Seabird Oceanography

Seabirds are adapted to finding food in marine habitats, from coastal estuaries to the open ocean. Seabirds are generally long-lived, nest in colonies, and make some of the longest migrations on the planet. The combination of these factors places seabirds, as a group, among the most threatened birds.

Seabird migrations and foraging trips connect the Oregon coast to ecosystems throughout the Pacific including Alaska, California, Hawaii, New Zealand, and the western coast of South America.

Following seabirds for conservation science

 

The Seabird Oceanography Lab is involved in research focusing on seabird ecology, movement ecology, oceanography, and integrated ecosystem studies while providing research and educational opportunities for students.

Our research applications range from colony-and vessel-based observational studies to deploying state-of-the-art electronics to study individual foraging, dispersal, migration, and behavior patterns of seabirds. These biologging data are often integrated with in-situ and remotely-sensed measures of prey resources or their proxies or related to human activities (e.g., fishing). In addition to environmental "bottom-up" studies, we also study the "top-down" effects of predators on seabird population dynamics and life histories.

Conservation aspects of our research include population assessment and monitoring, seabird-fishery interactions, species restoration, identification of marine important bird areas, and marine spatial planning.

We seek to engage students and the public in seabird science and conservation via social media, community presentations, experiential education, banding programs, webcams, and other means.

Welcome! We hope you enjoy exploring some of our current projects.

Local Science

 

Yaquina Head Seabird Monitoring

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A colony of common murres on a rocky ledge.
Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area located on the Central Oregon coast hosts a large colony of common murres and cormorants. The Seabird Oceanography Lab, has been monitoring seabirds at the site since 2007during the nesting period (May-August). In 2021, common murre reproductive success was relatively high, but the birds laid eggs late and chicks were still at the colony into August (2021Report). Each year, our data contribute to NOAA's California Current Integrated Ecosystem Assessment and to the series of the State of the California Current publications (State of the California Current 2019-2020: Back to the Future with Marine Heatwaves?)

 

Tufted Puffin Chick Diets

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A Tuffeted Puffin flies in the air with its black wings spread, carrying fish in its beak.
On the Oregon coast populations of tufted puffins have declined over the last few decades. Little is known about the foraging ecology of this seabird species in the region, including its diet. Understanding seabird diet composition supplies vital information regarding the health and function of marine food webs. Diet information can inform management decisions for both tufted puffins and their prey species, typically forage fishes. In 2021, Noah Dolinajec spent hours on the beach by Haystack Rock photographing tufted puffins carrying bill loads back to feed their growing chicks. While analysis of these photos is still underway, we are already planning to return to Haystack Rock in July of 2022 to continue to photograph tufted puffins with their prey.

This research is being led by Professional Science MS student Noah Dolinajec.

 

Birds with Fish

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A tufted puffin flies near a clifside with a fish in its mouth. Its wings are spread back and its orange feet are down and preparing to land.
Birds with Fish is a community science program designed to engage skilled nature photographers to learn more about what marine birds are eating on the Oregon coast. Photography offers a record of what prey birds are consuming and this is especially critical information for species like tufted puffins. If you have high-resolution photos of puffins, murres, osprey, or other birds, carrying fish (or other prey) on the Oregon coast, please check out our website and contribute your photos! This research is being led by Professional Science MS student Noah Dolinajec.

 

Global Science

 

Cormorant Oceanography Project

We use small GPS tags with integrated depth, temperature, and motion sensors to track cormorants and simultaneously collect oceanographic data. The tags are solar powered and connect to cell phone towers to send data back our lab at OSU. Marine ecologists at Hatfield will gain insights into the foraging behavior and migratory patterns of more than a dozen cormorant species around the world. OSU oceanographers then use these datasets to enhance wave, bathymetry, current, and circulation models for places like the Arabian Gulf and the Baltic Sea. To learn more about this project you can visit our website or read our recent EOS magazine article.

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A graphic showing a cormorant bird flying over the ocean. There are also pictured a cell tower, motion data, and satellites

 

Radar detecting biologging tags for albatrosses

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White bodied albatross with black wings, nest of a grassy field on an island.
Vessels use marine radar for safe navigation. We are using biologging tags that can detect marine radar signals to understand when albatrosses are within range of vessels on the open ocean. Despite knowing that seabird bycatch from fisheries is a significant problem for many albatross populations, we have long struggled to know where birds go, where boats fish, and where the two interact in the vast oceans, especially in international waters. We are tracking albatrosses with specially designed biologging tags that detect marine radar signals to understand when and where birds encounter boats. Our fieldwork takes place on Midway Atoll in the Papahānaumokuākea MNM (please visit our blog post for a short recap of the 2022 field season, and follow this link to a series of videos to experience an albatross colony). This information will be used by managers of the Papahānaumokuākea MNM to better understand the presence of illegal fishing in the region. Furthermore, we will be able to use these data to disentangle bird behavior, fishing vessel characteristic, and environmental drivers of close encounters between birds and boats.

 

Counting Albatross from Space

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A fuzzy image from a satilite of birds on an island.
Short-tailed albatrosses (Phoebastria albatrus) once numbered in the millions before commercial hunting in the early 20th century nearly drove the species to extinction. While the population continues to increase, it is still less than 1% of its estimated pre-exploitation population size and breeds on only two of the possibly 14 historical sites in the western North Pacific. Furthermore, one of these islands (Torishima, Izu Islands) is volcanically unstable and the other (Senkaku Islands) is part of a multi-national territorial dispute and, therefore, politically unstable. This species is listed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) and delisting criteria require a third breeding colony to be established on a “safe” island. We are continuing efforts to count the population on the Senkaku Islands through the use of high-resolution satellite imagery.

This research is being led by Jane Dolliver.

 

Using video loggers to understand AdElie penguin foraging

Adélie penguins spend most of their lives at sea, returning to land to raise their chicks. Many details of their seabound lives, what they eat, how they catch it, have long been a mystery. New miniaturized video cameras allow us to follow these birds into their ocean home and study their life below the surface. This research is led by Suzie Winquist in collaboration with Point Blue Conservation Science and the Penguin ScienceTeam.

Cape Crozier Foraging

 

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