallic finale that pushes as high as 8,000 hertz. "It's very distinct, with all these crazy parts," said Sharon Nieukirk, senior faculty research assistant in marine bioacoustics at Oregon State. "The low-frequency moaning part is typical of baleen whales, and it's that kind of twangy sound that makes it really unique. We don't find many new baleen whale calls." Recorded via passive acoustic ocean gliders, which are instruments that can travel autonomously for months at a time and dive up to 1,000 meters, the Western Pacific Biotwang most closely resembles the so-called "Star Wars" sound produced by dwarf minke whales on the Great Barrier Reef off the northeast coast of Australia, researchers say. The Mariana Trench, the deepest known part of the Earth's oceans, lies between Japan to the north and Australia to the south and features depths in excess of 36,000 feet. Minke whales are baleen whales - meaning they feed by using baleen plates in their mouths to filter krill and small fish from seawater - and live in most oceans. They produce a collection of regionally specific calls, which in addition to the Star Wars call include "boings" in the North Pacific and low-frequency pulse trains in the Atlantic. "We don't really know that much about minke whale distribution at low latitudes," said Nieukirk, lead author on the study whose results were recently published in the Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. "The species is the smallest of the baleen whales, doesn't spend much time at the surface, has an inconspicuous blow, and often lives in areas where high seas make sighting difficult. But they call frequently, making them good candidates for acoustic studies." Nieukirk said the Western Pacific Biotwang has enough similarities to the Star Wars call - complex structure, frequency sweep and metallic conclusion - that it's reasonable to think a minke whale is responsible for it. But scientists can't yet be sure, and many other questions remain. For example, baleen whale calls are often related to mating and heard mainly during the winter, yet the Western Pacific Biotwang was recorded throughout the year. "If it's a mating call, why are we getting it year round? That's a mystery," said Nieukirk, part of the team at the Cooperative Institute for Marine Resources Studies, a partnership between OSU and the NOAA Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory. "We need to determine how often the call occurs in summer versus winter, and how widely this call is really distributed." The call is tricky to find when combing through recorded sound data, Nieukirk explains, because of its huge frequency range. Typically acoustic scientists zero in on narrower frequency ranges when analyzing ocean recordings, and in this case that would mean not detecting portions of the Western Pacific Biotwang. "Now that we've published these data, we hope researchers can identify this call in past and future data, and ultimately we should be able to pin down the source of the sound," Nieukirk said. "More data are needed, including genetic, acoustic and visual identification of the source, to confirm the species and gain insight into how this sound is being used. Our hope is to mount an expedition to go out and do acoustic localization, find the animals, get biopsy samples and find out exactly what's making the sound. It really is an amazing, weird sound, and good science will explain it." Explore further: Passive acoustic monitoring reveals clues to minke whale calling behavior and movements More information: Sharon L. Nieukirk et al, A complex baleen whale call recorded in the Mariana Trench Marine National Monument, The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America (2016). DOI: 10.1121/1.4962377


News Article | January 11, 2016
Site: www.fastcompany.com

At Imperial Restaurant in Portland, Oregon, diners are getting a taste of the latest superfood to hit the market: dulse, a crimson seaweed that’s packed with nutrients and, when fried, offers up an umami flavor similar to bacon. "It disappears in your mouth," says chef and owner Vitaly Paley. Wild dulse, which is sold as a specialty item at places like Whole Foods, grows primarily on the shores of Ireland and the north Atlantic coast and is notoriously difficult to harvest: It’s plucked by hand and can deteriorate quickly. But the dulse that Paley sprinkles atop his tuna poke doesn’t come from the ocean—it’s farmed in 6,000-liter tanks at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center. Marine biologist Chris Langdon began cultivating this strain of dulse as a food for abalone in the mid-1990s, but it wasn’t until his colleague Chuck Toombs, from the OSU College of Business, toured the lab in 2014 that Langdon considered serving it to humans. With wild dulse selling for up to $90 a pound and sales of seaweed snacks in the U.S. accounting for roughly $500 million in 2014, Toombs sensed that Langdon might be sitting on a gold mine. Never before has dulse been cultivated outside of the ocean on a commercial scale. Plus, Langdon’s strain grows fast—really fast. "Under optimum conditions, it will double or triple its weight each week," he says. While OSU’s Food Innovation Center tests commercial preparations for dulse, Langdon’s strain is already being served at select restaurants in Oregon, and Northwest grocery chain New Seasons recently debuted a soy-and-ginger dulse dressing. This year, Toombs plans to hit the market with snacks like dulse crackers and a smoked peanut popcorn brittle through his new business, DulsEnergy. Though Langdon and his colleagues are ramping up production, demand is still outpacing supply. "Our lawyers said, ‘We’ve never heard of anything like this. You guys have a market and you don’t have a product!’ " says Toombs. For the producers, at least, it’s a good problem to have. A version of this article appeared in the February 2016 issue of Fast Company magazine.


