Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Blog of a blog! And a new home for Selina and much of the Heppell Lab

Selina is on the Science Advisory Board for a Citizen Science program called COASST (Coastal Observation and Seabird Survey Team) that operates on beaches from the Aleutian Islands to Northern California. Recently, a student volunteer interviewed Selina and posted a nice article on the COASST website:
COASST will be expanding its citizen-led surveys to include marine debris. To learn more about this great program, go to http://depts.washington.edu/coasst/

(picture by Lynn Ketchum, OSU)

Also, many of us have moved! Selina, Linsey, Susie, Matt, Scarlett, Patricia and Andrea are now in Hovland Hall, just a little bit east of Nash Hall. Still getting used to the new digs, but Selina got the contractors to paint her new office the same lovely shade of teal that she had in Nash. Come visit us sometime!

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Report from AMSS


Cook Inlet, frozen over at sunset
 I just returned from the Alaska Marine Science Symposium (AMSS) held in Anchorage, Alaska from January 21st-25th. This is an annual meeting where everyone who received research funds from NPRB presents their latest results, as well as other agency and academic scientists who work in the marine systems of Alaska. The meeting is organized uniquely with only one session each day dedicated to a system (Arctic, Bering Sea, and Gulf of Alaska) and the talks organized by trophic level so the day begins with ecosystem perspectives, followed by physical and chemical processes, primary productivity, then lower trophic levels, fish, birds, mammals and human perspectives.

I had the opportunity to present the first chapter of my thesis work regarding the role of predator interactions and temperature on the consumption of walleye pollock by three important groundfish species in the Gulf of Alaska as part of the "ecosystem perspectives" portion of the morning. This was the largest crowd I had ever presented for (~800 people) and I was able to get some great insights from a couple of agency and university scientists with much more experience regarding the fishes of Alaska and the statistical methods I am using. Also, while I have been to Alaska a number of times, I am usually at sea and this was the first time exploring Anchorage. Heppell lab graduate, Ali Dauble was there representing the NPFMC and we made good use of our free time checking out the restaurants and watering holes that the city had to offer with fellow marine scientists. While I was unable to come away with the prize for the best Ph.D. level presentation, a fellow OSU graduate student, Daniel Cushing (working on seabirds in the Gulf of Alaska with Dan Roby) was awarded the best talk given by a master's student, so congrats to him!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Fishtracker detects visitors to Redfish Rocks

The Fishtracker Project is my thesis research into the movement behaviors of fish at Redfish Rocks, located on the southern coast of Oregon, near the town of Port Orford. The area will become a no-take marine reserve on January 1, 2012, and one of my goals is to collect baseline data prior to closure.

I am using acoustic telemetry to track the movement behaviors of six valuable species of fish; Black, Canary, China, Copper, and Quillback Rockfish, and the Cabezon. My goal is to quantify the degree of protection provided by the no-take reserve to different s
pecies, based on the proportion of time they spend within the protected area. To accomplish this, I surgically implant acoustic transmitter tags in fish of each species, and maintain an array of acoustic receivers. Coded transmissions from the tags are recorded when a tagged fish swims within range of a receiver. Periodically, I retrieve data from the receivers in the field, and analyze these data to reveal the movement behaviors of the tagged fish. Please visit fishtracker.org to learn more.

One unexpected result of my work is that the receiver array has recorded many transmissions from fish that have been tagged by other researchers. At least sixteen green sturgeon tagged in the upper Sacramento and Klamath Rivers have migrated northward through the array, and three white sharks have also been detected in the area.

This video depicts one week of the movement behavior of one of these sharks. This shark was tagged by Dr. Mauric
io Hoyas, who leads the white shark tagging project at Guadalupe Island in Mexico.

You can watch this video in larger format on and watch more video and learn all about the Fishtracker Project, including how you can help support this work by adopting a tagged fish at fishtracker.org.

Visit this blog and fishtracker.org, and "like" fishtracker on facebook, to keep up-to-date about the movement behaviors of tagged fish, and to learn the identities of our other visitors!

Thanks for reading my post!

