NEWPORT — A 13-person science team — including a high school biology teacher, four high school students, a college student and three graduate students — boarded Oregon State University’s R/V Oceanus on Thursday and headed out to sea for a four-day research cruise.
“This is the third year we’ve been out doing this research cruise,” said Tracy Crews, Oregon Sea Grant’s marine education program manager. “We take out high school students, community college students to work with graduate students and researchers here at Oregon State University.”
Led by researchers Leigh Torres, from the Marine Mammal Institute, and benthic ecologist Sarah Henkel, the students and teacher aboard will function as part of the science team while on the Oceanus.
“We will be out there doing whale and seabird surveys, we will be looking at the prey items that these animals are feeding on, doing plankton tows,” said Crews. “We will be doing benthic surveys of our nearshore areas where they are looking at putting wave energy devices. We will also be using drones to study the whale behaviour and trying to get some footage where we look at the body area index: how healthy or fat whales are from the surface. And we will also be trying to collect fecal samples, so we can see what they’re feeding on as well as getting some stress hormone data. And then hopefully, we might be able to get some genetic samples as well.”
Two of the four high school students aboard are from Lincoln County — Noah Goodwin-Rice, of Newport, and Avarie Owens, of Waldport — and Oregon Coast Community College student Ashley Burst is the only undergraduate student aboard the cruise. Additionally, Toledo Jr/Sr High’s biology teacher, Carisa Ketchen, is involved with the trip as well. All of them underwent a selection process to earn their place on the Oceanus.
“The teachers and the students all have to actually submit an application,” said Crews. “So they have to tell us how this experience will help them to meet their education and career goals, and then the students have to have a recommendation from their science teacher, as well.”
In addition to students on the boat getting this incredible experience, the science team of the Oceanus will also be helping a class of students on land from Lincoln City’s Career Tech High. Career Tech’s oceanography team will be conducting research using a boat small enough to be crewed by hamsters, which has only a sail to guide it.
“We’re sending this, hopefully, down to Polynesia,” said Chuck Getter, who teaches the oceanography class. “They’re gonna take it out 75 miles, let it go. Theoretically, it goes south past California and Mexico and hits the tradewinds, turns west ... this boat is basically their science class for the next six weeks and beyond. So the tradition for these students is that they launch this boat, it produces data … and we track it. So they learn winds, waves and tides that influence this boat as it hopefully gets into the California current.”
The drifter project is funded for three years, and three boats, through an Oregon Department of Education grant. This boat is the first of the three to be sent.
The Oceanus launched early Thursday morning and returns Sept. 15.