News Article | December 15, 2016
Site: www.sciencemag.org

Most volcanic eruptions on Earth happen in a hidden, dark place: deep underwater. Scientists rarely detect these outbursts on the sea floor, but last year, they caught a seamount eruption in the act. Now, researchers have characterized it in unprecedented detail—showing how a rash of earthquakes preceded the eruption and how bulging of the volcano’s surface was used to successfully forecast the eruption. Scientists say the results will help them understand how other volcanoes around the world behave. The eruption began on 24 April 2015 at Axial Seamount, which lies 480 kilometers off the Oregon coast. Researchers already had a good picture of the volcano’s magma chamber, and they’ve now learned how it erupts, thanks to a cabled array of seismometers and pressure gauges deployed by the U.S. Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI) and other projects. Scientists hope the results, published today in two papers, will shed light on volcanic processes, and also help quiet the OOI’s detractors, who have criticized the project’s $1.8 billion lifetime cost. Immediately after the OOI sensors came online in late 2014, they started recording hundreds of daily tremors, says William Wilcock, a marine geophysicist at the University of Washington in Seattle who led the first study. By March 2015, they had increased to upward of 2000 per day. The frequency of earthquakes also tracked the tides, with more than six times as many events occurring at low tide—a pattern that can be a sign of an imminent eruption, Wilcock says. If the volcano is close to erupting, pressure from the magma critically stresses the faults, so that a drop in water pressure at low tides can trigger small earthquakes. “You unclamp the faults,” he says. After the eruption, seismometers also recorded booms that the researchers attribute to steam exploding out of fresh rock, which helped them map lava flows. The eruption didn’t come out of the blue, however. Scientists had some pressure recorders, which measure seafloor deformation, in place for eruptions in 1998 and 2011. Based on how fast magma seemed to be accumulating again in recent years, lifting the roof of the volcanic caldera, researchers were expecting another outburst soon. “The magma chamber inflates to a certain level, and then it can no longer withstand the pressure anymore and the magma breaks out,” says Scott Nooner, a geophysicist at the University of North Carolina in Wilmington. In September 2014, after seeing that the caldera had started growing at a faster rate, Nooner and William Chadwick, a geologist at the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Oregon, predicted another eruption in 2015. In the second study, they show that their forecast was successful. The researchers also documented how the caldera deflated by 2.5 meters after the lava erupted. At the moment, such forecasts are only possible for well-behaved volcanoes like Axial, Nooner says. “We think it’s a simpler volcanic system than a lot of volcanoes on land.” But Nooner thinks it’s a good start toward ultimately understanding more complicated volcanoes, like those along subduction zones that pose threats to people. Researchers have only monitored one other submarine volcano with seafloor seismometers, and this is the first one where they tracked seafloor deformation through several eruption cycles, he says. Other researchers are equally excited. “That is really a great advance,” says Vera Schlindwein, a seismologist at the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research in Bremerhaven, Germany, who was not involved in the work. Such comprehensive measurements are rare for submarine eruptions, and although every volcano is different, Schlindwein says the results will help other researchers interpret sparser data from other locations. “With such full coverage, it helps to place these others in a better framework.” Wilcock and others hope that the results will help demonstrate the value of the OOI, a network of 830 moored, mobile, and seafloor-based instruments at seven sites around the globe. A 2015 U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report suggested shrinking the costly project to fund other oceanographic research during a time of contracting budgets. The rollout has also been marred by delays and problems with data management and distribution. “On anything big and new, there’s always going to be people criticizing it,” Wilcock says. But he says the new results show how the program is already starting to pay off. Nooner adds that the OOI’s ability to alert researchers to an eruption right when it happens lets them respond rapidly and make more measurements—for instance, of changes in water temperature and chemistry that can only be detected immediately after an eruption. The 2015 eruption provided proof of concept for real-time monitoring, he says, and next time Axial erupts, researchers hope to mount such a response. Given how the caldera is inflating now, Nooner thinks they won’t have to wait long. Based on his latest measurements, he predicts the seamount will blow again in just three short years.