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Grouper Moon 2011

For the seventh year in a row, the Heppell lab has traveled to the Cayman Islands, British West Indies, to participate in the Grouper Moon Project run by the Reef Environmental Educational Foundation (REEF) in conjunction with the Cayman Islands Department of the Environment (CIDOE). The focus of the Grouper Moon Project is the spawning aggregations of Nassau grouper (Epinephelus striatus), a large bodied, top level predator on Caribbean reefs that plays a role in structuring Caribbean reef communities. These amazing fish are typically solitary, maintaining individual territories on home reefs. But, once or twice a year they congregate in a specific location for the express purpose of spawning. This congregation is called a spawning aggregation or SPAG for short.

Unfortunately for the Nassau grouper, the timing and location of their SPAGs are highly predictable. For example, the Nassau grouper in the Cayman Islands return to their traditional spawning grounds year after year on the first full moon that happens 30 days after the winter solstice. Because of this predictability and the ease at which Nassau can be caught on SPAGS, the Nassau grouper is now listed as endangered by the IUCN. Fisherman can simply not resist the lure of thousands of large fish all gathered in one place at one time, and once an aggregation has been discovered it does not take long for the spawning population to be wiped out. Aggregations were once between 30,000 and 100,00 fish strong (Smith 1972). Today, more than 75% of Nassau grouper SPAGS are thought to be defunct or declining and aggregations considered healthy are rarely larger than a couple thousand fish (De Mitcheson et al. 2008). The story of Nassau grouper spawning aggregations in the Cayman Islands is sadly not at all different than the rest of the Caribbean, with one notable exception. The Cayman Islands once hosted 5 Nassau grouper SPAGs; today the only one considered “healthy,” is the aggregation on the West end of Little Cayman Island.

Fortunately for the Nassau grouper, the Cayman government was proactive in placing an eight year long fishing ban at both current and historic aggregation sites throughout the Cayman Islands in 2003 and consequently may have preserved the largest Nassau grouper SPAG left on the planet. It is this aggregation of approximately 3-4,000 fish that we have had the pleasure of visiting over the past two months.

This year was a bit of a strange situation for the Grouper Moon team. The full moon in January fell 29 days after the winter solstice. The fact that this full moon was so close to the 30-day cut off creates what the team refers to as a split moon, which has only occurred once in the history of the project. The team was not entirely sure which moon would be the “big” month, so planning the field season was difficult. Every year there is a large aggregation of fish and a minor aggregation, occurring on either the preceding (if the first full moon of the year is less than 30 days after the winter solstice) or following (if the first full moon is 30 or more days after the solstice) the big month. Confusing, eh? Because the first full moon was so close to the cut-off the team had to make an educated guess as to which month would be the big month and rely on a

skeleton crew of divers to observe any fish in the other month –We picked February as the big month, so in January a small team consisting of Selina Heppell and me (Stephanie Archer) from OSU, Brenda Hitt as a volunteer for REEF, and Keith Neale from CIDOE headed out to the West end of Little Cayman for the January full moon. After rough weather on January 17th and 18th our January team had good weather and virtually no current for the rest of our stay, which led to a very productive month. I am studying the effect of the influx 3,000+ large predators on the reef which hosts the spawning aggregation. Specifically I am looking at trophic interactions between the Nassau grouper and cleaning organisms and planktivores as well as nutrient exchange from the grouper to the host reef via filter feeding organisms such as sponges.

This was a preliminary field season for me and I was able to collect quite a few samples! Because of the early high winds the fish had already started to show up by the time we were able to get out to the aggregation site. While the number of fish never topped 2,000 we were treated to quite a show. Many of the fish that showed up in January were very friendly and were likely from Bloody Bay Wall, a marine park located on the North side of Little Cayman where fishing is prohibited. In addition to the water samples I was collecting we conducted regular counts of the fish and used a video camera with a laser-bracket set up which allows us to get an accurate estimate of the length distribution of the fish on the aggregation site. Counts and the length distribution of the fish at the SPAG are important pieces of information, as they will allow us to understand how the composition of fish attending the SPAG is changing over time.

When we entered the water on the morning of January 25th, we knew that day was different. While on the spawning aggregation Nassau grouper exhibit three distinct breeding color phases that they do not typically show on their home reefs. These color phases are dark, white bellied, and bicolored. The bicolored color phase starts to show up more and more as the fish get closer and closer to the night they are going to spawn.

