Monitoring Ocean Sentinels 

 

Documenting Occurrences and Investigating the Causes of Marine Mammal Strandings in Oregon

Stranding events offer a wealth of information to researchers and resource managers by providing valuable insights into the lives of marine mammals, including their seasonal distributions, natural histories, environmental contaminant levels, impacts due to human interactions, and incidence of disease.

Jim Rice begins the process of conducting a necropsy on a 70 foot blue whale (Balaenoptera musculus), near Gold Beach, Oregon, November, 2015.

A young harbor porpoise (Phocoenaphocoena) is stranded on an Oregon beach. Harbor porpoises are the most common cetaceans to strand along our coast.

This California sea lion (Zalophus californianus)is shown with a severe neck entanglement caused by marine debris (a plastic packing band used in fish bait box packaging).

Monitoring Ocean Sentinels

Marine mammal stranding networks provide a first line of detection for marine animal and ocean health concerns, offering continuous surveillance for emerging, infectious, and zoonotic diseases in marine mammals, in areas frequented by the general (and unsuspecting) public, as well as for anthropogenic causes of marine mammal morbidity and mortality. These include fishery takes, ship strikes, shootings, entanglements in marine debris, the bioaccumulation of persistent toxic contaminants, the potential effects of noise (naval sonar), and interactions with wave and wind energy devices. Disease trends can point to large scale disruptions in the marine environment, including shifting prey resources and harmful algal blooms.

The Oregon Marine Mammal Stranding Network (OMMSN) is a collaborative organization comprised of partners from Oregon universities, state and federal agencies, and citizen volunteers. It is coordinated by Jim Rice with the Marine Mammal Institute of Oregon State University.

The objectives of OMMSN are:

  • to promote the scientific investigation of marine mammal stranding events (primarily through post-mortem investigations);
  • to provide for the welfare of live stranded animals (by mitigating harassment takes by people and disentangling whales and pinnipeds from marine debris and fishery gear);
  • to advance public education about marine mammal strandings;
  • and to report our findings to NOAA Fisheries for inclusion in the Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Response Program national database.

Our work keeps us vigilant about changes in the health and challenges to the welfare of marine mammals along the Oregon coast, providing a unique window into the state of the natural world.

A newborn harbor seal (Phoca vitulina) rests alone on shore. Harbor seal mothers routinely leave their pups ashore unattended while they forage in the water, returning to nurse them every few hours. It is important to give resting pups lots of space (50 yards or more) so as not to interfere with this process.

A young northern fur seal (Callorhinus ursinus) is shown hauled out on a Newport beach. Seals and sea lions come ashore for a variety of reasons. Often, it’s simply to get some rest. In other cases,it’s due to injury or disease.

CONTACT:

Jim Rice, Stranding Program Manager

Oregon Marine Mammal Stranding Network

Marine Mammal Institute, Hatfield Marine Science Center

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