News Article | November 21, 2016
Site: phys.org

The study conducted in the OSU College of Science sheds new light on how rockfish, a group of multiple species that contribute to important commercial and recreational fisheries in the Northwest, disperse through the ocean and "recruit," or take up residence in nearshore habitats. Previously it was believed rockfish larvae dispersed chaotically to wherever currents carried them. "When you manage populations, it's really important to understand where the young are going to and where the young are coming from - how populations are connected and replenished," said Su Sponaugle, a professor of integrative biology based at OSU's Hatfield Marine Science Center. "This research helps us better understand what's possible about offspring movement. We don't know fully by what mechanisms the larvae are staying together, but these data are suggestive that behavior is playing a role." The findings were published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Primary funding came from the Hatfield Marine Science Center's Mamie L. Markham Research Award. The discovery of "spatial cohesion" among the larvae came via the collection of newly settled rockfish in a shallow nearshore habitat off the central Oregon coast. Nearly 500 juvenile fish that had started out up to six months earlier as transparent larvae at depths of a few hundred meters were collected and genetically analyzed, with the results showing that 11.6 percent had at least one sibling in the group. "That's much higher than we would have expected if they were randomly dispersing," Sponaugle said. Bearing live young - a female can release thousands of able-to-swim larvae at a time - and dwelling close to the sea floor in the benthic zone, rockfishes make up a diverse genus with many species. Adult splitnose rockfish live in deep water - usually 100 to 350 meters - but juveniles often settle in nearshore habitats less than 20 meters deep after spending up to a year in the open sea. Taking into account dynamic influences such as the California Current, siblings recruiting to the same area suggest they remained close together as larvae rather than diffusing randomly and then reconnecting as recruits. "This totally changes the way we understand dispersal," said lead author Daniel Ottmann, a graduate student in integrative biology at the Hatfield Marine Science Center. "We'd thought larvae were just released and then largely diffused by currents, but now we know behavior can substantially modify that." Splitnose rockfish range from Alaska to Baja California and can live for more than 100 years. Pelagic juveniles - juveniles in the open sea - often aggregate to drifting mats of kelp, and the large amount of time larvae and juveniles spend at open sea is thought to enable them to disperse great distances from their parental source. "This research gives us a window into a stage of the fishes' life we know so little about," added Kirsten Grorud-Colvert, an assistant professor of integrative biology at OSU's Corvallis campus. "We can't track the larvae out there in the ocean; we can't look at their behavior early and see where they go. But this genetic technique allows us to look at how they disperse, and it changes the conversation. Now that we know that siblings are ending up in the same places, we can consider how to more effectively manage and protect these species." Because larval aggregation shapes the dispersal process more than previously thought, Ottmann said, it highlights the need to better understand what happens in the pelagic ocean to affect the growth, survival and dispersal of the larvae. "Successful recruitment is critical for the population dynamics of most marine species," he said. "Our findings have far-reaching implications for our understanding of how populations are connected by dispersing larvae." In addition, Grorud-Colvert adds, there's the simple and substantial "gee whiz" factor of the findings. "These tiny little fish, a few days old, out there in the humongous ocean, instead of just going wherever are able to swim and stay close together on their epic journey," she said. "These tiny, tiny things, sticking together in the open ocean - it's cool." Explore further: Offspring from fat fish on deep reefs help keep shallower populations afloat More information: Long-term aggregation of larval fish siblings during dispersal along an open coast, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, www.pnas.org/cgi/doi/10.1073/pnas.1613440113