On the morning of January 25th the number of fish donning the bicolored color phase was much higher than previous days. There was also a palpable increase in the energy of the aggregation. We predicted the fish would spawn that night, and we weren’t disappointed. We entered the water close to 5:30 and the show had already started. There was a milky white band of gametes hovering just over the wall of the reef where the fish usually spawn. We had not been in the water long when we saw our first spawning burst. By the time our bottom time was used up there were spawning bursts every few seconds and the visibility was dropping fast. We left the water exhilarated. The next day the fish were all still there and still all dressed up in their spawning colors and we were treated to a second night of spawning, although this night was slightly subdued compared to the night before. The next morning, our last dive for the month of January, many of the fish had gone home and the ones remaining were back to their typical coloration. Another month of documented grouper spawning was complete and most of our small team prepared to return to their everyday lives. Selina, however, was gearing up for a month of semi-sabbatical on the tropical paradise that is Little Cayman Island.

When I returned for the February full moon the conditions could not have been more different. The crew was significantly larger with Drs. Christy Pattengill-Semmens and Brice Semmens from REEF, REEF volunteers Dr. Steve Gittings, Denise Mizell, Sheryl Shea, and Heather George, Our World Underwater scholar Josh Stewart, Guy Harvey and his camera man George C. Schellenger, the OSU contingent of Drs. Scott and Selina Heppell and myself, Wayne Sullivan, the owner of the Glen Ellen and his tech-diver crew of Thor Dunmire and Doug Kesling, and our collaborators from CIDOE Phil Bush, Croy McCoy, James Gibb, Keith Neale, Delwin McLaughlin, and Kevin Jackson. In addition to the dramatically expanded crew we had strong winds and even stronger wind driven currents. While more fish showed up in February, the currents led to some strange behavior by the fish and spawning was only observed by divers operating on rebreather diving equipment based off of the Glen Ellen. The specialized diving equipment allowed them to extend their bottom time and stay in the water after dark, long past when the rest of us on open-circuit dive gear had to get out of the water.

February was the month we released our four oceanographic drifters. The drifters are composed of a waterproof ball that floats on the surface and contains a GPS and a satellite phone, which is attached by a tether to a long “sock” which extends into the water column and allows the device to travel with the currents, not the wind. The drifters, once activated, transmit their location every 10 minutes to a satellite. We can then track the position of the drifters to understand what may be happening to the larval fish as they are transported off the SPAG site and perhaps gain an insight into why the fish are choosing that place and the nights they do to spawn. We released one of these devices each night leading up to spawning and retrieved it 12 or more hours later. There were three nights of spawning in February and a drifter was released at the spawning site each night of spawning (we did not retrieve these drifters). You can follow the tracks of these drifters right now, and read about previous years of drifter work on the Baby Grouper Adrift website.

One reason for the expanded crew in February was the production of several educational videos being made about the spawning aggregation. These videos will range in length from 5 minutes to 1 hour and will be vitally important as CIDOE begins their fight to extend protections for the spawning aggregations. The proactive closures the Cayman Government had the foresight to implement 8 years ago will expire before the next spawning season. If you are interested in learning more about the push to protect Nassau grouper spawning aggregations in the Cayman Islands into the future you can read more here and here and always at the Grouper Moon Project website.

Grouper Moon Links:

Sign a petition to help save the Little Cayman spawning aggregation here : http://www.thepetitionsite.com/106/protect-the-world39s-last-spawning-aggregation-of-nassau-grouper/



The Grouper Moon Project http://www.reef.org/programs/grouper_moon

The Cayman Islands Department of Environment grouper page http://www.doe.ky/groupers/

Baby Grouper Adrift http://www.reef.org/programs/grouper_moon/adrift/

NOAA’s Nassau grouper site http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/fishwatch/species/nassau_grouper.htm

Grouper in the News:







De Mitcheson, Y. S., A. Cornish, M. Domeier, P. L. Colin, M. Russell, and K. C. Lindeman. 2008. A global baseline for spawning aggregations of reef fishes. Conservation Biology 22:1233-1244.

Smith, C. L. 1972. Spawning aggregation of nassau grouper, epinephelus-striatus (bloch). Transactions of the American Fisheries Society 101:257-&.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Heppell Lab at PICES

During the week of October 25th through the 29th a few members of the Heppell lab current and past attended the annual meeting for the North Pacific Marine Science Orginization (PICES), in Portland, Oregon. This meeting was an opportunity for students in the lab to interact with scientists working in the north Pacific from the US, Canada, Russia, Japan, South Korea, and China. Oregon State University was well represented with multiple scientists from Hatfield Marine Science Center as well as students from Fisheries and Wildlife, COAS and zoology.

The meetings theme this year was"North Pacific Ecosystems Today, and Challenges in Understanding and Forcasting Change". Much of the meeting's sessions were on the influences of changing climate on species distributions, trophic interactions as well as large scale oceanographic considerations. Current students, Kevin Thompson and Luke Whitman had research relevant to this theme in the north Pacific and were lucky enough to attend for free and receive lodging from PICES in exchange for volunteer time at the registration desk. Luke presented one chapter of his thesis with a talk entitled "Variation in the distribution and energy density of juvenile walleye Pollock in the southeastern Bering Sea". Kevin's poster, "Factors affecting the diets of groundfish in the Gulf of Alaska" presented some preliminary results of his dissertation work. Both presentations were well recieved and both students had an opportunity to discuss their research with multiple scientists representing a variety of agencies. Current student Linsey Arnold and former students Ali Dauble (now with ODFW) and Marisa Litz (now with NMFS Northwest Science Center) took the opportunity to attend portions of this meeting.Overall, it was a great opportunity having this large, international meeting so close in Portland and multiple members of lab took that time to make important contacts as well as increase exposure to the lab's research.

For more information on PICES, this last meeting as well as future meetings go to www.pices.int

Luke Whitman presenting and Kevin Thompson with poster at PICES 2010

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Bringing Enthusiasm and Science to Alaska: WGC 2010

From April 26- 30, seven members of the Heppell lab attended the 16th biennial Western Groundfish Conference (WGC), which was held in Juneau, Alaska. In addition to gorgeous weather, highlights of the trip included a whale watching adventure in Auke Bay where we spotted hundreds of bald eagles, two breaching orca whales, bubble netting and feeding, a spyhopping humpback, and numerous fluke shows that I was never really able to capture with my camera. Additionally, the Heppell lab presented a poster and 4 talks, one of which won 2nd place for best student paper (way to go Ali!). There were a number of great talks in addition to those from our lab, including talks on habitat and distribution, stock assessment, fishery monitoring/ management, ecosystem processes, life history (a.k.a. the OSU session), and advanced technology of our western groundfish. When we weren’t listening attentively to these talks, we could be found on one of the many amazing hikes around town, likely the Mendenhall Glacier (which is ~12 miles long!), at the Alaskan Brewing Company (6 free “samples”!), or walking around downtown Juneau. Entertainment for the week also included a tour of the Ted Stevens Marine Research Institute (where some Heppell labmates got left behind… not naming names or admitting anything), a banquet with a comedian, a show with Ira Glass, and a few conference socials. Additional excitement was brought by all of the schwag and prizes that we took home, including a t-shirt with the 2010 WGC logo (by Doris Alcorn), which was particularly cool, door prizes that ranged from painted moose poop (literally) to black cod (which I accidentally left in the hotel room) to two tickets on another Bay tour, and Tom’s grand prize win of the Lotek pop-up satellite tag (you’ve got to love high-tech Lotek). Overall, it was an amazing week in Juneau, with the Heppell lab representing in style and volume. I can’t wait for WGC 2012, Washington!

Heppell lab talks:
1. Luke Whitman: Variation in the distribution and energy density of juvenile walleye Pollock in the southeastern Bering Sea.
2. Noelle Yochum: Reaping the rewards of collaboration: fishermen, scientists, and managers develop and implement surveys to monitor California nearshore fishes.
3. Ali Dauble: Juvenile rockfish settlement patters in Oregon estuaries.
4. Linsey Arnold: Maternal effects in a long-lived, deep-dwelling rockfish, Sebastes alutus

Heppell lab poster:
1. Suzanna Stoike: Collaborative rockfish research with the Oregon live fishery: lessons learned.


First picture: Juneau, AK.

Second picture: Bubble netting.