News Article | November 21, 2016
Site: www.eurekalert.org

CORVALLIS, Ore. - A splitnose rockfish's thousands of tiny offspring can stick together in sibling groups from the time they are released into the open ocean until they move to shallower water, research from Oregon State University shows. The study conducted in the OSU College of Science sheds new light on how rockfish, a group of multiple species that contribute to important commercial and recreational fisheries in the Northwest, disperse through the ocean and "recruit," or take up residence in nearshore habitats. Previously it was believed rockfish larvae dispersed chaotically to wherever currents carried them. "When you manage populations, it's really important to understand where the young are going to and where the young are coming from - how populations are connected and replenished," said Su Sponaugle, a professor of integrative biology based at OSU's Hatfield Marine Science Center. "This research helps us better understand what's possible about offspring movement. We don't know fully by what mechanisms the larvae are staying together, but these data are suggestive that behavior is playing a role." The findings were published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Primary funding came from the Hatfield Marine Science Center's Mamie L. Markham Research Award. The discovery of "spatial cohesion" among the larvae came via the collection of newly settled rockfish in a shallow nearshore habitat off the central Oregon coast. Nearly 500 juvenile fish that had started out up to six months earlier as transparent larvae at depths of a few hundred meters were collected and genetically analyzed, with the results showing that 11.6 percent had at least one sibling in the group. "That's much higher than we would have expected if they were randomly dispersing," Sponaugle said. Bearing live young - a female can release thousands of able-to-swim larvae at a time - and dwelling close to the sea floor in the benthic zone, rockfishes make up a diverse genus with many species. Adult splitnose rockfish live in deep water - usually 100 to 350 meters - but juveniles often settle in nearshore habitats less than 20 meters deep after spending up to a year in the open sea. Taking into account dynamic influences such as the California Current, siblings recruiting to the same area suggest they remained close together as larvae rather than diffusing randomly and then reconnecting as recruits. "This totally changes the way we understand dispersal," said lead author Daniel Ottmann, a graduate student in integrative biology at the Hatfield Marine Science Center. "We'd thought larvae were just released and then largely diffused by currents, but now we know behavior can substantially modify that." Splitnose rockfish range from Alaska to Baja California and can live for more than 100 years. Pelagic juveniles - juveniles in the open sea - often aggregate to drifting mats of kelp, and the large amount of time larvae and juveniles spend at open sea is thought to enable them to disperse great distances from their parental source. "This research gives us a window into a stage of the fishes' life we know so little about," added Kirsten Grorud-Colvert, an assistant professor of integrative biology at OSU's Corvallis campus. "We can't track the larvae out there in the ocean; we can't look at their behavior early and see where they go. But this genetic technique allows us to look at how they disperse, and it changes the conversation. Now that we know that siblings are ending up in the same places, we can consider how to more effectively manage and protect these species." Because larval aggregation shapes the dispersal process more than previously thought, Ottmann said, it highlights the need to better understand what happens in the pelagic ocean to affect the growth, survival and dispersal of the larvae. "Successful recruitment is critical for the population dynamics of most marine species," he said. "Our findings have far-reaching implications for our understanding of how populations are connected by dispersing larvae." In addition, Grorud-Colvert adds, there's the simple and substantial "gee whiz" factor of the findings. "These tiny little fish, a few days old, out there in the humongous ocean, instead of just going wherever are able to swim and stay close together on their epic journey," she said. "These tiny, tiny things, sticking together in the open ocean - it's cool."


News Article | December 19, 2016
Site: www.gizmag.com

Scientists have picked up a "crazy," complex call from the depths of the Mariana Trench. Although the mysterious sounds haven't been attributed to an exact species just yet, marine researchers believe it's less the call of Cthulu and more a previously-unknown dialect of baleen whale song. As the deepest known area of our planet's oceans, the Mariana Trench captures the imagination, especially when it produces sounds as eerie as these. That said, some of that other-worldliness is undermined by the name it was given – the "Western Pacific Biotwang" – by its discoverers, scientists from Oregon State University's Hatfield Marine Science Center. The calls were picked up by passive acoustic ocean gliders, instruments that can dive down to 1,000 m (3,281 ft) below the surface to record and study ocean sounds. Made up of five distinct parts, the calls tend to last between 2.5 and 3.5 seconds. Frequency-wise, they're quite the roller coaster ride, with moans dropping as low as 38 Hz before jumping up to 8,000 Hz for a high-pitched finish the researchers describe as "metallic." That wide a range makes it hard for researchers to notice the calls, since studies often focus on narrow frequency bands. "It's very distinct, with all these crazy parts," says Sharon Nieukirk, lead author of the study. "The low-frequency moaning part is typical of baleen whales, and it's that kind of twangy sound that makes it really unique. We don't find many new baleen whale calls." Minke whales are the most likely culprits, according to the team. The closest match for the strangeness of the Western Pacific Biotwang are the calls emitted by dwarf minke whales around the Great Barrier Reef, northeast of Australia – sounds that scientists have dubbed "Star Wars" calls, since they apparently sound like blasters and lightsabers. And because minke whales have a wide variety of calls depending on their region, it stands to reason that the Western Pacific Biotwang is simply an as-yet-unheard dialect. "We don't really know that much about minke whale distribution at low latitudes," says Nieukirk. "The species is the smallest of the baleen whales, doesn't spend much time at the surface, has an inconspicuous blow, and often lives in areas where high seas make sighting difficult. But they call frequently, making them good candidates for acoustic studies." But in the case of the Western Pacific Biotwang, this frequent calling does raise further questions. Baleen whales tend to call more regularly in winter, during mating season, but this new sound wasn't limited to that time of year. "If it's a mating call, why are we getting it year round? That's a mystery," says Nieukirk. "We need to determine how often the call occurs in summer versus winter, and how widely this call is really distributed." Whether it is minke whales or not, confirming what's making all this racket is a priority for the researchers, and the team hopes that the sounds might turn up in existing recordings, where the wide frequency band may have led them to be previously missed. "Now that we've published these data, we hope researchers can identify this call in past and future data, and ultimately we should be able to pin down the source of the sound," says Nieukirk. "More data are needed, including genetic, acoustic and visual identification of the source, to confirm the species and gain insight into how this sound is being used. Our hope is to mount an expedition to go out and do acoustic localization, find the animals, get biopsy samples and find out exactly what's making the sound. It really is an amazing, weird sound, and good science will explain it."