Third picture: Heppell lab members enjoy a wonderful afternoon of whale watching (with beer and wine) in Auke Bay. [From left: Luke Whitman, Alena Pribyl (recent graduate from Carl Schreck’s lab, OSU), Ali Dauble, Scott Heppell, Suzanna Stoike, Linsey Arnold, Tom Calvanese, and Noelle Yochum]

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Fishing/Diving day in Port Orford

On February 18th, the weather in Port Orford FINALLY gave us a break.
A van full of Heppellians including 4 research certified divers in the lab headed south to volunteer their time to help complete video recompression work on rockfish.
As a part of the Port Orford tagging project, we used a recompression cage with an attached underwater camera to watch fish, specifically gravid rockfish, as they were lowered back to 1 atmosphere (~33 ft). After release from the cage divers followed the fish until they could no longer see it, or until the fish came to rest.
The day was a great success, sans the broken camera and the impossible surge towards the end of the day. We were able to capture two visibly gravid (pregnant) china rockfish and watch them as they returned to depth.
A huge thanks to the volunteers; Tom, Kenny, Sarikka, Scott, Stephanie, Ali, and Luke. Thanks to our wonderful charter captains, Aaron and Evan, for showing us a great day.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Missing Pyramid...

Total missing GPS units from Heppell Lab:

Total number of search dives to recover location of pyramid:

Looking for a small pile of cinderblocks in cold water in a wetsuit on the Oregon coast in the dead of winter with fellow Heppell Lab members:

Shivonne, Scott, Stephanie, Luke, Brittany and Heather. Photo by Ali Dauble.

One of my artificial reef structures, the elusive fifth pyramid (of six), has been "missing" for several months now. Since the pyramid is about 1800 lbs of cinderblocks and mortar inside a large steel frame, it has not moved to another estuary, contrary to popular lab opinion. A recreational boater probably ran over the mooring buoy, so it is not currently marked (aka, "missing").

The artificial structures were constructed and deployed specifically for the purpose of developing an estuarine juvenile rockfish recruitment index, one part of my master's thesis. The structures were originally deployed in February 2008 and have remained in the murky waters of Yaquina Bay on the central Oregon coast ever since. Dive surveys on the structures for the last two years demonstrate that they were extremely successful in recruiting newly settled juvenile rockfish in both 2008 and 200
9, in addition to many other fish and invertebrate species, and will provide us with more information regarding juvenile rockfish settlement rates within an estuary on the Oregon coast.

Does anyone remember "We found the sixth pyramid!"? Stephanie and Heather. Photo by Ali Dauble.

The photos in this post are from one of the search dives in late October where I had a large crew of divers from the Heppell Lab come out with me (and actually remembered my camera during all of the planning). Unfortunately, these search dives were all unsuccessful in locating the fifth pyramid (see photo above). As of now, the current plan is to do some slow trawling with the lab boat, the Marine Team whaler, instead of search dives, continuing sometime in December. This will allow us to cover a lot more ground during slack tide and not kill me organizing more large dive crews.

A special thank you to all who came out to help dive for these search dives and thanks for your volunteer dives over the last two years!

The dive crew on a (surprisingly) beautiful day in Yaquina Bay. Scott, Heather, Shivonne, Ali, Brittany, and Stephanie. Photo by Ali Dauble.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Introduction to the Heppell Lab

We are a diverse group of ecologists and physiologists working on a variety of topics!  We hope this blog gives you a way to get to know us better.  Current research topics include work on:
  • larval quality in Pacific Ocean Perch
  • science and education surrounding marine reserves in Oregon
  • methods for improving stock assessment
  • rockfish recruitment in Oregon estuaries
  • rockfish conservation through cooperation with fishers
  • trophic ecology and ecosystem modelling of the Bering Sea
  • heat shock proteins as indicators of thermal stress in eastern Oregon streams
  • reproduction of lake trout in the Great Lakes
  • interactions between redband trout and mountain whitefish in the Crooked River
  • behavior and population trends of grouper in the Cayman Islands
  • using vertebral chemical composition to distinguishing natal origins of sharks and rays
  • nesting behavior and movements of sea turtles
  • understanding the consequences of invasion of Humbolt squid
In addition, members of the lab have been to interesting national and international meetings, have received a number of awards, and often find themselves on trips to new and exciting places associated with their research.