News Article | December 19, 2016
Site: www.treehugger.com

Scientists say the alien five-part call from the Mariana Trench is similar to the so-called 'Star Wars' sound. Reaching staggering depths of 36,000 feet and more, the Mariana Trench is the deepest known part of the ocean and holds some of the world’s most intriguing secrets – but even at relatively shallower depths, mysteries prevail. Case in point, a curious audio recording collected by a team of scientists from Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center. Named the “Western Pacific Biotwang,” the sound is unusual for its complexity and wide frequency range. It could potentially be a previously unheard call of a baleen whale, though many questions remain. “It’s very distinct, with all these crazy parts,” said Sharon Nieukirk, senior faculty research assistant in marine bioacoustics at Oregon State. “The low-frequency moaning part is typical of baleen whales, and it’s that kind of twangy sound that makes it really unique. We don’t find many new baleen whale calls.” The researchers describe the sound, which lasts between 2.5 and 3.5 seconds, as a five-part call that “includes deep moans at frequencies as low as 38 hertz and a metallic finale that pushes as high as 8,000 hertz.” The Biotwang sounds something like the so-called “Star Wars” sound made by dwarf minke whales on the Great Barrier Reef (you can listen to both sounds in the video below). Minke whales belong to the baleen whale family and make a variety of calls specific to the regions they live in – along with the Star Wars there are “boings” in the North Pacific and "low-frequency pulse trains" in the Atlantic. “We don’t really know that much about minke whale distribution at low latitudes,” says Nieukirk, lead author of the study. “The species is the smallest of the baleen whales, doesn’t spend much time at the surface, has an inconspicuous blow, and often lives in areas where high seas make sighting difficult. But they call frequently, making them good candidates for acoustic studies.” Nieukirk says that like the Star Wars call, the Biotwang has complex structure, frequency sweep and a metallic ending – thus making it logical that it could be coming from a minke whale. But they aren’t sure yet and mysteries ensue. For example, notes a press statement from OSU, “baleen whale calls are often related to mating and heard mainly during the winter, yet the Western Pacific Biotwang was recorded throughout the year.” “If it’s a mating call, why are we getting it year round? That’s a mystery,” says Nieukirk. “We need to determine how often the call occurs in summer versus winter, and how widely this call is really distributed.” “Now that we’ve published these data, we hope researchers can identify this call in past and future data, and ultimately we should be able to pin down the source of the sound,” Nieukirk continues. “More data are needed, including genetic, acoustic and visual identification of the source, to confirm the species and gain insight into how this sound is being used. Our hope is to mount an expedition to go out and do acoustic localization, find the animals, get biopsy samples and find out exactly what’s making the sound. It really is an amazing, weird sound, and good science will explain it.”


In this analysis, an atypical northward shift in the distribution of age-1 ocean shrimp (Pandalus jordani) recruits off Oregon in 2000 and 2002-2004 was linked to anomolously strong coastal upwelling winds off southern Oregon (42°N latitude) in April-July of the year of larval release (t-1). This is the first clear evidence that strong upwelling winds can depress local recruitment of ocean shrimp. Regression analysis confirmed a long-term negative correlation between loge of ocean shrimp recruitment and April sea level height (SLH) at Crescent City, California, in the year of larval release, for both northern and southern Oregon waters. The regional pattern of ocean shrimp catches and seasonal upwelling winds showed that, although the timing of the spring transition as reflected in April SLH drives ocean shrimp recruitment success off Oregon generally, the strength and consistency of spring upwelling limits the distribution of large concentrations of ocean shrimp at the southern end of the northern California/Oregon/Washington area. A northward shift in 1999 and 2001-03 in the northern edge of this 'zone of maximum upwelling' is the likely cause of the weak southern Oregon recruitment and resulting atypical distribution of ocean shrimp observed off Oregon in 2000 and 2002-04, with a return to a more typical catch distribution as spring upwelling moderated in subsequent years. It is noted that a northward shift in the conditions that produce strong and steady spring upwelling winds is consistent with many predictions of global climate models under conditions of global warming. © 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.

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